Several treaty bodies have already issued Covid-19 statements. It makes sense that government responses to the coronavirus pandemic should now be taken up by the human rights treaty body system. The state reporting function of the treaty bodies is especially well suited for this task.
Here’s one suggestion to begin the process: State parties that have reports coming up soon for review in treaty body sessions should be asked to submit beforehand a short supplement to their current report, explaining how they responded to the coronavirus crisis, including how they used a human rights approach in the planning, decisions and implementation. And including any post-crisis evaluation that has gotten underway.
This approach uses the treaty body system at its best — evaluating a human rights problem by a committee of independent experts, in a structured, scheduled framework, asking states to confirm and explain their compliance to a binding international instrument already ratified. Other UN human rights mechanisms may perhaps be able to respond more quickly to urgent crises than the treaty body system can with its periodic and structured meeting schedule, but treaty bodies can focus on follow up, lessons learned and state accountability in ways that other mechanisms do not. Those treaty body functions should now be put into play.
The supplemental report on Covid-19 can be short, for example perhaps no more than 5 pages. NGOs should also be encouraged to submit shadow reports. The examination of each report should be tailored to the mandate of rights covered by the particular treaty involved. Covid-19 has seemingly touched all rights covered by the human rights treaties, so all treaty bodies should be involved.
Treaty bodies should act soon to notify states of this supplemental reporting requirement. The value of doing so includes — giving states and NGOs as much time as possible to prepare such reports, putting states on notice that a human rights evaluation of their pandemic programs is coming, and adapting the programs and activities of the treaty body system to this major new global concern.
I urge treaty bodies to issue announcements on coronavirus supplemental reports as soon as possible, to make ready for the resumption of treaty body sessions.
[this article is reprinted from e-Newsletter of Geneva for Human Rights of April 19 2020, https://gdh-ghr.org/blog/2020/04/editorial-of-ghrs-newsletter-2020-04-19/]