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Elects Fabián Omar Salvioli of Argentina as Chairperson
16 March 2015

The Human Rights Committee this morning opened its one hundred and thirteenth session, hearing an address by Mr. Simon Walker, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Committee elected a new Chairperson, welcomed six new members, and adopted its agenda and programme of work.  It also heard from a report from its Working Group on Communications. 

The Committee elected by acclamation Fabián Omar Salvioli, Argentina, as its President.  The other officers, also elected by acclamation were Anja Seibert-Fohr, Yuji Iwasawa and Dheerujlall Seetulsingh as Deputy Chairpersons, and Konstantine Vardzelashvili as Rapporteur.

Simon Walker, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an opening statement, asked what would become of the world if it ignored its treaties and principles and emphasized the need for States to uphold human rights.  His address focused on the issues of freedom of expression and the death penalty.  Terrorist attacks on the media could have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression, said Mr. Walker, citing the recent attacks in Paris, but the major obstacles to freedom of expression were the restrictions placed by Governments.  However, the freedom to speak was not unrestricted, he said, noting that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination set out that “freedom of speech can be an incitement to action – in some cases, very violent and hateful action.”  He also indicated synergies between the work of the Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Committee, which had highlighted concerns that counter-terrorism measures could restrict freedom of expression.   

Mr. Walker regretted the renewed use of the death penalty by several States which previously had had a moratorium in practice.  There was ample evidence to demonstrate that the death penalty had no impact in reducing crime and that no justice system, no matter how robust, could guarantee against wrongful convictions.  He commended Madagascar and Chad for abolishing the death penalty last year, and noted that in Chad’s case it was as a result of the Committee’s 2014 concluding recommendations.  Mr. Walker also welcomed that Pennsylvania in the United States introduced a moratorium on the death penalty in February.  A record number of countries – 117 – had supported the General Assembly’s call for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, and a dwindling minority remained.  Mr. Walker also expressed concerns regarding the budget crisis faced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which affected all parts of the organization.   In this constrained financial environment he urged the Committee to exercise moderation in the number of meetings and documents for which it sought an exceptional language, so that the limited resources could meet the needs of all Committees.

Fabian Omar Salvioli, the newly elected Committee Chairperson, thanked outgoing Chairperson Sir Nigel Rodley for his valued work and committee members for their support.  He said the position of Chairperson was an obligation not a privilege, and what was important were not the individual members but the many victims of human rights violations the Committee sought to help.

The Committee also heard a brief statement from  outgoing Chairperson Sir Nigel Rodley, as well as an update on the activities of its Working Group on Communications, and adopted its report.  In the update Sir Rodley said the Working Group had met this month in Geneva and considered 27 draft recommendations.  Of those it concluded that there had been a violation of the Covenant in 14 cases, no violation in one case, a dismissal of the complaint in 10 cases, one case which had two options regarding the possibility of a violation, and the postponement of a further case to the next session pending further information.  The cases were discussed in a confidential procedure, he noted.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today to begin its consideration of the seventh periodic report of the Russian Federation (CCPR/C/RUS/7). 

During its three week session the Committee will also consider the reports of Cambodia, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, and Monaco.  The programme of work can be found in the background press release.   The State party reviews by the Committee are webcast and can be watched here: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org/.

For use of the information media; not an official record