3 June 2015
The Committee on the Rights of the Child met this morning with representatives of States to discuss new working methods, ratification of the third Optional Protocol and its concluding observations and recommendations.
Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the Committee, welcomed the large number of States present at the meeting, which he said was a ‘meeting of States’ rather than a ‘meeting of States parties’ because the Committee had 195 States parties and it was very hopeful that the last State would come on board in the near future. Today’s meeting was the first with States since 2011. States were key to the success of the Convention in many ways, not least implementing the Committee’s recommendations on the ground.
Kristen Sandberg, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, spoke about the development of new working methods of the Committee in the context of the treaty body strengthening process which resulted in General Assembly resolution 68/268 of April 2014. Working in dual chambers in both the January and current session the Committee had managed to significantly reduce its backlog from 79 reports in October 2014 to 57 reports today.
Amal Aldoseri, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, spoke about the third Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure. The Protocol entered into force in April 2014 and had so far been ratified by 17 States and signed by 37 States. While ratification of the Protocol reinforced a State’s commitment to child rights, most importantly it encouraged States to establish domestic complaints mechanisms, such as children’s ombudspersons and child-friendly courts with speedy procedures.
Renate Winter, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said the Committee on the Rights of the Child was the biggest treaty body with the largest number of clients, amounting to 195 Member States. The convention had 40 Articles to consider, more than any other human rights convention. It also had three Optional Protocols, the first two of which had 150 States parties each, which further increased the amount of reports the Committee had to review. However, the Committee had decided to reduce its concluding observations by 20 per cent and make them more focused and concrete.
In the ensuing discussion States asked questions about the Committee’s new working methods, in particular its operations in dual chambers, and one State asked how the Committee ensured impartiality in drafting its concluding observations. The new simplified reporting procedure was enquired about, as was coordination with other treaty bodies. States called for more time in the interactive dialogues and the possibility that States located a long way from Geneva could be reviewed by video conference in order to save the cost of travel to Geneva and provide a more expert delegation.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Mezmur said the presence of so many States at today’s meeting was a great indication of their commitment to the Convention. The Convention was truly a global treaty, as testified by 195 States parties, but that entailed a large workload. However, all felt that it was a privilege to be a member of the Committee and serve children worldwide at a global level.
Representatives of the following States spoke in the meeting: Russia, Ethiopia, Austria, Pakistan, Fiji, Tunisia, Colombia, Bhutan and Paraguay. Several Committee Members also took the floor.
The final meeting of the Committee this session will be the public closing at 3 p.m. on Friday, 5 June, after which it will publish its concluding observations and recommendations for the reports reviewed during the session. The webpage for the Committee’s sixty-ninth session is available here.
Opening Remarks by the Chairperson of the Committee
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Chairperson of the Committee, welcomed the large number of States present at the meeting, which he said was a ‘meeting of States’ rather than a ‘meeting of States parties’ because the Committee had 195 States parties and it was very hopeful that the last State would come on board in the near future. Today’s meeting was the first with States since 2011. States were key to the success of the Convention in many ways, not least implementing the Committee’s recommendations on the ground. In today’s meeting States would hear an update on the Committee’s work over the last couple of years, focusing on three agenda items: new working methods following the adoption of the General Assembly resolution on treaty body strengthening last year; ratification of the third Optional Protocol to the Convention; and the concluding observations of the Committee.
KRISTEN SANDBERG, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, spoke about the development of new working methods of the Committee in the context of the treaty body strengthening process which resulted in General Assembly resolution 68/268 of April 2014. The General Assembly’s decision to increase the Committee’s annual meeting time from 12 to 15 weeks to allow it to reduce its backlog of reports was welcomed. Working in dual chambers in both the January and current session, the Committee had managed to significantly reduce its backlog from 79 reports in October 2014 to 57 reports today, consisting of 42 reports under the Convention, eight under the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict and eight under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution. The Committee had decided to introduce the simplified reporting procedure from 2016 which would entail States receiving a list of issues prior to reporting to assist them in reporting only on the specific issues of interest to the Committee rather than every area. Concerning the time allocated to the interactive dialogues Ms. Sandberg said great care had been taken to limit the number of questions asked by Committee Members, which previously had left States parties with too many questions and too little time to answer them. The Committee had instead allocated task forces of five Members for each report who would ask first and second rounds of questions, although to allow the dialogue to be truly interactive any Member could ask a follow-up question with a time limit of one minute per person. Regarding general comments, Ms. Sandberg said the treaty bodies were working on an aligned process, that a draft general comment on public spending was underway and would be shared with States parties soon.
The Third Optional Protocol on Communications
AMAL ALDOSERI, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, spoke about the third Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure. The Protocol entered into force in April 2014 and had so far been ratified by 17 States and signed by 37 States. The Protocol was an international complaints procedure for child rights violations which allowed children from States that had ratified it to make complaints of violations directly to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, provided, emphasized Ms. Aldoseri, that they had not found a solution at the national level and had exhausted all domestic remedies. Therefore while ratification of the Protocol reinforced a State’s commitment to child rights, most importantly it encouraged States to establish domestic complaints mechanisms, such as children’s ombudspersons and child-friendly courts with speedy procedures.
Ms. Aldoseri described the process and limitations of the complaints procedure. She said that an individual child or a group of children could make a complaint, as could an adult acting on behalf of the child, with the child’s consent. The complaint was only valid if the facts had happened before the person turned 18 years, if the Optional Protocol had entered into force in that State and if the complaint was submitted within one year after domestic remedies had been exhausted. The Committee took all appropriate measures to ensure that the child had not been subjected to improper pressure or manipulation. The crucial consideration in all cases was the best interest of the child and the Committee may opt to decline to examine any communication that it considered not to be in the child’s best interest. After being accepted a complaint would be sent to a State and a written explanation was expected from it within six months of receipt. Finally, the Committee would give its views on the complaint, and although they were not binding it would assume that the State party would follow up on those views.
RENATE WINTER, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said the Committee was often told that it gave too many recommendations and had decided to reduce its concluding observations and recommendations by 20 per cent and make them more focused and concrete. Ms. Winter said the Committee on the Rights of the Child was the biggest treaty body with the largest number of clients, amounting to 195 Member States. It had three Optional Protocols, the first two of which had 150 States parties each, which further increased the amount of reports the Committee had to review. Furthermore, the Convention had 40 articles to take into consideration, the largest of any of the human rights conventions. Ms. Winter asked whether a two-page executive summary which focused on the specific problems in a country would be helpful to States. She said it was not practical to make observations and recommendations under every article of the Convention for every State, giving the example of a State party which was at risk of disappearing in the next 10 years due to flooding, and it did not make sense to concentrate on the number of school buildings there when the main priority was ensuring that that State’s children would be able to be resettled in other countries in the next ten years.
Comments and Questions from States
Russia said it appreciated the opportunity to interact with the Committee in an informal manner to discuss issues of concern. Russia asked how the Committee ensured impartiality in writing concluding observations for States reviewed in dual chambers, as it understood that during the interactive dialogue only four or five Members would assess and interact with the State concerned and that not all Members read the State party’s report. Russia asked how the Committee would use the additional time granted by the General Assembly once it had completed its backlog. Russia also raised the simplified reporting procedure, recalling that it had had a bad experience at the Convention against Torture who gave it 70 questions in the list of issues and asked for a response in no more than 20 pages. The delegate said Russia did not see how that procedure could be feasible for the Committee on the Rights of the Child, especially for federal States such as Russia. Concerning the interactive dialogue, Russia said it saw in the future it would have to present all of its reports – under the Convention and the two Optional Protocols – within two sessions. How constructive could the dialogue be if a State was only given six hours to discuss three reports, it asked, even taking into account the new time limits for questions. Russia said it had an impression that the interactive dialogue had no bearing upon the concluding observations, and also regretted that in its concluding observations the Committee did not appear to appreciate the positive measures taken by States beyond those in the legislative field.
Ethiopia said it appreciated the opportunities presented by today’s meeting and noted that its fourth and fifth reports were reviewed by the Committee last month in a highly beneficial dialogue. Ethiopia said that the concluding observations should be brief and specific in order for States parties to implement them. Ethiopia also highlighted the confusion caused sometimes by the use of new terminology and suggested it would be best to stick to the language contained within the Convention. Ethiopia said being reviewed by a full chamber, instead of duel chambers, was very important so States could benefit from the expertise of all Committee Members. Ethiopia also commented about the Committee’s use of secondary sources of information which may present a different portrayal of a situation to what was actually happening on the ground.
Austria commended the Committee’s innovations and efforts to enhance its working methods, such as the use of dual chambers, as even if it meant additional work for the Committee it was an effective measure to reduce the backlog. Austria announced that it had now withdrawn all of its reservations to the Convention, as of two months ago, and it had signed the third Optional Protocol. The Committee’s innovation on a joint general comment with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on harmful traditional practices was a very positive example of cooperation between treaty bodies. Austria asked if the Committee would publish a report on the implementation of the third Protocol so far and about the topic for the next day of general discussion.
Pakistan enquired about the process of the simplified reporting procedure, such as the timeline for responses to the list of issues and the consequences for the subsequent periodic report. Pakistan also asked if there would be a limit on the number of questions in the list of issues if there was a word limit for concluding observations. Pakistan also asked what criteria was used to appoint task forces when the Committee worked in dual chambers.
Fiji said the concluding observations of the Committee were very valuable and had found their way into Fijian legislation. However, a major problem for delegations from the Pacific region was the distance they had to travel to Geneva and the great expense that involved, especially in providing a balanced delegation which represented several ministries. Fiji wished for more time in the interactive dialogue. Fiji also highlighted how important it was for Pacific delegations that were not used to the reporting procedure to treaty bodies to have mock, practice reviews in capitals and asked if the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could assist with that.
Tunisia referred to concluding observations and called on the Committee to resist the trend to think in terms of equity and justice in comparison to other States, because the rights of the child were not measured in comparison with other States but against the Convention. The Committee had to stress the salient points and assist the State party in resolving issues irrespective of what was happening in neighbouring countries.
Colombia recalled its review by the Committee in January this year and commented on the new methodology being used, which had both positive aspects and room for improvement. Colombia said the simplified reporting system was useful and the list of issues served as guidance for the drafting of the report. Colombia called for more time, not only during the course of the dialogue as a whole but in between the two halves of the dialogue. It recalled that its last review took place on a Thursday afternoon and a Friday morning and that colleagues in capital were awake all night listening to the webcast and formulating answers. Colombia also commented that sometimes the summaries of the meeting were reduced in length and did not reflect all of their replies. Finally Colombia highlighted the importance of awareness-raising, capacity building and dissemination of the Committee’s recommendations with stakeholders on the ground.
Bhutan asked for information about the timeline of the simplified reporting procedure and on what basis the list of issues was drafted. Bhutan said it welcomed the decision to shorten the concluding observations which it said would be very useful to it.
Paraguay asked about modifications to the time frame of a dialogue in terms of coordination with other treaty bodies. Paraguay also asked whether two morning meetings or two afternoon meetings might be possible for interactive dialogues which would better assist Paraguay in bringing in a high-level delegation.
Response by Committee Members
Ms. Sandberg, responding to Russia’s question about the backlog, said the Committee hoped to clear the backlog of reports within three years but the challenge was in reviewing the reports more quickly than the rate at which they were received. Answering Russia’s question about how other Committee Members related to a dialogue when the session was in duel chambers Ms. Sandberg said the other Members did prepare and did read the country reports, and even if they were not on the ‘task force’ for that particular review, they could ask follow-up questions during the dialogue. In response to Pakistan’s question about the appointment of task forces, Ms. Sandberg said the Committee took geographical aspects into account and tried to ensure at least one member was from the region of the country under review.
Concerning the Optional Protocol on communications, Ms. Winter said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child had a very special mandate, which was to take into account the views and best interest of the child. That meant the Committee had extra work in its communications as it had to write both for an adult or a lawyer and a child. If a child addressed the Committee directly it had to be taken into account that they may communicate in a different way to an adult and that the Committee’s communications to a child had to be made in a way and a language that a child could understand.
In response to Tunisia Ms. Winter emphasized that a country had never, ever, been compared to another country and they were only assessed against the Convention. Responding to Russia’s call for more time, Ms. Winter said time was everybody’s enemy and it was not easy to find the right balance. She said the biggest problem was data; if a State party provided precise data which was well broken down then that would lead to an efficient use of time, but that rarely happened. It was time consuming when the Committee had to ask several questions to get to the root of a problem, in the absence of clear data. Furthermore, States should accept that if they wanted greater efficiency the Committee could not ask questions under every one of the 40 Articles of the Convention but instead had to tailor its questions to the pertinent issues in that country. Furthermore, if the Committee was asked to list all of the positive practices and progress made by every State in every set of concluding observations that would add greatly to their length and the time spent writing them. Was it not better to concentrate on the problem that needed to be solved, Ms. Winter asked.
Concerning Fiji’s question Ms. Winter said the Committee was looking into carrying out country reviews using video conferencing which would be a solution to the great expense of paying for a delegation to come to Geneva. A trial country review using video conferencing had been very successful for all parties. Concerning the length of time between the two parts of the review, Ms. Winter said the Committee could postpone the second round of questions by two or three days to give States time to get answers from capital but that would oblige the State to spend more money accommodating their delegation in Geneva for a longer period. States had to decide what was best for them, she said.
The expense of bringing a delegation to Geneva was indeed considerable, said another Member, and Skype or video conferencing would indeed be a very good solution. He commented that mock sessions were very helpful and that best practice could be shared by countries in a region.
A Committee Member said while the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most ratified of all United Nations conventions it also had the greatest number of reservations by States, and he welcomed Austria’s announcement that it had withdrawn all of its reservations and similar announcements by other States parties.
He said the Committee did highlight positive achievements by a State in the concluding observations, and that while the introductory paragraph generally contained the laws and mechanisms, achievements by a State were commended throughout the document under the various sections dealing with health, education, juvenile justice etcetera. In response to the question by Colombia he said the Committee was looking at ways of getting closer to the people who actually implemented and were affected by its recommendations, for example by using social media, Facebook and Twitter.
The extra time given by the General Assembly was welcome but it was still not enough to give all the time to interactive dialogues that States were asking for, said a Committee Member. The Committee tried to hold meetings across two days which allowed the delegation to get answers from capital overnight, but now it heard that that led to people not sleeping. It was not easy to strike a balance between the needs of different States, she said. A Member emphasized that translation of the Committee’s general comments into national languages was crucial to inform people about the very important issues contained within them
A Committee Member urged States to adhere to the timetable of submitting a report every five years, commenting that most of the time the Committee received two or three combined reports, which meant that it had to assess the progress made and situation in a county over a 12 year period.
Responding to Russia’s question about the safeguarding of impartiality a Member emphasized that that was an issue the Committee took care of very carefully as it was crucial to its effectiveness. Working in duel chambers did not at all challenge the Committee’s impartiality. During the interactive dialogue, in addition to the task force the other Members still participated in the dialogues and read all of the reports. The design of duel chambers was a temporary measure to manage the backlog, he said. The concluding observations were drafted in duel chambers but they were presented before the entire Committee in full plenary and discussed by all in great detail. In that meeting the half of the Committee which did not attend the dialogue had priority in their input.
A Committee Member commented that their role required a huge amount of reading but every Member did indeed read all of the material that they were given very carefully. As a result of all of that reading Members could easily attend a dialogue with a dozen issues they would like to ask a State party about but due to time constraints the Committee had to focus on the most pressing issues. A clear advantage of duel chambers over full chambers is that the nine Members present had more time to ask their questions rather than a meeting with 18 Members.
Concerning cooperation with other treaty bodies to make the best use of time Ms. Winter gave the example of a girl child who had a disability, was a refugee and had problems with the law, which would involve four different treaty bodies. The former High Commissioner had started looking into the possibility of developing a matrix where a State could be reviewed over, for example, a one week period by the four treaty bodies, a process which was being continued by the new High Commissioner. It would be a huge undertaking, she commented.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Chairperson of the Committee, also responded to Russia’s question about impartiality in dual chambers and said the division of members into the two chambers was like playing a very difficult game of Suduko. The following criteria were taken into account: geographical representation, language, experience, background, new and old members, the availability of the reports in the various languages, the ability of two members acting as rapporteurs for a report to communicate with each other as much as possible in order to overcome language barriers as much as possible, and also the wishes of a Member. Concerning the time between dialogues he said the countries that were reviewed over two subsequent days were the fortunate ones compared to those reviewed on the same day who had just two hours during the lunch break to compile their responses. The Committee endeavoured to allow all States that overnight period when putting together the programme of work.
The Chairperson said Tuvalu and Niue had been reviewed via video conferencing in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Fiji. Other treaty bodies had conducted reviews which featured a split delegation consisting of people present in the room in Geneva and people participating via video link from capital. Clearing the backlog was the aim but in actuality as the backlog was cleared it would create more momentum for States to submit their next reports. To clear the backlog, in addition to working in dual chambers, the Committee frequently held meetings over lunch, in the evening and between sessions. Concerning the list of issues the Chairperson said he anticipated they would contain up to 25 questions. He also noted that the General Assembly resolution on treaty strengthening had established word limits for both the reports and the concluding observations.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Chairperson of the Committee, said the presence of so many States at today’s meeting was a great indication of their commitment to the Convention. The Convention was truly a global treaty, as testified by 195 States parties, but that entailed a large workload. However, Members all felt that it was a privilege to be a member of the Committee and serve children worldwide at a global level. The Committee looked forward to continuing its engagement with States in the near future.
For use of the information media; not an official record