Opening address of the 76th session of the Human Rights Commitee
Geneva, 14 October 2002
Discurso de abertura da 76ª sessão do Comitê de Direitos Humanos da ONU em 14 de outubro de 2002
Chairperson, Distinguished Committee members,
I am pleased to open the 76th session of the Committee. As you know, it is my first time before this Committee. I look forward to working with you.
I am conscious that these are challenging times for human rights. We live in a period where we need to cling to the fundamental values and principles that are enshrined in human rights law. They are perhaps the best foundations that we have to ensure dignity, equality and security for all. Here your role is very important. In a changing and interdependent world, it is the role of human rights experts to give guidance and leadership to meet the challenge and the dangers of the times and realize the aspirations of all people. Your contribution is essential in showing in practical ways how human rights can be protected. We need to ensure that all countries, big and small, understand and are willing and able to implement the provisions of human rights treaties, including the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And we need to ensure that your work, and the work of other experts, is known to ordinary people in every town, village, and location even in the remotest areas.
Over twenty four years of assignments in different countries have taught me that it is often ordinary people who have the vision on how to make a difference. They need to be provided with tools to enable them to work for a better life. This is why, during my mandate as High Commissioner for Human Rights, I intend to focus on the rule of law as an over-arching theme. The rule of law requires that the entire range of institutional arrangements that function under the national constitutional and legal order play an active role to ensure that human rights, based on international commitments, are advanced, enjoyed and defended. In addition to the obvious role of the Executive Power, there is an essential role for national parliaments, the judiciary, independent national human rights institutions, and the independent media. There must also be space for human rights defenders and the wider civil society to flourish and develop. The Covenant, and your Committee, has a lot to offer in explaining the components of the rule of law. We need to make this dynamic concept operational and accessible to everyone around the globe.
In this context, I would also like to say a few words about terrorism because I am aware of the important work you are doing in this area. We must never forget the brutal and monstrous attacks of 11 September and our duty to ensure that the victims of these attacks receive justice. An exceptional threat like large-scale terrorism, may justify a firm and extraordinary response. In responding to such threats, however, we must ensure that the fundamental values of human rights and humanitarian law are respected. The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides important guidance in this respect. Its relevance and binding nature require States to take its provisions seriously.
I therefore encourage you to monitor restrictions of, and derogations from, rights protected under the Covenant in this context. Your recent General Comment on article 4 of the Covenant on States of Emergency provides you with an excellent tool to do so. I am aware that, through the Secretariat, you have already established informal links with the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the Security Council and its Chairperson. I encourage you to strengthen these links. I myself will be addressing this Committee on 21 October and will bring to their attention some of your action in this regard. It is important that we combine our engagement with this Committee to ensure that human rights principles are taken into account in its deliberations.
Chairperson, members of the Committee,
It is important to note the progress that has been made by the Committee to date. Over the past 25 years, the Committee has worked hard to improve respect for civil and political rights. It has created an impressive body of recommendations and jurisprudence that have begun to permeate the ‘judicial culture’ of some – though unfortunately not all – States parties. We need to ensure that your recommendations are jurisprudence are given prominence and followed.
It is clear to me that the Committee continues to make good progress. To mention but one example, I was interested to learn of your Committee’s draft general comment on article 2 of the Covenant, which will address the issue of effective remedies for human rights violations and the thorny issue of combating impunity. These are cross-cutting issues for all treaty bodies – I welcome your readiness to share the draft with other treaty bodies. I encourage consistency of interpretation of the principal human rights instruments by treaty bodies, as well as consistency of approach.
In spite of the impressive achievements to date, however, I know you will all agree with me that some major challenges remain. The Secretary-General’s recent report, entitled “Agenda for further change”,(1) has significant implications for the activities of treaty bodies: the Secretary-General recommends streamlining the reporting procedures among treaty bodies and working towards a consolidated report under the main UN human rights instruments (2). The report also calls for initiatives to reduce the amount of documentation and improve its quality: in the context of streamlining reporting procedures, I would also ask you to examine the issue of length of State reports. Past experience shows that too few reports are produced in compliance with your reporting guidelines – some of them are exceedingly voluminous. The substance of these recommendations was already addressed during the first Inter-Committee meeting, although no agreement was reached. It is important to press forward on this issue.
Another challenge is how to link the recommendations of treaty bodies and their implementation to the operational activities of OHCHR. We should strive to place more emphasis on country-level action to implement your recommendations. I consider this to be an area where my Office, and the bodies it services, could do more. Once again, it is the protection at the national level of victims of human rights violations that must be our first concern. This approach is in line with that taken by the Secretary-General in his Agenda for further change (3). It was further echoed recently by the participants of the workshop on follow-up to your Committee’s concluding observations, held in Quito at the end of August.
I am pleased that this pilot workshop brought together representatives of eight Central and Latin American governments, national human rights institutions, NGOs, and experts. I understand that it adopted a number of substantive recommendations addressed to States parties to the Covenant, the Committee itself, national institutions and NGOs, and to my Office. I welcome the fact that OHCHR’s recently established Treaty body recommendation unit (TBRU) 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 am pleased to inform you that a section of the 2003 Annual Appeal will be devoted to this unit. The results of the workshop are encouraging, and I encourage you to examine its recommendations.
I also welcome the establishment of the mandate of the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations – the modus operandi of his mandate now needs to be spelled out. I hope that this will be done promptly, and my Office stands ready to assist you in this task. You may wish to consider a mechanism of follow-up consultation between the new special rapporteur and the field presences of the Office.
I am committed to report to the Secretary-General by September 2003 on options available to translate his recommendations into reality. I invite you to give consideration to this at this session. The process of treaty body reform has been on the agenda of some UN member states for some time. I need not tell you that perhaps not all proposals for reform that have been put on the table are selflessly designed to strengthen and extend the mandates of treaty bodies. I therefore believe that it is in the interest of the treaty bodies, and in the interest of my Office, to help shape and direct the treaty body reform process. It will take imagination and perseverance to do so, and I will listen with interest to further reform proposals.
Let me conclude by assuring you of my commitment to work with you to ensure not only that your mandate is discharged in the best way, but also that human rights protection is advanced in every corner of the globe. Ensuring that the rights enshrined in the Covenant are afforded to all those who need them most – the victims of violations of these rights – is what gives this Office, and your work, meaning. I wish you a successful and productive session.