COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS OPENS FIFTY-FIRST SESSION
4 November 2013
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning opened its fifty-first session, hearing statements by Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson. The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work.
In her opening statement, Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the past year had been a very important one for the Committee, which had made improvements to its working methods. The entry into force of the Optional Protocol and the consideration of individual communications under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were important achievements. In a time of austerity and increasing poverty there was no room for complacency. States had accepted that additional regular budget resources would need to be invested in the system so that treaty bodies could fulfil their mandate. Ms. Pansieri encouraged the Committee to continue to discuss modalities of increasing the effectiveness of its work and to harmonize working methods with other treaty bodies.
In an interactive dialogue with Ms. Pansieri, Committee Members asked what could be done to achieve a higher number of ratifications and lend greater legitimacy to the Convention; which mechanism was the most efficient to ensure that human rights issues were handled in a professional manner based on human rights treaties and principles; and what progress had been made in terms of harmonization.
Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, informed the Committee that Haiti had been the latest State to accede to the Convention, bringing the total number of ratifications to 161, and that Montenegro had ratified the Optional Protocol.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will hold a meeting with representatives from non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions in the countries whose reports will be considered this week, namely Kuwait, Albania, Belgium and Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the session, the Committee will also consider the reports of Djibouti, Belarus, Egypt, Gabon, Austria and Norway.
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, in his opening statement, said that the Committee’s work took inspiration from important recent developments in the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. He said that Haiti had been the latest State party to accede to the Covenant and that Montenegro had joined the group of States parties to the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, said that the past year had been a very important one for the Committee, which had made improvements to its working methods. Extra meeting time granted by the General Assembly without the engagement of additional staff had doubled the Committee’s workload and had placed pressure on the secretariat. A sustainable solution to the problem was needed. The entry into force of the Optional Protocol was another important achievement. Consideration of individual communications would help States better to apply the Covenant and would assist victims to seek remedies in cases of human rights violations.
Several important discussions on economic and social rights were taking place at the international level, including the General Assembly’s Special Event on Achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 Development Agenda, held in September 2013, and the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014 Review, which would culminate in the General Assembly’s session in September 2014.
Ms. Pansieri stressed that in a time of austerity, increasing poverty and attacks on the very notion of economic, social and cultural rights, there was no room for complacency. The Co-Facilitators of the Inter-Governmental Process on Treaty Body Strengthening presented a quasi-procedural resolution in September 2013, requesting the Secretary-General to prepare a comprehensive and detailed cost assessment of the draft elements by 15 November 2013. There was an understanding that addressing the challenges of the treaty body system was not a cost-neutral exercise, and States had accepted that additional regular budget resources would need to be invested in the system.
It was encouraging to see the importance attached by the General Assembly to issues such as capacity-building for reporting, granting additional meeting to Committees, and increasing accessibility through webcasting and video-conferencing. In February 2014 the General Assembly was expected to allocate additional regular budget resources to enable treaty bodies to discharge their mandates fully. A comprehensive solution to the treaty body strengthening process would go a long way towards allowing the Committee to fulfil its mandate effectively. Ms. Pansieri encouraged the Committee to continue to discuss modalities of increasing effectiveness of its work and to harmonize working methods with other treaty bodies.
In an interactive dialogue with Ms. Pansieri, a Committee Member asked which mechanism was the most efficient to ensure that human rights issues were handled by professionals in a professional manner based on human rights treaties and principles.
In response to that question, Ms. Pansieri said that, as in the Human Rights Council, States were represented by diplomats and politicians but national delegations also included human rights experts on their teams. Optimal results would be achieved through recognizing the work of the Council and of treaty bodies as mutually supportive. It was also important to inform and support Member States about resolutions which had been passed. At the same time, the dynamics within the Council were also influenced by the fact that it was an inter-governmental process and not an expert body. It was necessary to draw on all positive elements in order to enhance the understanding and application of human rights. In that respect, the Council, as an expression of political will and commitment, played an important role.
A Committee Member asked how the Committee could achieve higher numbers of ratifications and lend more legitimacy to the Covenant.
Ms. Pansieri said that the Office of the High Commissioner and its staff were also present at the field level and were not just providers of technical and financial support. Through its advocacy work, the Office actively engaged in efforts aimed to encourage the ratification of treaties. Committee Members, as experts and citizens of many different countries, could also function as effective advocates of the Covenant.
An Expert asked what progress had been made in terms of harmonization and what outstanding issues were still there into which the Committee should put more effort.
Ms. Pansieri said that the regular meetings of the Chairpersons of treaty bodies were an important way of ensuring that best practices were shared and promoted harmonization.
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