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Opening Address by Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances - Second Session

Geneva, 26 March 2012

Distinguished members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome you to Palais Wilson and to Geneva and reiterate my congratulations for your election to the Committee and the successful commencement of your work.
Enforced disappearance is one of the most heinous crimes.  Disappeared persons are literally made ‘invisible’.  The Convention on Enforced Disappearances and your work will increasingly draw attention and seek remedies for a plight that affects countless individuals, but that all too often remains unaddressed.
As you embark on your second session, I assure you of my commitment, and that of my staff, to providing you with substantive and technical support.  My Office will spare no effort to promote the ratification and implementation of the Convention.  These advocacy goals are an integral part of my objectives of the next two years.  Furthermore, you can count on my assistance to help ensure coordination and complementarity between the Secretariats of this Committee and the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

I am heartened to see that you have devoted one of your initial thematic discussions to the effects that enforced disappearances have on women and children. As victims of disappearance, women become particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.  If their partner or a male member of the family disappears, women are those who most often bear most of the economic, social and psychological consequences.  Since women are also at the forefront of the struggle to resolve the disappearances of members of their families, in all probability they are also likely to be at the forefront in the victims’ interaction with your Committee.  I encourage you to maintain full focus on women and children in your future proceedings, including through the reporting process.

Members of the Committee,

I would like to discuss an issue of pressing importance and high priority for my Office, that is, the need to strengthen the treaty body system which is currently facing challenges of direct relevance to your Committee.  Your involvement and support for this goal is fundamental. 

Let me elaborate on this crucial point. The treaty body system has had significant influence on the enjoyment of human rights across the globe, and I believe that this influence is increasing.  At the same time, the system has also grown exponentially in recent years, today comprising 10 treaty bodies and 172 experts.  While this growth holds great potential, it has not been matched with a commensurate increase in the human and financial resources that are indispensible for adequately supporting the system.   I am offering some examples that further clarify my point. Since your first session, the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, introducing communication and inquiry procedures, has been adopted and opened for signature. This year it is expected that the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will enter into force. These developments are highly welcome.  However, they will add to the workload of a system that is already greatly overstretched in terms of human and financial resources. 

As you prepare to consider State parties’ reports to this Committee, you will likely experience the effects of these hurdles, unless we achieve a structured and sustainable response to the challenges facing the whole system.  Let me be clear on this point: the status quo is no longer viable and change is urgently needed. 

The aim is to have a treaty body system that works both efficiently and effectively, with appropriate resources and Secretariat support.  Consequently, in 2009, I launched a process of treaty body strengthening.  I have conducted extensive consultations to gather views and recommendations regarding the most acceptable and sustainable solutions. In June, I will publish a report which will draw conclusions and recommendations on how I believe the treaty bodies can be bolstered.

I would like to highlight two aspects of this process of particular relevance to you.  The first relates to consultations that took place last November in Dublin, attended by Chairpersons and other representatives of treaty bodies.  In addition to treaty body experts, the Dublin meeting was attended by the conveners of all the consultations held over the past two years, and it led to the adoption of the Dublin II Outcome.  The Outcome Document painstakingly brought together the results of this reflection process and presented clear recommendations to treaty bodies, Member States and OHCHR.  The document was shared with you electronically. I trust that it will provide you with a comprehensive view of the state-of-play of the process and of many of the recommendations that will likely be included in my report.

The second aspect of the process that I wish to highlight concerns the General Assembly resolution tabled by the Russian Federation and adopted on 23 February 2012.  The resolution has launched an open-ended intergovernmental process on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system.  While acknowledging the concerns raised by some stakeholders on this process, ultimately we consider that this initiative provides an appropriate and indeed necessary basis for States parties to reflect on concrete solutions to resolve the financial challenges faced by the treaty bodies.  It is my hope that States will take action immediately.  I will try my utmost to encourage a satisfactory conclusion to this process before the end of 2012. 

I would like to encourage this Committee to become involved in the treaty body strengthening process.  Already, many individual treaty body members have endorsed the Dublin II outcome.  In addition, in January the Committee on the Rights of the Child endorsed the Dublin II outcome as a committee.  Your input and views on this document, including possible endorsement, and indeed support to the process in general, are important to me so that I can have the most solid basis for drafting my report in June. 

Moreover, as you establish your working methods over the coming week, I hope that you will consider the Dublin II outcome as a source of inspiration for your own working methods.  The outcome document details a range of measures for treaty bodies, including this Committee, to consider.  For example, you could consider a common approach with other committees to non-reporting States.  Similarly, the comprehensive reporting calendar - originally proposed by the Secretary-General in his report to the General Assembly last year – could be an important tool to schedule reports transparently and equitably. Further, the use of webcasting of dialogues with States parties is increasingly being employed by treaty bodies and also warrants your consideration.  I am pleased to note that further information on the treaty body strengthening process will be provided to you on Wednesday.  I hope you will take advantage of the briefing to ensure your full contribution to this process. 


You have a full agenda before you this week.  In addition to considering the on-going process of treaty body strengthening, your second session presents a unique time to concentrate on the methodology of your work and to be creative in the application of those procedures specific to your Convention, such as article 30 on the urgent action procedure, or article 34 on bringing widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance to the attention of the General Assembly.  I note that you will also consider your rules of procedure and reporting guidelines; you will continue the discussion on your methods of work; you will hold thematic discussions on important cross-cutting issues affecting implementation of the Convention; and you will meet with States and civil society. 

The beginning of the practical application of the Convention is an historic milestone in the journey towards achieving justice for, and hopefully truth about, disappeared persons and their families.  I wish you well for the work ahead and for a successful outcome of the session.

Thank you.