Header image for news printout

Opening Address by Adam Abdelmoula, Director Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, at the 93rd session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

31 July 2017

Distinguished Chair,
Honourable members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you to the ninety-third session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the oldest of the ten U.N. treaty bodies. While many others in Geneva are on holiday during this time of year, your presence here is a reminder that the fight against racism must be relentless if it is to succeed. This could not be any clearer given the urgency and seriousness of the problems that many people throughout the world are facing on account of their origin. Many encounter race-based hostility and violence as they confront or flee conflict, persecution and poverty. Many face stubborn forms of institutional and systemic racism, in areas including law enforcement and access to justice, education, health, employment, land rights and housing. Many are targets of racist hate speech and hate crimes that are tearing communities asunder as diversity is increasingly perceived as a threat instead of a strength. Indeed, we are living in an alarming time when racism is being rehabilitated and legitimized in the name of security and nationalism. All of you are in a unique position to help combat these problems so that all people, regardless of their background, can fully exercise their human rights. And we are very grateful for your efforts to do this by impelling States to implement meaningful and real solutions to racism.

Chairperson, members of the Committee,

In his opening remarks to the Human Rights Council during its 35th session in June, the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that becoming party to an international human rights treaty is a commitment that a State makes, above all, to its own people, and that this commitment is not optional. Yet, as the High Commissioner stated, many states do not comply with their reporting obligations. ICERD in particular has the highest number of overdue reports, as 61 States parties are currently overdue by more than five years with their initial or periodic reports. Your Committee has taken important steps to address this problem, by for example beginning to offer simplified reporting to States whose periodic reports were overdue for more than 10 years, and recently extending the procedure to those whose reports are overdue by more than five years. This gradual approach of simplified reporting will hopefully facilitate the submission of periodic reports. During your last session, you organized your 5th informal meeting with States parties, at which 70 States shared with you the reporting challenges they face, including frequent reporting periodicity and reporting fatigue; and lack of time to implement recommendations. We encourage you to continue consulting and working with States and consider new and creative ways to reduce the number of overdue reports.

Through the treaty body capacity building program that was established under General Assembly Resolution 68/268 in 2015, we are also actively working on this issue on our side. As you’ll recall, the program supports “States parties in building their capacity to implement their treaty obligations.” During your 91st session, Paulo David, the Chief of the Capacity Building Section, updated you on the progress made by the program, informing you about the trainings provided to States on reporting to the treaty bodies, on building national capacity, and on engaging with civil society and national human rights institutions. Although it is a young program, its two years of operation have clearly yielded results by supporting States to increase treaty body reporting compliance and improve the quality of constructive dialogues before the treaty bodies.

I’d like to echo the High Commissioner’s statement to the Human Rights Council on the importance of follow up to treaty body recommendations. Because, as the High Commissioner stated, treaty body reporting is essential, but in and of itself, it does not necessarily translate directly into real progress. This may especially be true of matters concerning racial discrimination, which require changing not just behaviour, but attitudes and beliefs. This is why your recommendations and the follow-up procedure your Committee engages in are so crucial.

Furthermore, I was pleased to note that during the annual meeting of treaty body chairpersons in New York last month, your Chair and the other Chairpersons discussed the General Assembly’s upcoming 2020 review of the treaty body system, and articulated possible parameters for this review. The discussion highlighted that the reform must improve implementation of treaty body recommendations on the ground. The Chairpersons also considered that the treaty bodies should collaborate more, in fruitful ways, with other human rights mechanisms in order to enhance protection. I’d like to encourage you to strategize during this session as to how your work can have an even greater impact in peoples’ lives.

As a potential step in this direction, I’d like to suggest reflection on possible links with National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-Up (NMRFs), which have the potential to become one of the key components of national human rights protection systems by bringing international and regional human rights norms and practices directly to the domestic level. Our Treaty Body Capacity Building Program has issued a Practical Guide and Study on National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up, to assist States in establishing productive and efficient NMRFs. In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to the Office’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its resources and capacities, including those of the Treaty Body Capacity Building Team’s, with a view to providing more effective support to States’ implementation action on the ground through the provision of implementation and monitoring tools such as an upgraded universal human rights index and a national recommendations tracking database that is being developed.

I would also draw attention to the Committee’s individual complaint procedure as a promising but underutilised mechanism for redress for racial discrimination. To date, only 57 States parties have made the optional declaration recognizing the Committee’s competence to receive communications under article 14 of the Convention. The Office will continue its efforts to raise awareness about the complaint procedure in order to enhance its effectiveness.

Distinguished members,

As you know, elections for your Committee’s membership took place on 22 June, and we are pleased to congratulate Mr. Nourredine Amir, Mr. Marc Bossuyt, Mr. Gün Kut and Mr. Yeung Kam John Sik-Yuen on the renewal of their mandates. We would also like to note the election of five new members, whose terms will begin next year: Mr. Silvio José Albuquerque e Silva of Brazil, Ms. Chinsung Chung of the Republic of Korea, Ms. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye of Hungary, Ms. Keiko Ko of Japan and Mr. Bakari Sidiki Diaby of Côte d’Ivoire. Several milestones were reached with this election, including a welcome increase in gender parity, with CERD’s membership moving to 8 women out of 18 members for the first time in its 47 years of sessions. Also for the first time, the Committee will have a member who is partly of Roma origin, and members from Côte d’Ivoire, Japan and Republic of Korea. Yet while we will be glad to welcome new members, we will regret the departure of several esteemed members who have brought significant expertise to the Committee: your Chair Ms. Anastasia Crickley, Mr. Anwar Kemal, Ms. Afiwa-Kindena Hohohueto, and Mr. Jose Lindgren-Alves. We are most grateful for their service and look forward to continuing to work with them this year.

I would like to conclude by wishing you a very productive session and warmly thanking you again, on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for your valuable work.

Thank you.