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Opening Address by Ms Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Forty-Eighth Session

30 April 2012 

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 48th Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Let me begin by emphasising the centrality of your work in the face of challenges posed by the global economic, climate, energy and food crises, as well as escalating sovereign debt.  We must not let these global dynamics put at risk the fulfilment of States’ obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  At a time of dwindling resources and shrinking national budgets, we must insist that such obligations be carried out. 

Your committee has a vital role to play both in discouraging the adoption of retrogressive measures that may negatively impact on people’s  social rights, and in helping to find viable responses to the crises in respect of international human rights law.  To face up to this and other challenges we need a strong and well-resourced treaty body system.

The system continues to grow. In December, the General Assembly adopted the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have been actively promoting ratification of this Optional Protocol to CESCR and look forward to the outstanding two ratifications required for its entry into force, within three months, in accordance with article 18 of the Protocol.

The expansion of human rights jurisprudence is a great achievement. Yet such development entails an increase in your own workload as well as that of the Secretariat, and requires commensurate resources.    

You have received regular updates from Ibrahim Salama, as well as communications from me personally, on the treaty body strengthening process. I will publish my report on this topic next June.  Follow-up to that report will depend on actions by treaty bodies themselves as well as by States.

At your last Session in November, you were briefed on the outcome of the Dublin II consultation.  Its outcome document has been endorsed by many individual treaty body members, as well as by several Committees.  I urge this Committee to consider endorsing the outcome document as well.

Dear Colleagues,

I welcome the steps that you have already taken to address some of the challenges you face.  I encourage you to further request support from ECOSOC for your work, and applaud the fact that you will reduce the number of meetings for the consideration of State party reports from three to two as of November, albeit on a trial basis.

This will send a strong signal to States that you are fully aware of the gravity of the situation and are taking measures, within your reach, to contribute to the timeliness of consideration of reports.

Similarly, I encourage you to use your own voice to highlight the Committee’s concerns to Member States.  I was pleased to learn that the General Assembly amended its resolution on the two Covenants to provide the Chairpersons of this Committee and the Human Rights Committee, an unprecedented opportunity to address the General Assembly and engage in an inter-active dialogue.   This will be an excellent platform for the Chairperson to raise awareness of the work of this Committee at the GA as well as highlight the challenges facing the Committee at this particular time.  

In addition to working with treaty bodies on the strengthening process, I have been actively engaging in consultations with States.  In this context, I facilitated a second informal consultation for States in Geneva in February, and one in New York earlier this month. At the New York Consultation, I stressed yet again that resources for treaty bodies must be adequate to the task they have been mandated to fulfil. With more than 110 Member States present over the two days of the consultation, I believe that this message has clearly been heard by States.

States are increasingly demonstrating their engagement in the treaty body strengthening process.  On 23 February 2012, the General Assembly adopted a resolution, tabled by the Russian Federation, to launch 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, I regard this initiative as an extension of the process I launched. We consider it appropriate, and indeed necessary that, through this process, States reflect on how concretely to resolve the financial challenges faced by the treaty bodies.

The OHCHR will do its utmost to ensure that all the treaty bodies have a strong voice in this process.

It is my sincere hope that all our efforts will lead to an adequately resourced and increasingly efficient treaty body system which will, in turn, contribute to the enjoyment of all rights by all.

Further information on the treaty body strengthening process will be provided by Mr. Salama and his colleagues when you meet with them during the course of this Session.  I hope you will take advantage of their presence to engage in a dialogue and to ensure your full contribution to this process, to which your further support will be greatly valued. 

I would also like to inform you that the Annual Report of OHCHR for 2011, which I hope to launch at the end of next month, will contain detailed information on the activities of this Office in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. I am pleased to note that over the last five years, OHCHR has become considerably more active in promoting these rights in its activities, both at the level of implementation in the field as well as through research in Geneva. We have been particularly active in promoting the ratification of the Optional Protocol and will continue to work on issues of particular interest to you, including health, food and housing rights, and to focus on matters related to land issues.

Finally, allow me to congratulate those of you who have been re-elected for another term by ECOSOC just last week in New York. I am convinced that I can count on your on-going commitment as you embark on your next term as of 2013. I promise that I will continue to do my utmost to ensure that this Committee, as well as the other treaty bodies, can continue to function in as an effective and efficient manner as possible.

With this in mind, I would like to wish you a successful Session and look forward to learning more about the outcome of your work in the next three weeks.

Thank you for your attention.