12 October 2009
Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you to the 97th session of the Committee. The High Commissioner who could not be here today asked me to convey to you her best wishes for a successful and productive session.
Before turning to your work during this session, allow me to bring to your attention a number of developments that took place since your last session in July.
OHCHR strategic priorities for 2010 and 2011
Let me start by informing you that our Office has been engaged over the last couple of months in elaborating its strategic priorities for the next biennium (2010/2011), on the basis of regional consultations held with OHCHR field presences. The thematic priorities have been formulated on the basis of a review of past experience and taking into account OHCHR’s comparative advantages. The six priorities identified are of direct relevance to the issues that lie at the core of your work. They are, Ensuring the realization of human rights in the context of migration, Eliminating discrimination, Protection human rights in situations of armed conflict, violence and insecurity, Combating impunity and strengthening accountability, the rule of law, and democratic societies, Protecting economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in the context of the economic, food and climate crises and; strengthening international human rights mechanisms and the progressive development of international law. We hope that the strategic focus on these six themes will enable the Office to make the most of its limited resources, both at Headquarters and in the field, in fulfilling our very broad mandate.
Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies
The Human Rights Council held its twelfth session from 14 September to 2 October 2009. In her opening speech to the session, the High Commissioner underscored the importance of treaty bodies, both through their reporting and individual complaints mechanisms, as well as through the UPR process. The High Commissioner highlighted the overall progress made in the human rights protection system, marked by the increase in the number of human rights instruments and corresponding monitoring bodies, together with greater compliance by States parties with reporting obligations; she also stressed the greater demands posed on the treaty bodies and on our Office. While stating that this success was most welcome and encouraging, the High Commissioner invited all stakeholders, including treaty bodies, to initiate a process of reflection on how to streamline and strengthen the treaty body system to achieve better coordination among these mechanisms, as well as in their interaction with Special Procedures and the UPR.
In her statement to the Council, the High Commissioner also stressed that developments over the past year have put in sharp focus the need to promote and protect human rights more effectively. She referred particularly to the effects of the economic crisis, the persistence of armed conflicts as well as continuing discrimination and violence against women, minorities, migrants and other vulnerable groups, issues which are all of great relevance to your work.
Among the numerous resolutions adopted by the Council during its twelfth session, the resolution on freedom of opinion and expression (A/HRC/RES/12/16), in which the Council reaffirmed the rights contained in the Covenant, may be of particular interest to you in light of your plans to adopt a new general comment on article 19. You will find the text of this resolution in your files.
The dynamism of your Committee in fulfilling its mandate is most noteworthy. In that context, we look forward to benefiting from your future new General Comment on article 19, and which I understand you will discuss in a first reading during this session.
The creativity of your Committee is also reflected in your ongoing work related to the reinforcement of follow-up activities both on concluding observations and on Views under the Optional Protocol, as well as in your current efforts to revise your reporting guidelines.
Your active role in enhancing the entire human rights treaty body system is of crucial importance. The tenth Inter-Committee meeting will take place at the end of November/early December and will be devoted to a discussion of follow-up to concluding observations and views of treaty bodies in order to, inter alia, identify best practices in respect of follow-up and consider possible areas of harmonization in this respect. I trust that as usual, the members of your Committee who will attend the tenth Inter-Committee meeting will play an important part in the discussions.
Coming back to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols, I am pleased to inform you that on 25 September 2009, the Lao People's Democratic Republic ratified the Covenant, thus bringing the number of States parties to 165. This ratification follows the efforts deployed by OHCHR’s regional office in Bangkok which, in cooperation with the UNDP International Law project in Lao PDR, organised a series of training with the last one in June this year focusing, inter alia, on the Covenant, reporting obligations to your Committee as well as the procedure of follow-up to your concluding observations.
Brazil ratified both protocols also on 25 September 2009, thus bringing the number of States parties respectively to 113 and 72 States for the 2 Protocols. Furthermore, since your last session, Bulgaria submitted its third periodic report and Kuwait its second periodic report.
Your agenda for this session will once again be very heavy. You will examine 5 country reports (Switzerland, Moldova, Croatia, the Russian Federation and Ecuador) and you will adopt lists of issues on the reports of Cameroon, Colombia, El Salvador, Estonia and Israel. As for each session, you will also consider a large number of communications and the progress reports submitted by the Special Rapporteur on Follow-up to Views, Ms. Wedgwood, and the Special Rapporteur on Follow-up to Concluding Observations, Mr. Amor.
Let me assure you of the full support of our Office and all services of the Secretariat in assisting you in your work. In conclusion, I wish you a fruitful and successful session. Thank you.