|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2713th Meeting (AM)
Monitoring Body for Civil, Political Rights Covenant Concludes Three Week Session,
After Considering Reports from Argentina, Mexico, New Zealand, Uzbekistan
Also Examines 33 Individual Communications under Optional Protocol
The United Nations expert body monitoring worldwide implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concluded its annual three-week session at Headquarters in New York today, having taken up the compliance reports of Argentina, Mexico, New Zealand and Uzbekistan.
During its ninety-eighth session, the Human Rights Committee also considered a range of issues aimed at improving interaction and communication with States parties and disseminating information about its work to the wider public. The Committee, comprised of 18 independent experts serving four-year terms, heard progress reports from its Special Rapporteurs for follow-up to concluding observations, and for follow-up to individual communications.
The Committee also held three public meetings to discuss draft General Comment 34 on article 19 of the Covenant (document CCPR/C/GC/34/CRP.2), concerning freedom of expression, ultimately approving language for 12 more sections of the 54-paragraph text during this first “read-through”. In its general comments, the Committee publishes its interpretation of the content of the human rights provisions on thematic issues, or its methods of work.
Summing up some of the key decisions taken during the session, Committee Chair Yuji Iwasawa, expert from Japan, said the experts had considered a total of 33 individual communications under the Optional Protocol. Eleven of those had been deemed inadmissible and two had been discontinued. Further, on the merits of 17 of those cases, the Committee had found evidence of violations of civil and political rights in 15. It found no rights violations in the remaining two.
Looking ahead to the Committee’s next session, to be held in Geneva from 12 to 20 July, Mr. Iwasawa announced that the experts were expected to take up the compliance reports of Cameroon, Colombia, Estonia and Israel. They would also adopt lists of issues regarding Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Slovakia and Togo. The Committee planned to examine the compliance of one country in absence of a periodic report.
He also announced that, from its ninety-ninth session, the Committee had agreed to begin a new procedure: by October 2010, State Parties to the Covenant with initial periodic reports 10 or more years overdue would be requested to submit that report by a specified deadline, and failure to do so would lead to their being subjected to consideration in the absence of a report.
In news on other upcoming events, he said that the Inter-Committee meeting of all the United Nations treaty monitoring bodies had recently changed its format and would now focus annually on a specific theme. As such, the June session would deal with “focused reports on lists of issues prior to reporting”. Mr. Iwasawa and Hellen Keller, expert form Switzerland, would represent the Committee at that meeting in June.
As for the Committee’s upcoming one hundredth session (October 2010), Mr. Iwasawa announced that discussions were underway on holding an anniversary event, that would feature a high-level component, an interactive dialogue and planned interventions by rights activist’s and scholars, among others. Discussions were still underway about the dates, but the two possibilities that had emerged were 27 or 29 October 2010. The experts had an in-depth discussion about the date and format of the event, which they said was an important milestone to which the appropriate planning should be devoted.
Before wrapping up its work, the Committee took some decisions on several issues of concern to the experts. The first of those dealt with a General Assembly resolution on the international covenants on Human Rights (document A/C.3/64/L.22), transmitted by its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), that had deleted in the text a reference to the Committee’s General Comment 33. Mr. Iwasawa called that move “worrying” and the Committee agreed that he should raise the issue at the Inter-Committee meeting.
[For the first time in nearly 40 years, a vote had been forced on that largely procedural text following amendments tabled by both the African and Arab Groups to excise reference to work by outside bodies, such as the special procedures mandate holders, which in the view of those Groups had introduced concepts of gender and sexual orientation “not universally recognized”. That led to a reference to the Human Right’s Committee’s general comment 33 on obligations of States parties under the Optional Protocol being dropped from the resolution.]
Next, Mr. Iwasawa drew the experts’ attention to a resolution adopted by the International Law Commission on “text and title of the draft guidelines provisionally adopted by the Drafting Committee” (document A/CN.4/L.744). He was deeply concerned by the language in section 3.2 of that text on “assessment of the validity of reservations”, and its sub-sections on the competence of monitoring bodies to assess the validity of such State party reservations.
His fellow experts were similarly concerned, with Nigel Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, saying it was clear “that things are happening in the Commission that we are not aware of and we should be made aware of before it’s too late”. The language in subsection 3.2 was clearly an attempt by that body to “pull back” from past decisions. He was troubled that no one had been monitoring what had been going on.
Mr. Rodley said the Committee’s relationship with the International Law Commission had been a reasonably good one, but there had been some changes in the Commission’s membership and perhaps those changes had brought with them changes in attitude. The Inter-Committee meeting was right to monitor the Commission and it should further consider reconvening the Working Group on reservations before the next meeting of the International law Commission. He added that the Secretariat should track what had and had not been implemented in relation to the paragraphs, with a view to seeking a meeting with the body, if necessary.
Next, Christine Chanet, expert from France, said that what was irksome in the International Law Commission’s work was that it sent a negative signal practically inviting States to reject jurisdiction. The Commission was not really a standards-setting body and its actions in this instance were really a “negative sign”. She agreed that the Working Group should be re-established. Fabián Omar Salvioli, expert from Argentina, said that, in his mind, the clear intent of the Commission’s language was to take jurisdiction away from treaty bodies and the resolution marked a “huge step backwards” for such human rights monitors.
After further discussion, Mr. Iwasawa said that he would meet with the head of the Codification Division in New York this afternoon to express the Committee’s concerns. He said he would also bring the matter before the Inter-Committee meeting and would, if necessary, write a letter to the Commission.
Finally, today, acting through Ms. Chanet, who is also the Committee’s Special Rapporteur on new communications and interim measures, the experts withdrew confidentiality on a communication received in a private meeting concerning two Belarusian citizens.
Ms. Chanet said that those persons had been condemned to death in 2009 and the Committee had asked the Government of Belarus not to execute the men while it reviewed the cases. In September and November, Belarus had asked the Committee to remove the stay request. Ms. Chanet had denied that request, telling the Government that the Committee planed to carry out its review. Yet, Amnesty International had informed the Committee that relatives of the prisoners reported that the two men had been executed last week.
Ms. Chanet said the Committee had sent a letter to Belarus demanding clarification by this past Thursday. It had received no response. As such, the Belarusian Government had flagrantly violated its obligations under the Optional Protocol. Indeed, a State that had signed that instrument should act fairly and accept the Committee’s jurisdiction.
“This speaks volumes about Belarus’ commitment to the Covenant,” she added, urging the Committee to issue a strongly worded press release as soon as possible. She also asked Chairman Iwasawa to mention the matter at his wrap-up press conference. After the Committee agreed to those two recommendations, Krister Thelin, expert from Sweden, stressed that the Committee’s response must receive the widest possible dissemination. “This is a blatant disregard of the State party’s obligations […] and a direct insult to the Committee,” he declared.
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