11 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination opened its eighty-second session this morning, hearing an address by Simon Walker, Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work.
In his opening statement, Mr. Walker updated the Committee on the intergovernmental process on the strengthening of the treaty body system of the General Assembly. Among other recent developments, Mr. Walker noted the adoption of the Rabat Plan of Action. During this session, the Committee would examine seven reports submitted by States parties, country situations under the early warning and urgent action procedure, countries under the follow-up procedure, and individual communications under article 14 of the Convention; the Committee would also hold meetings, among others, with the Board of Trustees for the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, and with Mr. Adama Dieng, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts raised issues related to the work of the intergovernmental process on the strengthening of the treaty body system of the General Assembly, in particular, with regards to the Comprehensive Calendar and the proposal for a joint group to coordinate the work of different treaty bodies.
The Committee thanked Mr. Cali Tzay, Vice-Chairperson, for participating in the interactive dialogue with the Third Committee during the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly on behalf of the Chairperson; and noted with concern the difficulties and delays in obtaining visas that Committee Experts experienced when attending meetings on behalf of the Committee.
During the dialogue with Committee Experts Alexei S. Avtonomov, Chairperson of the Committee, and the following Experts took the floor: Anwar Kemal, Ion Diaconu, Régis de Gouttes, Anwar Kemal, and José Augusto Lindgren Alves, Fatimata-Binta Victoria Dah, Noureddine Amir, Kokou Mawuena Ika Kana Ewomsan and Gun Kut.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 February, when it will hold an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations.
SIMON WALKER, Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his opening statement, updated the Committee on the intergovernmental process on the strengthening of the treaty body system. Co-facilitators had been re-appointed and intended to finish the process by May after a series of informal consultations with all stakeholders. The Office of the High Commissioner had been consulted regarding the Comprehensive Reporting Calendar, and had been asked to review the second option proposed in the High Commissioner’s report. The increased number of treaty bodies, unmatched by appropriate resources, had placed significant strains on the system and Mr. Walker hoped that the General Assembly would seize the moment. Mr. Cali Tzay, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, had participated in an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee at the General Assembly’s sixty-seventh session. Since additional meeting time had not been extended beyond 2012, the Committee would have to return to three-week sessions. Amidst system-wide cuts in the regular budget of the UN Secretariat, good practices such as substituting printed documents with electronic files should be considered.
Among other recent developments, the Rabat Plan of Action had been adopted in October 2012 at the final expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racial discrimination had highlighted concerns regarding discrimination against indigenous and peasant communities and Afro-Bolivians in Bolivia, and against migrants, asylum-seekers and Roma in Spain, after conducting visits. The Working Group on African Descent had, after an official visit to Panama in January 2013, expressed concern at contemporary forms of racial, structural and institutional discrimination against Afro-descendant communities. The Independent Expert on Minority Issues had issued a joint press release in response to continuing violence in Rakhine State in Myanmar; the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples had urged Canada and Aboriginal leaders to engage in dialogue after weeks of protests and a month-long hunger strike by the Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation; and the Independent Expert on Minority Issues had issued a joint press release appealing to the Government of Iran to halt the execution of five Ahwazi activists.
Concerning the Committee’s agenda for this session, Mr. Walker indicated that the Committee would hold meetings with the Board of Trustees for the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Population for the first time; with Morten Kjærum, Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency; with members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights; and with Mr. Adama Dieng, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. The Chairperson, Mr. Avtonomov, had been invited to attend a seminar on the enhancement of international cooperation in human rights organized by Office of the High Commissioner on 15 February. During this session, the Committee would examine the implementation of the Convention in seven States parties, in addition to several country situations under the early warning and urgent action procedure, a number of countries under the follow-up procedure, and individual communications under article 14 of the Convention.
Dialogue with Committee Experts
ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked Mr. Walker for the very comprehensive, useful and informative opening statement and asked members of the Committee for reactions or comments.
ANWAR KEMAL, Committee Expert, said there were several reports to be considered and a backlog would be generated. An additional report could be examined every session, but the backlog would continue to grow. Mr. Kemal expressed concern about pressures to reduce the time dedicated to each State, currently set at two meetings. The quality achieved as a result of in-depth interaction should not be sacrificed since the consideration of reports was, after all, one of the major functions of the treaty. The Committee should cut down the use of paper and should aim to employ electronic means. However, during Committee meetings it was useful to have a set of documents at hand since it was often difficult to get the documents from different organizations.
ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, Chaiperson of the Committee, noted that that the Committee’s capacity to consider reports depended not only on the Committee but also on the Secretariat.
SIMON WALKER, Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, reiterated the efforts of the Secretariat to support the work of the Committee. Concerning the consideration of country reports, Burkina Faso and the Holy See were scheduled for this session. Burkina Faso had submitted a report and the Holy See was still working on its report, so the review procedure was working. The Secretariat would see if the consideration of a third country could be supported. Paperless work and distribution of documents remained available on voluntary basis, since not all experts were equally comfortable working with computers. While two or three committees were totally paperless and documents were provided electronically, Mr. Walker recognized that not all Committees were ready. In the future, however, it might become inevitable to move towards paperless sessions.
JOSÉ AUGUSTO LINDGREN ALVES, Committee Expert, wondered how the backlog had occurred and said the Committee could recommend that States presented their reports in time and one more report could be considered by the Committee during this session. Concerning the electronic distribution of documents, Mr. Lindgren Alves noted that while most Committee Experts were comfortable working with computers at home, it would be impossible to do so during its sessions unless they were provided with computers and training.
ION DIACONU, Committee Expert, said that the number of reports received showed that the work of the Committee was in good health and it was a good sign that Member States were complying with the requests made by the Committee. The Committee should ensure that it kept up with the examination of reports before requesting further submissions. The Committee should find ways of dealing with the reports without compromising the timetable and two meetings were necessary in order to fully examine each report. Additional countries could be considered if other tasks were taken off the agenda. Rather than requesting additional time to the General Assembly, the Committee should come up with a programme of work that allowed for the consideration of additional reports during its session.
RÉGIS DE GOUTTES, Committee Expert, requested additional information concerning the ongoing discussions regarding the Comprehensive Calendar. What was the state of discussions concerning at the work of the intergovernmental group? This was important given the complex nature of the Comprehensive Calendar and the proposal for a joint-group across Committees to work as a preparatory chamber.
SIMON WALKER, Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, concerning the backlog, said that treaty bodies were victims of their own success: political pressure led to increasing reporting and thus to additional work for the Committee. Concerning the questions on treaty body strengthening, Mr. Walker said that the intergovernmental group had met in October and had a preliminary discussion but had not had time to look into detail at the recommendations in the report of the High Commissioner. There had been a number of questions concerning the Comprehensive Calendar on which the co-facilitators were currently working and that could be made available to the Committee as soon as it was made public. A report would be provided by the co-facilitators and sent to the President of the General Assembly by the end of May. Concerning Communications and the proposal for a joint group, several Committees had made statements in this regard; however, it did not seem that the idea of a joint group had support from the Committees.
A member of the Secretariat said there had been little support concerning the proposal for a joint working group, but the intergovernmental group had not discussed it yet. The need for jurisprudential case law taking into account of the work of different committees was felt, as new committees dealing with cases had been created. It was important that Committees did not contradict each other and in this sense the proposal for a joint working-group had been made. If the proposal, however, did not find sufficient support additional mechanisms should be considered.
JOSÉ AUGUSTO LINDGREN ALVES, Committee Expert, supported the proposal put forward by Mr. Diaconu. Several meetings were merely informative and it would be possible to get this information to flow before the Committee session and use the respective time for the consideration of reports.
ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, Chairperson of the Committee, said concerning the programme of work that additional time had been allocated to allow Committee Experts to meet with non-governmental organizations in the meeting room with full translation services and not only during the lunch break. During previous sessions, chaired by Mr. Diaconu, the Committee had been able to consider 11 reports per session. It was important, however, that the Secretariat was also able to support the work of the Committee with sufficient staff and it was not only a matter of the capacity of the Committee. During the last session, the Committee had decided to consider seven reports and two countries under the review process.
A member of the Secretariat said last session it had been decided to consider seven countries and two countries under the review procedure, and Burkina Faso and the Holy See had been scheduled. For example, Slovakia was extremely surprised that they would be considered less than eight months after the submission of their reports. CERD was one of the treaty bodies which considered reports in the shortest period after submission. The Secretariat was doing its best to comply with the procedures but due to all the elements the Committee had been very successful in considering the reports. The majority of the remaining reports had only been submitted within a period of three months. It was also important to considered that time was necessary for Member States to prepare their delegations.
JOSÉ AUGUSTO LINDGREN ALVES, Committee Expert, clarified that he was not criticizing the work of the Secretariat.
ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, stressed that the allocation of three weeks for each session had been adopted over 20 years ago when the workload was also much lower. On the other hand, budgetary concerns were crucial.
A number of Experts noted with concern that the Chairperson had been unable to obtain a visa to attend meetings in New York and recalled that other Committee Experts had also found it difficult to obtain visas. It was a matter of concern that the Committee was not well known and this situation should be addressed. An Expert noted that during previous meetings of the Third Committee delegates were not familiar with the work of the Committee or did not know what it was. The work of Mr. Cali Tzay, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, should be supported and for instance its work in New York should be highlighted by the Office of the High Commissioner on the website. The report of Mr. Cali Tzay explaining the work of the Committee should be publicized and posted online.
An Expert said that while Mr. Cali Tzay had pressed the Member States during his participation in the Third Committee, the financial situation was very bad in many countries and prudence required that a direct request for additional resources was not made. An Expert asked whether the United Nations or the Office of the High Commissioner could send a note concerning the trips of the representatives of the Committee in order to facilitate visa applications. States should timely address the request for visas.
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