Experts on Human Rights Committee Discuss Ways to Transform, Strengthen Treaty Body System, as Session Concludes

30 March 2012

Experts on Human Rights Committee Discuss Ways to Transform, Strengthen Treaty Body System, as Session Concludes

30 March 2012
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Human Rights Committee

104th Session

2891st & 2892nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Experts on Human Rights Committee Discuss Ways to Transform, Strengthen


Treaty Body System, as Session Concludes 

In Three-week Meeting, Examined Compliance with Civil, Political

Rights Covenant in Yemen, Dominican Republic, Turkmenistan, Guatemala, Cape Verde

The Human Rights Committee concluded its 104th session today, with a discussion about how to transform the “unwieldy” process under which States updated Geneva-based treaty bodies on their adherence to international human rights instruments into a rational, predictable system that motivated them to submit fewer — and more timely — reports.

Several proposals to improve the functioning of the 10 United Nations treaty bodies are vying for attention under two separate processes:  one launched in 2009 by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), and another launched in February by the General Assembly, which would see open-ended intergovernmental deliberations begin “no earlier than” April 2012.  A report on the matter by the High Commissioner is expected in June, and is to include recommendations drawn from three years of consultations with all relevant stakeholders — treaty body members, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and States parties.

Against that backdrop, Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the 18 Committee members about his ongoing New York discussions with the Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Member States and others.  He said he had reminded the Assembly President that the Committee’s participation in the New York consultations with States was essential, and stressed that the Committee’s role, as outlined in Assembly resolution 66/254 (2012), was “not appropriate”, as it placed the Committee on equal footing as unnamed stakeholders.

He told the Committee — which is charged with monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — it had a strategic edge in addressing those issues, as Member States were only just starting to agree on the common elements to defend.  Nonetheless, those elements were starting to emerge and included the questions of resources and reporting structures.  States were trying to strike a balance between normative necessity, and pursuing a comprehensive approach to reforming the system.

One idea gaining traction, said Wan-Hee Lee, Chief of Section, Office of the High Commissioner, was to use a comprehensive reporting calendar that would rationalize existing reporting obligations.  States were often overwhelmed by compiling 10 reports a year to satisfy their requirements.  A “master calendar” would regroup a State’s existing obligations, across those treaties, over a five-year cycle.  A State party would prepare two reports per year, rather than 10.

The proposal to be presented by the High Commissioner, she said, would reduce by one year the time between report submission and treaty body feedback.  Within six months of report submission, non-governmental organizations would be made aware of a deadline for offering information.  The treaty body then would have six more months to review all information and prepare for the dialogue with the State party.

The proposed new set-up would improve States’ willingness to present reports.  “We want to improve the 30 per cent timely compliance”, she said.  Their submissions would be based on a strict schedule, which the universal periodic review of the Human Rights Council had shown was possible.  “Where there is a will, there is compliance,” she said.  The goal was to rationalize the number of reports — from more than 320 per year to less than 270 — and enable long-term momentum for report preparation.  That would not be the case if several reports were due at one time.

For the Human Rights Committee, she said, that would mean increasing the number of reports it reviewed each year from 15 to roughly 33.  As for creating two working groups to handle the backlog in individual communications received under its First Protocol, she said the option to do that was there.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also were looking into that idea.

When the floor was opened for questions, experts voiced concern about adapting its working methods to a one-size-fits-all approach for treaty body functioning, with one expert arguing that the flexibility inherent in its current reporting cycle was not something it would readily give up.  Other experts wondered how the master calendar would account for States that did not comply with their reporting obligations.  Some asked how the follow-up procedure — which enables the Committee to establish, maintain or restore a dialogue with a State party — would be understood under any new reporting system.  “We can’t have a procedure that leads to reviewing a report if we don’t, in fact, have a report,” she noted.

Also, the resources provided to the Committee had sharply dropped over the years, one expert said, and before fresh funds were requested, the question of page limits on reports must be tackled.  He strongly opposed such limits, stressing that “we can’t work like that”.  Another expert said that savings — generated by a “lists of issues prior to reporting” system — should ultimately benefit the Office of the High Commissioner.  If it did not, there would be no real incentive to cut costs. 

Summing up the 104th session, Committee Chairperson Zonke Zanele Majodina, expert from South Africa, called it a “fruitful and productive one”, marked by the adoption of five concluding observations — on Yemen, Turkmenistan, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Cape Verde — and the adoption of “lists of issues” on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paraguay, Turkey, Philippines and Portugal.

The Committee also had adopted its annual report to the General Assembly, which included a request for more resources, she said.  On the communications side, it had dealt with 42 communications, adopted 19 decisions on merits and declared 13 cases discontinued.  A statement deploring the execution of a person in Belarus also had been adopted.  In other action, the Committee had adopted a paper on its relationship with non-governmental organizations, as well as a position paper on treaty body strengthening.  It had agreed to hold a meeting — outside its sessional work — devoted to working methods.  It also had agreed to increase its reporting periodicity to between three and six years, depending on the human rights situation in the country concerned.

Finally, she said the Committee had nominated Gerald L. Neuman, expert from the United States, to draft the next General Comment on the Covenant’s article 9, which recognises the rights to liberty and security of the person.  Vice-Chairperson Yuji Iwasawa, expert from Japan, would serve as the Rapporteur on new case management for communications.  Vice-Chairperson Michael O'Flaherty, expert from Ireland, would produce a paper on the Committee’s relationship with national human rights institutions.

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