18 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



At a Headquarters press conference this afternoon to announce the annual Treaty Event that will take place at Headquarters from 23 to 25 September and from 29 September to 1 October, the newly-appointed Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the United Nations Legal Counsel, Patricia O’Brien, said treaties spelled out international rules that were paramount in a globalized world in which people, commerce and ideas crossed borders with ever-increasing frequency.

Taking part in the briefing with the Legal Counsel were Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Clarissa Brocklehurst, Chief of Water and Environmental Sanitation at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Their participation highlighted the theme of this year’s Event, “Towards universal participation and implementation –- dignity and justice for all of us”.  In this tenth of a series that started with the 2000 Millennium Summit and coincides, as usual, with the general debate of the General Assembly to promote participation in the multilateral treaty framework, the focus is on treaties associated with the sixtieth anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on three 2008 International Years, those of Planet Earth, Sanitation and Polar Year.  Also featured are transit and transport treaties of concern to landlocked and transit developing countries.

In her introduction of the Event, the Legal Counsel, who assumed her office in August, said 53 multilateral treaties related to human rights and deposited with the Secretary-General were being highlighted.  An “impressive” total of 1,362 treaty actions had been undertaken by States during the previous nine Events.  More than 530 treaties overall were open for signature, ratification, acceptance, approval or accession in accordance with their respective provisions.  More than 30 States had indicated their intention to participate this year, many at the level of Head of State, Head of Government or Foreign Minister. 

She said the Convention on Climate Change, known as the Kyoto Protocol, and a convention related to the use of non-navigational international water courses would be featured at the Event, to highlight a commitment to the environment.  The latter had not yet entered into force and the Event could help advance that end.  The endorsement of those treaties by signatories would also reinforce a commitment to recognizing the relationship between protecting the environment and advancing development goals.

Mr. Mbaidjol of the Human Rights High Commissioner’s Office said the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the Genocide Convention were being commemorated this year, as was the fiftieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  That made it the right moment to push for universal “ratification” and implementation of the core international human rights treaties.  Those core treaties included the Disabilities Convention that had entered into force earlier this year in May, the quickest ever human rights treat to enter into force.  So far, 37 States were parties to the Convention and 131 were signatories.  More countries needed to ratify or accede to the treaty, so that disabled people could claim their rights as active members of society.

Among the other treaties being featured this year are the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Torture, which had established a monitoring system for detention locations.  It had entered into force in 2006.  So far, 34 States were parties to the Protocol and 63 States were signatories. 

Universal participation in international human rights treaties, Mr. Mbaidjol stressed, was an indispensable first step in the realization of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all human beings.  The next steps then required States to put their commitments into action.  That came about through the process of establishing effective national protection systems, State policies, legislation and practices that were in compliance with the international human rights norms and standards.

Speaking on the 2008 International Year of Sanitation, UNICEF’s Ms. Brocklehurst said the three-year event that had begun in 2007 had so far been an inspiring example of the global community coming together to address a great need and a neglected issue.  Several treaties being highlighted this year related to the topic of sanitation, which was vital to health, human dignity, social development and environmental protection.  Worldwide, 2.5 billion people still lacked adequate sanitation facilities, but a political will was being built globally to address a deficit that was a major cause of diseases, such as childhood diarrhoea.  So far, three major regional conferences had been held in which ministers responsible for sanitation had signed declarations committing their Governments to action.

Responding to a question, Legal Counsel O’Brien said no information had been received on whether the United States would participate in any action related to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Responding to another question, she said no definition of terrorism was expected to emerge from the Event, even though work was moving forward on elaborating a definition.  She also reemphasized the importance of the Event in bringing awareness to treaties that had been adopted, but not yet put into effect.

Mr. Mbaidjol of the Human Rights Office also emphasized that point in relation to the Convention on disabilities.  Getting States to sign a treaty then put an onus on them to enable their people to exercise their rights.

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For information media • not an official record