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Opening of the thirty-third session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights



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Monday 8 November 2004, 10:00 AM
Palais Wilson, Ground Floor Conference Room


Address by
Ms María Francisca Ize-Charrin,
Chief, Treaties and Commission Branch
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Words of welcome and introduction
Distinguished Chairperson, members of the Committee; representatives of specialized agencies, funds and programmes; representatives of national institutions and non-governmental organizations, I am very pleased to welcome you to Geneva and to address you on the occasion of the thirty-third session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly underlined the crucial importance of upholding the rule of law and international human rights standards. She is aware of the important role of the treaty bodies and she is strongly committed to ensuring that your work receives all the necessary support from her Office.
I am just back from a workshop for judges and lawyers on the justiciability of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, held in Manila. The workshop was attended by 35 judges and lawyers from 9 south-east Asian countries. The Chairperson Ms Virginia Dandan, and Justice Ariranga Pillay from the Committee offered their expertise as resource persons- other resource persons included Justice Bhagwati and Justice Manohar from India. The participants noted the increasing recognition of the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights as firmly-rooted legal reality in many countries. They were also made aware of a wealth of jurisprudence at national, regional and international levels. As judges and lawyers they noted a host of possible creative means that can be utilised by the judiciary for the effective implementation of economic, social and cultural rights. These means include public interest litigation and an innovative and expansive interpretation of rights already guaranteed under existing national legislation, such as the right to life, in such a way that encompasses economic, social and cultural rights, as has been successfully done buy some courts in the Asia-Pacific region. The workshop also recognised that an independent judiciary is essential for the protection and promotion of all human rights, in particular effective domestic remedies. Recommendations addressed to Governments, the United Nations and National human rights institutions were adopted. A copy of the report of the workshop will be circulated to you in the forthcoming days.
Deputy High Commissioner
As you are aware, Ms. Mehr Khan Williams joined the OHCHR as the new Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights on 4 October. Ms. Mehr Khan Williams comes from a long and distinguished career in the United Nations. She has held various senior management positions with UNICEF, most recently as the UNICEF Regional Director in East Asia and the Pacific. Through her experience with the rights of the child, which so clearly touch on the whole range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, she is very aware of the importance of the issues addressed by your Committee.
Allow me to bring to your attention a number of developments since your previous session in May this year.
Treaty body reform
The OHCHR has continued its efforts to implement the Secretary-General's agenda for reform of the United Nations. Of particular relevance to your work are ongoing efforts to enhance the efficiency and impact of human rights treaty monitoring. The Third Inter-Committee Meeting, held in June this year, examined draft guidelines on an expanded core document and treaty-specific targeted reports. The draft guidelines were very well received, and the Meeting requested all Committees to consider them carefully and make suggestions for improvements. To facilitate this consultative process, Mr Kamel Filali, member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, was entrusted with the task of acting as the Rapporteur. He will meet with you on Friday 19th November to solicit your comments and suggestions, which he will present in his report to the next inter-committee and chairpersons’ meetings. In the interim it was agreed that any State party wishing to prepare reports using the draft guidelines should be entitled to do so. The Government of Timor Leste expressed, at the 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, its wish to submit its reports now due to all seven treaty bodies through a consolidated system and launched the process of preparing a common core document in accordance with the draft guidelines at a workshop in Dili in September 2004. The Government of Afghanistan is also moving forward with this approach, and those of Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kazakhstan have expressed a strong interest in adopting a similar coordinated approach to their reports. The 16th Chairpersons meeting and 3rd inter-committee meeting also made recommendations relating to the harmonization of working methods so as to produce a consistent, although not uniform, approach, including on lists of issues and questions, follow-up procedures and interaction with United Nations entities, NGOs, and national human rights institutions.
Action 2
Now I turn to another aspect of the Secretary-General's agenda for reform, namely ongoing activities under the so-called “Action 2 programme”. The programme was officially launched at a ceremony in New York on 27 October, and aims at enhancing inter-agency collaboration in promoting human rights at the country level. OHCHR is actively involved in these activities and has among other things prepared guidance notes for UN Country Teams on how they can engage in the work of the human rights treaty bodies. (You will find this note together with the brochure prepared for the launch in your files.) The OHCHR has also continued with the preparation of Country Profiles which aim at making the recommendations of the human rights treaty bodies and of special procedures more easily available to UN Country Teams.
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
The Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights held its 56th session from 26 July to 13 August this year, at which a number of issues relevant to the work of your Committee were discussed.
The Sub-Commission considered three final reports, which will be submitted to the Commission on Human Rights, namely on the Right to Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation (Mr. Guissé); indigenous people’s permanent sovereignty over natural resources (Ms. Daes); and terrorism and human rights (Ms. Koufa).
The Sub-Commission also considered a number of working papers, including one initiated at the request of your Committee, on Non-Discrimination as enshrined in Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Mr. Decaux). The Sub-Commission recommended the appointment of a new Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on this issue.
Furthermore, the Sub-Commission requested experts to continue their work concerning guiding principles on the implementation of human rights norms and standards in the context of the fight against extreme poverty; and the development of guidelines for the realization of the right to drinking water supply and sanitation.
You will find a detailed summary of the session in your files and all documents, resolutions and decisions are available upon request.
Commission on Human Rights
I would also like to inform you that all new mandates established or renewed during the last session of the Commission on Human Rights have now been filled. A complete list of these new mandate holders will be made available to you, and I mention that Mr Vernon Munoz Villalobos from Costa Rica was appointed as new Special Rapporteur on the right to education.
With regard to the Open-ended working group on a draft optional protocol to the ICESCR
As you know the Commission on Human Rights at its last session renewed the mandate of the open-ended working group for a period of two years and invited a representative of your Committee to attend these meetings as a resource person. The next meeting is scheduled for 10 to 21 January next year.
The issue of an Optional Protocol to the Covenant was discussed at length last week at the workshop in Manila. The resource person that described with passion the importance of an optional protocol was Ms Tulika Srivastava from India. The participants recognised that an optional protocol would enhance state accountability, continue to clarify the nature and contents of state obligations under the Covenant, and motivate improvements in the effectiveness of domestic legal remedies.
With regard to FAO Voluntary Guidelines in support of the rights to adequate food
I am pleased to inform you that on 24 September this year, after two years of negotiations, the FAO Committee on World Food Security adopted Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. Your Committee contributed actively to the process and I believe the Guidelines, together with your General Comment No. 12 (of 1999), will provide useful guidance to States in implementing their obligations under article 11 of the Covenant. The Guidelines are strongly operational in character, refer to steps to be taken at both the international and the national level, and restate principles contained in your General Comments.
Concerning Cooperation with UN agencies
I welcome your active efforts to enhance and consolidate cooperation with United Nations agencies and other relevant stakeholders in your work. I am pleased to note the ongoing work of the Joint Expert Group on the Monitoring of the Right to Education between your Committee and the UNESCO’s Committee on Conventions and Recommendations which aims at enhancing cooperation and exchange of information. I understand that a third meeting of the Joint Expert Group is scheduled for spring next year.
Concerning the Discussion and adoption of General Comments
I note that at this session, the Committee will hold discussions on, and possibly adopt two new General Comments: one on article 3 (the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights) and another on article 15 (1)(C) dealing with the issue of intellectual property rights, two issues also widely discussed at the Manila workshop.

Antes de concluir deseo informar que pronto saldrá una compilación de observaciones finales del CESCR sobre países de América Latina y el Caribe, con la participación económica del PNUD y el trabajo de nuestra oficina regional en Santiago. Esta compilación es la primera vez que se hace y merece un debido reconocimiento.

In conclusion, let me express my wishes to you for a successful session. As always, my colleagues will provide you with the best possible support and assistance.

Thank you.
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