Tuesday, July 29, 2014

UN Human Rights Committee meets (111th session)

The U.N. Human Rights Committee concluded its 111th session July 25th.  I'm experimenting with a format to offer a quick summary of context and relevant developments for these treaty body sessions. Please feel free to let me know what you think of this report.

In the case of the Human Rights Committee, the Centre for Civil and Political Rights follows developments closely and also produces a report on each session. They are well worth following if you are interested in this treaty body.  I'm going to take a slightly different approach than they do, but I would definitely recommend the CCPR's site too.


The Human Rights Committee monitors compliance under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It meets three times a year, in March, July and October and has 18 members, half of whom are elected/re-elected every even numbered year.  The last election was held June 24th, at which 6 new members were elected, 3 members were re-elected, and one replacement was selected to fill a current vacancy.  

The Committee is the second oldest in the UN human rights treaty system and receives the most numbers of individual complaints each year, claiming human rights violations of state parties.  The treaty has been ratified by 168 countries, the most recent being the State of Palestine (ratified April 2, 2014). The individual complaint mechanism in the First Optional Protocol to the treaty has been accepted/ratified by 115 countries. 


The Committee met shortly after the General Assembly had concluded its treaty body strengthening resolution, aiming to increase resources and streamline processes to help the treaty bodies reduce backlogs, and improve state reporting and responsiveness to treaty obligations and treaty body requests.  These developments were discussed in private session by the Committee and will no doubt have an impact on its proceedings in the future. 

Other political events happening during or shortly before this session included civil conflict in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and the Gaza Strip; the kidnapping of over 200 girls by Boko Horam in Nigeria; continuing outbreaks of Ebola in central Africa; and the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in rebel-held region of the Ukraine. 

Key developments

The Committee reviewed six country reports during this session, decided 33 individual cases, and continued discussion and drafting of its new general comment on article 9 of the ICCPR (on the liberty and security of person).   In addition it appointed its first rapporteur on reprisals, tasked to follow up on any reports from individuals who are threatened or persecuted after giving testimony to the Committee about human rights violations in a country before the Committee. 

State reports

Many of the reports submitted by governments were either late, over the page limit, or failed to respond to the prior concluding observations (COs) of the Committee. The current page limits are 40 pages for periodic reports, 60 pages for initial reports, and 80 pages for common core reports. Here is my analysis of the six country reports reviewed at this session: 

On time?
Within page limits?
Response to last COs?
Yes, submitted only 2 mos. late
Yes, both the periodic report & the common core report comply
Yes, a table showing where each CO has been addressed can be found on p.3
No, 8 mos. late
Yes, both the periodic report & the common core report comply
Yes, direct responses to the prior COs are listed on pp.5-13
No, the periodic rept is 110 pages over the limit; the common core report is okay
Yes, apparently covered in the article by article section, but no index or table to confirm completeness
No, 6 mos. late
No, the periodic report is 17 pages over the limit; the common core report complies with the page limits
No, there is no obvious response to the prior COs in the rpt. I couldn’t find anything in the TOC or in a skim through the report.
No, submitted 17 years late
Not applicable. This is an initial report.
No, submitted 2 yrs late
No, the periodic report is 18 pages over the limit; the common core report is okay. Annex of 45 pp is posted; other annexes are also noted to be on file.
Yes, responses to the prior COs are listed in pp. 5-14

Each report was reviewed by the Committee and discussed with the government delegation. Heavy interest in attending the Ireland and Japan hearings required moving the hearing to the larger Palais des Nations meeting rooms.  

The Committee issued Concluding Observations on each report, from 7 to 9 pages in length, containing positive aspects and areas of concern. Counting sub-items, there were between 20 and 63 recommendations for each report.  In each case several items were identified for followup by the government in one year. The next full report is due in 3 to 5 years, depending on the country. 

Here is a brief analysis of each concluding report. 

  • 7 pages, 25 recommendations*
  • concluding observations are in Spanish only so far
  • next full report is due 31 July 2019 (5 years)
  • follow up within one year on:
    • amending the Terrorism Act to limit the definition of terrorism & not use it indiscriminately against the Mapuche people (para 7)
    • decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, etc. Provide abortion-related health services to women & girls. (para 17)
    • establish national preventive mechanism against torture urgently, investigate & prosecute cases of torture (para 19)
  • link to full report of the Committee
*the number of recommendations listed in these summaries is a subjective assessment, based on the total number of paragraphs in each Committee report that contain recommendations and the individual sub-items in each such paragraph that seem to have separate ideas, requests or programs that require implementation

  • 8 pages, 36 recommendations
  • next full report is due 31 July 2019 (5 years)
  • follow up within one year on:
    • reform of the administrative detention system (para 13)
    • reform of the jury trial system (para 14)
  • link to full report of the Committee
  • 8 pages, 24 recommendations
  • next full report is due 31 July 2019 (5 years)
  • follow up within one year on:
    • thorough investigation of all allegations of abuse at the Magdalene Laundries, children's institutions and mother and baby homes; prosecute and punish perpetrators (para 10)
    • thorough investigation of the harmful and injurious practice of symphysiotomy in childbirth operations, conducted on 1,500 women and girls without their informed consent, between 1944 and 1987; prosecute the perpetrators; provide effective remedies to the victims (para 11)
    • improve conditions at places of detention, bringing them up to compliance with the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (para 15) 
  • link to full report of the Committee

  • 9 pages, 43 recommendations
  • next full report is due 31 July 2018 (4 years)
  • follow up within one year on:
    • giving due consideration to abolishing the death penalty or, at minimum, limiting it to only the most serious crimes; immediately strengthen legal safeguards against wrongful sentencing (para 13)
    • impartially investigate the allegations of human rights violations suffered by the comfort women of World War II, include an accurate historical account in school curricula, expression of apology, condemn attempts to defame victims or deny the events (para 15)
    • abolish or reform the Technical Intern Training Programme, investigate allegations of sexual abuse and labor related deaths and conditions, increase the number of onsite inspections (para 16)
    • Abolish the substitute detention system (Daiyo Kangoku), or ensure full compliance with all guarantees of articles 9 and 14 of the Covenant (para 18)
  • link to full report of the Committee

  • 9 pages, 63 recommendations
  • next full report is due 31 July 2018 (4 years)
  • follow up within on year on: 
    • efforts to prosecute extrajudicial killings more effectively (para 12)
    • establishment of an independent police complaints mechanism to follow up more effectively on claims of torture (para 13)
    • amend the Penal Code to criminalise sexual abuse of children, and improve efforts to bring perpetrators to justice (para 24)
    • adopt legislation to end forced and child marriages (para 25)
  • link to full report of the Committee
  • 7 pages, 38 recommendations
  • next full report is due 31 July 2017 (3 years)
  • follow up within one year on:
    • removing provisions discriminatory to women from domestic laws (para 10)
    • abolish the death penalty or limit it to only the most serious crimes (para 14)
    • adopt laws that define and criminalise torture; ensure effective investigation of all claims of torture (para 15)
    • amend the National Security Act to permit detention of persons for only 48 hours before being brought before a judge, not 4-1/2 months; abolish all secret places of detention (para 18)
  • link to full report of the Committee
Other countries discussed

In addition to the six countries reviewed above, the Committee as usual also discussed upcoming reviews. They prepared lists of issues for upcoming reviews. These lists will soon be posted on the Committee website and will figure in the presentation and review of reports at future sessions.

The countries for which these lists of issues were prepared were:
  • Cambodia
  • Cote d'Ivoire
  • Cyprus
  • France
  • Russia
  • Mexico (LOIPR)
  • Poland (LOIPR)
The last two countries, Mexico and Poland, have elected the so-called simplified reporting procedure in which the Committee is asked to submit a list of issues or questions beforehand and the state report will then be structured as a response to those questions rather than a full item-by-item summary of developments under each article of the treaty. This procedure is called the "List of Issues Prior to Reporting" (LOIPR) and will probably become more popular as time goes on. 

Individual complaints

As noted earlier the Committee has announced that it has decided 33 new cases this session, but those decisions have not yet been released publicly.  It usually takes one to two months before all of the decisions of a session are published.  Once these decisions are available I will summarise them in a separate post on this blog. 

The background press release for the session indicates that there are now over 380 cases pending, representing about a 4 year backlog at current pace.  This backlog problem has been a concern for some time now. The Committee has requested additional time and resources to reduce the backlog, but only received a positive response last fall before the UN General Assembly, A/RES/68/240.  The program budgetary implications for this resolution indicated that 360 cases were pending at that time, 160 of which were ready for review and decision by the Committee but were simply waiting for staff support and working group time to consider them. 

The draft version of the resolution from the General Assembly had approved one additional week and corresponding staff support, for both 2014 and 2015, to support the Committee's efforts to reduce this backlog. However, the final version of the resolution granted only an additional week in 2014, and left open as to whether additional time would also be granted in 2015.  We now know that the final GA resolution on treaty body strengthening in April this year also granted additional meeting time. So the Committee will meet for an additional week in the upcoming October session, and additional time will also be added to each of their sessions in 2015 for the same purpose -- to reduce the backlog of individual communications. 

Allocation of meeting time

It is also noteworthy to see how the Committee is allocating its time between its various tasks.  With the heavy workload of individual communications, those are taking approximately 40% of the total Committee meeting time.  

An approximate allocation of time looks like the following, based on the announced program of work for the session:
  • country reports, including task force time -- 46 hours (38%)
  • individual communications, including regular and precessional time -- 21 hours + 27 hours = total of 48 hours (39%)
  • draft general comment -- 12 hours (10%)
  • open, close, methods of work & various administrative matters -- 8 hours (7%)
  • NGO briefings -- including official time on the agenda and informal lunchtime briefings -- 8 hours (7%)
All considered, this seems like a reasonable balance of schedule but if the backlog in individual communications is going to be significantly reduced in the near future, the Committee will obviously need to spend more time on individual communications as time goes on. 


The latest election was held June 24, 2014, NY, when 9 of the Committee members were up for re-election or replacement. A special election was also held at the same time to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Mr. Matadeen of Mauritius, who resigned Jan 9, 2014.  The election results represent major turnover from the existing committee membership and a small move toward greater gender balance (one more female than the prior committee composition).

·      Newly elected
o   Ms. Ivana JELIC, Montenegro
o   Mr. D.B. SEETULSINGH, Mauritius (filling vacant position)
o   Mr. Olivier de FROUVILLE, France
o   Ms. Sarah H. CLEVELAND, USA
o   Ms. Photini PAZARTSIS, Greece
o   Mr. Duncan Muhumuza LAKI, Uganda
o   Mr. Mauro POLITI, Italy
·      Reelected
o   Ms. Margo WATERVAL, Suriname
o   Mr. Yadh BEN ACHOUR, Tunisia
o   Mr. Yuji IWASAWA, Japan
·      Gender/geographic balance –
o   the topic of geographic balance is addressed annually in a GA report on treaty body composition.  In its 2013 report the GA report indicates that the Human Rights Committee is underrepresented geographically by the Asian Group and overrepresented by WEOG. 

From table 3 of A/68/323 -- Human Rights Committee – these statistics are from the last election held Sep 6 2012

5 (27.8%)
51 (30.5%)

1 (5.6%)
35 (20.9%)
Eastern Europe
2 (11.1%)
23 (13.8%)

3 (16.7%)
29 (17.4%)

7 (38.9%)
29 (17.4%)

o   On gender balance the new committee, including newly elected members from June of this year, will have 5 women and 13 men on it – which is below the average and only 5th best in the system (excluding CEDAW which is overbalanced with women).

No. of women members
5 of 18 (28%)
4 of 18 (22%)
4 of 18 (22%)
22 of 23 (96%)
3 of 10 (30%)
10 of 25 (40%)
11 of 18 (61%)
7 of 18 (39%)
3 of 14 (21%)
1 of 10 (10%)
66 of 172 (38%)*
            *only 30% if you remove CEDAW 

Next session

The Committee's 112th session will be Oct 7-31, 2014. This session will last an extra week in order to reduce the backlog on individual communications. 

·      Country reports to be reviewed at the 112th session:
o   Burundi
o   Haiti
o   Israel
o   Malta
o   Montenegro
o   Sri Lanka

·      LOIs to be issued:
o   Canada
o   Spain
o   Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
o   UK (including crown dependencies and overseas territory)
o   Uzbekistan
o   Venezuela

·      LOIPR to be issued:
o   Switzerland

For NGOs who would like to submit information that will be considered by the Committee at its 112th session, the deadline is September 12 for country reports to be reviewed, and was July 25th for preparation of lists of issues (although late submissions after this date may be accepted if sent as soon as possible). 

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