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Human Rights Committee opens online one hundred and thirty-second session

28 June 2021

28 June 2021

Holds Minute of Silence in Memory of Former Committee Member Christof Heyns

The Human Rights Committee today opened its online one hundred and thirty-second session, hearing from Simon Walker, Chief, Section One, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Committee also adopted its agenda.

Committee Chairperson Photini Pazartzis said this was the fourth session that the Committee was holding online since March 2020. She asked for a minute of silence in memory of Professor Christof Heyns, an academic and a lifelong advocate for human rights who had served as a member of the Committee between 2017 and 2020 and who had passed away suddenly three months ago. His expert knowledge and work ethic had left a deep mark on the Committee’s work to protect victims around the world.

Simon Walker, Chief, Section One, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed, on behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, his appreciation for the extraordinary work that the Committee had been carrying out since the outbreak of COVID-19. The resilience and efficiency that had been shown in limiting the protection gap by always keeping rights-holders on top of priorities was commendable. In the online July, October/November and March sessions, the Committee had adopted 203 individual communications, four follow-up reports to concluding observations related to 16 States parties, and four follow-up reports to views related to 32 individual cases, 17 list of issues and 23 list of issues prior to reporting, as well as General Comment 37 on the right of peaceful assembly. The Committee had resumed its mandate under the reporting procedure by holding online dialogues with the delegations of Finland and Kenya. He welcomed the upcoming virtual meeting with the delegation of Togo and other stakeholders from Togo that would take place at this session.

Mr. Walker said that also at this session, there would be consideration and adoption of 38 communications, in addition to the three communications that had had to be postponed from the March session. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had received the full 2021 budget allotment, which meant there were no financial impediments to meetings. The Swiss authorities had adapted the travel entry rules, opening the country to global travel. The Office was closely following the travel situation to understand when in-person sessions would be possible. In-person sessions were important to ensure that the growing backlog of States party reports amassed over the pandemic was treated. As of the end of May 2021, the total backlog of State party reports of all treaty bodies was at 315, meaning it had almost doubled in the last year and a half. There was also an ever-growing backlog of individual communications that were ready for an admissibility and/or merits decision by the relevant Committees.

The thirty-third annual meeting of Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies, which had taken place from 7 to 11 June had been a timely opportunity for the Chairs to discuss strategies, building on the Chairs’ visions and statements and the report of the co-facilitators on the 2020 treaty body review process. Issues discussed included: (1) the development of a predictable review cycle calendar that maximised synergies across treaty bodies and ensured full reporting compliance, (2) the ongoing harmonisation of working methods; and (3) the digital transition, including using new technological developments to increase efficiency, transparency and accessibility of the system.

Ms. Pazartzis thanked Mr. Walker for his support, saying that the Committee had moved to online work immediately in March 2020. She underlined that the uncertainty of the current situation had resulted in the serious backlog of States party reports as well as in the delay of the examination of individual communications, despite the hard work of all members of the secretariat. Despite efforts to reduce protection gaps, it was obvious that such gaps existed as the remote work could not cover in full capacity the work of the Committee. Discussions of the thirty-third annual meeting of Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies would be shared with the Committee members.

The agenda was then adopted.

José Santos Pais, Chair of the working group on individual communications, presented the report of the working group. During the session, 38 draft communications submitted between 2014 and 2018 had been reviewed and adopted. The issues covered in these drafts involved 19 different countries and many topics, including children’s rights, right to life, arbitrary detention, preventive detention, torture, cruel and degrading treatment, deportation, effective remedies, fair trial and procedural guarantees, independence of the judiciary, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, indigenous rights, mental health, migrants rights, non-veteran activities of the criminal law, protection of the environment, and the right to review penal conviction by a higher court, among others. The working group proposed to the plenary 7 decisions of inadmissibility, 24 views of violation, 6 views on non-violations, and one view with two options – violation or no violation. There were three additional cases discussed during previous sessions that would be submitted to the plenary.

The report of the Working Group was adopted.

The Committee’s one hundred and thirty-second session will take place from 28 June to 23 July. All documents related to the session can be found here.

The Committee will next meet at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 29 June to start its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Togo.