In July Sessions, UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies Review 14 States and Develop 3 General Comments

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The UN Human Rights Committee reviews Sudan
Credit: UN Treaty Body Webcast

Last month, both the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) held regular sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. During these sessions, the committees reviewed States parties’ implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), respectively.

As part of their review of States parties’ policies and practices, these human rights treaty bodies rely on information submitted by the State and by civil society. During their sessions, the committees heard from government delegates and engaged in an interactive dialogue with each State regarding specific areas of concern. The committees then publish concluding observations for each State, highlighting the State’s successes, identifying areas of concern, and recommending steps to bring the State into compliance with the relevant human rights treaty.

Human Rights Committee: State Reports

The Human Rights Committee held its 111th Session from July 7 to July 25, 2014 in Geneva. During this session, the Committee reviewed Chile, Georgia, Ireland, Japan, Malawi, and Sudan concerning their implementation of the ICCPR. View the State reports, lists of issues, submissions from civil society and national human rights institutions, as well as the concluding observations, on the 111th Session page.

In its concluding observations for all of the States under review during this session, the Committee identified gender inequality as a primary area of concern. Furthermore, all of the concluding observations identified specific women’s rights issues, such as violence against women and domestic violence, which the States needed to address.  Additionally, the concluding observations for all of the States under review, except Sudan, cited the treatment of LGBTI persons as an area of concern.

Each set of concluding observations also included several additional areas of concern.The Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations (Spanish only) concerning Chile note that the State had not properly investigated past human rights violations, continued to criminalize abortions, failed to include indigenous persons in decision-making concerning their rights, and maintained its reservations to both protocols to the ICCPR. Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Chile, UN Doc. CCPR/C/CHL/CO/6, 22 July 2014.

The concluding observations for Georgia identified several areas of concern, including the effectiveness of the newly enacted Law on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination, accountability for past human rights violations, the plea bargaining system and the zero tolerance drug policy, and the effect of ongoing religious intolerance on religious minorities. Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Georgia, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GEO/CO/4, 23 July 2014.

In response to Ireland’s report, the Committee issued concluding observations that identified areas of concern including the applicability of the Covenant in domestic courts, strict restrictions on and the criminalization of abortion, and the treatment of Travelers and Roma. Additionally, the Committee specifically addressed the practice of symphysiotomy as a violation of the ICCPR.  More than 1,500 women had been victims of this practice during childbirth, through which one of the main pelvic joints is severed and the pelvis is unhinged. In contravention of its responsibilities under the ICCPR, Ireland has failed to take appropriate steps to investigate the violations, identify and prosecute perpetrators, and provide remedies to victims. Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Ireland, UN Doc. CCPR/C/IRL/CO/4, 23 July 2014.

The concluding observations regarding Japan focused on the lack of an independent national human rights institution, the existence of 19 capital offenses, the use of the Daiyo Kangoku (substitute detention system), the treatment and lack of reparation for “comfort women,” and the State’s ongoing response to the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Japan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/JPN/CO/6, 23 July 2014.

The principal areas of concerning the concluding observations for Malawi included many fundamental freedoms: the right to privacy, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom from torture. Several of the other specific issues addressed by the Committee involved the treatment of children, such as the practice of child marriage, the sexual abuse of children, child labor, and children living in the streets.  Additional concerns included maternal mortality, teenage pregnancies and abortion, and the allowance of harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation. Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Malawi, UN Doc. CCPR/C/MWI/CO/1/Add.1, 22 July 2014.

Several of the concerns identified by the Committee in the concluding observations for Sudan reflected the violent conflict within the State. These concerns included widespread allegations of human rights violations in the context of armed conflicts, the treatment of Internally displaced persons, and the continued use of child soldiers in armed conflict.Additionally, the Committee worried that lack of a transparent process and the exclusion relevant actors in the constitutional drafting process would result in a new Sudanese’s constitution that does not comply with the Covenant. Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations on Sudan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/SDN/CO/4, 22 July 2014.

Human Rights Committee: Other Business

During its 111th Session, the Committee considered 38 communications concerning alleged human rights violations. Ultimately, it adopted seven inadmissibility decisions, 26 decisions on merits, and declared five cases discontinued. [OHCHR: Human Rights Committee concludes session] The Human Rights Committee may consider individual complaints that allege a violation of an individual’s rights under the ICCPR if the State is a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which establishes the complaints mechanism.

According to the Proposed Programme of Work, the Committee also discussed its method of work in several separate meetings. These meetings addressed many of the issues raised by the adoption of General Assembly Resolution 68/268 on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system. Discussion focused on the simplified reporting procedures, constructive dialogue, the use of dual chambers, and the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Reprisals. [OHCHR: Human Rights Committee discusses methods of work] The Committee appointed member Victor Manuel Rodriguez-Rescia as the Committee’s first Rapporteur on Reprisals. [OHCHR: Human Rights Committee concludes session] This step formalizes previous efforts to address acts of intimidation or harassment against individuals and organizations that engage in advocacy before the Human Rights Committee, and echoes decisions by the UN Committee against Torture, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which have each appointed a point person or rapporteur on reprisals. [OHCHR: CAT; ISHR]

At this session, the Committee also continued its second reading of its draft General Comment No. 35 on right to liberty and security of person, which was analyzed in a previous post. In advance of this session, the Committee received input from civil society and other stakeholders on the first draft; these submissions can be viewed on the draft general comment webpage.  The Committee adopted 18 paragraphs at this session, and agreed on the scope and interpretation of various concepts raised in the general comment. [OHCHR: draft general comment] It will continue its discussion of the draft general comment at its next session.

The Committee will hold its 112th Session from October 7 to 31, 2014 and is scheduled to consider the reports of Burundi, Haiti, Israel, Malta, Montenegro, and Sri Lanka at that time.

CEDAW Committee: State Reports

The CEDAW Committee held its 58th Session in Geneva from June 30 to July 18, 2014. During this session, the CEDAW Committee reviewed the Central African Republic, Georgia, India, Lithuania, Mauritania, Peru, Swaziland, and Syria with regard to their implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The concluding observations for the States under review identified issue areas where the States have failed to act or take sufficient steps to fulfill their obligations under CEDAW.  In general, the CEDAW Committee indicated that the States under review should insure that appropriate legislative measures are put into affect to implement CEDAW’s provisions at the domestic level. Additionally, the CEDAW Committee recommended that States allocated adequate resources to national machinery for the advancement of women. Other issues addressed in the concluding observations from this session included women’s rights to health, education, and employment.

In all of the concluding observations, the CEDAW Committee also reiterated the importance of utilizing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and ratifying other international human rights instruments that protect fundamental freedoms for all persons.

The Central African Republic submitted its combined first through fifth report for review during this CEDAW session. Although the Committee commended the State’s submission of the report, it noted that the information was only current to 2010.  In its concluding observations, the Committee stated that it was “appalled by the impact on the civilian population, in particular women and girls, of the ongoing conflict in the State party, following years of lower intensity conflicts.” Specific concerns included increased violence against women and lack of judicial recourse, the lack of resources and protection for internally displaced persons, and the need for the participation of women in the peace and reconciliation process. CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on the Central African Republic, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GEO/CO/4-5, 30 June – 18 July 2014.

In its concluding observations for Georgia, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the resources and services provided for rural women and other disadvantaged groups, such as internally displaced persons and religious minorities. The CEDAW Committee recommended that the State work to increase visibility and awareness of the Convention, the Optional Protocol, and the Committee’s general recommendations. CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on Georgia, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GEO/CO/4-5, 30 June – 18 July 2014.

The concluding observations for India made particular note of ongoing violence against women in border areas and conflict zones. The CEDAW Committee also specifically emphasized the State’s obligation to protect the rights of vulnerable groups of women such as rural women, women with disabilities, and women from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on India, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/IND/CO/4-5, 30 June – 18 July 2014.

Along with the general concerns discussed above, concluding observations for Lithuania specifically denounced a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would narrowly define a family as a married couple with at least one child. The CEDAW Committee recommended a less restrictive definition of family. CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on Lithuania, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GEO/CO/4-5, 30 June – 18 July 2014.

The CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations for Mauritania commended the State for its intention to withdraw its general reservation to CEDAW, but expressed concern that other planned reservations are not compatible with the object and purpose of CEDAW. CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on Mauritania, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/MRT/CO/2-3, 30 June – 18 July 2014.

The concluding observations for Peru identified several areas of concern, including barriers that limit women’s access to justice, such as language and poverty. The CEDAW Committee noted that women may face additional difficulties regarding access to justice in cases of violence due to prejudice, discrimination, and gender insensitivity. CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on Peru, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/PER/CO/7-8, 30 June – 18 June 2014.

In the concluding observations regarding Swaziland’s report, the CEDAW Committee noted that many draft laws and policies related to women’s rights were pending before the legislature without any scheduled date of adoption. Additionally, the CEDAW Committee is concerned that the Convention has not been fully incorporated into domestic law.  CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on Swaziland, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SWZ/CO/1-2, 30 June – 18 July 2014.

With regard to Syria, the CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations expressed serious concern about the negative effect that the ongoing conflict has had on the rights of women and girls. In relation to the conflict, the Committee also noted that that State has failed to provide “rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to the more than 10 million persons in need of assistance due to the conflict in the State party.” The Committee also identified reduced penalties for crimes committed in the name of “honor” as an area of concern. CEDAW Committee, Concluding Observations on the Syrian Arab Republic, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SYR/CO/2, 30 June – 18 July 2014.

CEDAW Committee: Other Business

During its 58th Session, the CEDAW Committee held a half-day General Discussion on girls’/women’s right to education.  The purpose of this session was to “commence the Committee’s process of elaborating a General Recommendation on girls’/women’s right to education.” [OHCHR: CEDAW Committee] Representatives from civil society organizations including Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Reproductive Rights, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the International Disability Alliance joined State representatives in making oral presentations and written submissions concerning the right of women and girls to education. [OHCHR: CEDAW Committee discussion]

The CEDAW Committee also held its first reading of the draft General Recommendation/Comment on harmful practices, drafted jointly with the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and its first reading of its draft General Recommendation on gender related dimensions of refugee status, asylum and statelessness. [OHCHR: CEDAW Committee]

The CEDAW Committee session will hold its 59th Session from October 20 to November 7, 2014. The schedule includes the review of State reports from Belgium, Brunei Darussalam, China, China (Hong Kong), China (Macau), Ghana, Guinea, Poland, Solomon Islands, and Venezuela.

Additional Information

Archived videos from treaty body sessions may be found on the UN Treaty Body Webcast site.

For more information on either the Human Rights Committee or the CEDAW Committee, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub section on the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies.