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Opening address by Ibrahim Salama, Representative of the Secretary-General, Director, High Rights Treaties Division to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 46th Session, Geneva, 2 – 20 May 2011, Palais Wilson, Ground Floor

Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to the 46th session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Allow me to congratulate and warmly welcome the two new Committee members, Ms Shin and Mr. Ribeiro Leão, who come to contribute to your work with rich knowledge and experience. Ms. Shin is not new to the treaty body system having been a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). I wish them both success and professional satisfaction in their new positions.

At the outset I would like to highlight new and important developments of interest to the Committee which have taken place since your last session and note upcoming events that relate to your work.

Turning to issues related to Strengthening of the treaty body system, you are no doubt aware that 2011 is a challenging year for us all, for the treaty bodies and for this Office. Following the High Commissioner’s call in the autumn of 2009 to treaty body experts, States parties, civil society actors and other stakeholders to initiate a process of reflection on ways and means to strengthen the treaty body system, a series of events have taken place, most recently in the Republic of Korea for international civil society actors, and others are scheduled in the coming months.  These events aim at bringing together individual groups of stakeholders to solicit their views and concrete suggestions on strengthening the working methods of the treaty bodies and making them more efficient and effective for rights-holders worldwide.

The Dublin Statement, adopted in November 2009, paved the way for current treaty body strengthening process.  As you know, it was followed in June 2010 by the Marrakech Statement containing recommendations for enhanced cooperation between national human rights institutions and treaty bodies.  Last September, the Poznan Statement was adopted with active participation from this Committee.  As you are aware, a consultation for States parties is scheduled for the 12th and 13th of May in Sion, to which the Chairs of all treaty bodies have been be invited.  Consultations for United Nations entities and national level civil society actors are planned for later in the year.  Finally, a meeting is expected to close the consultative phase in Dublin in the autumn.

With respect to inter-Committee issues, a meeting of the working group on follow-up set up by the Inter-Committee Meeting took place from 12 to 14 January 2011 in Geneva and was attended by Mr. Abdel-Moneim and Mr. Kedzia from CESCR. This working group focused on the follow-up procedures relating to concluding observations, decisions on communications, visits and inquiries, including an assessment of their effectiveness.  You have received in your files the advance version of the report, containing the points of agreement of the working group, which will be placed before the ICM and the Chairpersons meeting in June.

Your Committee, together with members of the Committee against Torture, will engage in a one-day consultation this coming Saturday in Chateau de Bossey. The other treaty bodies have all taken part in similar exchanges, the objective of which is to provide you all with opportunities to discuss topics selected for the up-coming Inter-Committee Meeting in June, as well as to provide a space for creative thinking and exchanges related to strengthening of working methods.

We will be working together to prepare concrete and tailored proposals on improving the effectiveness of the human rights treaty bodies to improve effectiveness and better manage workloads as requested for all treaty bodies by the General Assembly, and, in this context, also look forward to discussing concrete proposals with you.

This Committee is facing a particular challenge, as ECOSOC has deferred your request for additional meeting time on two occasions. During the last substantive session of ECOSOC in December 2010, resolution 2010/37 was adopted requesting the Chairperson of this Committee to report on the steps taken to improve efficiency, before a decision is taken by ECOSOC.

At your last session you asked the secretariat to inquire about the budgetary implications of working in two chambers, as another possible option you may wish to consider. We have also requested information on the financial implications of conversion of pre-sessional working group time into plenary time, an issue which was raised on several occasions. All of these, in addition to your pending request for an additional session can be further considered, and we will support you in this regard. I would like to reiterate however, as I wrote to your Chairperson, that the messages we are receiving now from States go in the direction of limiting the approval of additional resources to the extent possible. The General Assembly, at its 65th Session, approved additional meeting time for CERD and CAT (of one additional week per session as a temporary measure) after rejecting prior requests, and requiring considerable additional justification, including with respect to the individual complaints procedure. If this Committee maintains that three meetings are required for the consideration of a report, I would encourage you to develop an explanation for this that would clarify for States, once again, why this is so.  Without prolonging this discussion any further at this point, the secretariat remains available to discuss these issues further over the coming weeks.

I take this opportunity to mention development of new instruments and treaty bodies, which is of interest to us all – including with respect to the discussions related to the continuous growth and increase in workload of the treaty bodies.  On 23 December 2010, thirty days after the deposit of the 20th instrument of ratification, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances entered into force. Elections for the Committee on Enforced Disappearance are due to take place at the end of this month, on 31st May.

It will also be of interest for you to hear that on 17 February this year the open-ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child of the Human Rights Council adopted a draft Optional Protocol to establish an individual communications procedure under that Convention. This draft will be placed before the Human Rights Council for formal adoption in June of this year and is expected to be transmitted to the General Assembly for approval during its 66th session.

Finally, allow me to add that the Open-Ended Working Group established by the General Assembly “for the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons …, including by considering, as appropriate, the feasibility of further instruments and measures …” held its first meeting in April. This welcome attention to a gap in the human rights framework may well also result in a new instrument and monitoring body. I understand this Committee was represented during the discussions in New York and you will no doubt hear more about this from Ms Barahona-Riera.

Regarding your main treaty and its Protocol, there has not been any visible progress since your last Session. We continue to advocate for ratification of all human rights treaties and have encouraged ratification of the OP to CESCR in particular, including through our field presences.

Before turning to practical issues related to your work, I would like to draw to your attention to the fact that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, and this Office has been requested by the Human Rights Council (15/25) to launch preparations for the commemoration of this anniversary. Correspondence related to this anniversary and work of the Open-ended Working Group on the Right to Development is being addressed to all Chairpersons and your input and comments will be most welcome.

May I now draw your attention to the issues relating to the servicing of the Committee. OHCHR works closely with all the relevant units of the UN Office in Geneva to ensure that the highest possible level of servicing is provided to the treaty bodies.  As most of you are aware, however, the demands on the conference servicing units in Geneva have grown tremendously in recent years without the requisite increase in resources. We are also in discussions with the translation services and other units to see how to make the most effective use of the limited resources available to them and us. I would therefore call upon you to continue to take these constraints into consideration in the course of your work, by, for example, considering limiting the extent of written replies requested from States parties, as it has become increasingly difficult to ensure their translation, which, in turn, greatly affects your work.   

With respect to your session itself, and I know you have begun work last week already with a meeting of the Joint Expert Group of this Committee and UNESCO and a briefing for new members. Today, you will pursue your interaction with stakeholders from the United Nations and Civil Society, before you turn to a series of constructive dialogues with Turkey, Moldova, Germany, Yemen and the Russian Federation, in addition to the numerous other issues you will be discussing, notably your rules of procedure for the OP to CESCR, a draft Statement on the Corporate Sector and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, your working methods and others.

Rest assured that the Secretariat is ready to fully support you, and in particular throughout this challenging month ahead.

Finally, allow me to express my appreciation for the work of the outgoing Bureau of the Committee, led by the Chairperson Mr. Marchàn-Romero, and supported by the Vice-Chairpersons, Mr. Abdel-Moneim, Ms Bras-Gomes and Mr. Sadi and the Rapporteur, Mr. Kedzia whose terms of Office have come to end after two years. I am now honoured to assist the Committee in the conduct of its work this morning as a new Bureau is put into place.

Before turning to the agenda, may I invite the distinguished new members of the Committee to pronounce their solemn declaration in accordance with Rule 13 of the rules of procedure [the new members will have the text of rule 13 before them],  

Ms Heisoo Shin, you have the floor (……).,
Mr. Ribiero Leão, I now give you the floor (………….).

Thank you, I wish you the best of luck in the discharge of your important duties.

I would now like to turn to item one of the Provisional Agenda and Annotations, the Election of the Chairperson and other officers of the Committee. In accordance with established United Nations practice, the Secretariat will coordinate the election of the CESCR Bureau

We will first proceed with the election of the CESCR Chairperson, and then follow with the election of the Vice-Chairpersons and Rapporteur.
As you know, according to Rule 46 of your rules of procedure, you would endeavour to make decisions based on reaching consensus, and we would encourage you to proceed in such a spirit.