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Opening Address by Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the 74th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child

Geneva, 16 January 2017

Mr. Chair,
Distinguished members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honored to join in welcoming you to the seventy-fourth session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. May I also extend to all of you my very best wishes for the New Year.

Mr. Chair,

As we embark on a new, and what promises to be, challenging year, it is right that we celebrate and take strength from the Committee’s achievements in 2016.

Last year, the Committee reviewed and adopted its concluding observations on 36 States parties’ reports. While over the last two years the implementation of General Assembly’s resolution 68/268 on Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system, broughtadditional weeks and work in double chambers, and placed a heavy burden on you and on the OHCHR staff working with you, it meant you could reduce the backlog of pending reports from more than 80 to the current average of 40, which include 31 new reports under the Convention and its two first Optional Protocols received during 2016.

Furthermore, in order to meet some of the requirements of General Assembly’s resolution 68/268, the Committee continued to adapt its methods of work, including by (i) enforcing question time limits during constructive dialogue, (ii) adopting a shorter format of concluding observations that identify urgent measures, (iii) offering the Simplified Reporting Procedure to a first group of States, (iv) reintroducing the yearly informal meeting with States and (v) offering them the opportunity to give their inputs on the advance versions of draft General Comments.

In 2016, you adopted two general comments – on public budgeting for the realization of children’s rights and on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence whose utility to the efforts of advocates the world over should not be understated.

In September, you held a very successful Day of General Discussion dedicated to children’s rights and the environment; notable too because of the wide participation of children and adolescents, both as panelists and as participants. This demonstrated how children and adolescents can effectively participate in decisions and actions to prevent, respond and adapt to environmental harm. As Ritu, a 15-year-old environmental activist from India said, “children’s environmental rights are life rights. Without a clean and healthy environment, we cannot learn, play and live. If we neglect our environment, we threaten our lives”.

In 2016, the Committee also adopted its first two cases and considered its first requests for possible inquiries under the third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure that entered into force in April 2014.

In June, the Committee also adopted the Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals (“San José Guidelines”).

Mr. Chair,
Distinguished members,

As stated by your Chair in his statement at the General Assembly “the power of the CRC to positively impact the lived reality of children in all corners of the world is demonstrably present”. Nevertheless challenges persist. Although the Convention is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, a large number of reservations remain, some of which go against the object and purpose of the Convention. Ratification of the third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure is still very low, with no new ratifications since last session. And the implementation of the CRC concluding observations is not consistent. 

Indeed, your achievements and the challenges you face sit against a disturbing background of ongoing violations of the rights of children, some of which were highlighted by your Chair at the General Assembly. These include child poverty; violence against children in all its forms; discrimination against girls, children born outside of wedlock, children with disabilities, and migrant, asylum seeking, stateless and refugee children.  Persisting insufficient integration of a child rights-based approach into the planning and implementation of child health policies and programmes and repressive laws in the field of juvenile justice impedes progress that otherwise is within the reach of countries the world over.

The worsening of the global migration and refugee crisis has wrought a devastating impact on the rights of millions of children worldwide, including their rights to life, survival and development.  One in every 8 migrants is a child.  1 in 200 children is a refugee.  26 million children today are displaced by conflict.  A Rohingya boy – a toddler - lying dead in the mud just as did Aylan - his body washed up on a Turkish beach -  tragic evidence of the world’s failure to fulfill its obligations to the world’s children.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In August 2016, the Secretary-General in his first biennial report on the status of the treaty body system, advised that the measures taken in resolution 68/268 have indeed allowed the treaty body system to address some of its most pressing challenges and concluded with directions for further progress. In response, the General Assembly in December reconfirmed adopted, by consensus, a resolution that brings the sponsors of traditional individual treaty resolutions under one umbrella for procedural and managerial matters.

Later this year, the General Assembly will consider its position on provision of resources for the amended 2018-2019 meeting schedule resulting from changes in the system’s workload. A re-calculation was presented to the General Assembly Fifth Committee on the basis of the mathematical parameters outlined in resolution 68/268. One positive aspect is that, if and when the General Assembly acts on its own formula, it will confirm a quasi-automatic mechanism for the funding of the treaty body system, based on the objective criteria of incoming reports and communications.

Such a mechanism, which allows for adaptations to the meeting time every biennium, is a novelty in the UN system and carries the advantage that ad hoc resolutions are no longer needed. As you may recall, the mathematical formula in resolution 68/268 has a built-in margin of meeting time to allow treaty bodies to deal with the backlog in State party reports. The mathematical formula, however, stipulates that this margin should drop from 15 to 5 per cent as of 2018. As a result of the reduction of the backlog margin and a temporary slowdown in the number of State party reports submitted in previous years, the CRC will go back to its original meeting time of 12 weeks every year in the next biennium.

Mr. Chair,
Distinguished members,

As you may be aware, in October 2016, the Secretary General welcomed the appointment of Manfred Nowak to lead the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, following a recommendation by the United Nations High Level Task Force on Children Deprived of Liberty, composed of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children, the SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict, the Chair of the CRC, OHCHR, UNICEF and UNODC. The legislative basis for the appointment of the Independent Expert on the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty can be found in General Assembly resolution 69/157 by which it “invited the Secretary-General to commission an in-depth global study on children deprived of liberty”. 

Mr. Nowak, whom you will meet during this session, held a meeting of States in Geneva in November and another meeting will take place in New York in January 2017. A meeting on methodology on how to proceed with the Study will be held in March in Venice However, despite the number of efforts requesting voluntary contributions for the Study, the support from Member States has hitherto been inadequate, with the exception of Switzerland.

At the level of the Human Rights Council, the annual day of discussion at its March session will focus on the Protection of the Rights of the Child in the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Chair of the Committee will participate in the Council’s discussions.

Mr. Chair,
Distinguished members,

Before I conclude, let me wish all the best to the five outgoing members, Mr. Guran, Mr. Nogueira Neto, Ms. Oviedo Fierro, Ms. Parsi, and Ms. Sheriff. Your contribution to the work of the Committee has been impressive and you will be greatly missed. We hope you will remain engaged with the work of the Committee and OHCHR.

Every individual child - amidst all their and our diversity, is entitled - by affirmation of the Convention that you hold in trust - to a common human dignity.  In these - its children, the world has both hope and duty. The largest generation of adolescents that the world has ever known gifts us unprecedented opportunity for investment and precious responsibility of protection.

They are an inbuilt global succession plan, and the sustainable development generation - the most compelling of the SDGs – not the least because they are today concentrated in places of greatest deprivation, gravest violence and deepest discrimination.  The work of this Committee will always be important – normative standards endure in all circumstances.  However, for the sake the sustainable development generation it may never be of greater strategic importance than it will be in this coming and immediate future sessions.

It is why I and thousands and thousands of human rights defenders around the world, join children and adolescents in wishing you a successful and productive session.

Thank you.