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Opening Remarks by Adam Abdelmoula Director, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Training of trainers on Treaty Body Reporting for Southern Africa
Johannesburg, 26 September 2016

Your Excellency, Mr. Montwedi (Chief Director, Directorate of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa)
Dr. Majodina (former Chairperson Human Rights Committee),
Ms Bardill, (former member of the CERD Committee and Executive Director of   Bardill  & Associate)  
Dear participants,
Dear United Nations colleagues,

On behalf of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) let me start by warmly thanking Ms. Katherine Liao, Dr. Zonke Majodina and Mr. Pitso Montwedi for opening this event. We are honoured by your presence. We are also very pleased that South Africa has agreed to host this training.

The aim of the next five days is to train trainers – namely YOU – to train others on reporting to the Treaty Bodies. So let me highlight why this training and the work it will prepare you for are so critical.

As you know, the nine core international human rights treaties are our common framework to advance human rights across the world. These treaties are not abstract legal documents, but living instruments that provide tools to address issues faced daily by people worldwide. They are essential to the practical implementation of the noble objectives of the United Nations Charter: peace and security, development and human rights.

Dear participants,

We urge ratification of all treaties, but a good starting point is the two International Covenants – on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their adoption. These Covenants, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, constitute the International Bill of Human Rights that underpins international human rights law.

Thirteen of the 14 countries participating in this training have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and eleven the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Encouragingly, all have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

However, not all groups and issues enjoy the same recognition across the sub-region, where the least ratified treaties are the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, with two States parties, and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, with three. I would like to congratulate The Kingdom of Lesotho which is so far the only country in the sub-region to have ratified all nine core international human rights treaties. 

I could give you more numbers but the point is this: the time has come to aim at universal ratification and on-the-ground implementation of all treaties by all countries of the world. Human rights are universal, and a person’s ability to enjoy and enforce their rights should not change when they cross a border or go from one region to another.

Ratification and implementation of human rights treaties demonstrate the ratifying State’s intention to comply with international norms and standards, and its commitment to improve the lives of its people. The treaties clarify what human rights mean in practice, providing a common language to help to build a broad international consensus to defend rights and combat violations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we know, once a State ratifies a treaty, it has a legal obligation to report periodically to the independent expert Committees established under that treaty. The Committees in turn provide recommendations on how the State can improve human rights on the ground. Reporting is one part of a larger cycle, which includes follow-up to the Committees’ recommendations and should improve implementation of obligations set out in the human rights treaties. One serves the other – put simply, reporting is essential to advance human rights.

States are not just obliged to report to the treaty bodies, but to do so in a timely, meaningful and objective way. That implies work of course but it is a process that enables Governments to gain a better understanding of their national situation through reviewing laws and policies, and collecting meaningful data. Reporting helps to monitor progress in treaty implementation, to raise awareness among the general public and to enlist assistance from civil society. Reporting creates an opportunity for national dialogue, ensures an inter-governmental coordinated response, and enables countries to benefit from the experience of international experts.

Dear Participants,

We are well aware that the increase in ratifications, currently standing at 1300 by the 193 UN Member States, as well as the reporting and submission of States reports, and individual complaints have all led to growing and often competing demands and requirements of you, the States.

This is why, in 2014, the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution strengthening the human rights treaty body system, established a Capacity Building Programme within the UN Human Rights Office to support States parties in building their capacity to implement their treaty obligations.

The Programme was established in 2015 and is becoming increasingly operational – and sustainable.  This Programme enhances national ownership; it strengthens institutional frameworks at the national level; it facilitates the exchange of good practices within and across regions. And one of the key parts of the Programme is training State officials – like YOU - who have extensive experience in treaty body reporting to train others.  To date, we have trained  officials from the Pacific, the English-speaking Caribbean countries, Belize, Canada, the US, the Middle East, Gulf States, North Africa, and most recently from East Asia.

States themselves have realised that a more comprehensive, sustainable and efficient approach to reporting and follow-up is needed, given the demands not only of Treaty Bodies but also the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic review and visits by Special Procedures mandate holders. States are increasingly improving their governmental structures to engage  with international and regional human rights mechanisms by setting up National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up (NMRFs). Such structures should contribute to transform reporting from a perceived burden to a concrete benefit for States and ultimately rights holders.

During our training this week, we will discuss good practices in this regard, building on a Practical Guide and Study on such mechanisms, which our Office has just launched.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The new Capacity Building Programme is there to assist you to meet your reporting obligations, whether through improved Governmental structures to engage with the treaty bodies, increased capacity at national level on treaty-specific reporting or simply by providing basic technical guidance, on matters such as deadlines and word limits.

Ten human rights officers are based in our regional offices around the world to provide such assistance, upon your request. Our colleague, Mr. Jean Fokwa, based in Pretoria and whom many of you know already, is your contact person.

This training will help you, together with our team or among yourselves, to train others in your own professional community, and in some cases across this sub-region and other regions. Based on a General Assembly mandate, we are establishing a roster of trainers on treaty body reporting and, if you wish, you can be added to this at the end of this week. This entails being part of our community of practice, in regular contact with our team who will share news on the treaty body system.

You will also, I hope, become “Ambassadors” for the human rights treaty bodies in your home country.

I wish you all an exciting week of learning and sharing experiences together.

Thank you.