Opening Statement of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
(3-21 March 2003)
Pronunciamento de abertura da 62ª sessão do comitê pela eliminação da discriminação racial, 3 de março de 2003
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee,
I am very pleased to welcome you to Geneva, and to open the 62nd session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. As it is the first time I have the pleasure of addressing you, allow me to start by saying how much I look forward to working with you and also to having the opportunity to exchange views on matters of common interest and concern.
I shall in a moment say a few words on your programme of work for this session and on developments that have taken place since your previous session and have direct implications for the activities of your Committee. Before coming to this point, I would like to make a few remarks concerning the numerous points of convergence between your work and the priorities that I have set as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
My work as High Commissioner is, and will continue to be, guided by the bedrock principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other international Human Rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, of which you are the custodians. I am convinced that the human rights enshrined in these instruments are essentially about ensuring dignity, equality and security for all human beings everywhere. And I believe that these values which guide my way as High Commissioner are also those that guide your work.
During my 34 years in the service of the UN in different countries and continents, I have seen thousands of women and men, young and old, stripped of their rights and their dignity as a result of conflicts that frequently had their origins in patterns of discrimination. We need to work together to ensure that these root-causes are addressed through combating racial discrimination and promoting the principle of equality. I have no doubt that this principle is the cornerstone of effective and harmonious relationships between people. Discrimination certainly represents one of the many sources of insecurity which I intend to tackle, alongside other sources such as armed conflict and poverty.
My field experience has taught me that, even in places that have seen the worst of what humankind is capable, there are always people who have the vision necessary to make a difference. They need to be provided with tools to enable them to work for a better life. These tools need to be used in the framework of the Rule of Law, upon which I have decided to focus as an overarching theme for my agenda. Your Committee and the other treaty bodies have a lot to offer in explaining the components of the Rule of Law. We need to work together to make this dynamic concept operational and accessible to everyone.
I believe one can never emphasize enough that it is protection at the national level that must be our first concern. We must ensure that all countries, big and small, rich and poor, understand and are willing to implement the provisions of human rights treaties, and in particular the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In doing so, we need to ensure that our work is known to all people throughout the world. In this context, I welcome your contribution to an approach oriented towards victims of racial discrimination and vulnerable groups. The situation of such groups, which include minorities, migrants, refugees, non-nationals and indigenous peoples, needs to be borne in mind at all times, as they are the primary targets of racial discrimination.
The law and the administration of justice should be the primary forces in combating the causes and effects of racism. Yet justice systems all too often fail in this purpose and instead mirror the prejudices of the society they serve. The problem is therefore twofold: it is vital that we work towards ensuring that every justice system has procedures and safeguards to prevent discrimination, including laws that prohibit and punish discrimination, and mechanisms to check and rectify patterns of discrimination. It is also necessary to ensure that discriminatory mechanisms and practices in the systems of the administration of justice themselves are eliminated.
I have also no doubt about the long term impact of racial discrimination in economic and social terms. Poverty indexes broken down by race and ethnic groups often correlate strongly with other human development indicators such as access to health services, education and employment. In short, victims of racial discrimination are often also the primary victims of violations of the right to health, housing, employment and education. Combating this kind of discrimination is fully in line with the priority which this Office is giving to combating poverty and to the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights and of the right to development.
Bearing in mind the gender mainstreaming policy adopted by this Office last year, allow me also to stress that the question of the rights of women is one of my priorities. I strongly support your general recommendation XXV (2000) on gender-related dimensions of racial discrimination, and I encourage you to promote it and make full use of it at all times.
I would now like to say a few words about the challenge posed by calls for extensive reform of the United Nations, including my Office. Last September, the Secretary-General submitted to the General Assembly a report entitled “Strengthening of the United Nations: an Agenda for further change”, including his most recent proposals on the reform of the United Nations. This report has significant implications for the activities of treaty bodies and contains an important component on the strengthening of the activities of this Office. A report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services on a management review of the OHCHR makes recommendations along similar lines.
In his report, the Secretary-General proposes two measures that may help to alleviate the shortcomings of the current system: first, Committees like yours should craft a more coordinated approach to their activities and standardize their various reporting requirements. Second, each State should be allowed to produce a single report summarizing its adherence to the full range of international human rights treaties to which it is party.
I have been requested to consult with treaty bodies on these proposals and to submit a report with recommendations to the Secretary-General by September of this year. I have written a letter to Chairpersons of all Committees, including to you, Mr. Chairman, calling for reflection on these issues and proposals, and have asked you, together with your colleagues in the Committee, to submit any views that you may have in order to assist me in preparing my report. I would also like to inform you that my Office hopes to organize in the coming months a consultation with the main stakeholders to discuss these issues, as well as a second Inter-Committee meeting. I encourage you to give consideration to these issues during the current session, and I look forward to receiving the product of your reflection on this matter.
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Committee members,
I am fully aware that you have ahead of you an extremely busy session. I am also aware that your Committee will be reviewing its working methods during this session and, when doing so, I encourage you to bear in mind links with the reform of the UN human rights treaty system. I would also like to stress that in the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Further Change, the approach is very much in line with our wish to place more emphasis on country-level action to implement treaty body recommendations. In this respect, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that OHCHR’s recently established Treaty Body Recommendation Unit is requested to compile best practices in relation to follow-up of concluding observations of all treaty bodies. I am committed to strengthening support to this new unit and I also encourage you, when discussing your working methods, to consider the establishment of special rapporteurs on follow-up, as was decided last year by the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture. My Office stands ready to assist you in reflecting on how your Committee may wish to consider a mechanism for follow-up.
I very much welcome the dialogue which you will have the opportunity to have during your session, with the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Enhanced cooperation with the Special Rapporteur will certainly contribute to the effectiveness of your work in combating racial discrimination. I should also like to welcome the visit of a UNESCO representative during your session. I have no doubt that this visit will reinforce your cooperation with this organization.
I am pleased to inform you that five states have acceded to the Convention since the previous session of the Committee in August 2002: Turkey on 16 September 2002, Equatorial Guinea on 8 October 2002, Honduras on 10 October 2002, Oman on 2 January 2003 and Thailand on 28 January 2003. Reservations and declarations accompanied the accession of Turkey, Equatorial Guinea and Thailand. In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to the letter sent to your Committee by the International Law Commission concerning reservations to normative multilateral treaties, including human rights treaties.
Finally, let me also draw your attention to other requests for comments which you will have to discuss during this session. First, following the adoption of Resolution 57/229 by the General Assembly, the Secretary-General has been requested to seek the views of treaty bodies on proposals for a convention on the human rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Second, treaty bodies have also been requested to provide comments on the draft Guidelines for the Integration of Human Rights into Poverty Reduction Strategies, which were prepared by OHCHR with the assistance of three experts last year. Third, as you are aware, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and in particular its Special Rapporteur on the rights of non-citizens, Mr. David Weissbrodt, has started a study on the rights of non-citizens and has requested my Office to forward to you a questionnaire soliciting information you may wish to submit in connection with the study.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee,
I express my deep appreciation for the excellent work done by your Committee in fighting against racial discrimination and intolerance. As always, I can assure you that our aim is to provide you with the best possible support and assistance, and that we continuously strive for improvement.
I wish you a fruitful and successful session. Thank you.