28 March 2006

Human Rights Committee Considers Ways to Streamline Working Methods

NEW YORK, 27 March (UN Headquarters) -- As the Human Rights Committee charged with overseeing implementation of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights neared completion of its three-week session, the expert body today debated ways to streamline its working methods, in the context of the Organization's broad ongoing reforms.

The seven human rights-related treaty bodies are continually seeking ways to enhance their effectiveness, by adapting and streamlining their working methods.  In March 2005, the Secretary-General called for harmonized guidelines on reporting to all treaty bodies to be "finalized and implemented", so that those bodies could function as a unified system.  That widely acknowledged report, In Larger Freedom, hastened the pace of the reforms and, in some cases, expanded their reach.

Today, the 18 independent experts, who serve in their personal capacities to examine States' compliance with the Covenant's 53 articles, discussed three main topics:  guidelines for drafting lists of issues; the question of unifying guidelines for States parties' submission of an expanded core document; and proposals for the harmonization of inconsistent terminology used by all the treaty bodies.

Briefing the Committee on the first of the three items, Ivan Shearer, expert from Australia, said the drafting of guidelines remained a "work in progress".  The text before the Committee was an updated summary of the Committee's practices over the years, updated to contain proposals, including, for example, one recommending that the list of issues not exceed 25 questions for States parties, except in exceptional cases, and another suggesting that there be two versions of those lists -- one for public use and another for the Committee's internal use only, containing footnotes disclosing sources of information obtained.

Although several concrete suggestions were made to the proposals today, the ensuing discussion centred on the issue of overlapping questions asked of States parties by the Covenant and other treaty bodies, and whether or not the guidelines document should remain an internal working text of the Committee, or be appended to its annual report.  There was broad agreement that repetition should be avoided, but experts insisted on flexibility, saying, for example, that, if they wanted to ask about the use of child soldiers and the Committee on the Rights of the Child wanted to ask the same country about that, as well, both bodies should be able to do so.  The emerging view on the guidelines was to keep those internal for now.

The expert from Poland, Roman Wieruszewski, and the expert from Sweden, Elisabeth Palm, briefed members on the discussion in the technical working group on consideration of a proposal for guidelines for States parties' preparation of an expanded core document, aimed at unifying reporting to the seven treaty bodies.  Once again, the discussion at that meeting and in the Committee today held that each treaty body had its own competencies, but that every effort should be made to adopt common guidelines so as to reduce the reporting burden for States parties.

Ms. Palm said a decision had emerged at the technical working group's meeting that a common core document and a treaty specific document both formed an integral part of a State's report and that a common core document should be compulsory for States.  No time span between reports had been decided, however.  The resulting draft left it to States to determine the contents of the common core document and the treaty document, and to ensure that there was no duplication between them.  The working group recommended that each treaty body be given an opportunity to review the revised draft guidelines and share their views at the upcoming annual Inter-Committee Meeting in Geneva in June.

The Human Rights Committee will meet again at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 March, to continue its consideration of the draft general comment on the Covenant's article 14, on equality before the courts.

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