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Remarks by Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the opening of the Annual Meeting of Chairpersons of Human Rights Treaty Bodies

27 July 2020

Distinguished Chairpersons,

It is a great pleasure for me to open your meeting on behalf of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Both in my current capacity as the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights. As a former member of a treaty body I have directly witnessed the crucial role that chairpersons play in strengthening the human rights treaty body system.

I would like to start by conveying High Commissioner’s regrets for not being able to be present at your meeting this time. The High Commissioner wishes you enriching discussions and a fruitful meeting and she would like to reassure you that your work has her unreserved support. Tomorrow you will meet the Deputy High Commissioner to discuss more in depth the issues raised in your recent exchange of correspondence, as well as the other matters in the agenda of this Chairs’ meeting.

Your meeting occurs at a critical juncture of both high risks and great opportunities. While the 2020 review provides an opening to advance fresh and creative ideas to strengthen the system, the Covid-19 pandemic and the UN cash flow crisis represent a dual impediment to the crucial work of treaty bodies.

In addressing this challenge we have to look ahead, think strategically and work together towards creative solutions that allow States Parties to assume their responsibilities in providing treaty bodies with the tools that enable treaty bodies to implement their mandates even in these challenging circumstances.

As the Deputy High Commissioner has emphasized in her recent letter, the financial situation of the Organization remains critical and the budget constrains affect equally all departments of the Secretariat and all mandated human rights activities may potentially be impacted.

The three Secretary-General’s reports prepared under GA res. 68/268 clearly show how vigilantly OHCHR has defended and supported your mandates, including its budgetary side. One clear gap is in the level of support for treaty bodies and the shortcomings of the existing funding formula. The High Commissioner has repeatedly raised this problem with Member States and will continue to do so, as do I in my relevant New York engagements. We can hope that the 2020 review will facilitate a forward-looking approach, which would be a constructive step.

If we speak with one voice we are more likely to be heard. This applies also to the tools that are needed to work effectively on-line. You have shown determination in pursuing your mandates remotely with imperfect tools and true challenges ranging from limited interpretation to working from different time zones, as highlighted in your informal working group on Covid-19.

It is my firm conviction that OHCHR and the human rights treaty bodies must work together with determination to remove these and other obstacles in order to enable you to efficiently deliver your crucial mandates and leave no protection gap. The 2020 review consultations, including your meeting with co-facilitators later this week, are a unique opportunity to convey your proposals and messages to Member States.

The paralysis of the treaty body system would undermine the entire human rights protection architecture. It must be avoided -- and it can be avoided, if we together learn the lessons from the challenges we face and choose the option of determined, creative cooperation. Then we can turn this crisis into an opportunity to support a strong, modern human rights treaty body system, with the protection of rights holders at its heart.

I wish you a successful meeting.