HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE MEETS WITH STATES PARTIES
22 July 2013
The Human Rights Committee this afternoon met with States parties to discuss the Committee’s methods of work, inter alia in light of the treaty body strengthening process; the resources needed by the Committee; the outcome of the Committee’s retreat in The Hague; and the draft General Comment on article 9 on the right of everyone to liberty and security of person.
Introducing the discussion, Nigel Rodley, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee had undertaken a substantial amount of work, including the adoption of 121 communications and the review of 28 States parties under the Covenant during the last two years. The Committee’s extensive case law had contributed to positive developments around the world, including the formal abolition of the death penalty in several countries. On the reporting side, there had also been many successes. Several States had provided fully satisfactory responses to the Committee on their follow-up to concluding observations. Mr. Rodley underlined that one of the challenges the Committee faced was the perennial issue of the lack of resources. The lack of human resources was having a detrimental impact on the work of the Committee, in particular under the Optional Protocol. The Committee had made numerous attempts in the last few years to make the best use of its time. One significant change in the working methods was the increase in the number of State reports examined per session from five to six, which should reduce the time between the submission of reports and their consideration by the Committee.
Margo Waterval, Committee Expert, presented an update report on methods of work, inter alia in light of the treaty body strengthening process. Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee member, presented a report on financial and human resources needed by the Committee to face the issue of backlog. Cornelis Flinterman, Committee member, informed the States parties of the results of the Committee’s retreat in The Hague. Gerald L. Neuman, Committee member and Rapporteur for the draft General Comment on article 9, mentioned briefly the draft General Comment on article 9, which deals with liberty and security of person.
States parties who made comments were Russian Federation, Paraguay, Ecuador, United Kingdom, United States, Chad, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ireland, Switzerland, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Ghana. Committee members who took the floor were Walter Kaelin, Christine Chanet, Gerald L. Neuman, Yadh Ben Achour, Fabian Omar Salvioli, Yuji Iwasawa, Cornelis Flinterman, Zonke Zanele Majodina, Yuval Shany, Anja Seibert-Fohr and Ahmed Amin Fathalla.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Tuesday, 23 July, at 10 a.m., when it will resume the discussion on its methods of work.
NIGEL RODLEY, Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee, said that the Committee had undertaken a substantial amount of work, including the adoption of 121 communications and the review of 28 States parties under the Covenant during the last two years. The Committee had embarked on the adoption of a new General Comment on article 9 of the Covenant on the right of everyone to liberty and security of person.
The records pointed to much successful implementation under the Optional Protocol. States had paid compensation to victims and had provided residence permits to petitioners who were otherwise facing deportation, where the Committee had found that such deportation would breach the Covenant. The Committee encouraged States parties to create national mechanisms in order to facilitate the implementation of its decisions and invited States parties to provide it with information on existing implementation mechanisms.
The Committee’s extensive case law had contributed to positive developments around the world, including the formal abolition of the death penalty in several countries, including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines. On the reporting side, there had also been many successes. Some States like Monaco, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria and San Marino had provided fully satisfactory responses to the Committee on their follow-up to concluding observations. The examples demonstrated that there was a genuine good will by many States to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
Mr. Rodley underlined that one of the challenges the Committee faced was the perennial issue of the lack of resources. The lack of human resources was having a detrimental impact on the work of the Committee, in particular under the Optional Protocol. A request for extra resources and meeting time had been made in the annual report to the General Assembly. Aware of the increased strain on the resources of the United Nations, the Committee had made numerous attempts in the last few years to make the best use of its time. One significant change in the working methods was the increase in the number of State reports examined per session from five to six, which should reduce the time between the submission of reports and their consideration by the Committee.
Many of the challenges referred to were currently being addressed in New York in the context of the treaty body strengthening process. The excellent work of the co-facilitators had been realised in good draft elements for a resolution, which should meet many of the concerns of the treaty bodies. Mr. Rodley urged all States to seize the current momentum and conclude the process this year.
Methods of Work
MARGO WATERVAL, Committee Expert, said that the Committee was continually trying to improve its working methods to ensure that it used its resources to the maximum. A new simplified reporting procedure had been adopted for periodic reports and on an optional basis. Under this procedure, the State party did not have to produce a periodic report to initiate the reporting process. Instead it involved the adoption of a list of issues by the Committee and subsequent responses by the State party. This optional procedure reduced the burden on States. To date, 21 States parties had signed up to this procedure.
The Committee had demonstrated its commitment to efficiency by increasing the number of reports being reviewed per session. This put more pressure on the Committee as well as the Secretariat and demanded strict adherence to deadlines to ensure that the draft concluding observations were translated for adoption in the last week of the session. The Committee believed that this procedure was necessary to reduce the current backlog of 35 reports.
Another important improvement was the increase in the number of years requested by the Committee for States’ subsequent periodic reports. Under article 40 of the Covenant, the Committee was authorised to decide on the periodicity of State party reports. The Committee increased the maximum number of years to submit periodic reports from 5 to 6 years. The goal was to make the best use of the resources provided to it, while maintaining the usual high quality of work.
AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Member, said that one of the main challenges faced by the Committee was the lack of human resources to assist the Committee in the preparation of draft individual communications. The Secretariat had not sufficient staff to do the preparatory work necessary to review the cases. A request for additional resources to deal with backlog, amounting to $ 8 million for the next biennium, was sent to the General Assembly. The report to the General Assembly indicated that 140 cases were ready for decision, which the Committee was unable to deal with without additional staff. The number of communications was now 160 and it was constantly increasing. The Committee’s backlog in cases under the Optional Protocol was growing slowly. The average time between the registration of a case and its consideration by the Committee amounted to three and a half years, and some could take six years to be reviewed by the Committee. The inability to review individual communications within a reasonable time called into question the effectiveness of the Committee’s work.
The Committee also faced a backlog of States reports for review. Currently, the backlog amounted to 35 reports to be considered. Thirty-nine States parties were currently at least five years overdue with either an initial or periodic report. The reporting process was also affected by the new phenomenon of having to work without any official translations of replies to list of issues from States parties. Conference services informed the Committee that the translation of replies to lists of issues would no longer be received in any United Nations language. The Committee had to rely on unofficial translations by the Secretariat. He hoped that the treaty body strengthening process would resolve the more long term structural problems faced by all of the treaty bodies.
Outcome of The Hague Retreat
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, Committee Member, said that Committee members considered a number of issues relating to the Committee’s methods of work and made recommendations thereon, which were adopted during the present session of the Committee. Committee members reviewed the guidelines on the independence and impartiality of members of the human rights bodies (Addis Ababa guidelines). Committee members decided to replace the Committee’s 1998 Principles by the Addis Ababa guidelines.
Committee members considered the High Commissioner’s report on the treaty body strengthening process. The members expressed their openness to a comprehensive reporting calendar on condition that the periodicity did not go beyond five years. The members also indicated that they were not opposed to the idea of working in double chambers.
Draft General Comment on article 9
GERALD L. NEUMAN, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the draft General Comment on article 9, presented briefly the draft General Comment on article 9, which would be the thirty-fifth General Comment of the Committee. The focus of the General Comment would be on security and liberty of person. A first reading draft would be submitted to States parties for comments in the near future.
Comments by States Parties
The representative of Belarus said that the consideration of individual communications requested that all domestic remedies had previously been exhausted. Some provisions of the rules of procedure contradicted the provisions of the Optional Protocol and could not be applied. He called on the Committee members to take the opportunity to discuss cases with the concerned State before taking decisions. This would allow States parties to clarify issues that could arise in the course of the proceedings.
The representative of Uzbekistan thanked the Committee for mentioning the abolition of the death penalty in his country. The authors of complaints sometimes sent new communications reiterating the same information as in earlier communications. How long was the follow-up procedure for individual communications? What were the rules on the continuation or closure of follow-up procedures?
The representative of Switzerland said that the simplified reporting procedure was very useful. Had the Committee had to face with reprisals against people who had cooperated with the Committee and, if yes, how did it deal with them? How was the Committee working with regional mechanisms for human rights?
The representative of Ireland said that a coherent approach was needed to address the resources constraint faced by all treaty bodies. What were the views of the Committee on the approach proposed by the draft document on treaty body strengthening, which provided that resources would be allocated to treaty bodies on the basis of the number of States parties?
The representative of Costa Rica said that the principle of prior exhaustion of national remedies before having submitting an individual communications had to be applied by the Committee. Costa Rica recognized that if the domestic remedies were not efficient, then the complainant had the right to submit a communication to an international judicial body.
The representative of Uruguay said that it would be helpful to use the procedure of the list of issues prior to reporting in order to avoid delays.
The representative of Chad said that working in only one United Nations language could be difficult for some delegations.
The representative of the United States said that the treaty body strengthening process had to enhance the independence and the efficiency of treaty bodies. It was very important to respect the role played by civil society organizations.
The representative of the United Kingdom said that he was pleased to hear that the Committee would adopt the simplified procedure of list of issues prior to reporting and that it would increase the number of reports considered per session.
The representative of Ecuador said that the time period for a final view for the Committee to express its view on a specific individual communication was too long, especially with regard to interim measures.
The representative of Paraguay said that the list of issues adopted by the Committee with regard to the third periodic report of Paraguay had not been translated into all United Nations working languages. He inquired about the procedure for translating the answers to list of issues.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that the treaty body strengthening process should not narrow the linguistic space. States were not bound to use optional procedures, such as the procedure of list of issues prior to reporting.
The representative of Canada asked what was needed to address the significant backlog of individual communications, which had to be reduced? Three to five years delays between registration and consideration were problematic.
The representative of Ghana asked whether States could use other treaty bodies’ interpretation of their treaties to interpret the Covenant. It would be dangerous for the Committee to do so if different treaty bodies had different interpretations of the same human rights provision.
Response by Committee Members
Mr. Rodley said that the Committee made references to threats against non-governmental organizations in the final reports and interim measures addressed that problem. The issue was discussed during the last meeting of the Committees’ Chairpersons. The Committee was considering the appointment of a Rapporteur on the question.
The difference between the Optional Protocol and the complaint procedure in the Human Rights Council was that the Human Rights Council dealt with flagrant and systematic human rights violations, whereas the Optional Protocol only dealt with individual cases. There should not be a connection between the two. Each individual case had to be judged on its own merits.
The Committee noted that the Covenant provided that the Committee could meet in New York or Geneva. There were arguments for the Committee to meet periodically in New York, as it was easier for some delegations to travel to New York. The Committee’s Secretariat was located in Geneva, so there were advantages to meet in Geneva.
The harmonization of practices among the different treaty bodies was under discussion. The next annual meeting of Chairs of treaty bodies would continue the consideration of the question.
The Committee decided as a matter of policy to give priority to communications where interim measures had been adopted. Experts said that the Committee shared the concern on issues related to translation. Conference services could not provide the Committee with translations of the answers to the list of issues. Lists of issues would be submitted to countries in the language in which the report was presented. States parties had to provide more financial resources to ensure that the documents were duly translated into all working languages.
Experts said that the Committee had to interpret the provisions of the Covenant. The Committee had to allow the presentation of communications by third parties on behalf of persons that were detained incommunicado. A State party could disagree with some rules of procedures or interpretation. The Committee had the right to ask the basis for such disagreement.
Another Expert said that the Committee had to distinguish between different cases of non-compliance. In this regard, a general challenge of all views of the Committee would be worrying. The Covenant had to be interpreted in light of the State practice.
Comments of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Secretariat
IBRAHIM SALAMA, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that one third of the staff in the treaty body division of the Office was not funded by the regular budget.
A representative of the Office of the Secretariat said that if fully staffed, the Secretariat could deal with 90 individual communications per year. Four additional professional staff would be needed for the next biennium in order to reduce the backlog.
For use of the information media; not an official record