Sunday, October 28, 2012

General Assembly developments

This has been a busy week for the human rights treaty bodies in the UN General Assembly. Chairpersons for nine of the ten existing treaty bodies appeared before the Third Committee this week or last week, to present their annual reports, describe developments, make requests for more resources, and answer questions put to them by various member states.  The 10th treaty body, the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), is scheduled to appear before the Committee during the week of November 6th.

The following summary was compiled from the official UN press releases for the respective sessions.  I will cover the first 4 treaty reports in this post, and the other 5 in a later post.


Nicole Ameline, Vice-Chairperson of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) testified before the Third Committee on October 15th.  She noted that this year is the 30th anniversary of the CEDAW Committee's operations.  187 countries have now ratified the treaty and 104 have accepted the optional complaint procedure.

The Committee has begun a practice of reviewing all countries who have failed to file a report for 10 years or more.  In addition an average of 24 state reports are reviewed annually. There is a current backlog of 43 reports waiting to be reviewed. Six individual complaints were also currently pending.  She said the Committee was very unhappy about the budget-related decision to move their July annual session from New York to Geneva, noting it may have a serious detrimental impact on interactions with key women's rights actors in New York.

Ms. Ameline's remarks and the question and answer session that followed are reported in the UN Press Release of the Third Committee for October 15th. (Press Release GA/SHC/4040)


The chairperson for the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Mr. Jean Zermatten, appeared before the Third Committee on October 17th. (Press release GA/SHC/4042).  He noted that the third protocol to the treaty which will launch a new individual complaints mechanism, has now been signed by 35 states and ratified by 2 states.  The protocol needs 10 ratifications before it can come into effect.  The treaty itself has achieved near universal ratification. Only 3 states remain to ratify it -- Somalia, the United Sates and South Sudan.

The Committee continues to experience significant backlogs in its capacity to review state reports. The current backlog is approximately 2 years. The CRC Committee is therefore asking for budgetary support for a permanent change to its procedure, allowing parallel chambers to review the reports.  The procedure was piloted in 2010 and worked well to increase the volume of reports that can be reviewed in a session. It essentially splits the Committee into two groups, with each group reviewing a full load of state reports. The two groups then  re-join together at the end of the session to share, discuss and adopt general recommendations.

In the Q&A session that followed, Pakistan said they rejected the "naming and shaming" approach in the field of child rights, and supported instead cooperation and coordination. Several delegations indicated general support for Mr. Zermatten's request to approve the parallel chambers working method.


Five Committee chairpersons testified before the Third Committee on October 23rd, including Mr. Claudio Grossman of the Committee Against Torture (CAT). (Press release GA/SHC/4046).  He noted that this year marked the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention against Torture.

He said the Committee continued to have serious concerns about reporting delays. Despite extra time granted by the General Assembly last year, there is a current backlog of 115 individual cases pending before the CAT Committee.  They are asking that the temporary increase of resources from 3 weeks to 4 weeks for their sessions that was granted last year, be continued (the Annual Report of CAT makes this more clear, that they are asking for the additional one week per session for both 2013 and 2014, see UN A/67/44).

In the Q&A session that followed, the representative of Cuba asked what the Committee was doing to implement the principle of objectivity and impartiality in its findings.


Mr. Malcolm Evans, chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, also testified before the Third Committee on October 23rd. He noted that the Subcommittee's size has now increased to 25 members and, together with the increasing number of states ratifying the optional protocol on torture, this has caused them to change some of their procedures. This will mean an increased number of shorter visits, with fewer members on each visit and a more targeted focus.

He said that 54 states have now ratified the Optional Protocol. However, 23 states have failed to establish within the timeframe required the national preventative mechanism that is mandated by the protocol.  (Actually the latest number of ratifications would appear to be 64, not 54, according to the UN treaty ratification site, so this 54 number may be a typo in the press release).

In the Q&A session Mr. Evans also indicated that while in 2012 the Subcommittee conducted 6 visits amongst the approximate 60 state parties (in other words, each state is visited once in 10 years), the intention was to increase this pace to 12 visits per year, permitting a country visit to each state party once every 5 years.

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