Press Conference on Upcoming Treaty Event at Headquarters, 23-25, 28-29 September

16 September 2009

Press Conference on Upcoming Treaty Event at Headquarters, 23-25, 28-29 September

16 September 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Upcoming Treaty Event at Headquarters, 23-25, 28-29 September

At a Headquarters press conference today, to announce the annual Treaty Event taking place at Headquarters from 23 to 25 and 28 to 29 September on the margins of the high-level segment of the General Assembly’s general debate, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel, Patricia O’Brien, said the Optional Protocol to the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would be a highlight of the wide range of featured treaties.

The Optional Protocol would establish a formal grievance mechanism for dealing with violations of those rights, the Deputy Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Craig Mokhiber, said, joining Ms. O’Brien today, along with the Treaty Section Chief in the United Nations Department of Legal Affairs, Annebeth Rosenboom.

Continuing, Mr. Mokhiber noted that the Optional Protocol, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly on 10 December 2008, would open for signature during the event and would enter into force once 10 States had ratified it.  Ratification would balance a “historical imbalance” in protecting civil and political rights over social, economic and cultural rights, as now a grievance mechanism would be in place for both covenants to address violations of the rights first formulated in 1966 by the “mother” covenants.  Both covenants had been derived from the 1947 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ratification of the new Optional Protocol would affirm the idea that all human rights were equal, interdependent and inseparable, including rights to shelter and to freedom from want, he explained.  There would be no further conflict between rights and no need to choose between freedoms, between “bread and ballots”, as Nelson Mandela had said.

Ratification of the Optional Protocol would also be a call for States to increase efforts to meet responsibilities in protecting social rights, he continued.  The instrument also laid the foundation for the jurisprudence required to protect such rights as the right to health.  Situations in which States did not live up to those rights were covered by provisions on remedies.

Specifically, he said, the Protocol would call for the establishment of an expert panel to consider allegations of abuses in situations beyond national remedies.  The panel would be empowered with certain mechanisms to assist in the implementation of its findings and recommendations.  It could, for example, issue injunctions against alleged actions to permit investigation, or it could facilitate, empower and reinforce “good office” services.  It could also conduct investigations and carry out follow-up functions.  A fund would be established to support technical cooperation in implementing the panel’s recommendations.

Responding to questions, he said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had 164 parties, and the Optional Protocol had 112.  The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had 160 parties.

To another question, he said he had no information concerning possible signatures or ratifications by the new President of the host country, the United States.  However, the United Nations objective was to encourage universal ratification of all treaties by all parties.

Speaking on the Treaty Event as a whole, Ms. O’Brien said that the than 500 treaties had been deposited with the Secretary-General.  This year’s event would focus on 40 treaties related to such issues as the rule of law, climate change, nuclear weapons, terrorism and protection of United Nations personnel.

She said that a treaty event would also be held in Rotterdam on 23 September to open for signature of another Convention adopted last December by the General Assembly.  Informally known as the “Rotterdam Rules”, the Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea aimed to provide a uniform set of rules to modernize and harmonize the sea carriage of goods in containers.  Among other notable provisions, the Convention provided, for the first time, a legal basis for electronic records.  It would open for signature in New York as part of the 2009 Treaty Event after the signing ceremony in Rotterdam.

Replying to questions regarding enforcement of convention articles and provisions, she said her Office carried out a depository role in interpreting provisions and their applications for the Secretary-General and for the Secretariat.  Furthermore, as Legal Counsel for the United Nations, she and her Office were bound by the relevant aspects of the lawyer and client relationship.

The annual Treaty Event was started in 2000 by the Secretary-General during the landmark Millennium Summit in which Governments had been asked to showcase their commitment to strengthening the role of the rule of law at home and in the global arena.  Since then, the Event had resulted in nearly 1,500 new signatures, ratifications, acceptances, accessions and other actions in relation to treaties.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.