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Opening remarks for the 70th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by Mr. Bacre Ndiaye, Director, Human Rights Procedures Division

Geneva, 19 February 2007

Mesdames et Messieurs les Membres du Comité,
Mesdames et Messieurs,

Je suis honoré de vous accueillir au Palais Wilson à l’occasion de l’ouverture de la soixante-dixième session du Comité pour l’élimination de la discrimination raciale. C’est la première fois que je m’adresse à votre Comité depuis ma nomination en tant que Directeur de la Division des procédures des droits de l’homme, et je me réjouis de la perspective de prêter assistance à vos travaux.

Votre Comité constitue l’un des fondements du système onusien de protection des droits de l’homme. Les divers acteurs de la scène internationale, organisations intergouvernementales, Etats, institutions nationales des droits de l’homme ou organisations non-gouvernementales, le savent et apprécient à sa juste valeur votre importante contribution à la promotion du principe de l’égalité dans la jouissance des droits de l’homme sans aucune discrimination fondée sur la race, la couleur, l’ascendance et l’origine nationale ou ethnique.

Le programme de votre session sera une fois de plus très chargé et votre temps est mesuré. Permettez-moi néanmoins de partager avec vous certains éléments d’information susceptibles de vous être utiles.

New States parties and acceptances of the individual and group communications procedure (article 14)
First of all, I would like to inform you that since your last session, two States have become party to the Convention: Andorra and Saint-Kitts and Nevis, and three States parties have made the declaration under article 14: Andorra, Argentina and Morocco.

Developments relating to other human rights treaties and their monitoring bodies
As you know, the wide-ranging body of human rights norms and standards has been enriched with the adoption of two new instruments. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will ensure support to the two independent monitoring mechanisms provided for by those new treaties.

On 13 December 2006, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its optional protocol. I would like to highlight the importance of the Convention that will represent the proper framework to address the often neglected rights of an estimated ten percent of the world's population, some 650 million people. I think that we have every reason to rejoice in the explicit connection that this new instrument makes between needs and rights. A new milestone in our pursuit of substantive equality has been achieved through its adoption.

On 20 December 2006, the General Assembly also adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearances. The Convention affirms the right of victims – including families of those abducted – to know the truth about the circumstances of an enforced disappearance and the fate of the disappeared person, and to claim reparation for the harm inflicted to them.
The monitoring body for the Convention will be entitled to receive requests for urgent action on individual cases, to conduct visits with the agreement of States parties concerned and to urgently bring to the attention of the General Assembly cases of suspected widespread or systematic enforced disappearances under the jurisdiction of Member States. The Convention will enter into force after 20 countries ratify it. The text was open to signature in Paris on 6 February 2007 and thereafter at United Nations Headquarters in New York. So far, 57 States have signed the Convention.

I would also like to inform you that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is expected to meet in Geneva in the near future. Furthermore, the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture established under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment will hold its first session in Geneva starting today for a week. As you know, this new monitoring mechanism is significantly different from those established by other United Nations treaties, since it establishes a system of preventive visits, to be carried out in a complementary manner by independent international and national experts.

Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies

Since your last session, the Human Rights Council held its second session from 18 September to 6 October, and from 27 to 29 November 2006, and its third session from 29 November to 8 December 2006. In addition, it held two special sessions: one on the Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in Northern Gaza and Beit Hanoun on 15 November 2006; and another one on the situation of human rights in Darfur from 12 to 13 December 2006.

One should note that the one-year deadline (set out in General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006) by which the Council is expected to conclude its institution-building processes, namely the establishment of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, and the review of all mandates and mechanisms inherited from the former Commission on Human Rights, is getting close.

In her address to the third session of the Human Rights Council at the end of last year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights underlined once more that, “together with the Treaty Body system and the Special Procedures, the Universal Periodic Review should provide an effective system of human rights protection with far-reaching capacity for review and assistance. She reiterated that the success and effectiveness of the Universal Periodic Review will rest on the willingness of countries under review to be open to genuine scrutiny and to be assessed on the basis of all their commitments and obligations.”

The inter-sessional intergovernmental working group established on the UPR has already held two formal sessions , the first one from 20 to 24 November 2006, and the second one last week (12-16 February 2007). Issues discussed by the working group include: the basis of the review; its objectives and principles; its periodicity and the order in which States will be reviewed; the modalities and possible outcomes, as well as follow-up to the review. On the basis of the proposals and options put forward by States, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, and following the discussions held in the first session of the working group, the Facilitator, H.E. Mr. Mohammed Loulichki (Morocco), presented last week a non-paper identifying areas of emerging agreement as well as areas requiring further consideration. It may be of interest to note that, among the elements of convergence highlighted in his non-paper, the Facilitator has stressed the fact that the UPR should “complement and not duplicate other human rights mechanisms, thus representing an added value”. Furthermore, there is an emerging agreement that the human rights instruments to which a State is party should constitute a basis for the review. A report of progress achieved so far will be formally presented by the Facilitator to the Council at its fourth session to start on 12 March. Additionally, the working group on the UPR will hold another session in April 2007.

Follow-up to the Durban Conference and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

The Intergovernmental working group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action has, as you know, requested the appointment of five experts whose mandate is to produce a base document outlining the substantive gaps in the Convention and make concrete recommendations on the means and avenues to bridge these gaps. The five experts met for the first time in Geneva on 21 and 22 January 2007 and will have a preliminary exchange of views with the Intergovernmental Working Group which will meet from 5 to 9 March 2007 for the first part of its fifth session. A meeting between your Committee and the five experts has also been scheduled for 7 March. The report of the five experts should be finalized before the end of June 2007.

I am aware that your Committee will be discussing during this session the contribution requested from it by the Intergovernmental Working Group at its fourth session on possible measures to strengthen implementation through additional recommendations or the update of its monitoring procedures. This contribution will be discussed by the Intergovernmental Working Group during the second part of its fifth session to be held in September this year. I am also aware that, as has been the case for all the other sessions of the Intergovernmental Working Group, two members of the Committee will take part in the discussions of the Intergovernmental Working Group. This will be particularly important, as this session will mark the conclusion and closure of the Working Group’s debates and deliberations on the question of complementary standards.

In a resolution on global efforts for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive follow-up to decisions of the Human Rights Council to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action ((Res 3/103, in your file 3), the Council decided to establish an Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards, with the mandate to elaborate, as a matter of priority and necessity, complementary standards in the form of either a convention or additional protocol(s) to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, filling the existing gaps in the Convention and also providing new normative standards aimed at combating all forms of contemporary racism, including incitement to racial and religious hatred. The first session of the Ad Hoc Committee should be held before the end of 2007, subject to the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action having completed its task on complementary standards.

Durban Review Conference (2009)

Following the resolution adopted by the Third Committee of the General Assembly of 22 November 2006 (A/C.3/61/L.53/Rev.1) by which the Third Committee recommended that the Assembly convene the Durban Review Conference in 2009, the Human Rights Council adopted on 8 December 2006 a resolution on the preparations for the Durban Review Conference (Res 3/2, which you will find in your file 3). In this resolution, the Human Rights Council decided, inter alia, that it would act as the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference and that the first organizational session would be held for one week in May 2007. Furthermore, two substantive sessions of ten working days will be organized in 2007 and 2008 in Geneva. The Human Rights Council resolution also stresses that the review should concentrate on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, including further actions, initiatives and practical solutions for combating all the contemporary scourges of racism. Your Committee, together will all other relevant stakeholders, was requested by the Human Rights Council to assist the Preparatory Committee and submit recommendations as contributions to the outcome of the Conference.

Follow-up to the Fifth Inter-Committee Meeting and Eighteenth Meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies and the Reform of Treaty Bodies

Turning now to the reform of treaty bodies, I would like to inform you that, as a follow-up to the recommendations of the Fifth Inter-Committee Meeting and Eighteenth Meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies, the Working Group on reservations met on 14 and 15 December 2006. The report of the working group is in your file 3, and Mr. Thornberry, who took part in the meeting will, I am sure, provide you with detailed information on the outcome of this meeting, including recommendations for the harmonization of the approach of treaty bodies vis-à-vis reservations.

The report of the working group will be submitted to the Sixth Inter-Committee Meeting and the Nineteenth Meeting of Chairpersons who will decide whether another meeting of the working group should be convened, taking into account in particular the reactions and queries of treaty bodies on the recommendations of the working group. Furthermore, the International Law Commission will hold a discussion on reservations to human rights treaties with United Nations experts in the field of human rights from 15 to 16 May 2007 in Geneva. Invitations have been addressed to each treaty body, including your Committee, to be represented at the meeting.

Also as a follow-up to the recommendations of the Fifth Inter-Committee Meeting and Eighteenth Meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies, a working group on the harmonization of the working methods of treaty bodies met from 27 to 28 November 2006 in Geneva. Participants, including Mr. Vasu Pillai, outlined and discussed the proposals of their respective committees following the High Commissioner’s proposal and concept paper on the creation of a unified standing treaty body. The working group formulated preliminary points of agreement and agreed to meet again in order to explore further some issues and to finalize its report to the inter-Committee meeting, while not precluding other discussions in the future. The second meeting of that working group has been scheduled for 19 and 20 April 2007. During the course of that session, your Committee will certainly have the opportunity to be fully briefed by Mr. Pillai.

Finally, it is envisaged that chairpersons of treaty bodies meet with States parties to discuss treaty body reform on 14 and 15 June 2007, before the Sixth Inter-Committee Meeting and the Nineteenth Meeting of Chairpersons to be held respectively from 18 to 20 June 2007 and 21 to 22 June 2007.

OHCHR country engagement strategies in support of treaty bodies

In conformity with its Plan of Action and Strategic Management Plan, OHCHR continues to strive to place more emphasis on country-level action, including in relation to the implementation of your recommendations. In that context, and following a recommendation of the seventeenth meeting of chairpersons, OHCHR organized a seminar on technical cooperation and follow-up to Concluding Observations on 9 and 10 November 2006 in Geneva. The meeting was attended by treaty body and special procedures experts, including Mr. Kjaerum as CERD’s coordinator on follow-up, members of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation, representatives of United Nations specialized agencies, and staff of OHCHR field presences. Participants discussed the format and substance of concluding observations and their implementation at the national level. Recommendations were formulated on the respective role of the above-mentioned actors with a view to enhancing the impact of the treaty bodies at the country level. The report of that seminar will be distributed to you as soon as it has been finalized.

Agenda for the 70th session of CERD

Turning now to the activities of your Committee during the present session: You will have to examine 8 State party reports and several country situations under your early warning and urgent action procedures as well as under the review procedure. In addition, you will have to examine two communications under article 14 and you will review the reports of States parties that have submitted information on the implementation of your recommendations under your follow-up procedure. Apart from your meeting with the five experts appointed to look into the issue of complementary standards previously mentioned, you will also have the opportunity to meet with the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, with whom you initiated a dialogue at your last session. Finally, you will start discussing revised guidelines regarding the form and contents of reports to be submitted by States parties under article 9, paragraph 1 of the Convention, on the basis of the draft prepared by the secretariat, as requested at your August 2006 session. This draft takes into account the information which States are requested to provide in the common core document, the guidelines of which have now been approved by all treaty bodies.

Before concluding, I would like to inform you that since the beginning of this year, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang has started her functions as Deputy High Commissioner. She was unable to come and greet you for the opening of your session as she was requested to open the first session of the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture on behalf of the High Commissioner. Ms. Kang has asked me, however, to convey her best wishes to you and is looking forward to meeting you at your August session.

I wish you a very successful session.