31 July 2001


(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 30 July (UN Information Service) -- The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning started its summer session by adopting its agenda and programme of work.

Most of the Committee's morning session was devoted to discussion on a study written by a Canadian academician on the functioning of United Nations treaty bodies.

The Committee's comments were directed at a press release distributed by the Government of Australia to Permanent Missions in Geneva. The release referred to a work written by a Canadian professor, Anne Bayefsky, entitled "The United Nations Human Rights Treaty System: Universality at the Crossroads". The release said that Australia's criticisms of the United Nations Human Rights Committee system were validated by this new report; that the work provided a comprehensive analysis of the problems facing the treaty committee system; and it noted that some difficulties were most conspicuous with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The release, which was read out by the Committee's Chairperson, Michael E. Sherifis, further said that the concluding observations of the six committees often reflected a poor knowledge of the country in question and the excessive influence exerted on committees by external sources.

Some members of the Committee expressed the view that the role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in collaborating with the work of Ms. Bayefsky should be clarified. The Office should also react to the report by publishing a press release on the issue. One Expert said that the report the Australian Government referred to was full of accusations: an appropriate response should therefore be provided by the Office.

Several Committee members said that the criticism, which was an attack on the integrity of the Committee, should be taken seriously and a strongly worded response should be made. An Expert said that Ms. Bayefsky wrote the report without any experience of the internal functioning of the human rights committees; and the erroneous statements she made in her work should be corrected by the Committee. She had never served as an Expert on any of the Committees. Quoting the views of a former Committee Expert, the Committee Chairperson said that Ms. Bayefsky's work reflected a fundamental misunderstanding because of her ignorance of the proceedings of the Committees.

The Committee decided to set up a working group to study an appropriate response to Ms. Bayefsky.

The following Experts addressed the morning meeting: Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr, Yuri A. Rechetov, Marc Bossuyt, Patrick Thornberry, Chengyuan Tang, Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai, Regis de Gouttes, Agha Shahi, Mario Jorge Yutzis, Luis Valencia Rodriguez, Ion Diaconu, François Lonseny Fall, Carlos Lechuga Hevia and Michael E. Sherifis.

Over the course of its three-week session, the Committee will consider the reports of Italy, China, Trinidad and Tobago, Cyprus, United States, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Ukraine and Egypt. These countries are among the 157 States parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Also this morning, the Committee approved, by secret ballot, the appointment as Committee Expert of Gabriel Britz of Germany, to fill the vacancy resulting from the resignation of Brun-Otto Bryde. Following the approval of her appointment, Ms. Britz solemnly declared that she would perform her duties and exercise her powers as a member of the Committee honourably, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously.

At the beginning of the meeting, Hamid Gaham, Chief of the Support Services Branch of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced that the High Commissioner Mary Robinson will address the Committee at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will take up the twelfth and thirteenth periodic reports of Italy.

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