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Human Rights Committee holds a meeting with States Parties

Human Rights Committee

14 July 2015

The Human Rights Committee this afternoon met with States parties to discuss the draft General Comment on Article 6, methods of work, resources, follow-up to concluding observations and views, and preparations for the fiftieth anniversary of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2016.

In opening remarks, Fabian Omar Salvioli, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee continued to make the best use of its time.  One significant change was adopting the recommendation from the twenty-sixth meeting of Chairpersons of treaty bodies, on the simplified reporting procedure, which was now open to all States parties.  Reprisals and acts of intimidation featured high on the agenda of the meeting of Chairpersons in Costa Rica earlier this year.  Another challenge faced by the Committee was the lack of resources.  Additional meeting time granted by the General Assembly was certainly most welcome, but there was no necessary staffing to go along with it. 

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts provided updates on the process of consultations on the draft General Comment on Article 6, methods of work, including the simplified reporting procedure, human and material resources, follow-up to concluding observations and views, and preparations for the anniversary of the two Covenants in 2016. 

States parties asked about the activities planned to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the two Covenants, ways to make interactive dialogues more effective, the drafting procedure of the next General Comment, the implementation mechanisms for follow-up to recommendations and views, and the challenges ahead of the Committee in terms of resources.

The following States parties took part in the discussion: Norway, United Kingdom, Brazil, Belarus, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Argentina, Georgia, Tunisia, Venezuela and Bolivia.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Friday, 24 July at 3 p.m., when it will adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Venezuela, United Kingdom, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Spain, Canada, Uzbekistan and France, which was considered during the session, before closing the one hundred and fourteenth session.

Opening Remarks

FABIAN OMAR SALVIOLI, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the six new Committee Members, who had undertaken their duties in January 2015.  Thanks to General Assembly resolution 68/268 on treaty body strengthening, the Committee had been able to intensify its work.  In the October 2014 session, the number of communications reviewed by the Committee had doubled. 

Speaking about working methods, Mr. Salvioli said that the Committee continued to make the best use of its time.  One significant change was adopting the recommendation from the twenty-sixth meeting of Chairpersons of treaty bodies, on the simplified reporting procedure, which was now open to all States parties.  All States parties which had not yet done so were encouraged to adopt that procedure.  States parties to the Covenant who were members of the Human Rights Council ought to act as guarantors of the Covenant.  One common challenge faced by all treaty bodies was the issue of reprisals against human rights defenders in various countries.  The General Assembly strongly condemned such reprisals in its resolution 68/268, asking all States to prevent and eliminate that practice.  Reprisals and acts of intimidation featured high on the agenda of the meeting of Chairpersons in Costa Rica earlier this year.

Another challenge faced by the Committee was the lack of resources.  Additional meeting time granted by the General Assembly was certainly most welcome, but there was no necessary staffing to go along with it.  In 2014, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Second Optional Protocol on the abolition of the death penalty had been celebrated; 81 States parties had ratified it until now.  The Committee commended States parties which had abolished the death penalty and encouraged others to follow suit.  In 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of the two Covenants would be marked, which would present another opportunity to encourage remaining States to ratify them. 

General Comment on Article 6

NIGEL RODLEY, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the draft General Comment on Article 6, said that the wider community was now being regularly consulted between two readings of draft General Comments.  The second reading of General Comment 35 had been finalized in summer 2014, which had then been adopted.  It was essentially a codification of the existing practice, with filling in the existing blanks.  The Committee could address one General Comment at a time; in October 2014, the Committee had decided to focus on Article 6 – right to life – in its next General Comment.  This morning, a discussion had been held with civil society on the draft General Comment on Article 6, during which a wide range of opinions on death penalty, assisted suicide and abortion, inter alia, had been heard.  In October, the first reading of the draft was to be expected, when it would be made available to all.  It was hoped that the General Comment could be adopted by the end of 2016.

Update on Working Methods

YUJI IWASAWA, Committee Member, said that the Committee was continuously trying to improve its working methods.  Under the simplified reporting procedure, the State party received a list of issues from the Committee one year before its report was due and its replies would be considered as a periodic report.  The reporting burden of States was thus alleviated in two ways: the list of issues provided guidance and facilitated the drafting of the report, and States were no longer requested to provide both the report and written replies to the list of issues.  The Committee had so far reviewed four States under the simplified reporting procedure, with positive results.  The procedure was optional.  The simplified reporting procedure was now available to all States submitting their periodic reports; to date, 32 States had opted for the new procedure.  Other States were encouraged to follow their suit as well.  The backlog of reports had been reduced from 35 reports two years earlier to 26 reports today.  The Committee was committed to continuing to make the best use of its resources.

Resources

ANJA SEIBERT-FOHR, Committee Member, said that the additional meeting time had allowed the Committee to reduce the backlog.  The Petitions Unit had received additional funds in 2014 to support the work of the Committee, but the remaining challenge was still the lack of sufficient human resources in analysing individual cases.  The Committee was aware of the significant burden the Secretariat had absorbed to implement General Assembly resolution 68/268.  The number of registered cases had increased from the average of 89 per year in the period 2009-2012 to 191 in 2014.  The current backlog of individual communications stood at over 500; some 105 cases were expected to be considered in 2015.  Currently, 53 States were at least five years overdue with either initial or periodic reports.  Necessary staffing of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was a precondition for an appropriate follow-up to reporting.  Those long-term structural problems needed to be carefully looked into.

Follow-up to Concluding Observations and Views

VICTOR MANUEL RODRIGUEZ-RESCIA, Committee Member, stated that the Committee had created a Follow-up Rapporteur, which was a system that could be replicated by other Committees.  The Rapporteur identified best practices and would ensure two-way communication between the Committee and States parties.  A grading system – A, B and C – was in place to determine how States were complying with the Committee’s recommendations.  Recent positive examples included Mexico and Portugal on the issues of domestic violence.  The analysis of follow-up replies and grading of States parties was conducted publicly, as had been done the previous day.  The Committee’s language on remedies was generally rather abstract, but it was also important that its recommendations were achievable.  The Committee supported the good practice of creating national implementation mechanisms in States parties; in Columbia and the Czech Republic, for example, there were legal mechanisms ensuring compliance with views on reparations.

Preparations for the Anniversary of the Twin Covenants in 2016

Mr. Rodley, Committee Member acting as the focal point for the anniversary, stated that December 2016 would mark the fiftieth anniversary of the two Covenants.  The Secretariat had been doing great work on ways to celebrate and commemorate the anniversary.  The objectives of the campaign were to raise public awareness of the Covenants and the completion of the “International Bill of Human Rights”.  The idea was to promote positive images of human rights, especially when there seemed to be pushbacks in various parts of the world.  Children, youth and university students were among the target audiences.  Further ratification of the two Covenants would also be promoted, given that universal ratification was the ultimate goal.  “Freedom from fear and freedom from want” could be a possible theme.  A dedicated website and a logo would be developed.  It was hoped that the two Committees would overlap for at least a week every year so that views could be more easily exchanged.  Most of the activities related to the anniversary would have budgetary implications, which was why extra-budgetary contributions or States parties hosting some of the events would be welcome.

Comments by States Parties

Norway stressed the importance of the Committee having satisfactory working conditions. What did the Committee see as the greatest challenges in the implementation of resolution 68/268?  Did the Committee consider the allocated meeting time to be sufficient? Was there potential for more coordination with other treaty bodies?

United Kingdom was awaiting the Committee’s concluding recommendations on its recent report with interest.  The delegation had been deeply impressed with the quality of the exchange.  Was the simplified reporting procedure facing any challenges which would warrant future discussions?

Brazil said that human rights standards shed light on a number of positive and negative obligations.  The willingness of the Committee to engage in a consultative process while drafting General Comments was welcomed.  Was there a comparative analysis between the standard and simplified reporting procedures?

Belarus said it was seriously preparing its next report according to the simplified reporting procedure.  Belarus expressed its concern regarding the interpretation by the Committee of the admissibility of individual complaints.  The Committee’s rules of procedure were contradictory to the Covenant and should be removed; admitting communications from persons who had not exhausted domestic remedies was unacceptable.

Costa Rica said that it had recently hosted the meeting of the Chairpersons of the treaty bodies.  The third pillar of the United Nations System ought to be strengthened.  Costa Rica acknowledged the request by the Committee that additional meeting time should be accompanied by proper staffing.  The importance of impartiality and independence of members of treaty bodies ought to be re-emphasized during the fiftieth anniversary.

Cyprus said that during the consideration of the report of Cyprus in March 2015, the Committee had ignored many responses provided by the delegation.  Cyprus expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the concluding observations.  It was recommended that the opinion of the State party be accurately reflected in concluding observations, which would make the process more balanced and transparent.

Argentina was convinced that the submission of reports and follow-up recommendations were among the most effective ways of improving the capacity of States to meet their human rights obligations.  Argentina supported the Committee’s decision to draft a general comment on Article 6.  Synergies with other treaty bodies ought to be sought.

Georgia appreciated the Committee’s commitment to further improving working methods.  Georgia remained sympathetic to the proposal on the simplified reporting procedure and was currently considering accepting it for the preparation of its next report.

Tunisia believed that the Committee was the cornerstone of the entire international human rights system.  What did the Committee see as the reason for the doubling of the number of individual communications?  Could the Committee clarify the timelines related to the simplified reporting procedure?

Venezuela said that the time for the interactive dialogue between the Committee and States parties was extremely short and made it difficult for a State party to respond to dozens of questions and organize its answers in the time available.  Options to promote genuine interactive dialogues needed to be looked into.

Bolivia stated that it had undertaken every effort to comply with its international commitments; accordingly, Bolivia had drafted its national human rights action plan.  Bolivia took seriously recommendations issued by the Human Rights Committee. 

Responses by Committee Members

Mr. Rodley appreciated that Brazil was already disseminating General Comment 35 throughout its federal structures.  Regarding General Comment 36, Mr. Rodley said that it was hoped that consultations with State parties would take place in July 2016. 

An event contemplated for the fiftieth anniversary of the two Covenants included a panel discussion on the indivisibility and interdependence of rights at the March 2016 session of the Committee. 

Regarding the view of Belarus that nobody other that the individual in question under the Optional Protocol could submit a communication, the Committee believed that anybody properly authorized by the individual could so.  Domestic remedies needed to be compulsory and effective.

YUVAL SHANY, Committee Member, underscored that the Committee was ready and willing to allocate more time and devise new procedures to address the backlog, but was hindered in its efforts by the lack of the corresponding resourcing of the Secretariat.  The Committee encouraged States to adopt the simplified reporting procedure.  Mr. Shany agreed with Venezuela that six to nine hours were not sufficient for an interactive dialogue, but this was what could be done with the current resources.

Responding to the issue raised by Cyprus, Mr. Shany said that concluding observations did not always reflect all representations made by the State party.  Everything the Committee did was done in full transparency and objectivity.

YADH BEN ACHOUR, Committee Member, emphasized that the Committee was always guided by the principles of justice.  The first guarantee was that States parties themselves elected members of the Committee.  Information provided, furthermore, never came from a single source, and was not concealed. 

Ms. Seibert-Fohr stressed that the Committee was making every effort indeed to fulfil its mandate.  All necessary steps were taken to ensure that every country was treated fairly.  Replies to the list of issues were carefully listened to, while written replies were meticulously read.  Constructive dialogue required from all involved a high level of discipline.

In the process of the treaty body strengthening system, insufficient attention had been given to individual communications.  Some kind of adjustment in resources was needed in order to deal with communications, especially keeping in mind the rise in their number.  The Committee covered the broadest range of communications and there was no one topic more prevalent than others. 

The Committee was empowered to establish its own rules of procedures.  It was up to the Committee to decide on how to proceed with received communications.  All “available” domestic remedies needed to be exhausted; those remedies needed to be effective.

Mr. Iwasawa restated that the simplified reporting procedure was advantageous to States parties, and the only condition was that the State party was not submitting its initial report.  The procedure worked only with full cooperation of States parties.

Mr. Rodriguez-Rescia said that international standards on remedies were certainly something to be looked into.

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Member, stressed that States needed not be worried if the Committee was critical on certain issues; criticism was expressed with the view of improving human rights situations in their countries.  What were the States parties’ views on the work of dual chambers in some treaty bodies?

Mr. Salvioli believed that the dialogue between the Committee and States parties was improving; 52 States parties were present at the current meeting.

Regarding the possibility of a General Comment on Article 17, Mr. Salvioli said that the Committee was aware of its importance and might soon consider drafting a comment.

The Committee had already approved the Addis Ababa Guidelines, which governed the participation of committee members.  Individual communications included issues of non-discrimination, prohibition of torture, non-refoulement, treatment during detention, etc.

Once the Committee had adopted its concluding observations, the State party had the right to provide its comments, which would then be uploaded on the Committee’s website. 

Cyprus said that, after it had received concluding observations from the Committee, it had been informed by the Secretariat that further information could no longer be provided, and that Cyprus could comment only on the factual parts of the observations. 

Regarding compliance with the Committee’s decisions, Mr. Salvioli said that establishing national mechanisms to implement the Committee’s decisions was very important and praiseworthy. 

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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