14 March 2006

UN Monitoring Body for International Civil Rights Covenant Opens Three-Week Headquarters Session

NEW YORK, 13 March (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations expert panel monitoring worldwide implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights today kicked off the work of its eighty-sixth session with the adoption of its agenda and programme of work and an address by Bacre Ndiaye, representative of High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

Meeting in New York through the end of the month, the 18-member Human Rights Committee plans to examine reports submitted by Norway, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, on measures taken to implement the Covenant.  The Committee will also consider the situation of civil and political rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in the absence of a report.

The countries presenting reports are among the 156 States parties to the Covenant, which was adopted in 1966 by the General Assembly.  Representatives of those Governments introduce the reports and respond to oral and written questions from Committee members.

Under the Covenant's Optional Protocol, 105 States parties recognize the Committee's competence to consider confidential communications from individuals claiming to be victims of violations of any rights proclaimed under the treaty.  The Committee plans during the course of this session to review a portion of the 321 communications pending before it.  Fifty-seven States parties have ratified or acceded to the Covenant's Second Optional Protocol, which aims to abolish the death penalty.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Ndiaye praised the Committee's "vitality and creativity", and noted in particular that, for the first time, the experts had decided to begin their work with a full-day hearing from representatives of non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations -- rather than the traditional morning hearing -- on the situation in the countries that they will review during their current, and eighty-seventh sessions.

He also highlighted the Committee's efforts to generate publicity about its work, namely by reinstituting intersessional briefings for the press, which had led to the publication of several articles in international publications over the past year.  Mr. Ndiaye also praised the Committee's decision to open to the public consideration of follow-up activities on the experts' concluding observations, which was "definitely a positive step to increase the visibility of those crucial activities".

He told the Committee that, since its last session, Zambia had submitted its third periodic compliance report; Libya, its fourth; Chile, its fifth; and Ukraine, its sixth.  Further, on 24 January, Kazakhstan had ratified the Covenant, while Indonesia had acceded to the instrument on 23 February.  Canada had acceded to the Second Optional Protocol on 25 November 2005, and Turkey ratified it just two weeks ago, on 2 March.

Turning to the work under way in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the context of the current system-wide United Nations reform agenda, he recalled that Ms. Arbour's Action Plan had been submitted last May, which had presented an overall vision for the future direction of the Office.  A Strategic Management Plan had been issued last month, which provides a comprehensive overview of the areas on which the OHCHR will focus in 2006 and 2007, as well as the budgetary and extrabudgetary resources that would be required.  In that Plan, the OHCHR would also work to achieve greater understanding, awareness and support for the implementation of treaty body recommendations at the national level.

On overall treaty body reform, Mr. Ndiaye said that a technical working group, composed of members appointed by each of the United Nations treaty monitoring bodies, met in Geneva on 8 and 9 December 2005 and from 15 to 17 February 2006, to finalize the draft guidelines for an expanded core document and harmonized reporting to all the bodies, for adoption by each committee.  Regarding proposals for a unified standing treaty body, he said that a concept paper was being developed and was in the final stages of preparation.

In other business today, Nisuke Ando, expert from Japan, updated the Committee on the work of its Working Group on Communication, which, he said, had held 10 meetings from 6 to 10 March on 36 draft recommendations, 31 of which were considered.

Membership of Committee

The States parties to the Covenant elect the Committee's 18 expert members who serve in their individual capacity for four-year terms.  Article 28 of the Covenant requires that "they shall be persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights".

They are:  Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia); Nisuke Ando (Japan); Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (India); Alfredo Castillero Hoyos (Panama); Christine Chanet (France); Maurice Glèlè-Ahanhanzo (Benin); Edwin Johnson Lopez (Ecuador); Walter Kälin (Switzerland); Ahmed Tawfik Khalil (Egypt); Rajsoomer Lallah (Mauritius); Michael O'Flaherty (Ireland); Elisabeth Palm (Sweden); Rafael Rivas Posada (Colombia); Sir Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom); Ivan Shearer (Australia); Hipolito Solari-Yrigoyen (Argentina); Ruth Wedgwood (United States); and Roman Wieruszewski (Poland).

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 14 March, to examine Norway's forth periodic compliance report.

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