|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2802nd Meeting* (PM)
Monitoring Body for Covenant on Civil, Political Rights Concludes Session,
after Considering Reports from Togo, Slovakia, Serbia, Mongolia
The United Nations expert body monitoring worldwide implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concluded its 101st session at Headquarters in New York today, having taken up the compliance reports of Mongolia, Serbia, Slovakia and Togo.
The Human Rights Committee, composed of 18 independent experts serving four-year terms, also heard progress reports from its Special Rapporteurs for follow-up to concluding observations, and for follow-up to individual communications. Further, it heard a briefing on the results of the Inter-Committee Meeting Working Group on Follow-up held in January, ahead of the full Inter-Committee Meeting of the Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies to be held in Geneva on 30 June and 1 July.
During its current three-week session, the Committee also began its second reading of draft General Comment 34 on article 19 of the Covenant, concerning the rights to hold an opinion without interference and to freedom of expression. It approved 24 paragraphs of the 54-paragraph text over the course of three public meeting to discuss the draft. 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.
Announcing the Bureau’s decisions, Chair Zonke Zanele Majodina, expert from South Africa, said the first five States parties to be considered under the Committee’s new “list of issues” reporting procedure would be Uruguay, Cameroon, Monaco, Denmark and Moldova. The Committee also agreed on a statement on Pakistan’s reservation to article 40 of the Covenant and decided that Libya should be reminded to present its next periodic report.
She said the Bureau had also decided to proceed with its intention to examine the report of Côte d’Ivoire in October, despite the current situation in that country, pending the State party’s ability to participate. Given that things had changed so much in that country, she suggested that Committee members reformulate follow-up questions and concerns.
Raising a note of concern at the meeting’s outset, Yuji Iwasawa, expert from Japan, said the Committee was missing an opportunity today because it did not have a quorum and could take no action, despite having the facilities and resources to do so. That situation arose despite the Committee’s concerns over its heavy and growing backlog of cases and its request to the General Assembly to add a fourth week to each of its three yearly sessions.
“If we are not making use of our own resources and time available, I don’t think it’s feasible to ask for additional meeting time,” he stressed, noting that he could not justify the money currently spent by the Committee to the taxpayers of Japan, which was the second biggest contributor to the United Nations budget, but could not argue for more if the Committee failed to use what it already had.
Also commending the decision to schedule work today, Michael O'Flaherty, expert from Ireland, said he hoped they would continue to include substantive work on the afternoon of the last day. He had some sympathy for today’s absence of a quorum, because it always took time to change the culture of any institution. Moreover, the Committee’s ranks were further depleted by “force majeur”, owing to the absence of several colleagues for the full last week.
Agreeing with the initiative to work on the last Friday of the last session, Iulia Antoanella Motoc, expert from Romania, noted that the Committee tended to work more than some of the other treaty bodies, often meeting with non-governmental organizations during their lunch sessions. She added that the circumstances preventing a quorum today were unlikely to be repeated.
Nigel Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, expressed his strong approval for the change in practice, which recognized the Committee’s increasing workload and the need to use the resources available to it. He agreed that this new schedule was overturning “decades of practice”.
Before wrapping up its work, Ms. Majodina noted that, while two Committee members had been invited to attend a roundtable conference on 28 April in Kazakhstan on implementation of Universal Periodic Reviews recommendations and preparations for the country’s appearance before the Committee in July, two former Committee members had already accepted the invitation. The Committee had, thus, requested that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) rectify the situation by arranging for two current members to attend in their stead if a pair could be found who were free to do so.
Mr. Iwasawa suggested that the Committee set a rule for when country visits by Committee members acting in their official capacity might take place, to alleviate any concern that the participation of any of the Committee’s members in preparations for a country’s appearance might be misconstrued.
Disagreeing, Mr. O’Flaherty said he had full confidence in his colleagues to manage the issues involved, particularly since the Committee’s mandate did not amount to a judicial review, but merely took a quasi-judicial approach and included policy considerations. Ms. Motoc added that country visits could better inform the interpretation of a country report.
With one Committee member saying she could go, Ms. Majodina said the Secretariat would follow-up with all members by e-mail and the Committee would address Mr. Iwasawa’s concerns in full during its next session.
Experts also offered their ideas for how the Committee could contribute to the Meeting of States Parties on treaty body reform, to be held in Sion, Switzerland from 12 to 14 May.
By way of background, Mr. O'Flaherty, expert from Ireland, said the Sion meeting had been arranged within the broad context of treaty body strengthening, triggered in 2009 by the High Commissioner. Following the 2009 Dublin Statement, which paved the way for the treaty body strengthening process, stakeholders had organized meetings in Marrakech, Morocco and Poznań, Poland, among other places. The Sion Meeting was for States parties to discuss topics with a view to contributing to the current “phase of reflection”. Treaty bodies would be represented by their chairpersons at the meeting.
In that context, experts said it would be important for the chairperson to spotlight the attempts the Committee had always made to advance its procedures to ensure they were more streamlined, made the best use of resources, and allowed for the review of as many States parties reports as possible. The Committee had often acted on its own and was, thus, in the vanguard of new ways for the treaty body system to work better.
Others said it might be useful to reflect back to States on how they could change their engagement with the system, in order to improve it. At the national level, the Chairperson could remind them about the extent to which their non-ratification of — or reservations to — the Covenant, and their failure to report in a timely fashion had impacted the Committee’s work. The Chair also might flag the need for alternative procedures for putting forward the best candidates to treaty bodies. Further, a reminder could be offered about making efficient use of the meetings of States parties.
Cornelis Flinterman, expert from the Netherlands, pointed out that States had adopted a new set of reporting guidelines, allowing them to submit shorter, more focused reports. He was not aware, however, of any State that had followed them. He also expressed hope that the meeting’s outcome would be presented to the Committee in July. Rafael Rivas Posada, expert from Colombia, cautioned that concern about “uniformity” should not open a discussion that should have been finished. “We don’t want the treaty bodies to go in an erroneous direction,” he added.
Thanking the Committee members for their suggestions, Chair Zonke said she would work to communicate their views at the meeting. She would brief the Committee in full during its July session during a broader discussion on treaty body reform.
Also today, the Committee adopted the recommendations the three sets of minutes form its Bureau meetings.
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The 2800th & 2801st Meetings were closed.