Human Rights Committee Holds Twelfth Informal Meeting with States Parties, Discusses Challenges Relating to the Work of the Committee
The Human Rights Committee this afternoon held its twelfth informal meeting with States parties, discussing issues affecting its work such as the backlog of individual communications, and ways to improve its work like the Predictable Review Cycle and the digital uplift.
Committee Chairperson Photini Pazartzis said she was honoured to present the work carried out by the Committee since the last meeting with States parties which took place in July 2019. Following the meeting of Chairpersons in June 2022, all treaty bodies had agreed to establish a predictable schedule of reviews, an eight-year cycle for full reviews with follow-up reviews in between, covering priority issues identified. The Predictable Review Cycle would provide for a constructive dialogue between all States parties to the Covenant and the Committee, and would address the backlog of pending reports.
The three Vice-Chairs of the Committee described a number of challenges facing the Committee and what was being done to overcome them. They said that at its one hundred and twenty-eighth session in March 2020, the Committee had adopted internal working guidelines on lists of issues and lists of issues prior to reporting. There had been a steady increase in the number of cases of individual communications registered by the Committee each year, resulting in an increase of the backlog. The cases registered by the Human Rights Committee accounted for more than half of the cases registered by all the other committees combined. The Committee continued to receive more than 200 individual communications each year, which meant the backlog of cases was exponentially increasing and needed to be addressed. The Committee had adopted its position paper regarding the treaty body strengthening process in November 2021, which confirmed the necessity of a digital uplift. The individual communications process urgently required digitalisation, as the current process was outdated and contributed to exacerbating the backlog.
Speaking in the meeting were representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Morocco, Egypt, Paraguay, Guatemala, Angola, Canada, Mexico, Luxembourg and Haiti.
The Committee will next meet on Tuesday, 19 July at 3 p.m. for a meeting on follow-up to concluding observations.
Opening Statements by Committee Experts
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, said she was honoured to present the work carried out by the Committee since the last meeting with States which took place in July 2019. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Human Rights Committee had carried out its mandated activities over four online sessions to avoid a protection gap for rights holders. The Committee had held online constructive dialogues with three States parties; adopted 41 lists of issues; adopted 247 individual communications; adopted five follow-up reports to concluding observations; adopted four follow-up reports to views; issued a substantive statement on derogations from the Covenant during COVID-19; adopted a General Comment on the right of peaceful assembly; and held an online colloquium with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. At the thirty-fifth annual meeting of the Chairpersons of the Treaty Bodies held in New York in June, the Chairpersons had agreed on a unified position, taking into account three key issues, including the predictable schedule, the harmonisation of working methods and the digital tools.
Ms. Pazartzis said that all treaty bodies had agreed to establish a predictable schedule of reviews, an eight-year cycle for full reviews with follow-up reviews in between, covering priority issues identified. The Predictable Review Cycle would provide for a constructive dialogue between all States parties to the Covenant and the Committee, and would address the backlog of pending reports. The Human Rights Committee had already taken a decision on measures to simplify the reporting procedure, including an eight-year Predictable Review Cycle. While the Committee had established its predictable eight-year calendar as of 2020, its effective implementation was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Committee was encouraged by the high number of reports submitted by States parties, clearly indicating States’ commitment in implementing the Covenant. As of today, the Committee had received 41 States parties’ reports.
Ms. Pazartzis said that in regard to the individual communications under the Optional Protocol, the Committee had adopted 379 decisions since its last informal meeting with States parties. However, despite increased productivity, the backlog of individual communications kept growing. The Committee still faced the challenge of resources, and unless there was significant increase in capacity, the Committee’s ability to address its backlog would continue to be compromised. During the current one hundred and thirty-fifth in-person session, the Committee had engaged in a constructive dialogue with six States parties as well as the consideration of 49 individual communications under its Optional Procedure. The Committee was moving forward and scheduling constructive dialogues with States parties in the upcoming sessions. As the world recovered from COVID-19, the financial situation remained challenging. However, States were expected to fulfil their obligations and should ensure that the treaty body system was adequately funded. Ms. Pazartzis said that the treaty body system represented a professional, independent avenue for protecting and promoting human rights, whose relevance had never been greater.
VASILKA SANCIN, Committee Vice-Chair, said that at its ninety-seventh session in October 2009, the Human Rights Committee had adopted the simplified reporting procedure as a new optional reporting procedure, designed to facilitate focused State party reports based on replies to lists of issues prior to reporting. At the Committee’s one hundred and twenty-third session in July 2018, a working group of the Committee presented the study on the effectiveness of the simplified reporting procedure and adopted the simplified reporting as a permanent feature of its reporting procedures. At its one hundred and twenty-sixth session in July 2019, the Committee had decided to move in 2020 to a Predictable Review Cycle to improve predictability in reporting and to ensure regular reporting by all States parties. At that session, the Committee also held its eleventh informal meeting with States parties to the Covenant. Representatives of more than 80 States parties had taken part in the meeting and welcomed the decision of the Committee on additional measures to simplify the reporting procedure and increase predictability within State reporting.
Ms. Sancin said that at its one hundred and twenty-eighth session in March 2020, the Committee had adopted internal working guidelines on lists of issues and lists of issues prior to reporting. The Human Rights Committee’s work was based on a full eight-year cycle review process. Follow-up reviews to concluding observations were envisioned as part of the reporting process. The Committee had successfully engaged with long overdue States parties though the lists of issues prior to reporting, or as a last resort, through the lists of issues in the absence of the report. While the implementation of the Periodic Review Cycle had been disrupted due to the pandemic, the Committee had continued to review reports in online settings and had resumed its in-person session last October. This year the Committee was reviewing 19 States parties, and as of today had 41 States parties’ reports pending consideration. Ms. Sancin said that the Committee continued to adjust its eight-year calendar, taking into account the reports which had been already submitted by the States parties, as well as upcoming reports.
CHRISTOPHER ARIF BULKAN, Committee Vice-Chair, said that concerning institutional matters, there was a steady increase in the number of cases registered by the Committee each year, resulting in an increase of the backlog of individual communications. The cases registered by the Human Rights Committee accounted for more than half of the cases registered by all the other committees combined. Regarding procedural measures, the interim measures requested bore an element of urgency, which required quick processing by the Secretariat and quick determination by the Committee. The entire process involved detailed research by the highly trained and expert staff aimed at achieving justice and fairness in outcome. Roughly 50 per cent of the decisions taken by the Committee were finding violations of the provisions of the Covenant. Once views were transmitted to the State party concerned, the phase of implementation began, which regrettably remained quite low, with the Secretariat lacking the resources to monitor the implementation of the Committee’s views. However, under the follow-up procedure, the Committee aimed to track and ensure that measures were implemented. Currently, 1,202 cases were being considered under this follow-up procedure. Several key areas were addressed by the Committee, including deportation/extradition, arbitrary detention/torture, enforced disappearance, freedom of expression and fair trial.
Mr. Bulkan said there were a huge number of cases of individual communications pending and increasing the backlog. Overall, there were approximately 1,300 registered cases and a large number of cases that had been received but not yet registered. The Committee continued to receive more than 200 individual communications each year, which meant the backlog of cases was exponentially increasing and needed to be addressed. The work under the Optional Protocol was one of the most meaningful aspects of the Committee’s output and held deep resonance and meaning for individuals who had suffered a rights’ violation at the domestic level, to seek some form of vindication under the Covenant. While States may not always agree with the views of the Committee, ultimately, they all shared the same goals, which was the respect of the implementation of the rights in the Covenant.
SHUICHI FURUYA, Committee Vice-Chair, said that the Committee had adopted its position paper regarding the treaty body strengthening process in November 2021, which confirmed the necessity of a digital uplift. The Committee faced the largest number of individual communications among the treaty bodies, with a backlog of more than 1,700 cases. This process urgently required digitalisation, as the current process was outdated and contributed to exacerbating the backlog. The paper described that the digital uplift should include an up-to-date case management system and database with the view to strengthening the management of individual communications. Such a system aimed to increase efficiency in the handling of individual communications and processing of States parties’ observations, expedite the adoption of views, track the implementation status of decisions and recommendations, and increase transparency for all stakeholders.
Mr. Furuya said that to achieve these objectives, work focused on improving the internal database, creating an electronic submissions portal, and improving the juris database of already adopted cases. For the internal database, the Petition Section had started work on shifting from paper files to digital files only and would work on creating an electronic documents management system. For the submissions’ portal, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was working to create a website that allowed authors to submit their complaints via an electronic form, to all eight Committees. When the portal was functional, there would be a fully electronic submissions system that would allow easy and assisted access to all authors, allowing them to electronically add submissions and check the status of their cases. The work of the portal was done with a financial donation by some States parties. The update of the juris database was the most advanced work among all three areas. The new system had an automatic updates system, a better search system, better display of language versions, and a better tagging system. In addition, it provided statistics and other research tools to the States parties and academia, and would officially launch later this year.
Mr. Furuya said that in last two years, the Committee had held online or hybrid review meetings with the delegations of States parties, and faced various problems. In light of the experience of these meetings, the Committee considered that the reviews should be held in-person in order to ensure an efficient and effective outcome. However, hybrid meetings may be useful to small island developing States and least developed countries. This would contribute to maintaining the eight-year review cycle in a proper order and offer the possibility of reducing the backlog of reviews caused by the pandemic. The Committee would also consider introducing a website which would enable States parties to submit their reports, replies to the lists of issues and other relevant documents in a more convenient and secure manner. Mr. Furuya emphasised that while the digital uplift would enable the Committee to streamline its activities, the implementation of these digital platforms and tools would require dedicated resources.
Statements by States Parties
Morocco said that it was fully cooperating with all United Nations treaty bodies and mechanisms, and was aware of the importance of the international arsenal to promote and protect human rights. Morocco was strongly committed to the treaty bodies and regularly presented Moroccan experts to work there. Morocco had been given an A grade regarding its implementation of recommendations. The State commended the meeting held by the Chairs of the treaty bodies.
Egypt welcomed the meeting with States and noted that measures had been taken to strengthen the working procedures within the Committee, particularly digitisation. Egypt was committed to respecting its obligations under the Covenant and would act upon them. Egypt had a committee dedicated to human rights and would work harder to ensure the delayed report to the Committee would be prepared in coming months. Egypt would continue to work on the presentation of reports, and a database would be created to keep tabs on the recommendations received.
Paraguay thanked the Committee for the detailed reports and stressed its commitment to continuing the work of the Committee despite the difficult situation faced by the pandemic. Paraguay appreciated the eight-year report review schedule, which would make it easier for States to prepare reports. Paraguay believed the effort put into the digital uplift would pay dividends and have a register of the work done by the Committee. Paraguay emphasised the importance of document preparation in the language of the country concerned and expressed gratitude to the Committee for efforts taken to work constructively with States.
Guatemala stressed the importance of strengthening the treaty bodies and the Committee and was happy to see the decisions taken in New York. It was hoped these would be implemented to contribute to strengthening the treaty body system. Guatemala would like to know more about the meeting with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and what was discussed, to find how to support countries in meeting their obligations, while supporting victims? How could Member States contribute? Guatemala said the Government would like to step up cooperation with the Committee.
Angola welcomed the work being done by the Committee, asking why there had been an exponential growth in individual communications? Was this because there had been a greater violation of human rights, or were people more aware of the work the Committee did?
Canada said that an end-to end review of the communications process was necessary, and this had been raised in a letter sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this year, on behalf of Canada and more than 40 States. Thirteen recommendations were identified in the letter. Canada believed these recommendations could help alleviate the communications backlog, and asked whether the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant committees intended to respond to these recommendations.
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, said the letter on the backlog of individual communications had been received.
Responses by a Committee Expert
A Committee Expert said the meeting was crucial, stating that in 2021 there had been a meeting with the judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where ideas had been shared. The Committee wanted to exchange good practices. There was an array of reasons for the increase in the number of individual communications; some structural and some one-offs. There was a willingness on the part of non-governmental organizations to work with the Committee as it was a quicker process, and the treaty body provided a universal dimension.
Statement by a State
Mexico noted the action taken to try and update the work of the Committee and make it more efficient. It was important to consolidate working methods and have a calendar for reports. Mexico was a member of all human rights treaties and did all it could to meet its obligations. Regarding the delay in communications, Mexico asked if measures had been taken to restrict the scope of communications and see what could be done to avoid duplication?
Responses by Committee Experts
CHRISTOPHER ARIF BULKAN, Committee Vice-Chair, said because the Covenant covered all civil and political rights, there could be overlaps with other treaty bodies, however, there was no duplication of work. The Committee did not deal with complaints which had been examined by another treaty body mechanism. Part of what fuelled the alleged violations of human rights was conflict, which showed no signs of decreasing. A substantial part of the Committee’s work dealt with people who were fleeing conflict. Conflict was what was causing the numbers of individual communications to increase. The increase had been happening exponentially without an increase in resources, causing the backlog to grow.
IBRAHIM SALAMA, Director of the Treaty Bodies Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office of the High Commissioner was conscious of the need to utilise efficiently the funds available. However, the exponential nature of the increase in individual communications needed to be responded to by an increase in funds to deal with them. Mr. Salama welcomed the letter by Canada and 42 States, saying it showed a healthy sign of interest and partnership. The great achievement by the treaty bodies chairs was that they came together with a vision and a model to implement this vision. The ball was in the court of States parties now to implement this model. A reply to the letter was in the pipeline.
Another speaker from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights thanked Canada for the letter and appreciated the feedback. The letter acknowledged the challenges, which was important. On the harmonisation of working methods, work was ongoing, and aspects in these areas were being tracked and mapped, and would be discussed with different committees to see how they could be more streamlined. This was a work in progress to define ways to deal with the backlog.
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, said the Committee had been working closely with the petitions unit to adopt ways to more efficiently address individual communications with the means it currently had. A lot of progress had already been made
Statement from a State
Luxembourg expressed high appreciation for the Committee and said the dialogue was frank and productive. The State appreciated the simplified reporting procedure, and thanked Canada for the initiative. Luxembourg asked about the exponential growth in regard to individual communications, and about civic space and the cooperation of the Committee with non-governmental organizations. There had been an increase in reprisals which was worrisome. How had the Committee had ensured cooperation with civil society during the pandemic?
Responses from Committee Experts
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, said it had been difficult to keep in touch with civil society during the pandemic, and this had been done through online methods.
VASILKA SANCIN, Committee Vice-Chair, said information received from civil society organizations was very important for the balance in the work of the Committee. During the COVID period, the Committee was assisted by the Centre for Civil and Political Rights. Online platforms became a beneficial tool during this time. Moving forwards, civil society should be able to continue to interact with the Committee through online platforms, as it increased accessibility and enriched the work of the Committee.
A Committee Expert said the increase in individual communications had been felt from 2014 onwards. While the number of communications had been relatively steady, the backlog had been increasing year after year, with the Committee not being able to deal with this. This was a challenge to the Committee and petitions unit. The Expert shared the frustrations of many delegations present that in spite of all initiatives, the number of cases was not decreasing.
A Committee Expert said there was a need to equip the Secretariat with resources, to sort out where issues would be handled, particularly regarding overlap. This was challenging in an environment where budget cuts and downsizing were being discussed. There was a need for increased capacity in terms of human resources.
Statement by a State
Haiti expressed appreciation for the work of the Committee, and noted the workload and responsibility faced by the Committee. Haiti reiterated its support in all the initiatives undertaken to strengthen the Committee and alleviate the reporting burden on States. Haiti noted an updated calendar was being prepared and asked when it would be published?
Reponses by Committee Experts
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, said the calendar for 2022 was already available online and within the next few weeks, the 2023 and 2024 calendars would be defined.
A Committee Expert said the Secretariat was working hard to finalise the calendar, but States needed to welcome it officially in a resolution for it to work.
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, was aware that this was a substantial amount of work but was pleased the treaty bodies were working with the Office of the High Commissioner to reach a common understanding. State support would be needed. Ms. Pazartzis thanked all delegations for the useful comments and was happy to see support. The Committee would work together with States parties and looked forward to their comments and assistance.
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