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Opening address by Ms Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Informal meeting, Intergovernmental process on the strengthening of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies, 16 July 2012 United Nations Headquarters, New York

The President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to introduce the report on treaty body strengthening to you in person as requested in General Assembly resolution 66/254.  On 22 June 2012, the report was posted on the OHCHR website. It is now available as a formal United Nations document in all official languages under symbol number A/66/860.  

The inter-governmental process established by the General Assembly and taking place in New York allows for the participation of all the Member States of the UNGA. This process is the culmination of an informal process I launched in 2009, in which all stakeholders were engaged in discussions over three years.

With regard to the current intergovernmental process, I wish to warmly acknowledge the leadership of the President of the General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser and the co-facilitators, Ambassador  Ms. Greta Gunnarsdottir and Ambassador Mr. Desra Pecaya. I also welcome the serious interest demonstrated by States to reinforce the treaty body system.

As the Secretary-General has said “the United Nations human rights treaty body system, which combines noble ideals with practical measures to realize them, is one of the greatest achievements in the history of the global struggle for human rights.  The treaty bodies stand at the heart of the international human rights protection system as engines translating universal norms into social justice and individual well-being.” Indeed, treaty bodies have been conceived by States to assist with authoritative guidance on human rights standards, their applicability to specific cases, and the steps to be taken to ensure that all people enjoy their human rights.

The incremental growth of the treaty body system over the past few years, with the adoption by States of new human rights instruments and the creation of new treaty bodies, is testimony to its global standing.  All parties benefit from their work.  Victims reach out to treaty bodies for redress and reparation through the individual complaints system.  States depend on them for expert advice on treaty implementation and a greater understanding of their obligations under international human rights law.  And the involvement of experts, civil society groups and State representatives in reporting and other processes generates a genuine dialogue at the national level that empowers individuals and improves laws, policies, programmes and institutions.

The treaty body strengthening consultation process conducted between the fall of 2009 and April 2012 sought to raise awareness among all stakeholders of the challenges facing the system and to elicit concrete suggestions to address these challenges. With this in mind, I have attempted to highlight the importance of viewing treaty bodies as a system, including by the treaty bodies themselves. The process sought to bring about gradual improvements, in particular, simplification and harmonization of working methods of the treaty bodies and the support work of OHCHR.

The process also aimed at identifying what would constitute the necessary resources to adequately support the work of the treaty bodies. Over the course of some twenty consultations held around the world and among different actors, including treaty body experts, States parties, national human rights institutions, civil society and United Nations entities, a variety of proposals were generated.

Three consultations were held for States: in New York on 2 and 3 April 2012, in Geneva on 7 and 8 February 2012, and in Sion on 12 and 13 May 2011. 36 written contributions were received. All outcome documents and proposals were regularly posted in a dedicated space on the OHCHR website.

The report, which is the outcome of the various consultations, provides a coherent framework compiling the proposals, identifying synergies, linkages, and areas for mutual reinforcement, and a basis for future common ground. In identifying the  proposals to be included in my report, I have applied definite criteria: the proposals must respect the treaties and not require treaty amendments; they must have been considered by the various stakeholders during the consultation process and bear a likelihood of generating the largest possible agreement; they must be compatible with and implementable alongside other proposals with a view to providing a coherent vision for the future of the treaty body system; and, most importantly, each proposal must contribute to strengthening the treaty bodies and provide for enhanced promotion and protection of human rights.

It is fair in my view, that in time of financial constraints, one looks closely at the efficiency of the treaty body system. However, let us bear in mind that treaty bodies are pushed to the maximum of their capacity and frequently even beyond. Almost all their meeting time is devoted to the consideration of State parties’ reports and to individual communications. The time given to elaboration of General Comments, for instance, is mainly outside the formal sessions, with individual members preparing and advancing drafts. The efficient functioning of the treaty bodies is due largely to the hard and dedicated work of their members- who, as we all know, work without remuneration.  

As we also know, the treaty body system has doubled in size since a decade ago with no matching increase in resources – throwing into question its survival, let alone it increasing efficiency.

One of the key proposals of the report on the strengthening of the treaty body system, that of a Comprehensive Reporting Calendar, is among others, based on the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly (A/66/344) on "Measures to improve further the effectiveness, harmonization and reform of the treaty body system." It proposes two options to address the current resourcing challenges, namely to establish such a fixed calendar, or to confine output only to reducing current backlogs. I am proposing the fixed calendar, as a long term solution as it responds to many calls for greater rationalisation of reporting requirements and advance notice to all stakeholders to allow for better planning and more meaningful participation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are today at a turning point in the history of treaty bodies. With the report and all materials submitted during the consultation process, we are now better equipped to fully understand the extraordinary challenges generated by a rapid growth of the system and we also have numerous forward-looking proposals that address most key aspects of the functioning of treaty bodies. States are currently considering how to strengthen the system with regard to their competencies through the General Assembly process and, on their part, treaty bodies are considering ways to improve and rationalize their working methods. 

The proposals in the report on the strengthening of the treaty body system are for your consideration. As long as their objectives remain met, they can still be fine-tuned, further elaborated and improved by you, treaty bodies and other stakeholders. The proposal for a comprehensive reporting calendar certainly merits in my view detailed attention and should not be shelved just because it has financial implications. This proposal offers many advantages, including full reporting compliance, equality of treatment, predictability and efficiency, both at national and international level.

Regarding potential savings included in the report, I wish to emphasize that if these savings are made it is essential that they are directly re-injected in order to reinforce the treaty body system through the support of proposals that have a cost implication.

I wish to further inform you that the ten treaty body chairpersons have considered the report on the strengthening of the treaty body system at the 24th Annual Meeting which took place from 25 to 29 June 2012 in Addis Ababa.  The Chairs have welcomed the report and endorsed the vision it contains. They have "expressed support for the valuable proposals contained in the report” and "recommended that each treaty body should carefully review the  recommendation addressed to the treaty bodies […] and compare these with their current working methods in order to determine whether and what steps are required for the implementation of these recommendations".

Furthermore, during their meeting the chairpersons took concrete action towards this objective by endorsing the “Guidelines on the independence and impartiality of treaty body members” (the “Addis Guidelines”). By doing so, the Chairs have re-affirmed the importance of human rights law in ensuring the independence and impartiality of the treaty body members and stressed their common will to complement the treaty provisions in this regard. They have also underlined the powers of the treaty bodies to decide on their own working methods and rules of procedure, and guarantee their independence as defined in the respective treaties.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my hope that, you will give due consideration to the report on the strengthening of the treaty body system, in particular to those proposals which require action by States. I am pleased to see that treaty body chairpersons have been invited as resource persons to the inter-governmental process, and I trust that this is the beginning of a fruitful exchange between States and treaty bodies throughout the process ahead of us. I also trust that similar care will be given to other actors of the treaty body system, such as National Human Rights Institutions and civil society organisations.

My Office stands ready to assist the inter-governmental process in any way the facilitators see fit. I wish you productive discussions in the weeks ahead and look forward to the outcome of your deliberations.

Thank you