Top UN legal official urges stepped-up implementation of international pacts

Top UN legal official urges stepped-up implementation of international pacts

UN Legal Counsel Patricia O'Brien with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Nearly three dozen Member States have indicated that they intend to sign, ratify or accede to at least one international treaty as part of the annual campaign to promote such conventions during the opening of the General Assembly session next week, the top United Nations legal official said today.

“In a globalized world, where people, commerce and ideas cross borders with ever-increasing frequency, countries have long recognized that international norms and standards are essential for modern society to function,” Patricia O’Brien, who recently took up the post of UN Legal Counsel, told reporters in New York.

This year’s treaty event, the tenth in the series, will be held on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s General Debate at UN Headquarters.

As 2008 also marks the 60th anniversary of adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the event will centre on the theme “Universal Participation and Implementation – Dignity and Justice for All of Us.”

Some 53 global pacts on human rights, the environment, transit, disarmament and the safety of UN personnel – none of which enjoy participation by all Member States – will be highlighted by this year’s event.

Ms. O’Brien stressed that Member States are also invited to take action on the other nearly 500 treaties deposited with the Secretary-General.

Also addressing journalists today, Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, who heads the New York branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), underscored the need for the universal ratification and implementation of the “core” international rights pacts.

Regarding the Disabilities Convention, which he said is the fastest human rights treaty ever to enter into force, has 37 States Parties and 131 signatories to date. “But we need more countries to ratify or accede to the Convention in order to ensure that persons with disabilities are fully able to claim their rights as active members of our society,” he said.

Mr. Mbaidjol also called on Member States to take expedient action on the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Some of the treaties highlighted by the event focus on the environment, and Clarissa Brocklehurst of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that bolstered sanitation – which she characterized as a “neglected” issue – could lead to improved human health, economic gains and social development.

This year is also the International Year of Sanitation, raising awareness of the fact that over one-third of the world’s population, or 2.5 billion people, lack adequate sanitation facilities.

“People are realizing the importance of the issue that has long been thought of as the last taboo,” Ms. Brocklehurst said.

UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) has launched a new website that serves as the authoritative source of information on multilateral treaties with the Secretary-General and pacts registered with the UN Secretariat.

A user name and password – required by the site in its previous incarnation, which received some 2 million hits monthly – are no longer needed to access the more than 3 million pages of text in over 140 languages.