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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS OPENS FIFTIETH SESSION

COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS OPENS FIFTIETH SESSION
Elects New Bureau with Zdzislaw Kedzia as Chairperson
29 April 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning opened its fiftieth session at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, hearing an address from Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and holding an interactive discussion with him.  The Committee also elected a new Bureau, with Zdzislaw Kedzia as Chariperson, and adopted its agenda and programme of work.

Mr. Salama noted that the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was to enter into force next week, which would allow communications on violations of rights to be considered at the international level, increasing the workload of the Committee, but achieving a more effective system.  The year ahead was critical in defining the post-2015 agenda and the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Review, both of which had significant human rights elements.  The Intergovernmental Process on the strengthening of the treaty body process was to finish in May 2013, and consultations on this process had taken place with members of several Committees.  A suggestion of a new calendar and draft Code of Conduct had been received.  A cost estimate on clearing report backlogs had been provided.  Budget cuts would not affect the Committee, though work needed to be rationalised.  A satisfaction survey showed 83.7 per cent of Committee Members rated support by the Secretariat as satisfactory or very satisfactory.

In an interactive dialogue with Mr. Salama, Committee members asked about the suggested new calendar, about resolutions adopted at the end of the General Assembly session on the topic of the Committee’s work, and the atmosphere in New York in relation to this topic.  How were extended working patterns possible without additional budget allocations, and was the treaty strengthening process moving towards cutting costs and streamlining, rather than strengthening.

Also this morning, Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Mikel Mancisidor and Lydia Ravenburg made the solemn declaration as new members of the Committee.  The Committee elected a new Bureau with Zdzislaw Kedzia as Committee Chairperson.  Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, Renato Zerbini Ribiero Leao and Azzouz Kerdoun were elected as Vice-Chairpersons and Maria Virginia Bras Gomes was elected as Rapporteur.

Mr. Kedzia thanked all members of the Committee for choosing him and for the trust given to him.  He welcomed the new members and said he was thankful to the previous Chairpersons for their work, without whom it would be much more difficult for the Committee to move forward on their work.  The bar had been set pretty high, he said, and he would work to achieve the Committee’s expectations.  The task ahead was to meet challenges in an optimal way, while using opportunities.  Continuing close cooperation and support from the United Nations family and civil society enabled the Committee to effectively work to the benefit of human rights.

During its three-week session, from 29 April to 17 May, the Committee will examine reports by Japan, Iran, Jamaica, Azerbaijan, Togo, Rwanda and Denmark on how they comply with the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be this afternoon at 3 p.m., when it will meet with partners – non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions and others – to discuss the reports that will be considered by the Committee during the session.

Opening Statement

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Optional Protocol had received its tenth ratification and was to enter into force next week.  This was a big step for human rights as the Optional Protocol allowed victims to seek justice for violations of their rights at the international level through submissions of communications or requests for inquiries before the Committee.  The entry into force of the Protocol was to allow for the development of jurisprudence to clarify the scope of application of these rights, and offer guidance to States parties and national courts.  This would effectively double the workload of the Committee.  It was hoped that the process would achieve a more effective treaty body system and eliminate backlogs of reports.  However, additional funding had not been granted, and this put a significant strain on the Secretariat.

This year was critical on the global agenda, with the development of the post-2015 agenda, and the call by civil society groups that this be underpinned by human rights principles, and supported by a strong accountability framework.  The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 Review was also a critical moment as the unfinished agenda of the ICPD programme of action was mostly related to human rights and accountability deficits.

Recent developments of relevance included the co-facilitators of the Intergovernmental Process on the strengthening of the treaty body process expressing their intention to conclude the process by May 2013, as well as their holding of consultations in Geneva and New York attended by members of human rights committees.  Issues discussed in these meetings included documentation and conference services, reporting procedures, webcasting and video conferencing and the nomination and election process.  It was generally accepted that additional regular budget resources would need to be invested.

Also of note was that the Russian Federation had submitted a draft Code of Conduct and Egypt had submitted a “Nimble Calendar” as an alternative to the Comprehensive Reporting Calendar.   The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had received many questions about a report on treaty body strengthening submitted to the General Assembly in June 2012, and it was noted that discussions were entering a phase where concrete choices were being deliberated, particularly those that would affect the overall cost.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had also provided a cost estimate on eliminating the backlog of reports and individual communications.  A detailed review of the cost of the treaty body system had been provided.  Chairpersons of the treaty bodies met in New York 20 to 24 May, allowing them to engage in the process. 

System-wide cuts of $100 million were expected for 2014-2015, of which $4.5 million was expected from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ regular budget.  Although 70 per cent of these cuts were to come from staff the Committee was not affected.  Working methods needed to be rationalized in light of this.

Related to a survey on satisfaction on the levels of support provided by the Secretariat, Mr. Salama said 45 out of 172 experts completed the information asked, and 83.7 per cent rated support as satisfactory or very satisfactory.

Interactive Dialogue

In an interactive dialogue with Mr. Salama, a Committee member asked for details of the “nimble calendar” mentioned, and what resolutions had been adopted at the end of the General Assembly session on the topic of the Committee’s work?  What was the atmosphere in New York like in relation to this topic?  Another wondered how extended working patterns would be possible without additional budget allocations?  It was also asked whether the treaty strengthening process was moving towards cutting costs and streamlining, rather than strengthening, was this the case?

In response to these questions Mr. Salama said he was aware of the risk to the treaty body system in strengthening actions, but said that streamlining was not only financially but also politically useful.  It was clear in New York that the process was not about cost-cutting, and it could not be cost-neutral.  A number of States had spoken about the need to ensure the process strengthened and not weakened the system.

The nimble calendar was an approach based on costing the backlogs allocating an amount for all treaties once every biennium.  Its benefit lay more in the fact that it brought to the fore that some sustainability was required in a solution.  More periodicity was a probable outcome and there would also be no surprises as budget would be allocated by period.  A seven-year calendar was also suggested. 

The Chairpersons meeting was moved to New York to allow more interaction on the process.  The most recent session of the General Assembly had simply called for a sustainable solution to the treaty body considerations.   Financially, Member States were not in a position to request funding, hence the call for reinvestment of resources, and politically, issues were being put on the table in full transparency and the independence of the experts was enshrined in treaty law - allowing no outcome which negated this.

Funding for additional daily subsistence allowance for extra work had been agreed, though within the existing resources of the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights.  It was thought possible to find this funding, and in addition, Conference Services had a mandate, and a pool of funding, to provide assistance to the Committee.


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