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Opening address by Mr. Eric Tistounet, Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the 84th session of the Human Rights Committee

84th session of the Human Rights Committee
11-29 July 2005

Palais Wilson (Ground Floor Conference Room)
Monday 11 July 2005, 10.00 a.m.

Mme Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to Geneva and to address you on the occasion of the eighty-fourth session of the Human Rights Committee. I particularly welcome the new members of the Committee who took their oath of office at the beginning of the spring session in New York, and for whom this is their first Geneva session.

The High Commissioner is not in Geneva at present but she will address your Committee during the course of your session. In the meantime, she asked me to extend to you her best wishes for a successful and productive session.

Allow me to bring to your attention a number of developments since your session in March-April.

Since your 83rd session, Honduras became the 105th State party to the Optional Protocol to the Covenant. The Central African Republic submitted its second periodic report, the Republic of Madagascar its third periodic report, and the Democratic Republic of Congo its third to seventh reports.

Communications under the Optional Protocol

Our Office follows with particular interest the development of your jurisprudence under the Optional Protocol and its impact at the regional and national levels.

One can note the frequent references to the Covenant and to the jurisprudence of the Committee in court decisions while at the same time regretting limited knowledge of the Committee’s case law in the legal profession and among non-governmental organizations in many countries.

The publication by our Office of the “Selected Decisions under the Optional Protocol” aims to remedy that lacuna through better accessibility and visibility of your jurisprudence. In that context, I am pleased to inform you that Volume V of the Selected Decisions has been issued and will be distributed during the course of your session. Volumes VI will be issued at the end of the year. Volume VII has been prepared and Volume VIII will be completed by the end of the Autumn. With Volume VIII, the Selected Decisions will be up to date.

Furthermore, a consultant for the Petitions Unit is in the process of compiling data for a new database which would, first, allow searches of judgments of national courts and regional bodies which specifically invoke provisions of the major United Nations human rights instruments, and secondly, would be organized according to the substantive provisions of the relevant instruments. We hope that the IT budget of OHCHR will enable us to create a prototype database in 2006.

The Office is also aware of the several initiatives taken by the Human Rights Committee in order to cope with the current backlog of communications pending under the Optional Protocol procedure, i.e. as of 1 July 2005, 348 communications. Such a backlog, we have to say, reflects to some extent, the success of the individual complaint procedure which is resorted to by an increasing number of people. In this connection, we welcome your last session’s decisions to further improve your methods of work under the Optional Protocol by extending the powers of the Special Rapporteur on New Communications as well as, on a trial basis, those of the Working Group on communications vis-à-vis inadmissibility decisions. At your last session, you considered the option that one week of Working Group meetings per year be transformed into a week of meetings of the plenary to reduce the backlog of pending communications. The Secretariat will provide you with information on financial implications in this regard.

Examination of States parties reports and country situations as well as follow-up to concluding observations

During the present session, you will consider five States parties’reports. Your concluding observations on those reports will assist the States parties concerned in developing legislation, policies and programmes in the field of human rights. At the same time, they will be of particular use for the Office, both at headquarters and in the field, as well as for any United Nations Country Teams and other partners in the formulation and implementation of strategic human rights country engagements.

The follow-up procedure to concluding observations established by the Committee has continued to be productive. Since your last session, Kenya and Serbia and Montenegro submitted follow-up information, and Sri Lanka expressed its intention to do so. Serbia and Montenegro’s submission, containing a recent decision of its Constitutional Court striking down aspects of its state of emergency regime is of particular interest not least given your General Comment on the matter.

The Office has also been actively engaged in strengthening the implementation of treaty bodies’ recommendations through various projects. Since 2003, an OHCHR project funded by the European Commission has been aiming to increase the enjoyment of human rights in countries that have ratified international human rights instruments and that regularly report to treaty bodies. It aims, in particular, at facilitating the implementation of concluding observations at the national level by strengthening the capacity of key target groups, namely national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and the media. Under the project, so far, a total of 17 workshops both in Geneva and in the field have been organized involving 20 countries from all regions. In addition, from 16 to 17 May 2005, an OHCHR-UNDP workshop took place in Santiago on the implementation of treaty bodies’ recommendations and human-rights based programming. The workshop is the first of a series of workshops which will be organized during 2005 in different sub-regions of Latin-America and the Caribbean. These and other similar exercises are expected to result in the submission of a larger number of reports and better follow-up to your concluding observations.

Revised General Comment on article 14

The dynamic and creative approach by which your Committee interprets and develops the contents of the Covenant’s provisions is also, for all of us, a source of inspiration and of great expectations. In that context, we are looking forward to the results of your proceedings on the elaboration of a revised General Comment on article 14 of the Covenant. Your interpretation on the right to a fair trial will indeed guide our Office in the formulation and implementation of effective responses to the main human rights challenges such as discrimination, armed conflict and violence, impunity, democratic deficits and institutional weaknesses.

Effective enjoyment of human rights

The intensive efforts put forward by your Committee and their results through your case law, general comments and concluding observations must be translated into concrete and effective enjoyment of human rights by all at the local level. Of course, since its creation, the Committee has been and is still an important force for the protection and promotion of human rights. The incorporation and impact of the Covenant provisions, of which you are the guardians, into domestic constitutional and legal systems have enabled individuals to assert and claim their rights. Your individual complaint procedure and its follow-up procedure have also brought relief to many complainants in the form of commutation of death sentences, early release, the prohibition of corporal punishment, payment of compensation as well as amendments to laws. Based on the above, one can note the 14 June ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina invalidating two amnesty laws that shielded military officers from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed during the country’s so-called “Dirty War”. In this judgment, reference has been made to the Committee’s General Comment N°31 as well as to your Concluding Observations on Argentina.

Based inter alia on those achievements, the whole United Nations human rights system, including our Office as well as human rights bodies and mechanisms must be strengthened in order to ensure better implementation of fundamental freedoms and rights worldwide.

OHCHR Plan of Action:

I n that context and for that purpose, the High Commissioner has elaborated the “OHCHR Plan of Action”.

As you know, this Plan of Action was called for by the Secretary-General in his report on United Nations reform entitled “In larger freedom” that you received while in session in New York.

The Plan of Action sets out a strategy to deal with the key challenge of implementation. It focuses on two overarching goals: protecting human rights and empowering people to assert and claim their rights.

The Plan includes several proposals relating in particular to the treaty body system in order to better support it and make it more effective.

It refers both to the critical contribution of the work of treaty bodies in country engagement strategies as well as to the need to finalize and implement the drafting of harmonized guidelines on reporting so that the treaty bodies can begin to function as a unified system. Finally, the High Commissioner is calling for an inter-governmental meeting in 2006 to consider options for a unified standing human rights treaty body. The relocation of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva would be an important step in that direction.

On 27 May 2005, the High Commissioner addressed to you her Plan of Action and looked forward to working with you in implementing the vision expressed in this plan. At your invitation, the High Commissioner will discuss with you her Plan of Action next week.

The strengthening of the human rights treaty body system was also discussed during the fourth Inter-Committee Meeting and Seventeenth Meeting of Chairpersons which were convened from 20 to 25 June 2005.

In conclusion, I wish you a fruitful, productive and successful session.