|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Chair of Committee against Torture on Twenty-fifth
Meeting of Human Rights Treaty Body Chairpersons
Representing only 3 per cent of United Nations budget, the world body’s human rights treaty bodies still lack the necessary resources to overcome backlogs and delays, several of their chairs said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Speaking after the close of the twenty-fifth annual meeting of chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, Claudio Grossman, Chair of the Committee against Torture, said human rights was one of the three core pillars of the United Nations, alongside security and development. However, the Organization’s human rights machinery remained vastly underfunded and was undergoing an even greater reduction in resources. The severe financing shortage was causing delays in processing country reports and an inability to respond to complaints in a timely manner.
Mr. Grossman chaired the twenty-fifth meeting, which ran from 20 to 24 May. Accompanying him today were Nigel Rodley, Chair of the Human Rights Committee; Nicole Ameline, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Malcolm David Evans, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; and Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Responding to questions, they echoed Mr. Grossman’s concerns about scarce funding and raised a number of other issues relating to the treaty bodies’ work.
On resources, Mr. Evans pointed out that, while trillions of dollars had recently been summoned up in a short time to save the world banking system from collapse, about $50 million “would do” to save the international human rights system.
Meanwhile, Mr. Rodley emphasized the frustration of being unable to respond to complaints on a timely basis. Indeed, he said, “the backlog is not with us” but with the secretariats of the treaty bodies, which simply did not have the funds necessary to fulfil their mandates.
In response to questions about the treaty bodies’ interaction with Syria — or the lack thereof — Mr. Grossman replied: “We feel frustrated by the situation.” The Committee against Torture had issued a special report on Syria due to the seriousness of the situation there. Unfortunately, the Syrian authorities had not cooperated in drafting the report, “but that did not deter the Committee from doing what it could do”. He continued: “[ Syria] has descended to a level of barbarism that is not acceptable.” It was not just a matter of adopting resolutions on the crisis, he stressed. The current lack of political will to take action that would end the atrocities was also unacceptable.
Asked whether the treaty bodies supported the call by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay for the Syrian situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court, Mr. Grossman said they had repeatedly called for action on violations of human rights, particular those perpetrated against vulnerable groups. The work of the treaty bodies in obtaining an accurate account of the situation on the ground was critical, he stressed.
Ms. Ameline added that women were always the first victims of conflict, and it was important to bear in mind the need to push for respect for human rights conventions, even in times of crisis.
A discussion also emerged about the importance of universal ratification of human rights conventions, with several questions raised as to whether specific countries — including the United States — had signed up to the treaties.
Mr. Grossman replied that, while there had been an overall increase in the number of signatures and ratifications, the United States had yet to sign a number of instruments, including the Convention against Torture.
Mr. Evans stressed that, besides universality, compliance was also crucial, noting that the two were not the same thing.
Ms. Ameline said the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women enjoyed ratification by a majority of States, though not by the United States. Ratifying international human rights conventions was all the more important in the face of today’s crises, she stressed.
Mr. Rodley said the United States — as well as 166 other States — had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the treaty overseen by his Committee, adding that ratifications averaged about one country a year.
Ms. Reyes added that it was important to see social development go hand in hand with the ratification of human rights conventions.
Asked about specific countries in which the situation of human rights had improved or worsened, the panellists said the treaty bodies did not take a comparative view of States. Indeed, there were lessons to be learned and measures to be implemented in any country visited, Mr. Rodley noted.
Several correspondents requested more information about particular countries, including Bahrain, where a visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture had recently been blocked.
Mr. Grossman said it was deeply regrettable that the visit had not taken place, while Mr. Rodley described the incident as “troubling”.
Asked whether the Committee against Torture had asked Japan to clarify its position on “comfort women” — women forced into prostitution during the Second World War — Mr. Grossman said there was, indeed, an active dialogue on that issue between his Committee and Japan. The Committee would adopt concluding observations on that and other matters at the end of next week, he added.
* *** *