The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and United Kingdom Law

By David Harris; Sarah Joseph | Go to book overview

Foreword

ROSALYN HIGGINS*

It is traditional that, when one's own country comes before the Committee for examination, the national member remains silent. Therefore, when I was asked by David Harris if I would like to make some comments this morning, I briefly thought my moment had come. But I will not in fact offer any views on the substance of United Kingdom compliance with the Covenant. Rather I will try to set the scene and say something about the whole relationship, in broad terms, of the United Kingdom to the Covenant system.

Before I do that I do want to say that I feel very privileged to work on the Human Rights Committee with the very genuine and full support of the government. Colleagues on the Committee, and especially those who have not come from the democracies, have through the years had a chequered relationship with their governments. We who come from the democracies really appreciate the way in which our governments encourage us to take on these things, provide some administrative back-up when requested (for example, in passing fax messages), and then stand well back and let us do what we have to do. Those who attend the Committee sessions know that from time to time representatives from the United Kingdom mission will come to meetings simply because of the interest in what is going on. An appropriate relationship has always been kept and I do want to express publicly my appreciation for that.

Now I turn to look at the whole relationship of the United Kingdom to the Covenant system. My view is that this relationship is not perhaps firing on all cylinders, and I think the reason can be laid at various doors--in part government, in part the Committee, and in part the human rights world, including the NGOs. I will be making some forthright remarks about these things in the hope of provoking discussion.

I begin with what we can conveniently term the 'formalities', because, of course, it is the first obligation of any state party under the Covenant to put in its initial report a year after acceptance of the Covenant, and then in the periodicity cycle of five years and whenever otherwise required. So it is

____________________
*
This speech was delivered by Professor Rosalyn Higgins, QC, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and UK member of the Human Rights Committee since 1984, at a conference held on 29 September 1993 at the Parliament Chamber, Inner Temple, London, on 'The ICCPR and United Kingdom Law'.

-xi-

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