Press Releases

    30 March 2005

    Human Rights Committee Discusses Possible Reform of Treaty Body Reporting Process

    Goal Is to Reduce Burden on States, Allowing for Greater Focus on Matters of Concern

    NEW YORK, 29 March (UN Headquarters) -- The Human Rights Committee met briefly today to share its views with the designated rapporteur of inter-committee meetings, Kamel Filali, on a possible system-wide reform of the reporting process of human rights treaty bodies, aimed at easing the reporting burden of States parties.

    Earlier in the two-week session that began on 14 March, and at its previous session in November 2004, the Committee’s consideration of its working methods had focused on country reporting procedures.  Specifically, it reviewed proposals for an expanded core document and treaty-specific targeted reports, as well as harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties.

    A number of inter-committee meetings have been held to consider the various proposals of the human rights-related committees to “synchronize” the reporting guidelines. At the next such meeting, to be held in June in Geneva, the inter-committee’s Rapporteur since June 2004, Mr. Filali, will brief on his latest findings. Today, he heard the views of the 18-member Human Rights Committee.

    Seeking to lessen the burden on States and allow them to focus on matters of concern to the Committee, as well as on progress made in the areas the States deemed worthwhile to report, experts stressed that the Committee was fairly coherent in its position.  It wished to respond to the underlying problem for States with “report overload”, while perhaps limiting the reporting on all articles of a treaty to a State’s initial report.  After that, the list of written questions posed by the Committee would be the main focus of concern.

    The expert from the United Kingdom, Nigel Rodley, explained to Mr. Filali that the Committee was proposing to eliminate the more onerous of the two parts of the initial report, namely the article-by-article compliance section, and only to respond to the list of prior questions submitted by the Committee. That would be far less burdensome to the State party than doing both a report and a response to the Committee’s questions. In that way, the Committee was advocating a genuine contribution to reducing the work- and resource-intensive reporting procedure.

    Another expert, Michael O’Flaherty of the United Kingdom noted that the discussion was taking place in parallel with several other reform processes under way in the human rights organs, in the wake of the release last week of the Secretary-General’s report “In Larger Freedom -- Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All”. In it, the Secretary-General had suggested that treaty bodies devise a “unified system” of reporting.  Mr. O’Flaherty suggested that perhaps the Rapporteur could get a sense of the views of the Secretariat and the Secretary-General of just what such a system entailed.

    Stressing the importance for members of each committee to fine-tune and clarify their positions, Mr. Filali said that the experts’ concerns were not very far from the positions expressed by those of other committees, particularly with regard to the issue of the unified report. That was just not justifiable in certain committees. In fact, he thought the question of a unified report had already been discarded and replaced by a report to be split in two parts.

    He said that issues of cooperation had been raised often. Some experts had looked at the reports submitted to various committees and very often had found that States had submitted the same reports, with slight variations at the end. That was why the list of questions was very important. He shared the concerns of some Committee members today about whether a targeted report would take the place of the list of questions. Unmet deadlines and reservations to treaties had also been raised in the various committees. Changing working methods in a way that made the reporting process less cumbersome had generally been accepted by all committees, but the modalities remained to be seen, he said.

    The Committee on Human Rights will meet again at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 31 March to discuss a draft general comment on article 14, on judicial proceedings.

    Experts’ Comments

    ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, said the issue had been before the Committee for some time, and the repetitiveness of the discussion could lead one to wonder about “lethargy”. He himself had led the Committee’s discussions on the issue during its eighty-second session, where the members had expressed their views at the time, including on the elements of an expanded “core” document and “targeted” follow-up reports. They had also discussed enhanced cooperation among the various United Nations treaty-monitoring bodies, and other human rights mechanisms. Such cooperation must be carried out through consultations on issues of common interest, especially when dealing with a Committee’s draft general comments. It was important for such coordination to ensure the Organization’s human rights machinery had “one voice”, he added.

    WALTER KÄLIN, expert from Switzerland, recalled the Committee’s discussion of the matter early last week, when the experts had generally decided that the idea of one report to and for all the human rights committees was neither feasible nor desirable. They had decided that an initial core report should contain general factual information about the reporting State and lay out the State party’s general framework for the protection of human rights, including whether international human rights norms were promoted and instituted at the national level. The experts had felt that more specific information could be included in a targeted follow-up document.

    RAFAEL RIVAS POSADA, expert from Colombia, said that, as talk of streamlining the Organization’s human rights machinery had been under way for some few years, perhaps it would have been helpful, at the beginning of the discussions, for all the relevant treaty bodies to provide details on their specific characteristics, requirements and modalities, and then seek a common denominator that could lead to further harmonization. He hoped it was not too late to identify such common elements.

    The expert from the United Kingdom, NIGEL RODLEY, said there was general feeling among the treaty bodies that there was already a problem of State Party “report overload” -- after the presentation of the first report, States responded to a list of the bodies’ concerns.  So the Human Rights Committee was suggesting omitting the more onerous part, presentation of the overall report.  It would be far less onerous for State parties to respond to a list of questions than to respond to a report and then, essentially, prepare another report in answer to experts’ questions.

    MICHAEL O’FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland, said that it was his feeling that the day’s discussions were taking place in parallel with several other processes under way on reforming the work of the human rights organs, namely, in the wake of the release last week of the Secretary-General’s report -- “In Larger Freedom” -- which suggested that treaty bodies devise a “unified system” in the context of reformed reporting. He suggested that perhaps the Rapporteur could get a sense of the Secretariat’s and/or Secretary-General’s view on just what such a system entailed. He was aware that the Rapporteur was set to report to the inter-committee meeting in June, but he was also aware that the Secretary-General had given the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, sixty days to submit an overall plan of action. He asked that issues of reporting be given priority in that plan.

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