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Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights opens seventy-first session of Commitee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination

30 July 2007

71st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

30 July-17August 2007

Palais Wilson (Ground Floor Conference Room)
Monday 30 July 2007, 10.00 a.m

Mr. Chairperson,

Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address you for the first time as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of the opening of the seventy-first session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Before turning to your programme of work, allow me to highlight some major developments that have taken place since your seventieth session.

Human Rights Council

Since your last session, the Human Rights Council held its fourth and fifth sessions, respectively from 12 to 30 March and from 11 to 18 June 2007. The fifth session marked a crucial phase during which the Council made key decisions regarding institution-building. Of particular interest for this Committee as well as other treaty bodies is the decision regarding the Universal Periodic Review mechanism (hereafter UPR) which constitutes the most innovative feature of the Council’s work.

According to the guiding principles upon which it will be based, the UPR should, inter alia, promote the universality, interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights; be a cooperative mechanism based on objective information and interactive dialogue; ensure equal treatment of all States; fully involve all countries under review and; complement, rather than duplicate other human rights mechanisms, thus representing added value.

The UPR will be based on the information provided orally or in writing by the State concerned and on a compilation prepared by OHCHR of the information contained in the reports of treaty bodies, special procedures, including observations and comments by the State concerned, and other relevant UN documents, which should not exceed 10 pages. This compilation will be facilitated by the new universal human rights index (see http://www.universalhumanrightsindex.org/en) originally developed by the Institute of Public Law of the University of Bern and for which responsibility was recently transferred to OHCHR The index contains and systematizes in 39 thematic clusters all conclusions and recommendations of treaty bodies, including this Committee, as well as reports of special procedures mandate holders for the past five years We hope that the index, by greatly facilitating access to documents which can be searched by keyword, right, country and body, will also become a useful tool for the treaty bodies, in particular in the context of the reporting and follow-up procedures

The UPR will take place through a three-hour long review of each country initially every four years in a working group composed of all 47 Council members. Three rapporteurs will be identified to facilitate the review, the aim of which is an interactive dialogue between the country concerned and the Council. The report adopted by the working group for each country reviewed will be discussed and adopted in the plenary of the Council, with the full involvement of the State concerned. The outcome of the review may include, inter alia, an objective assessment of the human rights situation in the country reviewed, an emphasis on enhancing cooperation, recommendations on the provision of technical assistance and capacity building, with the consent of the country reviewed, and lastly voluntary commitments and pledges by the State.

Guidelines for the modalities of the UPR are being drafted and are due to be approved by the Council in September. The first 16 countries scheduled for review will be considered in February 2008.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has clearly indicated that the UPR mechanism and the treaty body procedures should not compete with or undercut one another: on the contrary, the synergies of both mechanisms should enhance the promotion and protection of human rights.

At their nineteenth meeting held last month, the chairpersons of treaty bodies had a thorough discussion on the UPR mechanism with the former President of the Human Rights Council as well as during a joint meeting with special procedures mandate-holders. The UPR mechanism was also a main issue during the informal consultations between the chairpersons and States parties on June 21. The chairpersons expressed the opinion that the UPR presented both a number of opportunities and challenges. They underlined the complementary and mutually reinforcing nature of the treaty body system and the UPR and emphasized the importance of a continuing dialogue on this matter. They appreciated that the findings and recommendations of treaty bodies will form part of the basis of UPR and highlighted the role of the concluding observations in this regard. The chairpersons further recognized the need for developing effective cooperation between the treaty bodies and the Human Rights Council.

Durban Review Conference
As you will recall, the General Assembly decided at its sixty-first session to convene in 2009 a review conference on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to be conducted within the framework of the General Assembly, and, to this end, requested the Human Rights Council to undertake preparations for this event, and to formulate a concrete plan and provide updates and reports on this issue on an annual basis starting in 2007. In a resolution adopted at its third session (Resolution 3/2 adopted on 8 December 2006), 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 in 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 resolution to assist the Preparatory Committee and submit recommendations as contributions to the outcome of the Conference. You will find in your files 3 a copy of the letter sent by the Coordinator of the Anti-Discrimination Unit of OHCHR to the Chairman, informing him that the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference will hold its first organizational session in Geneva from 27 to 31 August 2007 and drawing your attention to the request for input from your Committee.

Sixth Inter-Committee Meeting and Nineteenth Meeting of Treaty bodies’ Chairpersons

Turning now to the treaty body system, the Sixth Inter-Committee Meeting and the Nineteenth Meeting of Treaty bodies’ Chairpersons, in which this Committee was represented by Mr. de Gouttes and Mr. Sicilianos, were held respectively from 18 to 20 and from 21 to 22 in June this year (see the unedited version of the report for these meetings in your file 3).

Discussions on the issue of treaty body reform and the working methods of treaty bodies, including their coordination and possibilities for harmonization, focused once again on progress made by treaty bodies in the development of more streamlined working methods, drawing from each other’s experience in the process, with a view to ensuring that the treaty body system provides the best possible protection for rights-holders.

In this regard, the Inter-Committee Meeting participants considered the reports of the Inter-Committee working group on the harmonization of working methods (HRI/MC/2007/2 and Add.1) which met for the second time on 17 and 18 April this year and in which this Committee was represented by Mr. Pillai. At the outset of this discussion, it was recommended in particular that the Inter-Committee Meeting meet twice annually, with the participation of the chairpersons of treaty bodies as ex officio members. The Inter-Committee Meeting will make recommendations for the improvement and harmonization of working methods of treaty bodies.

The sixth Inter-Committee Meeting also provided an occasion for the continuation of previous discussions on ways to enhance cooperation of treaty bodies with United Nations Specialized Agencies, Funds and Programmes, non-governmental organisations and National Human Rights Institutions.

Discussions were also held on the outcome of the second meeting of the Inter-Committee working group in charge of examining the approach of treaty bodies to reservations which took place on 14 and 15 December last year and in which Mr. Patrick Thornberry participated. Furthermore, Mr. Sicilianos reported on the meeting of representatives of treaty bodies with the International Law Commission which took place in Geneva from 15 to 16 May this year in Geneva. I am sure that Mr. Sicilianos will provide you in due course with further detail on the outcome of this meeting.

Finally, interesting discussions were held on human rights indicators as well as on business and human rights on the basis of a study undertaken by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights, transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

I am sure that the Chairperson and Mr. Sicilianos will provide you with further information on the content of all these discussions during the course of this session.

Activities undertaken by the High Commissioner in accordance with her Plan of Action and Strategic Management Plan

Allow me now to highlight some activities carried out by the High Commissioner since your last session and which may be of interest and relevance to your work.

The High Commissioner undertook, inter alia, two substantial missions over the past few months, one to the Great Lakes region of Africa and one to Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan whose second periodic report you will consider during this session. An OHCHR regional office is currently being set up in Bishkek, which will work on human rights issues relevant to the region in close cooperation with Governments in Central Asia as well as with international, regional and national organisations, as well as with civil society and the private sector.

From 9 to 14 July, the High Commissioner also carried out a visit to the Republic of Indonesia, whose initial report you will consider during this session. The High Commissioner joined the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia to open the 14th annual workshop of the framework on regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific hosted by the Government of Indonesia in Bali from 10 to 12 July 2007.

In accordance with the High Commissioner’s Plan of Action and OHCHR Strategic Management Plan, our Office has continued to hold training workshops with a view to strengthening the capacity of key target groups, namely national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and the media, to support and facilitate the implementation of concluding observations at the national level. Such workshops will be held in November 2007 in Geneva for target groups from Indonesia and Guyana as well as a third country to be identified soon. Our Office is also starting preparations for follow-up workshops in Georgia, Mexico and Morocco.

The DVD on the work of the treaty bodies is being translated in Arabic, Chinese and Russian and we hope that the translations will be finalized by September 2007. Lastly, our Office is developing a specific web-page that will provide information on OHCHR and treaty body-specific activities on follow-up to Concluding Observations, including identified good practices.

Programme of work for the 71st session of the Committee

Turning now to your work during this session, your agenda will once again be very full. For the first time, you will be have briefings this morning in a closed session from representatives of UN specialised agencies (ILO and UNHCR) as well as from Mr. Gianni Magazzeni, coordinator of the National Institutions Unit in our Office. As you know, our Office is actively supporting the establishment and strengthening of national human rights institutions and expanding our partnerships with them, and I am pleased that Mr. Magazzeni will provide you with further information on OHCHR’s active engagement in this area.

During this session, you will consider 8 State party reports and several country situations under your early warning and urgent action procedures, as well as two communications under article 14 of the Convention and several follow-up reports from States parties. Furthermore, you will continue your work on revised reporting guidelines and you will hold the second meeting with States parties. Such meetings are important as they provide a useful occasion to explore how the work of treaty bodies can be enhanced in an effective and mutually beneficial manner, at the same time contributing to further the protection of rights-holders.

You will also have a first dialogue with Ms. Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. As recalled once again during the last meeting of chairpersons of treaty bodies, enhanced interaction with the special procedures mandate holders is of crucial importance to increase the effectiveness and coherence of the international human rights protection system, and I am sure that the dialogue with Ms. Jahangir will be mutually fruitful.

On a final note, I would like to inform you that Mr. Alessio Bruni, acting Chief of the Treaties and Council Branch (T.C.B.) retired on 1 July after nearly 32 years of dedicated service for the Organization. Mr. Bruni performed his duties with great accuracy and professionalism, and developed over the years an institutional memory on treaty bodies which will be difficult to replace. I am also very pleased to inform you that Mr. Ibrahim Salama has been appointed as the new Chief of T.C.B.. Mr. Salama will take up his functions in August. I am sure that not only T.C.B. but also the Office as a whole will benefit from Mr. Salama’s experience, most notably his chairmanship of the Working Group on the Right to Development.

I wish you a very productive session.
Thank you.