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HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE MEETS WITH THE COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE MEETS WITH THE COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
16 October 2012

The Human Rights Committee this afternoon held its second joint meeting with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in which it discussed current practices and challenges concerning their individual complaints procedures, the decision to move the spring sessions of the two Committees from New York to Geneva and the treaty body strengthening process.

Committee Experts heard from Sir Nigel Rodley of the Human Rights Committee and Ms. Dubravka Simonovic of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, who presented the current practice of each Committee in examining individual complaints and the challenges they faced.  In the ensuing discussion, Experts exchanged information on how they dealt with reservations to treaties, remedies, follow-up processes and general types of recommendations.

The Experts also discussed the decision by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to move the venue of the spring 2013 sessions of the two Committees from New York to Geneva.

Concerning the strengthening of the United Nations treaty bodies, Victoria Popescou, Expert of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee had pursued with great interest the broad process of reflection on the strengthening of the treaty bodies system initiated in 2009 and fully supported the strengthening and harmonization of their work.  It was of the opinion that the communication and cooperation between treaty bodies should be increased, both on substantive and procedural matters, exchange of best practices and drafting general joint recommendations; also informal meetings with the States parties should be organized more often.

Michael O’Flaherty said that the Human Rights Committee had adopted in July 2012 a preliminary statement on the strengthening of the treaty bodies, agreed that the system was in need of sustained and sufficient resources, and stressed that the process of the reflection on the strengthening of the treaty body system must guarantee the independence of the treaty bodies.  The limited capacity of treaty bodies’ chairpersons to engage with the General Assembly process and be heard was an issue of concern to the Committee, especially as this was a very sensitive moment in the history of treaty bodies in which they were very vulnerable.

In the discussion on strengthening the treaty body system, Experts said that it was within the purview of States to examine how the system worked and that there was a need to be vigilant but not defensive.  Discussions between treaty bodies were needed in addition to discussions with States parties, and good suggestions about the way forward in the strengthening of the system might come from the practice of the treaty bodies.  The Comprehensive Reporting Calendar would stifle the work of Committees because it lacked flexibility and would negatively impact the follow-up process. 

The next public meeting of the Human Rights Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 October, when it will examine the initial report of Turkey (CCPR/C/TUR/1).  The next public meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will be at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 October for an informal meeting with States parties.  On Thursday, 18 October, the Committee will hold a high-level panel on promoting and protecting women's rights in situations of conflict and post conflict: the case of French-speaking Africa, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee. 

Individual Complaints Procedures: Current Practices and Challenges

ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee, said that the Human Rights Committee had examined over 900 individual complaints to date.  The Committee was the first to establish the follow-up procedure to encourage States to implement the recommendations, but the consistent implementation of the Committee’s decisions was an on-going challenge.  Turning to the report of the High Commissioner on strengthening the treaty body system, Ms. Majodina drew the attention of the two Committees to the preliminary statement that the Human Rights Committee had issued in July this year.

SIR NIGEL RODLEY, Human Rights Committee Expert, said that the Committee had had to address individual communications since the 1970s and had had to devote itself to individual cases across the years.  The backlog now had begun to grow at the same time when the Secretariat was unable to provide the Committee with drafts which would enable the Committee to process cases faster.  The two Committees had different approaches to processing individual complaints, noted Sir Nigel and described the procedure applied by the Human Rights Committee, in which the Secretariat would receive an individual communication, examine it and refer it to the Special Rapporteur for communications for his agreement on substance and domestic remedies and a suggestion on whether it should be submitted to the Government for further action.  Following the presentation of the complaint to the Government and the ensuing exchange of views, the Committee drafted a position which would be then sent to the Special Rapporteur for that individual complaint, with whom a draft statement would be agreed.  This draft statement would then be discussed in the pre-sessional Working Group on communication, which would refer the case to the plenary.  

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Expert of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that this year the Committee was commemorating 30 years of its work and 10 years of its work under the Optional Protocol, and outlined the developments related to the Committee’s meeting time, servicing and location of its session since its first session held in Vienna on 8 October 1982.  The Committee had had similar challenges in the past which had been solved and resulted in the improved efficiency of the Committee to implement its mandate and to contribute to its progressive interpretation of the Convention.  In addition to the communications procedure, the Optional Protocol had set forth an inquiry procedure which authorized the Committee to conduct inquiries into allegations of grave or systematic violations of rights contained in the Convention by a State Party.  The Optional Protocol Working Group had been established in 2001 and had 47 registered cases in October 2012, with the number of cases expected to rise.  Challenges facing the Committee included the increasing number of cases, inter-sessional work on requests for interim measures, more cases to follow up, more time for cases in the plenary, increased workload for the Petition Unit and the Working Group, and others.  Some of those challenges were addressed in the High Commissioner’s report on treaty body strengthening.  Another challenge was related to the inquiry procedure under article 8 of the Optional Protocol that had started to receive more requests for inquiries and currently had six registered inquiries of which two were ongoing.  Ms. Simonovic then described the follow-up procedure for the implementation of views under the Optional Protocol.  Concerning violence against women, Ms. Simonovic stressed that the provisions of the Convention were formulated as principles and not as rights, and that there was not a specific article on violence against women of domestic violence, which were addressed implicitly.

In the ensuing discussion on the individual complaints procedures, Experts of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women asked a number of questions, including how the Human Rights Committee dealt with reservations to treaties and how it addressed the amicus curiae brief.  Another Expert asked who had the right to ask for interim measures.  An Expert of the Human Rights Committee informed the plenary about the follow-up process by this Committee, which included the appointment of the Special Rapporteur on follow-up, introduction of a grading system for case; in their views they made explicit links between the legally binding provisions of the Covenant and the articles of the Optional Protocols in order to highlight the legal validity of decisions for the States parties.  Referring to the issue of remedies and the corresponding practice of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, an Expert asked for further explanation on the philosophy behind this practice.  What was the practice of the Human Rights Committee on general types of recommendations?

SIR NIGEL RODLEY, Human Rights Committee Expert, in concluding remarks, on the issue of remedies said that the practice of the Committee was evolving, while in cases of torture and serious human rights violations the Committee had required guarantees of non-recurrence from the beginning.  The problem was in having the sufficient and adequate information on which to base the recommendation for remedy.  The question on reservations was a very relevant one, said Sir Nigel and referred to the work of the International Law Commission in this regard. 

KRISTER THELIN, Human Rights Committee Expert, explained the follow-up procedure to individual views employed by the Human Rights Committee and said that direct meetings with States parties were very effective in this regard.

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Expert of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in her concluding observations, said that the reference to regional jurisprudence was done in relation to what was available and it would be important to have a collection of cases coming from various regions and countries to demonstrate how violence against women was dealt with nationally.  With regard to interim measures and the follow-up to the views, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was lucky because the Optional Protocol and its article 5 and article 7 codified what had been done by the Committee.  In terms of remedies, the Committee could request remedies related to individual concerns, could request laws to be changed, protection measures to be established and other remedies that could be addressed by States.  The Committee was making efforts to focus on the most important general recommendations and to connect them with the regular reporting process.

Move of the Committees’ Spring Session Venue from New York to Geneva

CHRISTINE CHANET, Expert of the Human Rights Committee, said that the Committee had been notified in June that its future spring sessions would be moved from New York to Geneva; the problem was that it was an arbitrary decision and that Committees had been informed by email.  Ms. Chanet suggested that a joint letter be sent to the United Nations Secretary-General informing him that the provisions of the two treaties had not been respected and that an arbitrary decision had been made.  This decision should have been made by the two Committees.

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Expert of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee had received a letter from the High Commissioner in June that she had decided that the spring session would be moved from New York to Geneva.  The Committee had reacted to this letter and stated that there was a need for the Committee to hold its session in New York and so have an opportunity to link and interact with other United Nations bodies and agencies based in New York.  In October, the Committee had held a meeting with the High Commissioner on the question, but no specific result had been achieved.  The Committee did not appreciate the manner in which the decision had been taken.

In the discussion on the decision of the High Commissioner concerning the venue of the March 2013 session of the two Committees, Experts said that this was a highly regrettable and non-transparent matter and asked whether this issue had been taken up by States parties.  An Expert of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said that it was vital to hold at least one session in New York, because of the visibility it gave to the work of the Committee and because of the many women from all over the world who travelled to New York to meet with the Committee.  Experts agreed to draft a joint letter to the United Nations Secretary-General as suggested.

Treaty Body Strengthening Process

VICTORIA POPESCOU, Expert of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee had pursued with great interest the broad process of reflection on the strengthening of the treaty bodies system initiated in 2009 and fully supported the strengthening and harmonization of their work.  The strengthening of treaty bodies should be conducted in a manner that respected the universality, indivisibility and the equal significance of all human rights and the Committee reaffirmed the specificity of discrimination against women and the need to give high prominence to the promotion and protection of the human rights of women.  Resources were tremendously important and the functioning of the system was not possible without adequate financial and human resources.  The Committee attached special attention to the strengthening of the whole reporting cycle and in particular by reducing the reporting burden on States parties.  It did not yet have a position on the comprehensive reporting calendar and said that this complex construct required attentive analysis and assessment of financial implications and impact at the country level.  The Committee had already developed a rich practice and concrete decisions from the improvement of constructive dialogues, establishment of task forces and strengthening of the role of country rapporteurs.  The communication and cooperation between treaty bodies should be increased, both on substantive and procedural matters, exchange of best practices and drafting general joint recommendations; also informal meetings with the States parties should be organized more often.

MICHAEL O’FLAHERTY, Expert of the Human Rights Committee, said that the Committee had adopted a preliminary statement in July 2012 on the strengthening of the treaty bodies in which it agreed that the system was in need of sustained and sufficient resources.  The process of reflection on strengthening the treaty body system must guarantee the independence of the treaty bodies.  The Committee had undertaken a preliminary debate around the proposal on the Comprehensive Reporting Calendar and recognized its merits and challenges, the greatest of which would be that it would change the way in which Committee operated and would required many additional resources.  Many of the proposals contained in the report of the High Commissioner had merit and should be examined.  The Human Rights Committee was unhappy regarding the proposal to establish the joint treaty bodies Working Group on communication.  At the moment, there was the General Assembly process, which was suspended at the moment, but would not go away.  The Human Rights Committee was concerned about the limited capacity of treaty bodies’ chairpersons to engage with the General Assembly and be heard in this exercise.  The Committee did not take a position on the “Russian Note”, which was extremely prescriptive and called for a significant roll-back in the practices and procedures in the treaty bodies.  This was a very sensitive moment in the history of treaty bodies in which they were very vulnerable.  A conservative approach needed to be adopted and to be effective in protecting the system and there was a need to work together.

Experts stressed that, even though there was a need to be vigilant, the treaty bodies were not being attacked and should not feel defensive; it was within the purview of States to examine how the system worked.  Discussions between treaty bodies were needed in addition to discussions between States parties, and good suggestions about the way forward in the strengthening of the system might come from the practice of the treaty bodies.  The Vice-Chairperson had addressed the General Assembly and Committee Members asked for more information and impressions from that visit.  Further, it was suggested that chairpersons of treaty bodies meet on a regular basis and Experts supported the suggestion for more regular meetings with States parties.  Another Expert was of the opinion that the Comprehensive Reporting Calendar would stifle the work of Committees because it lacked flexibility and would negatively impact the follow-up process.  The proposal for treaty bodies to engage with the General Assembly was supported, but it was noted that it should be with the Fifth Committee which controlled resources.

Proposal to Draft a Joint Letter to the United Nations Secretary-General

In the discussion on the proposal to draft a joint letter to the Secretary-General, an Expert suggested that it be signed by members of the two Committees, while another Expert said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had already reacted to the decision of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and asked what would be the rationale for this letter.  It would be advisable to do something jointly, said an Expert, even though a whole series of policy positions had already been taken by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the issue.  There was a risk that the joint letter would be imbalanced because of differences in the cumulative response of the Committees, said one Expert, and another added that sending the letter to the Secretary-General might send wrong and not so helpful signals that could be misread in the current political climate in New York.  The letter should demonstrate the Committees’ respect for the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her efforts.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that this had been a memorable afternoon which was hard to summarise.  The issue of the joint letter would be discussed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on Friday and the decision on whether to draft the letter would be made at a later stage.


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CT12/017E
CEDAW12/022E