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26th annual meeting of Chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies

23 June 2014

I am very pleased to welcome you to the 26th annual meeting of Chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies. This is also the last time I will address you as High Commissioner, and our meeting today is also of particular significance as it is the first Chairpersons’ meeting since the General Assembly adopted the treaty body strengthening resolution in April – paving the way to effectively address the challenges faced by the treaty bodies through a well-defined incremental process.

Of course this is not the end-point of the process: it is the beginning. Still, we have come a long way, and I am proud of what you have collectively achieved. Just a few years ago, nobody referred to the treaty bodies as a system. Each treaty body evolved in relative isolation from the others, increasingly to the detriment of the effective, holistic protection of rights-holders. Thanks in great measure to the resolve of the treaty body Chairpersons, this is changing. You have placed the treaty bodies on the map as a system: the term “treaty body system” is mentioned 19 times in the treaty body strengthening resolution. This is quite an achievement for a set of mechanisms that, not very long ago, was perceived – and too often perceived itself – as a collection of individual and separate entities.

The Chairpersons have played an extremely important role throughout the treaty body strengthening process. Your joint advocacy has had direct impact on the negotiations because you spoke in unison, after consultation with your members. The fact that the General Assembly recognized the distinct legal competencies of States versus treaty bodies is one example of the successful influence of the Chairpersons. You were able to influence the process because you were united and spoke with one voice. The famous five principles that you formulated and defended in New York, as key parameters of the treaty body strengthening outcome, are a case in point. The joint statement resulting from your Washington meeting in January, one week before the final round of negotiations, is another case in point. My own voice has been there from the very beginning reinforcing the same parameters that you defined and defended.

Allow me to remind you briefly of the gains achieved through the General Assembly's resolution A/RES/68/268. Firstly, it grants the treaty bodies overall 30% more meeting time. Significantly, it also grants more human and financial resources from the regular budget, as of 2015. The General Assembly further adopted a capacity building package, funded from the regular budget, to assist States parties to fulfil their human rights obligations. And it also approved measures such as videoconferencing and webcasting that will help modernize the treaty body system and make it more accessible.

This innovative outcome will also permit periodic reassessment of the meeting time requirements based on objective criteria, in contrast to ad-hoc requests for resources. Moreover, I take particular pride in the fact that all of the above improvements are financed by cost-saving measures that were suggested in my June 2012 report. This is an unprecedented exercise in transparency, cost-effectiveness and improved management. Beyond the treaty body system, this good example may well serve other parts of the United Nations.

I am very pleased that the treaty body strengthening resolution - I quote – “encourages the human rights treaty bodies, with a view to accelerating the harmonization of the treaty body system, to continue to enhance the role of the Chairs in relation to procedural matters – including with respect to formulating conclusions on issues related to working methods and procedural matters, promptly generalizing good practices and methodologies among all treaty bodies, ensuring coherence across the treaty bodies and standardizing working methods” (paragraph 28).

I realize that interaction within and between committees may not always make it easy for Chairpersons to take on a leadership role that allows treaty bodies to reach firm conclusions, but I very much hope this challenge will be met.

In this context, I would like to recall the “Poznan Formula” which balances autonomy and unity within the treaty body system. This was reaffirmed at the Chairpersons meetings in Addis and in New York, where the Chairpersons reiterated that they should adopt common measures on working methods and procedural matters, across the treaty body system, following discussion within each committee, and agreed that such measures should be implemented by all the treaty bodies, unless a committee specifically dissociated itself from them.

The fact that the treaty body Chairpersons collectively took the lead in 2011, in Addis Ababa, to self-regulate their standards of conduct illustrates how effectively the Chairpersons can guide the treaty body system. Today, the Addis Ababa Guidelines are in force in almost all committees. The Guidelines, which have been recognized by the General Assembly, present distinct advantages to the idea of adopting a Code of Conduct, which could in practice threaten the committees' independence.

The General Assembly resolution attributes specific and clear responsibilities to the various actors, including States, treaty bodies, OHCHR, and others. It also invites treaty bodies to align their working methods in at least six specific areas, including the 3 topics on your agenda today, general comments, rules of procedure and common core document.

Importantly, the resolution establishes an incremental process of accountability, by mandating a progress report by the Secretary-General every two years. This report will identify progress achieved by the treaty bodies in achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness in their work as in different provisions of the resolution.

The treaty bodies are quasi-judicial mechanisms, created by States to help states ensure respect for the rights of persons and groups. States have called on you unanimously to take a number of measures. I trust that at this meeting you will send a clear signal that you have heard the call of the General Assembly, and that you will give it due weight. A new and historic chapter is beginning, and a "business of usual" approach would not meet its challenges.

This meeting offers a timely opportunity for the treaty bodies to take the lead in implementing the TBS resolution in three distinct areas of implementation: the simplified reporting procedure; the alignment of methodologies for constructive dialogue with States parties; and a common format for short, focused and actionable concluding observations.

Notes by the Secretariat have been shared with all treaty body members twelve weeks in advance, to give sufficient time for review and so that the committees could provide you, as Chairpersons, with general parameters for your discussions and conclusions. The committees that held sessions since April have held meaningful discussions and those that did not meet in this period have exchanged views by email.

Throughout my mandate there has been a very constructive relationship between treaty body members and members of my Office, as we work in tandem to further the goal of all human rights for all. While there have been isolated incidents in which staff were not treated with dignity and respect, I trust that you will remain vigilant and attentive to the need to further the strong and constructive partnership between your committee members and members of my Office as we work towards our shared goal: the protection of all human rights for all persons. For this to happen, we all have to ensure applicable rules and basic principles of respectful conduct.

I hope that you agree with me that there is a natural alliance between treaty bodies and my office in implementing this resolution for the benefit of human rights. The treaty bodies and OHCHR are different and independent actors nonetheless. The General Assembly made this clear in its resolution 68/268 by conferring certain responsibilities to the treaty bodies and others to OHCHR. Hence, while our interests are aligned, we have distinct roles to play, at the end of the day, we will be judged separately. My own mandate as High Commissioner includes the responsibility “to rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations machinery in the field of human rights, with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness.”

In this spirit, the Office will continue to work to enhance the common purpose, cohesiveness, efficiency and effectiveness of the treaty bodies. I have instructed my staff, including treaty body Secretaries, to do their utmost for the implementation of the treaty body strengthening resolution 68/286 of 9 April 2014, in all its details.

Together, we have accomplished what many deemed impossible: the first successful strengthening of the human rights treaty bodies in 50 years, for the benefit of right-holders. It has been a tremendous journey, involving many different stakeholders. You, the treaty bodies and their members have played a prominent role.

I consider treaty body strengthening to be a key achievement of my mandate. By definition, the Chairpersons’ annual meeting should be where courageous decisions are made. I leave you with this responsibility, confident that you have the wisdom and commitment to continue this journey through your comprehensive and faithful implementation of the General Assembly treaty body strengthening outcome.

Thank you.