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08 August 2011
8 August 2011
Hears opening statement by the High Commissioner on Human Rights
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning opened its seventy-ninth session, hearing an address by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights. The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work.
Anwar Kemal, Committee Chairperson, began the meeting by asking Committee Members to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the recent hate crime in Norway.
In opening remarks, Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, drew the Committee’s attention to General Comment No. 34 on freedom of opinion and expression which was recently adopted by the Human Rights Committee, which was relevant to the Committee’s work on the inter-sectionality of religion and racial discrimination. High Commissioner Pillay also highlighted the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief. Ms. Pillay said that during the most recent Inter-Committee Meeting, the discussion focused on enhancing the effectiveness of the treaty bodies and looked at the harmonization of working methods. The High Commissioner said that resources were clearly the responsibility of States. However, it was unacceptable that the treaty body system functioned with a 30 per cent reporting compliance rate and that treaty bodies lacked resources, effectively weakening States parties’ accountability under international human rights law. The High Commissioner said she would participate in one-day high-level meeting to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The High Commissioner urged Member States to demonstrate a responsible, wise and flexible approach in the negotiations in order to arrive at an agreed text on the declaration.
The Committee Chairperson thanked the High Commissioner for her remarks and for her work on strengthening and streamlining the human rights treaty body system. Mr. Kemal emphasized the need for adequate resources to allow the treaty body system to carry out its growing number of tasks and responsibilities and improve on the 30 per cent compliance rate. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had pioneered many features important for the functioning of treaty bodies, namely, constructive dialogues, a review procedure for non-reporting States parties, and an early warning and urgent action procedure, among others. The Committee had been consistent in ensuring an efficient reporting process without watering down its main value. The main objective was to have a focused dialogue with States parties in order to produce more focused recommendations. Notably, the Committee had established a new procedure of sending States a list of themes beforehand in order to permit targeted dialogue and produce targeted conclusions.
Mr. Kemal then opened the floor to comments from Committee Members. One Committee Member said it was very important for the Committee to receive information from States parties ahead of time so that Committee Members could provide the Chairs with some sort of position, leading to better discussions and more targeted recommendations. Joint efforts among Committees to harmonize reporting requirements and working methods would be useful for working closely with non-governmental organisations. Close cooperation with various other human rights mechanisms, such as the Anti-Discrimination Unit and the Special Rapporteurs on Racial Discrimination, Genocide and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was also important. It would be positive to develop methods for working with countries without Permanent Missions to the United Nations in Geneva. Committee Members underlined the importance of activities such as follow-up and general comments. One Committee Member asked whether the Committee was being advised not to spend time on these activities and thus requested coherent guidance in this regard. There were difficulties for experts in terms of accessing electronic documents, and in carrying out substantive work because documents were not received or accessible. Committee Members were not sure that paper would be saved because experts were printing documents themselves at their own expense.
Committee Members said that a reduction in the resources available to treaty bodies was worrying. The question was whether the reduction in resources would affect the mission of the treaty bodies and the effectiveness of monitoring the implementation of treaty conventions. The formulation of general recommendations was a necessary and useful function of conventions and human rights bodies to help courts take decisions into consideration. Considering both racial and religious discrimination had been a sensitive matter for the Committee and the inter-sectionality had to be addressed in a broader general comment. The extent to which internet discourse played a role in racial and religious discrimination, as displayed by the hate crimes in Norway, had to be assessed. Regardless of any decision, the preparation of a general comment would be a useful opportunity to study and reflect on the issue. Committee Members underlined the importance of 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent and the intersection between the Committee’s work and the follow-up conference to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
In response to the comments of Committee Members, the High Commissioner expressed her commitment to the treaty bodies as fundamental elements in the human rights system. Efficiency could be addressed however. The High Commissioner emphasized that resources were the responsibility of States parties, although lack of funds was an issue for the marginalization of treaty bodies. The High Commissioner welcomed statements about the anti-discrimination dialogue and agreed that regular meetings with relevant Special Rapporteurs were important. The High Commissioner shared the view of civil society and States parties that the work of the Committee be limited and instructed by self-discipline. Ms. Pillay asked States to spell out their concerns, but upheld the treaty bodies’ independence in deciding their plan of work. The High Commissioner had expressed her concern about the reduction in the funding allocated to human rights bodies and was worried by the 30 per cent compliance rate. The High Commissioner was disappointed with the political distractions posed to the commemoration of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and was disappointed that some States had withdrawn. She regretted that a campaign against the commemoration was taking place which distracted from the legitimate goal of the commemoration.
The next session of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 9 August, when it will hold an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations to discuss the country reports that the Committee will review this week.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, drew the Committee’s attention to General Comment No.34 on freedom of opinion and expression recently adopted by the Human Rights Committee. The General Comment took a new approach to freedom of expression as it related to religion. This was relevant to the Committee’s work regarding the inter-sectionality of religion and racial discrimination. The Human Rights Committee emphasized the prohibition of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy. High Commissioner Pillay also highlighted the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council at its sixteenth session in March 2011 on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief. Ms. Pillay recalled that two years before, she asked different stakeholders to provide their views and suggestions on ways and means to strengthen the treaty body system. Additional consultations with academics were envisaged in Luzern. Civil society organisations were clearly calling for strengthening of the system and they proposed many specific ways in which this could be pursued. With respect to Secretariat support, at a recent meeting in Sion, the full resource requirements for the preparation of the documentation needed by the treaty bodies were discussed in addition to recurring appeals for adequate resources to support the whole treaty body system and make it more effective.
In the Inter-Committee Meeting, the discussion focused on enhancing the effectiveness of the treaty bodies and looked at the harmonization of working methods. Treaty body experts were at the heart of strengthening the treaty body system and could truly succeed in bringing about change, if they were determined and united around a shared vision. The High Commissioner said that resources were clearly the responsibility of States. It was unacceptable that the treaty body system functioned with a 30 per cent reporting compliance rate, that treaty bodies were the victim of their own success and that lack of resources weakened States parties’ accountability under international human rights law.
A number of interesting decisions were taken by the treaty body Chairpersons during the 23rd Chairpersons’ meeting. The Chairpersons decided to engage in a drafting process of guidelines on the independence of and expertise of treaty body experts. The Inter-Committee Meeting had been suspended by the chairs. Finally, while noting that the autonomy and specificity of treaty bodies should be respected, it was recommended that the Chairpersons be empowered to adopt measures on working methods and procedural matters which were common to all treaty bodies.
The sub-regional seminar on follow-up to the concluding observations which took place in Pretoria, South Africa from 22 to 24 June 2011 covered five of the States parties that had been reviewed by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in the last ten years. They discussed common issues raised by the Committee including equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights including the right to education, the right to health, the right to access to land, the right of non-citizens, including asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, the rights of indigenous peoples and access to justice and remedies. A report on the seminar was made available to Committee Members.
The High Commissioner said she would participate in one-day high-level meeting to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. This important event would culminate in the adoption of a political declaration focusing on mobilizing political will to combat discrimination. The High Commissioner urged Member States to demonstrate a responsible, wise and flexible approach in the negotiations in order to arrive at an agreed text of the declaration. Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance around the world deserved no less from the international community. The High Commissioner appreciated the level of participation by various stakeholders across the United Nations family and civil society organizations as well as representatives of States parties on the thematic discussion on racial discrimination against People of African descent. The High Commissioner was confident that the Committee would continue to provide valuable input and looked forward to reading the forthcoming General Recommendation regarding discrimination against People of African Descent.
For use of the information media; not an official record