3 April 2006

Human Rights Committee Concludes Current Session

Reviewed Compliance Reports by Norway, Democratic Republic of Congo, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China

NEW YORK, 31 March (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations expert panel monitoring worldwide implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights today wrapped up its eighty-sixth session, having examined compliance reports submitted by Norway, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China (Hong Kong SAR).

The 18-member Human Rights Committee, which opened its New York session on 13 March, also considered the situation of civil and political rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in the absence of a report, and had read through its draft "general comment" on article 14 of the treaty, which deals with "the right of equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial".

The countries which presented reports were 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.  Fifty-seven States parties have ratified or acceded to the Covenant's Second Optional Protocol, which aims to abolish the death penalty.

Just before the Committee closed its eighty-sixth session, Rafael Rivas Posada, expert from Colombia, and the Committee's Special Rapporteur on Follow-up of its concluding observations introduced his report, which sets out information on the final observations sought, received and acted upon by State parties to the Covenant.

It also sets out steps Mr. Rivas Posada had taken in his mandated capacity, in this instance to follow up on work from the Committee's previous sessions -- dating back to 2001 -- with Venezuela, Republic of Moldova, Togo, Mali, El Salvador, Israel, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Suriname, Uganda, Belgium, Namibia, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Benin, Poland, Greece, Iceland, Kenya, Mauritius, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Slovenia, Thailand, Syria, Yemen, Brazil, Canada, Italy and Paraguay.

Committee members raised specific questions about the status of its observations, noting that, in some cases, Mr. Rivas Posada's requests -- often frequently repeated -- for information on national follow-up activities had gone unanswered, or that State party replies needed further clarification.

Mr. Rivas Posada stressed that some countries were so slow in facilitating replies or arranging meetings.  Was there a way the Committee could strengthen its language to indicate the experts' dissatisfaction with such conduct, particularly since a merely repeat request for more information could go equally ignored?  And while stronger language would not guarantee a response, the Committee must come to a decision at some point.

Wrapping up the session, Chairperson Christine Chanet, expert from France, said the Committee had worked hard and had had fruitful meetings with non-governmental organizations and civil society earlier in the session, and had considered all the State party reports before it.  There were "no gaps", she said, noting that the Committee had considered 37 individual complaints, "which wasn't bad", and had also made headway on its General Comment on article XX, and had heard comprehensive reports from its Special Rapporteurs, respectively on its general comment, and on follow-up on individual communications, as well as on follow-up of its concluding observations.

She also drew attention to the Committee's -- and the Covenant's -- growing profile on the international scene.  Still, much remained to be done, and the experts must work together with the press and others, to ensure that their work and the tenets of the Covenant were better known.

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); Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom); Ivan Shearer (Australia); Hipolito Solari-Yrigoyen (Argentina); Ruth Wedgwood (United States); and Roman Wieruszewski (Poland).

The Committee, which traditionally holds three sessions per year, will meet next in July, at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

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