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23 June 2003



23 JUNE 2003

Distinguished chairpersons, colleagues and friends,

In welcoming you to this annual meeting of chairpersons of treaty bodies, my first thoughts are of deep gratitude to each and every one of you and your members for the service, commitment, and devotion you bring to the promotion and protection of human rights at the United Nations. You give of your time freely to the United Nations without recompense. You put in long hours with the minimum support. You deal with difficult and challenging issues and sometimes are called upon to visit rough terrains. You bring your talents and expertise to the cause of human rights protection. We owe you a great deal, and, today, I thank you on behalf of the United Nations for your contributions.

In the months since June last year, when you held your last meeting, a gratifying number of States have assumed new human rights obligations by way of the acceptance of the core treaties. Five States have become new parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, one to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, five to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, four to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment and one to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Three new States parties have accepted the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, bringing that treaty, as you will know, into force a little over a week from now on 1 July 2003. There have also been additional ratifications to the two Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. After 10 years of negotiations, an Optional Protocol to Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, establishing a system of regular visits by national bodies and a Subcommittee of the Committee against Torture, to places of detention to guard against torture and ill-treatment, was adopted in December by the General Assembly. The amendment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child increasing its Committee’s membership from 10 to 18 members also entered into force last year, and an enlarged committee met for the first time in May.

Your committees reviewed the reports of 112 States parties over the same period, and elaborated and adopted 5 general comments. Determinations were made with respect to well over 100 individual communications. It is gratifying to see, also, for example, in the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Mamatkulov v Turkey which draws on decisions of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture on the binding nature of interim measures, that your jurisprudence has begun to inform regional and national courts and tribunals. Several of your committees introduced mechanisms to follow-up their concluding observations so as to reinforce the implementation of human rights standards in States parties. Compliance with these procedures has been extremely encouraging. Informal consultations between individual treaty bodies and States parties have become a regular and welcome feature of committee sessions. In response to the request of States, a one day informal consultation between this body and States has been scheduled for 26 June.

Your committees have also enhanced their collaboration and cooperation with each other in a way that has emphasized the holistic nature of the human rights treaty framework and the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights. Collaboration has been evident in relation to the formulation of general comments, where it is critical that treaty bodies develop consistent jurisprudence.

Your interface with other bodies and entities has also deepened. This year, all chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies received formal invitations to the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights, and four chairpersons were able to take advantage of this opportunity to brief the Commission on the work of their committees. Your collaboration with the mechanisms of the Commission has continued, and the fifth joint meeting between this body and the special procedures mandate holders, which will focus on globalization and its impact on your work, has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Links between your committees and the broader United Nations system have also been strengthened. By way of an important example, and particularly pertinent in the current environment, the Human Rights Committee has deepened its relationship with the Counter-Terrorism Committee. Over the last year members of each body have briefed the other on their respective activities, and working relations are being established between the two. At the same time, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and UNESCO have established a foundation for growing future co-operation through the creation of the Joint Expert Committee which is tasked with monitoring the right to education. I value these processes through which the human rights message becomes a more routine component of our sister agencies.

A number of your members were present last year at the pilot workshop in Quito, Ecuador, on follow-up to the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee. This workshop was innovative in focusing on implementation of treaty body recommendations from a regional perspective. I am pleased to be able to report to you on a further recent example of this approach, again successful, in the form of a regional course in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on preparation and presentation of reports to your bodies. I trust that before long you will be seeing the fruits of this and similar exercises in terms of a larger number of reports before you. Building on this approach, a staff member of the Support Services Branch has been recently reassigned to the Office of the regional adviser of the High Commissioner in Santiago de Chile, and tasked with supporting States in meeting their reporting obligations, as well as implementing the recommendations of your committees.

Maintaining a high standard of servicing for your bodies, itself an expanding task in view of the increasing consensus of States towards ratification of the human rights treaties, coupled with the kinds of activities at regional and national level that the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have both backed strongly and personally, brings, of course, its own challenges to this Office. The most obvious is ensuring sufficient resources to pursue these ends consistently and thoroughly. The high degree of dependence of this Office on extra-budgetary funds imposes a particular discipline on this Office, while also providing a valuable opportunity. Building a relationship of greater trust with donor States has been one of the objectives in the re-structuring of this Office that has occurred as a result of, among other impetuses, the OIOS report. I am encouraged with the work of the Resource Mobilization Unit, and draw your attention to the Annual Report launched last week.

You will be encouraged that the European Commission has invested sizeable resources over a multi-year period, to activities devoted to ensuring national level implementation of your recommendations. This is not simply an abstract exercise, but is conceived of as being an interactive process with your treaty bodies. Civil society, national human rights institutions and media professionals who are well placed to follow-up on your recommendations will be trained, both in their home States and here in Geneva, at the time of the consideration of reports from their States both in the strengths of the treaty body reporting system and the opportunities this system provides for strengthening the national protection system. We are looking forward to the prospects opened up by this additional commitment of the European Commission to supporting the treaty body system.

Support to your work over the past year has not been confined to securing financial resources. The Petitions Unit has been further strengthened since your last meeting, and continues to be strengthened. The addition of a senior level regular budget post to strengthen the substantive support to a management of the Petitions Team has been included in the proposed programme budget for 2004/2005. Three new project posts for the Team are also about to be filled. The Team is reviewing its working methods to ensure expeditious and smooth processing of complaints. The complaints database is being strengthened and a manual covering the practical aspects of its use devised.

Amongst the changes that have accompanied the re-structuring that is currently in process has been the creation of a new External Relations Branch. This Branch has been charged with strengthening the links from the High Commissioner and from this Office with the outside world. The creation of a Special Procedures Branch to support the thematic mandates of the Commission on Human Rights will enable us to provide more effective and cohesive support to this important pillar of the system of human rights protection, with which your own dialogue continues to develop.

Much of the focus of the Office since September has been on the ideas of the Secretary-General in his second reform report on strengthening of human rights. These ideas relate to actions which might be taken to support human rights at the country level, maximizing the potential of the human rights treaty system, enhancing the work of the special procedures and streamlining the management of this Office.

In his report, the Secretary-General emphasizes that the role of the human rights machinery in the United Nations is to support the implementation of human rights norms by Member States. As he makes clear, good progress has been achieved in integrating human rights throughout the United Nations system, particularly in the field. Human rights specialists are now included as part of peacekeeping missions. Humanitarian and development operations integrate a human rights component. Specific human rights guidelines have been issued for UN country teams, and this Office, as well as others, are working to ensure that human rights training is provided to all UNCTs as they work with States on the ground to develop Common Country Assessments and Development Assistance Frameworks. The recommendations of treaty bodies play a key role in this development framework. This is an issue the Office has consistently stressed in the training it has provided to UNCTs, governments and civil society engaged in these development issues.

As you know – and in particular as this was one of the concerns of the second inter-Committee which you attended last week, the High Commissioner has been tasked to consult with treaty bodies on new streamlined reporting procedures, and submit his recommendations to the Secretary-General by September 2003. Last year the Office embarked on an internal reflection on the Secretary-General’s ideas, from which it moved on to a process of broad and inclusive consultations on this issue with treaty bodies, States parties, non-governmental organizations and United Nations bodies. The High Commissioner invited each Chairperson to discuss the Secretary-General’s ideas with their individual committees, and I would like to thank you for engaging your members in such a way that each treaty body has provided detailed views.

The responses of treaty bodies to these ideas form the core of a background paper on the Secretary-General’s ideas that I asked my colleagues to prepare. In turn, this background paper was considered at the brainstorming meeting in Malbun in early May, the output of which you discussed during the second inter-Committee meeting last week. The points of agreement that you and your colleagues reached during that meeting provide practical and workable suggestions to maximize the potential of the treaty system: a system which has been successful in attracting compliance, and has proven to be dynamic and adaptable. Your recommendations relating to consistency, parallel general comments, the sort of information which you require to assist you, and capacity building will mean that your work will be perceived as part of an holistic system, rather than the output of individual committees. The proposal of a regularly updated expanded core document, and treaty-specific periodic reports will allow States parties to rationalize their reporting, without diluting their responsibilities in this context.

In the ongoing process of consultation there are some key insights that are emerging. These include:

Start with what’s good about the current treaty system. It has had its successes. The reporting process itself is positive.
Place the emphasis on implementation so as to enhance national protection.
Accentuate training and technical cooperation/capacity building, keeping in mind the role of country tams.
Emphasize follow-up activities.
Consider visits by member of treaty bodies to non-reporting countries.
The identification of issues to be dealt with in reports is useful.
Disseminate the treaties and integrate them in national life; education about the human rights treaties is important.
Safeguard the expert, non-political character of the treaty bodies.
Improve geographical distribution in the membership of treaty bodies. This would have the effect of improving the language-base of members.
Draw upon the role of national human rights institutions in enhancing treaty implementation.
Parliaments, and parliamentary human rights bodies could also enhance treaty implementation.
Focused reporting is one of the keys. Every State could avail itself of the option of drawing up a single report and submitting it to the different treaty bodies.
However a single report might take longer to prepare; it would not assist with the problem of non-reporting; and it would lose thematic focus which the present system provides, e.g reports on the rights of the child or on the rights of women.
A thematic compilation of all general comments/recommendations, maintained by the Secretariat, could be helpful to States parties in implementing the treaties.

The points of agreement at the second inter-Committee meeting were indeed quite constructive. These included:

1. In light of the principles of universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, the inter-Committee meeting emphasized the need to ensure consistency in the examination of reports by all treaty bodies.

2. The inter-Committee meeting recommended that, where appropriate, Committees should refer to relevant concluding observations/comments of other treaty bodies either during the dialogue or in their own concluding comments.

3. The meeting encouraged greater engagement by UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes in the reporting process both at the national and international level. It recommended that each treaty body designate a focal point to liaise with key relevant UN specialized agencies.

4. The inter-Committee meeting emphasized the constructive role that national human rights institutions can play in the human rights reporting process, both at the international and national levels. The inter-Committee meeting encouraged all national human rights institutions, established in accordance with the Paris Principles to contribute independently, where appropriate, to the reporting process under international human rights instruments and monitor the government reports to international treaty bodies. The inter-Committee meeting also encouraged national human rights institutions to actively monitor the implementation of concluding observations/comments of treaty bodies at the national level.

5. The inter-Committee meeting agreed that capacity building was important for effective national reporting, and recommended that coordination among the OHCHR and the DAW and treaty bodies should be undertaken in order to consider possible objective and strategies that could contribute to the effectiveness of technical cooperation. It also recommended that capacity-building efforts undertaken by OHCHR and DAW, UN agencies and programmes and NGOs, in particular those, relating to follow-up to recommendations of treaty bodies should be expanded and adequately funded.

6. The inter-Committee meeting agreed that general comments/recommendations and the process of their elaboration provided opportunities for reflecting the holistic nature of the treaty body system. The meeting recommended that treaty bodies strengthen their efforts to exchange information and opinions on general comments/recommendations in order to ensure jurisprudential consistency amongst treaty bodies with respect to substantive issues.

7. The inter-Committee meeting agreed that it shared the overriding concerns and objectives of the Secretary-General expressed in his second reform report, Strengthening the United Nations: An agenda for further change (A/57/399), in particular with regard to strengthening the implementation of human rights obligations at the national level. The inter-Committee meeting agreed that the proposal that each State should be allowed to produce a single report summarizing its adherence to the full range of international human rights treaties to which it is a party would not adequately meet these overriding concerns and objectives.

8. In light of the initiatives taken by the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture, the inter-Committee meeting recommended that all treaty bodies examine the possibility of introducing procedures to follow-up their recommendations.

9. Taking into account the relevant provisions of the respective treaties and rules of procedure, the inter-Committee meeting recommended that each Committee adopt appropriate procedures to examine the situation of human rights in a State party whose reports are long overdue and which has not responded to reminders of its reporting obligation. In this regard, all Committees should adopt the following incremental and graduated measures to encourage submission of overdue reports.

The output of this meeting will shape the High Commissioner’s response to the Secretary-General and will also constitute a report to the General Assembly. Your conclusions last week form a solid basis for your reflections. I wish you well in your deliberations.

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