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Opening address by Ms. Maria-Francisca Ize-Charrin to Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
68th session (20 February -10 March 2006)

Opening address by
Ms. Maria-Francisca Ize-Charrin,
Chief, Treaties and Commission Branch
Monday 20 February 2006, 10 a.m.
Palais Wilson (Ground Floor Conference Room)

Distinguished Chairperson,
Distinguished members,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you this morning. I am delighted in particular to address myself to the new member elected on 12 January, Mr.Kokou Mawuena Ika Kana EWOMSAN (Togo). I would also like to congratulate those Committee members who have been re-elected for a new mandate and express to all of you my deepest acknowledgement for your excellent work done for the Committee to combat racial discrimination and related intolerance. I can assure you that our objective continues to be to provide you with the best support and help possible.

I should like to briefly inform you of developments since I addressed you at the opening of your session in August 2005.

OHCHR Plan of Action and Treaty Body Reform

Activities to implement the High Commissioners’ Plan of Action continue. The Plan of Action identifies discrimination as one of the priorities to be pursued by the Office over the next five years. A special task force composed of staff from all branches of the Office, including the Secretary of the Committee, was established last autumn to consider ways to strengthen and better co-ordinate the work of the Office in relation to all forms of discrimination, including in particular racial discrimination.

As you are aware, following the preliminary exchange of views that you had last August on the High Commissioner’s proposals regarding a unified standing treaty body, the High Commissioner wrote to the Chairperson of each treaty body in October. Her letter provided information on the work underway with regard to the treaty body reform and invited you to continue sharing your views throughout the process. I thank Mr. Yutzis for the letter which he addressed to the High Commissioner, drawing her attention to the views expressed by the Committee during its last session and summarized in your report to the General Assembly. We are also very grateful to Mr. Sicilianos for the paper which he contributed last autumn.

In October last year, a brainstorming meeting was organized within the Office, in order to reflect on a unified standing treaty body and to draw optimal benefit from in-house expertise. A similar meeting had been organized by the United Kingdom for members of the European Union on 6 October 2005. More recently, meetings were organized in the UK at Wilton Park and by Nottingham University, creating a forum for discussion for academics, representatives of NGOs and governments as well as treaty body members. The issue was also discussed during a meeting with Nordic mandate holders convened by the Mission of Sweden last week. I am aware that Mr. Kjaerum participated in this meeting as well as in the meeting at Wilton Park and he will be able to report to you on these discussions.

You will also have seen from the Office’s website that the on-line discussion forum on the treaty body reform, which I had announced at the last session, was launched in early November and lasted until 6 December 2005. The forum attracted much interest with hundreds visiting the site, over four hundred registering and just under a hundred contributions posted. The forum proposed issues for discussion such as the strengths and weaknesses of the current system; the possible form, composition and functions of a unified standing treaty body; how the protection of specific rights can be ensured; how a new unified standing treaty body could enhance implementation at the national level; and the different legal options for creating a unified standing treaty body. We have taken into account the contributions made during the five-week forum, so as to integrate this information into the concept paper which I am pleased to announce will be finalized during the first half of March and circulated to you and all other stakeholders. Further background papers will be prepared on specific issues such as legal considerations, membership and resource requirements.

It is envisaged that a brainstorming meeting on the paper will be organized in July 2006 along the lines of the Malbun meeting organized in 2003. Finally, a two-day intergovernmental consultation of States parties will be convened towards the end of 2006 to discuss options for this reform.

It is my hope and firm commitment that with all those contributions, and in particular with your input and unique expertise, the reform engaged will reach its main goal, namely to enhance the protection of rights holders. As I have emphasized many times, your role in this process is essential as you have the expertise and insight the High Commissioner relies upon.
While discussions of the High Commissioner’s proposals on a unified standing treaty body are on-going, efforts to strengthen the human rights treaty reporting system initiated pursuant to the Secretary-General’s 2002 reform proposal will continue. As you know, it is exceedingly onerous for many States to report separately to different treaty bodies, often on very similar or overlapping issues. Reports are thus delayed or, when submitted, often inadequate or repetitive, and there is insufficient time to consider them. Since the Secretary General's call in 2002 for harmonized reporting requirements and the possibility of submitting a single report, treaty bodies have begun drafting harmonized guidelines for reporting. The High Commissioner's Plan of Action emphasizes the need to finalize and implement the harmonized guidelines so that the treaty bodies can begin to function as a unified system.

As a follow-up to the recommendations of the fourth Inter-Committee Meeting and seventeenth Meeting of Chairpersons held last year in June, a technical working group, composed of a representative of each treaty body, including CERD, met on 8 and 9 December 2005 and again last week to finalize the draft harmonized reporting guidelines for consideration and eventual adoption by each of the committees.I am pleased to note that Mr. Thornberry participated in the technical working group meetings and I am certain he will report further to you at some later stage during your session.

The Office is also continuing to encourage the committees to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their working methods. I am pleased to see that the follow-up procedure of the Committee with regard to reporting is now in place. Mr. Kjaerum will be reporting to you later on during this session on latest developments in this regard, including on a meeting organized by the Irish Human Rights Commission last week which was attended by the Secretary of the Committee in order to prepare the co-ordinator’s visit to Dublin due to take place later this Spring. During this session, you will also have to appoint a rapporteur on follow-up to the opinions of the Committee adopted under article 14 of the Convention.

As your Committee is placing increasing importance on ensuring that States take effective action in response to its recommendations, allow me to draw your attention to a recent technical co-operation activity of the Office. We were very pleased to collaborate with our colleagues in the Division for the Advancement of Women for the sub-regional workshop on follow- up to concluding observations/comments of your Committee and of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women held in Cairo from 19 to 22 December 2005. This workshop, hosted by the Government of Egypt, was organized by OHCHR and DAW in cooperation with the National Council for Women of Egypt. It was attended by government officials, members of human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations from Algeria, Egypt, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. The workshop focused on enhancing implementation of both Conventions through more effective follow-up and implementation of the concluding observations/comments of the respective committees. Both CEDAW and CERD experts presented papers and facilitated discussions. We are especially grateful in this respect to Mr. Aboul-Nasr, Mr. Amir, Ms. Dah and Mr. Kjaerum. The report of the workshop is currently being edited and will be made available shortly.
This workshop was particularly timely at a moment where the High Commissioner is making all efforts to ensure that the protection of women’s human rights be reinforced. A women’s rights unit is currently being established at OHCHR and a new post will be created in OHCHR’s New York Office in order to solidify partnerships with women’s rights entities in New York. In addition, as you will recall, the Plan of Action indicates the wish of the High Commissioner to bring CEDAW to OHCHR. This would not only be desirable in order to bring women’s human rights to the centre of the UN human rights machinery, but would also have a positive impact for groups subject to double discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of gender and race. I am aware that this issue is the subject of your General Recommendation XXV and I can only encourage you to strengthen your efforts to combat gender-related racial discrimination.

Finally, let me also draw your attention to the outcome of the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Follow-up to the Durban Programme of Action which took place last month. The Intergovernmental working group found extremely useful the contributions made by Mr. Pillai and Ms January-Bardill who took part in the high-level seminar on complementary standards to combat racism and racial discrimination. The Intergovernmental working group, which was widely attended, discussed in greater depth the issue of substantive and procedural gaps in existing international instruments and decided to request the Commission on Human Rights to ask the High Commissioner to appoint five experts to undertake a study on the existence of gaps and indicate the way forward.

Furthermore, I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that the Intergovernmental working group, during its thematic discussion on globalization and racism, addressed the issue of migration and emphasized the need for a comprehensive, holistic and human rights approach to this phenomenon. As you may know, in September of this year, the General Assembly will hold a High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development. One of the roundtables envisaged deals with the protection of the human rights of migrants. It is extremely important that the voice of human rights be heard in the debate on international migration. I am pleased to report that the Committee on Migrant Workers recently held a day of general discussion on the protection of the rights of migrant workers as a tool to enhance development and will adopt a written contribution to be sent to the High Level Dialogue, highlighting the importance of the Migrant Workers’ Convention. CEDAW has also made significant progress in the preparation of a general recommendation on migrant women. OHCHR intends to make available to the High Level Dialogue a compilation of relevant observations by treaty bodies and special procedures mandate-holders on human rights of migrants. Your general recommendation No.30 on the rights of non-citizens will be of great relevance in this regard.

Distinguished Committee members,

I am fully aware that you have ahead of you a busy session. Your Committee will examine the periodic reports of 8 States parties and will review the implementation of the Convention in several States parties whose reports are seriously overdue, as well as two individual communications. I wish you every success in your important work this session. I again pledge the full support and commitment of Our Office in facilitating your task in every way possible to ensure the smooth completion of your heavy workload.