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Opening Address by Ms. Navi Pillay High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Human Rights Committee, 106th session

Geneva 15 October 2012

Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to your one hundred and sixth session. This has been a significant year for treaty bodies and I value this opportunity to discuss some of the recent developments with you.

The most important and potentially far-reaching development has been the treaty body strengthening process. You are all aware of the challenges that the treaty body system faces. The growth of the system, due to the increase in the number of treaty bodies, has never been matched by a proportionate increase in resources from the General Assembly.

This situation has placed strains on you and your partner committees, as well as the Secretariat. In addition, the growth of the system has resulted in a mushrooming of differing working methods and practices, in turn threatening the accessibility of the system to individuals and states alike.

In response to this, as you know, I issued my report on treaty body strengthening in June, building on the three-year consultation process in which you were so closely involved. The report identifies a series of recommendations which seek to address many of the challenges facing the treaty body system – to ensure greater predictability, independence, harmonization, and impact of treaty bodies.

I was very encouraged with the positive tone of your preliminary statement on the report. This was an important first step, both for this Committee, but also to lead the way for other Committees. Indeed, since then, four other Committees have adopted statements welcoming and reflecting upon my report.

However, now is not the time for complacency. I urge you to continue your review of the report during this session, to find ways to move forward on your statement and the many recommendations addressed to treaty bodies. I am pleased to see that treaty body strengthening will be an issue for discussion with the CEDAW during your second joint meeting, taking place tomorrow afternoon. I am also aware that you are undertaking a retreat in the Hague next April and I encourage you to use this additional meeting time to consider specific recommendations in the report.

I also look to you to adopt the Addis Guidelines on the independence and impartiality of treaty body experts, already endorsed by the Chairpersons last June. It is encouraging to see that both the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have already adopted them in their entirety. I hope that this Committee will soon follow suit, given that these Guidelines have largely been modeled on standards you previously adopted.

Madame Chair,

The urgency of moving forward with strengthening the treaty body system is accentuated by the current global economic environment – one of the most significant challenges facing the United Nations today. At a time when my report has underlined the significant need to increase resources to treaty bodies, the financial reality has resulted in an ongoing decrease in voluntary contributions to my Office. This decline is relevant to all parts of the human rights machinery, including treaty bodies. As the mandated activities of the Office are not fully financed by the General Assembly, the Human Rights Treaties Division has had to rely on voluntary contributions to ensure effective servicing of the treaty bodies.

As Mr. Salama, Director of HRTD, informed you in July, these budgetary constraints have already translated into a 7.5 percent cut across the board of all extra-budgetary resources in 2012. We are now preparing a further 15 per cent cut for extra-budgetary resources in 2013. For the Treaties Division, which relies on extra-budgetary funds to pay for one-third of its staff, these cuts directly impact their ability to support your work.

Let me assure you that we have been exploring all options to use our limited resources to help the treaty bodies maintain their pace of work, without sacrificing quality. It was against this background that the decision was made to move the Committee’s March session to Geneva. I look to the understanding and active collaboration of this Committee in our common endeavor: to use resources effectively so that your work can have the widest impact.

Madame Chair,

Despite the bleak economic outlook, there is much that we can still achieve to strengthen the treaty body system. Last week, OHCHR held its annual planning week and it has been heartening to see that all parts of the Office are increasingly helping to bring the work of treaty bodies – and specifically this Committee – to where it counts: the lives of individuals and the deliberations of States, both internationally, and at the country level.

At the country level, our field operations provide information to stakeholders about the work of this Committee and are increasingly engaging with you by sending inputs for your dialogues and promoting following-up on your recommendations.

A good example is the work conducted by my Senior Human Rights Advisor in Nairobi, who addressed you on the situation in Kenya during your last session. Beyond briefing you, the Advisor trained and mobilized civil society and the national human rights institution, developed an advocacy strategy- both before and after the examination of Kenya’s periodic report- and coordinated with a local television broadcasting service to broadcast your review of Kenya’s report live from the webcast.

The Advisor now intends to organize several activities to support the implementation of your recommendations, including convening a national stakeholders meeting on implementation.

Other good practices are increasingly evolving and we are currently improving our planning processes so that such practices can be replicated by other field presences.

Beyond the operational level, my Office constantly relies on your work to inform our research and policy guidance. During your last session, you heard from Ms. Mona Rishmawi, Director of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch, who illustrated how your work on the application of human rights law in situations of armed conflict has informed the development of a publication on “international legal protection and human rights in armed conflict”. Similarly, applying your work on the death penalty, the Branch organized a Global Panel on “Moving away from the Death Penalty: National Experience”, building momentum for this year’s General Assembly resolution on the moratorium of the use of the death penalty.

In my own meetings with States in Geneva or abroad, I rely on your concerns and recommendations, whether in my public statements or in my private discussions. Recently, I condemned the film “Innocence of Muslims” as well as the recent publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, at the same time calling for restraint in protests and condemning the related killings. In this context, I drew on your new General Comment on article 19 to clarify the standards related to freedom of expression as well as the permissible restrictions.

The Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures also draw heavily on your work. The recent report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic makes many references to the ICCPR, to your General Comments nos. 20 and 31, to the Views of this Committee under the Optional Protocol, and to your interpretation of numerous articles of the Covenant, not least article 9 on liberty and security of the person.

Similarly, the Human Rights Council recently adopted a resolution on arbitrary detention, in which it requests the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to prepare draft basic principles and guidelines on remedies and procedures on the right of anyone deprived of his or her liberty. In preparing this draft, the Council requests the Working Group to seek the views of the Human Rights Committee.

These examples demonstrate that your work goes beyond this room and has an impact on other parts of the human rights system, including the field and research operations of this Office, which are important vehicles to build on your efforts and bring your work to a wider public. They also demonstrate that this Committee is part of a system – the treaty body system and, beyond that, the human rights system. In the face of economic pressures and resource drains, we need, more than ever, to come together to ensure a strong system of promotion and protection of human rights.

Prior to closing, I am reminded and saddened that we will lose three outgoing members of the Committee in the New Year: Mr. Michael O’Flaherty; Mr. Rafael Rivas Posada; Mr. Marat Sarsembayev; and Mr. Krister Thelin. Each of you has made major contributions to the work of the Committee and you will be truly missed by the Committee and Secretariat alike. I am glad to see that some continuity will remain within the Committee and congratulate those members whose mandates have been renewed: Mr. Bouzid Lazhari; Mr. Ahmed Amin Fathalla; Sir Nigel Rodley; and Mr. Fabian Omar Salvioli. In addition, I note that the Committee will have the benefit of five newly elected members, all of whom will take up their appointments during the next session.

Finally, I wish to commend all the members of the Committee for the high quality of your work. You have always maintained a high standard of intellectual rigor in your concluding observations, jurisprudence and General Comments: a standard of interpretation of Covenant rights to which “great weight” has been attributed by the International Court of Justice and to which international, regional and national instances increasingly make reference.

I assure you of the highest support from this office for your work and equally I count on your support to ensure we all move closer to reaching our common goals.
I wish you successful deliberations and a productive session.