ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE OPENS ITS FIFTIETH SESSION

Hears Address by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Adopts Agenda and Discusses Organizational and Other Matters
6 May 2013

The Committee against Torture this morning opened its fiftieth session, hearing an address by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, adopting its agenda and programme of work, and discussing organizational and other matters.

Ms. Pillay said that the treaty bodies were on a critical juncture in the treaty bodies strengthening process and expressed her satisfaction that the inter-governmental process launched in New York had integrated treaty bodies experts into its deliberations. Given the critical funding situation facing the United Nations, some States expressed doubts as to the immediate feasibility of the comprehensive calendar proposal and were now discussing the so-called “Nimble Calendar”, which called for establishing a separate reporting calendar for each treaty body in order to reduce the backlog in reporting and communications over time.

The High Commissioner stressed that the treaty bodies strengthening process should not be a cost-reduction or cost-neutral exercise, given that the system had doubled in size in recent years without receiving sufficient increased support. Six treaty bodies had already adopted the Addis Ababa Guidelines on independence and impartiality, which presented an effective means of self-regulation of treaty bodies and an appropriate way to preserve their independence and impartiality.

Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, agreed that the reporting and backlogs in the work of treaty bodies was an important issue and noted the serious lack of resources available to them. Mr. Grossman reassured the High Commissioner of the commitment and dedication of the 10 members of the Committee against Torture.

When the Committee next meets in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 7 May, it will take up the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom (CAT/C/GBR/5).

Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening remarks said that the treaty bodies were at a critical juncture in the treaty bodies strengthening process and expressed her satisfaction that the inter-governmental process launched in New York had integrated treaty bodies experts into its deliberations, thus ensuring that they were heard by States in this process which laid the ground for important decisions on the future of the system. Concerning the proposal to establish a comprehensive reporting calendar to address the great number of States late in report submission and the significant backlog mounting for most Committees, the High Commissioner noted that some States expressed doubts as to the immediate feasibility of the comprehensive calendar in its entirety given the critical funding situation facing the United Nations. Some States were now discussing the proposal tabled by Egypt on behalf of the African Group to establish a so-called “Nimble Calendar”, which would establish a separate reporting calendar for each treaty body in order to reduce the backlog in reporting and communications over time.

The discussions in New York reflected the current gloomy financial outlook facing the entire United Nations system, said the High Commissioner, and told the Committee that her Office and the Conference Services had provided various cost estimates of the current system and the reduction of the backlog as well as a paper identifying possible cost savings. Ms. Pillay stressed that the treaty bodies strengthening process should not be a cost reduction or cost neutral exercise, given that the system had doubled in size in recent years without receiving sufficient increased support. Additional resources were needed not only to eliminate the backlogs but to address the structural challenges facing the system.

Turning to the issue of independence of the treaty bodies, the High Commissioner said that during the recent informal discussions, the Russian Federation had submitted a draft Code of Conduct on behalf of a cross-regional group of countries. This Code established principles of conduct and an Ethics Council comprising of representatives of States parties to treaties which would be empowered to receive complaints of the breaches of the Code. Six treaty bodies had already adopted the Addis Ababa Guidelines on independence and impartiality, which presented an effective means of self-regulation of treaty bodies and an appropriate way to preserve their independence and impartiality.

Questions and Comments by Committee Experts

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, agreed with the High Commissioner on the seriousness of the issue of reporting and backlogs in the work of treaty bodies, and noted also the serious lack of resources available to them. This issue was essential and had been raised on several levels. Concerning the issue of capacity building, the Chairperson said that this issue must not distract from the regular work of treaty bodies and that the role of education and training institutions in this must be preserved. Mr. Grossman reassured the High Commissioner of the commitment and dedication of the 10 members of the Committee against Torture.

A Committee Expert noted that the treaty bodies strengthening process was seen by some as a weakening process in which some States tried to establish political control over treaty bodies. This was a troubling development and needed to be urgently addressed. The intergovernmental process had gotten into competence issues and asked questions about who had the competence to examine State reports and issue recommendations. The Expert further noted that the so-called Nimble Formula was not nimble at all: it would offer the Committee members less time to do the work and would so create competitiveness that at the moment did not exist.

Turning to the issue of resources and the cost-cutting measures proposed by the High Commissioner, Committee Experts noted that the issue of the budget was that of life and death for treaty bodies and that money could be saved in many areas of the work of the United Nations. The greater part of the budget for treaty bodies was spent on translation and interpretation services and an Expert supported the proposal to rationalize the system of the United Nations working languages and consider them on a case-by-case basis.

Another Expert wondered whether the Universal Periodic Review had opened a divide in the United Nations system by giving the States the freedom to accept and refuse recommendations as they see fit. Concerning the Code of Conduct and the proposal to establish the Ethic Council, the Committee noted that its establishment would require a change in the treaty texts. It was important to prevent fragmentation of the international legal system, said another Expert and stressed the universality of the prohibition of torture which was paramount; combating fragmentation was also done through strengthening of the treaty bodies system.

Response by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

NAVI PILLAY, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that she shared the concerns expressed by the Committee Experts concerning the intergovernmental process which she too felt was moving forward too fast. Ms. Pillay stressed the need to emphasize in this process the importance of preserving the independence and impartiality of treaty bodies.


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