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Opening address by Mr. Ibrahim Salama, Chief, Treaties and Council Branch, OHCHR Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the 91st session of the Human Rights Committee

Human Rights Committee
91st session, Geneva, 15 October – 2 November 2007

Palais Wilson - Ground Floor Conference Room
Monday 15 October 2007, 10.00 a.m.

Mr. Chairperson,

Distinguished members of the Committee,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I welcome you most warmly to the opening of the 91st session of the Committee. It is my first time before this Committee in my new function as Chief of the Treaties and Council Branch. In my previous career, I had the privilege to meet several of the eminent experts of your Committee, and now, it will be both my pleasure and an honour to work with all of you. I am conscious that your Committee is one of the key pillars of the United Nations human rights system: your jurisprudence under the individual complaint procedure, your legal interpretation of the provisions of the Covenant, and your concluding observations on the status of civil and political rights of States parties provide guidance to the international community in its quest for a more effective promotion and protection of human rights.

The High Commissioner asked me to extend 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 session in July.

Adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

On 13 September 2007, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Declaration was adopted after more than two decades of negotiations among the United Nations Member States, with active participation of indigenous peoples from all over the world.

The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, as well as other rights such as education, health, employment and linguistic rights. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters concerning them. It also recognizes their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic, social and cultural development. Finally, the Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and indigenous peoples.

The adoption of the Declaration is a step forward in the consolidation of the international human rights system. As stressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Declaration will provide an impetus for renewed international efforts to address the pressing concerns of the world’s 370 million indigenous people.

Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies

Since your last session, the Human Rights Council held the first part of its sixth session from 10 to 28 September 2007, and continued its important institution-building task.

As you will remember, the General Assembly, in its resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, created the Human Rights Council and also decided that the new Council should undertake a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments, in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment of all States. The resolution states that the review should be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with full involvement of the country concerned, and taking into account its capacity-building needs. It also stresses that such mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of the treaty bodies.

On 18 June 2007, the Human Rights Council, by resolution 5/1, established the Universal Periodic Review mechanism and specified the basis of the review, its principles and objectives, the periodicity and order of the review, the UPR- process and modalities, as well as its outcome and follow-up procedure.
At its sixth session, the Human Rights Council, by decision 6/102 of 27 September 2007, adopted general guidelines for the preparation of information to be used for the Universal Periodic Review. This information shall include:

- A description of the methodology and the consultation process followed for preparing the information to be used under the UPR;

- Background information on the country under review and its normative and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights;

- The promotion and protection of human rights on the ground;

- Identification of achievements and best practices as well as challenges and constraints faced by the country;

- The key national priorities, initiatives and commitments that the State concerned intends to undertake to overcome those challenges and constraints, and to improve the human rights situations on the ground;

- The country’s expectations and needs in terms of capacity-building, and any request for technical assistance; and

- A presentation by the State concerned on follow-up to the previous review.

At the same session, the Council selected the countries to be considered by the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review during the first cycle 2008 – 2011. In order for all 192 States to be reviewed over a four year cycle, 48 countries should be reviewed each year. In that regard, the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review will hold three sessions per year and 16 countries will be considered at each session. The States that will first be reviewed in 2008 are: Bahrain, Ecuador, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia, Finland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, India, Brazil, the Philippines, Algeria, Poland, the Netherlands, South Africa, the Czech Republic and Argentina.

Finally, on 28 September 2007, the Council adopted resolution 6/17, requesting the Secretary-General to establish a Universal Periodic Review Voluntary Trust Fund to facilitate the participation of developing countries, particularly least developing countries, in the UPR mechanism. The Council also requested the Secretary-General to establish a Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance to be administered jointly with the UPR Voluntary Trust Fund in order to provide, in connection with multilateral funding mechanisms, a source of financial and technical assistance to assist countries implement the recommendations emanating from the UPR in consultation with, and with the consent of, the country concerned.

In addition, by decision 6/102 of 27 September 2007, the Council adopted technical and objective requirements for eligible candidates for mandate holders as well as for the submission of candidatures for the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council.

A lot of progress has thus been made by the Human Rights Council in its institution-building process. In that context, I welcome the decision taken by your Committee at its last session to designate Ms. Chanet and Ms. Wedgwood to present, at your March session in New York, recommendations concerning the institutionalization of your relationship with the Human Rights Council and the development of procedures and guidelines for enhanced cooperation with special procedures mandate holders, in particular with a view to developing effective approaches to the UPR mechanism.

Dynamism of the Human Rights Committee in fulfilling its mandate

The dynamism of your Committee in fulfilling its mandate is most noteworthy.

In that context, we all welcome the adoption, at your previous session, of General Comment No.32 on the right to equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial. This document will be of great significance for the interpretation and application of national legislation. It will also be an important source of guidance for all key human rights actors, including our Office, in assisting States to ensure a properly functioning administration of justice and, in general, a more effective protection of human rights.

We are also looking forward to benefiting from your General Comment on the challenging issue of States parties’ obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, which will be discussed at your March 2008 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 efforts to elaborate a media strategy for greater visibility of your activities and, thus better access for rights holders.

Your active role in enhancing the entire human rights treaty body system is of crucial importance. As you know, the Sixth Inter-Committee Meeting and the Nineteenth Meeting of Treaty Bodies’ Chairpersons recommended 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 be tasked to coordinate and make recommendations for the improvement and possible harmonization of working methods of the human rights treaty bodies. All recommendations of the Inter-Committee Meeting will be developed in consultation and with the approval of all treaty bodies. Our Office is currently planning to convene an organizational session of the Inter-Committee Meeting to highlight areas requiring harmonization in the first quarter of 2008.

I would also like to inform you that our Office recently sent a note verbale to all Permanent Missions to the United Nations, recommending that the approved harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties, including guidelines on a common core document and treaty-specific documents, should be used by States parties when submitting a report to any human rights treaty body. Briefings with States parties to further disseminate these guidelines, and to clarify issues related to their implementation, are currently being planned by the Secretariat. In addition, our Office has provided technical assistance to several States parties with regard to the common core document. Australia, Timor-Leste and Turkey have already submitted their common core documents.

I am pleased to inform you that, in August this year, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has adopted revised reporting guidelines for CERD- specific documents, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are well advanced in their revision of their treaty- specific guidelines.

In that context, we welcome your Committee’s decision to designate Mr. O’Flaherty for the task of reviewing your reporting guidelines and compiling information of any difficulties experienced in the implementation of the revised harmonized guidelines.

Greater visibility and accessibility of the work of the Human Rights Committee

Challenges persist in making the treaty body system more visible and accessible.

Our Office will continue its work to enhance awareness and understanding of the treaty body system, as well as to facilitate the implementation of treaty body recommendations at the national level.

In conformity with that objective, training workshops on the work of treaty bodies, and on the different ways in which key actors, such as national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and the media, can contribute to the reporting and implementation process, are being conducted regularly.
Last week, in Mauritius, our Office conducted a workshop with national actors on the follow-up to concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and your Committee. Similar workshops are planned in Mexico in the end of 2007, as well as Georgia and Morocco in the beginning of 2008. In addition, our Office will organize a workshop for 30 participants from Guyana, Indonesia and the Philippines in November 2007 in Geneva.

Next year, we are planning to organize regional workshops to enhance the sharing of good practices relating to follow-up to concluding observations. In addition, our office will work with judges and lawyers to explore how national courts are taking into consideration jurisprudence from international human rights mechanisms.

Our technical cooperation capacity will also be enhanced, inter alia, through different technical tools, such as DVDs and CD-ROMs, training and reporting kits, updated fact sheets on the treaty system, including in electronic format, and new compilations and analyses of concluding observations and other outputs that are accessible on-line. Improvements will also be made on the relevant web pages and on the treaty body database.

Moreover, we will gather examples of good practices at the national level in the implementation of human rights treaty provisions and of treaty body recommendations in order to provide guidance to States parties and United Nations partners as to how States have sought to comply with international human rights standards.

Our Office is also developing a web-page that will provide information on all OHCHR and treaty body-specific activities on follow-up to Concluding Observations, including on identified good practices.

Intensive efforts continue therefore to be made towards reinforcing the impact of
your invaluable work and towards meeting the expectations of rights holders and improving the protection of human rights at the national level.

Present session of the Human Rights Committee

Coming back to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols, on 25 September 2007, Kazakhstan signed the first Optional Protocol. On 4 October 2007, Albania acceded to the first Optional protocol. Chad submitted its initial report, the Republic of Moldova its second periodic report, Azerbaijan its third periodic report and Tanzania its fourth periodic report. Australia submitted a common core document and its fifth periodic report on the basis of the harmonized reporting guidelines.

Regarding your present session, you will have a heavy agenda. One should note that you will examine 5 country reports (Georgia, Libya, Austria, Costa Rica and Algeria) in order to reduce the backlog of States parties’ reports submitted to your Committee (15 reports). You will consider a large number of communications and will continue your discussion on the working methods of the Committee. Finally, you will consider the progress reports submitted by the Special Rapporteur on Follow-up to Views, Mr. Shearer, and the new Special Rapporteur on Follow-up to Concluding Observations, Sir Nigel Rodley.

Let me assure you of the full support of our Office and all services of the Secretariat in assisting you to fulfil your mandate.

In conclusion, I wish you a fruitful and successful session. Allow me to add that I am available for a discussion with Committee members on any matters of interest, such as, for instance the institution building process of the Human Rights Council and its impact on the work of treaty bodies.

Thank you.