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HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE OPENS ONE HUNDREDTH AND SIXTH SESSION
15 October 2012

The Human Rights Committee this morning opened its one hundredth and sixth session, adopting its agenda and programme of work and hearing an address by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ms. Pillay said that this year was a significant one for the treaty body system, whose growth had never been matched by a proportionate increase in resources from the General Assembly.  Her June report on treaty body strengthening proposed a number of recommendations to address challenges to the system and the High Commissioner said that the urgency of moving forward with the strengthening process was accentuated by the current global economic environment which was one of the most important challenges facing the United Nations today. 

Despite the bleak economic outlook, there was much to be done to strengthen the treaty body system, said Ms. Pillay.  Last week, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights held its annual planning week and it was heartening to see that all parts of the Office were increasingly helping to bring the work of treaty bodies and specifically of this Committee to the lives of individuals and the deliberations of States, both internationally and at the country level.  The Office constantly relied on the work of the Committee to inform its research and policy guidance, and the High Commissioner herself relied on the Committee’s concerns and recommendations in her own meetings with States in Geneva and abroad.  The Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures also drew heavily on the work of the Committee, noted the High Commissioner, for example the report of its Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic relied on the Committee’s interpretation of numerous articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Regarding the report of the Committee’s Working Group on communications, Gerald Neuman, Chairperson of the Working Group, briefly reported that the group had met last week and examined a number of cases of communications prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, discussed a number of issues related to methods of work and also discussed the June report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on treaty body strengthening, on which it would report at a later stage.

During the meeting, the Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work.

The Committee then continued in private to hear briefings by United Nations organizations and specialized agencies, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations on the situation in the countries whose reports it will review this week, namely the Philippines, Turkey and Germany.  When the Committee resumes its work in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will begin its consideration of the fourth report of the Philippines (CCPR/C/PHL/4).

Opening Address

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this had been a significant year for treaty bodies, in particular the treaty bodies strengthening process.  The growth of the system had never been matched by a proportionate increase in resources from the General Assembly.  In June, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had issued her report on treaty bodies strengthening which had proposed a number of recommendations to address challenges of the treaty bodies system.  Ms. Pillay urged the Human Rights Committee to continue its review of the report and find ways to move forward on its preliminary statement and the many recommendations addressed to treaty bodies.  The urgency of moving forward with strengthening the treaty bodies was accentuated by the current global economic environment which was one of the most important challenges facing the United Nations today.  The budgetary constraints had translated into a 7.5 per cent cut across the board of all extra-budgetary resources in 2012 and now a further 15 per cent cut were being prepared for 2013.  Those cuts directly impacted the Treaties Division which relied on extra-budgetary resources to pay for one-third of its staff.  It was against this backdrop that a decision had been made to move the Committee’s March session to Geneva.

Despite the bleak economic outlook, there was much to be done to strengthen the treaty body system.  Last week, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had held its annual planning week and it had been heartening to see that all parts of the Office were increasingly helping to bring the work of treaty bodies and specifically of this Committee to the lives of individuals and the deliberations of States, both internationally and at the country level.  The Office constantly relied on the work of the Committee to inform its research and policy guidance, and the High Commissioner herself relied on the Committee’s concerns and recommendations in her own meetings with States in Geneva and abroad.  The Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures also drew heavily on the work of the Committee, for example the recent report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic made many references to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, General Comments 20 and 31 and the Committee’s interpretation of numerous articles of the Covenant.  The Human Rights Council had recently adopted a resolution on arbitrary detention in which it requested the Working Group on arbitrary detention to prepare draft basic principles and guidelines on remedies and procedures on the right of anyone deprived of his or her liberty and to seek the views of the Human Rights Committee.

Questions by Experts

A Committee Expert said that everyone was acutely aware of the financial constraints and noted that the decision concerning the venue of the next session of the Human Rights Committee should have been made by the Committee itself; with all due respect, it was not for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make such a decision.  An Expert said that the harmonization between treaty bodies was possible and that the Committee was doing it continuously; still, the proliferation of treaties was making this process increasingly difficult.  The High Commissioner’s report on treaty bodies strengthening, issued in the midst of the exercise by the States in June, presented a real risk of poorly interpreting facts and many thought that it was a report by the treaty bodies themselves. 

Another Expert welcomed the new ways in which field offices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were engaging with the Committee and expressed appreciation for the June report on treaty bodies strengthening, which was based on the strong consultative process with all stakeholders groups.  The leadership of the High Commissioner was still needed in the process of strengthening the treaty body system, particularly as a champion for the process and in the context of the General Assembly process; the High Commissioner should give this a high priority and continue working and encouraging States to contribute their viewpoints on the treaty body system.

There was a fear that uniqueness of this Committee was undermined by some States which were not happy with the communication process, while efforts towards harmonization sometimes contained demands that were hard to meet by treaty bodies.  Another Expert said there were real problems that needed to be addressed by the High Commissioner and noted that the Committee had not been a part of any exercise in which decisions were made for the 7.5 per cent cuts across the board.  Was there any analysis made concerning the efficiency of resource cuts?  A dialogue on priorities and efficiency must take place and the Committee must not be faced with faits accomplis with regard to budgetary resources.

An Expert expressed his concern about the discussions of States parties which were focused on the conduct of treaty bodies’ members, rather then on the rights of victims, and said that there was a danger that the process would result in weakening the process.  The very first priority must be to put in place the required budget to make sure that the treaty body system could work and that the decisions taken would not have a negative impact on the work of the Committee.

Concerning the June report on the treaty body strengthening process and the report that was currently before the General Assembly, Ms. Pillay said that its preparation was a consultative process.  Her involvement in this process was due to concerns based on statements heard by some States about the treaty body system, and because the resourcing of the system had never been adequately addressed by the General Assembly.  The High Commissioner was convinced that the views on the strengthening should come from extensive consultation with all stakeholders.  At this stage, it was unclear where the process would take everyone and the High Commissioner was still open to hearing views and opinions on the recommendations contained in the report.  This was still an open process and Ms. Pillay encouraged the Committee to engage with the two facilitators because the worst scenario would be that States met in the General Assembly and did nothing.

With regard to funding, the High Commissioner said she understood very well the comments offered by the Experts which were consistent with her own comments on the budgetary allocations.  The question of the budget was one of the areas which affected the United Nations and this question must be seen holistically.  The United Nations had never faced such a financial crisis in its whole existence.  The funding of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been significantly affected by the economic and financial crisis and two of its important European donors had announced the total cut of their contributions.  The Office had used up its reserves and was now 40 million US dollars in red.  The Office was currently undertaking a rational review of its work in order to set the priorities for budgetary cuts.  The Office did not have the money to provide the service support to the New York session of the Committee and that was why the decision was made to move the session to Geneva.  Another step taken by the Office to increase its funding was to prepare a new way of raising funds, including through foundations and by addressing new donors which had never funded the Office, such as Saudi Arabia, which was now a donor.  A group of Ambassadors “Friends of Human Rights” had gotten together and would actively lobby for an increase in the regular budget of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which had been only two per cent funded for the past several years.

Report of the Working Group on Communications

GERALD NEUMAN, Chair of the Working Group on communications, reported briefly on last week’s meeting, in which it had examined 20 cases of communications prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It had also discussed a number of issues related to methods of work and the June report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on treaty body strengthening, on which it would report at a later stage.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CT12/015E