Geneva, 16 October 2017
Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I would like to welcome you to the one hundred and twenty-first session of the Human Rights Committee.
Your session takes place in a context of serious and escalating human rights concerns marked by violence, extremism, discrimination, rising xenophobia, arbitrary arrests, torture, and persecution of minorities. The denial of civil and political rights is at the heart of these crises. This only underlines more than ever how crucial your work is to protect and promote the Covenant.
I would like to echo the remarks that were made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council's 35th Session in June, “Becoming party to an international human rights treaty is a commitment, which the State makes, above all, to its own people. Reporting procedures aim to identify gaps in protection and measures taken to correct them. They are not optional.” The ICCPR is the treaty with the fourth highest number of States not complying with their reporting obligations in a timely manner: 36% of initial reports under the treaty are overdue. Your Committee has taken important steps to address this problem, for example by offering simplified reporting procedures to all States and by reinvigorating your procedure to consider States’ implementation of the ICCPR in the absence of a report.
During your last session, you organized your 9th informal meeting with States parties. Some 80 States shared with you the reporting challenges they face, including the increasing reporting fatigue, the significant overlap and duplication of issues raised by various treaty bodies, leading sometimes to incoherent and unmanageable numbers of recommendations. Another area of concern is the lack of time for concrete action to implement recommendations and improve treaty compliance, which is the ultimate goal of the monitoring exercise. We encourage you to continue consulting and working with States parties and consider new and creative ways to reduce the number of overdue reports.
Through the Treaty Body Capacity Building Programme, which was established in 2014, our Ofifce is also actively working on this issue. As you will recall, the programme supports “States parties in building their capacity to implement their treaty obligations”. Although it is a nascent programme, 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.
For example, with respect to Swaziland, which was scheduled for consideration at your last session in the absence of a report, technical cooperation and advice was provided on replying to the list of issues, organizing a mock session and sending a high level delegation to your session. I am pleased to note that the Committee was satisfied with the process; it diverted from its usual practice and decided to consider the written replies of Swaziland as its initial report. Depending on your busy schedule, I would like to recommend you to meet with the coordinator of the Treaty Body Capacity Building Programme during the session to consider ways of how we can further strengthen the cooperation with our colleagues in the field and assist States parties in meeting their reporting obligations.
Turning to the inter-linkage between your work and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is evident that effective implementation of, and follow-up on, the recommendations of the treaty bodies in a holistic and integrated manner will serve as a key contribution to achieving the SDGs at country level. Treaty body recommendations indeed can be used as indicators to measure and track progress on SDG implementation. Conversely, results achieved through SDG implementation in a given State party can also inform the work of the treaty body. For this Committee, there is a clear overlap between the implementation of the Covenant’s provisions and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16 - creating peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all and strong institutions. Specific targets under goal 16 linked to promoting fundamental freedoms, countering violence and torture are even more explicit references to the Covenant. Connecting your work under the reporting procedure to the implementation of SDG 16 will help to strengthen accountability under the 2030 Agenda while at the same time raise the profile of your important work with an even broader audience.
Honorable Committee members,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With regard to General Assembly resolution 68/268 and the preparations for the 2020 review foreseen under the same resolution on treaty body strengthening, I would like to indicate that the Secretary-General’s first report that is being considered during the present GA session in New York has led to a proposal to reallocate the meeting time and human resources allotted to each treaty body, with a considerable increase in resources allocated to bodies examining individual communications. The General Assembly’s Fifth Committee will consider the proposal in the coming weeks with a decision expected in December.
The calendar for 2018 has now been set and I trust that you have all been informed of the possible scenarios for 2018 and their consequences on session dates (one scenario assumes that the General Assembly provides the additional resources to the treaty body system, while the second scenario assumes the opposite). In 2018, the Secretary-General will prepare a second report on implementation of resolution 68/268, which will again evaluate the workload of Committees and calculate the resources and weeks of meetings required for each Committee for the period 2020-21.
This past Friday, your Chair addressed the Third Committee of the General Assembly along with other treaty body Chairs. The message for the need of additional resources to the Treaty Bodies System has been strongly voiced, and I am sure that the Chair will be able to provide with you further details. The Chief of the Treaty Body Branch, Ibrahim Salama, will also be available to meet with you in the course of your session for further updates.
Let me now turn to your agenda for this session. I am aware that you have a busy session ahead of you. The Committee will not only examine the implementation of the Covenant in seven States parties and review a number of individual communications under your Optional Protocol, but it will also commence the second reading of your draft general comment on the right to life. In this regard, I am happy to note that several States parties as well as numerous other stakeholders have submitted their comments to your draft. This only demonstrates the interest and the appreciation that the international community has for your extremely valuable role and let me assure you OHCHR’s full support for your work.
I extend my best wishes to all of you for a successful and productive session.