Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Backlog? What backlog?

It is often claimed that the treaty body system is broken and needs to be fixed because it can't keep up with its backlog.  While there are indeed backlogs of individual complaints in the system that need to be addressed, it is not accurate to say that the most common treaty body activity, the review of state reports, is suffering from chronic backlogs.
In fact, as of the end of 2016 only one treaty body had a serious backlog of state reports to review, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). All of the other treaty bodies were in reasonable balance between the number of reports to be reviewed and the availability of time on its meeting schedule to review them. 

Definition of backlog

First, how do we define a backlog for these purposes? To my knowledge, there is no official definition. My definition is that there should be enough state reports pending to fully schedule the Committee's meeting time at least one year but no more than 1.5 years ahead. 

This is a definition that permits full NGO participation in the treaty body process. Unless the Committee's schedule is known at least a year in advance, and preferably 18 months in advance, there is not enough time for NGO participation, which includes the following steps: 

  • obtain a copy of the applicable state report and review it
  • prepare an NGO shadow report and submit it to the treaty body
  • provide NGO input into the list of issues compiled by the treaty body
  • receive and review the state party's responses to the list of issues
  • provide NGO input to the treaty body on the responses to the list of issues by the state party 

Current backlog figures

Here is a summary of the pending state reports in the human rights treaty system by the end of 2016: 

# of reports normal annual pace backlog in years
CMW 8 8 1
CESC 20 17 1.2
CERD 25 20 1.3
CCPR 27 21 1.3
CAT 25 18 1.4
CRC 46 32 1.4
CEDAW 43 27 1.6
CED 11 5 2.2
CRPD 51 14 3.6

This means that the first six treaty bodies fall below the 1.5 backlog figure. But CEDAW is very close with 1.6 and CED is a relatively new Committee experiencing an uptick in reports recently, but it should be able to easily fit the 11 pending reports into a shorter schedule. So it is only the CRPD that has some serious scheduling difficulties in reducing its backlog. 

A few other footnotes to this table:

  1. I have not included the SPT in this analysis since the nature of their reporting system is different. It's not the number of state reports that defines their backlog, but a more detailed analysis of pending state visits, delays if any in producing Committee reports, and then delays if any in receiving state party replies, and Committee follow up replies.  So I haven't tried to evaluate whether the SPT is in a backlog situation currently.
  2. The CMW reports pending is a bit of a misnomer. This Committee has traditionally received too few reports to keep their workload busy. As a result they have moved to a so-called "master calendar" system whereby they schedule the review of country situations whether or not a report has yet been received. Often times the report arrives at the last minute, without adequate time to review it or for NGO participation. The 8 reports shown in the above table only reflects that 8 countries have been scheduled for review during the CMW's 2017 sessions. Most of these reports have not yet been received by the Committee. So, no backlog for this Committee.
  3. The numbers of reports currently pending was obtained by reviewing each treaty body's pending future schedules, and cross checking to the extent possible with the OHCHR treaty body database and statements made in the opening sessions of each treaty body (for example, recent statements made by the Secretariat of the Committee on the Rights of the Child when that Committee opened its session earlier this month). It is possible that some of these figures are not accurate, but they appear to be reasonably close to the historic patterns and other corroborating sources mentioned.


The CRPD needs to address its backlog of state reports. Perhaps it can use some of the tools that the other treaty bodies have used to balance their workload when a backlog builds up -- parallel chambers, schedule more reports per session, schedule more meeting time per session, more staff support, more use of simplified reporting tools, etc.  Or perhaps there are other tools, not yet used by any of the other treaty bodies that would best fit the needs of this Committee. But the point to underscore here is that this backlog problem is essentially a problem suffered by a single treaty body, not the entire system. 

The other 8 treaty bodies that review state reports are reasonably in balance between workload and average waiting time before a report is scheduled for a hearing.  If this waiting time were to be any shorter than it currently is for these 8 treaty bodies, it would begin to undercut the ability of NGOs to review and participate in the state report reviews. 

To the extent the system's backlogs are driving calls for reform or change, I would suggest that such calls are not based on supporting facts. Other aspects of the treaty system need more attention and would be more directly relevant to strengthening and improving the effectiveness of the treaty body system. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A modest proposal for state reports & lists of issues

The UN human rights treaty bodies receive and review about 150 reports per year from governments, on their human rights compliance.  There are a few new items that could be added to those reports that would greatly aid in evaluating the system. I would encourage each treaty body to add
these items in their reporting guidelines and/or in each list of issues submitted to the state party whose report is to be reviewed:

1. An index or table of the prior recommendations

The state report or associated materials should contain a table or index showing where each of the Committee's prior recommendations has been answered.  This will assist in evaluating the state party's level of implementation of its human rights obligations.

2. Government website link

As part of its dissemination of information to its stakeholders, each state party should be asked to create and maintain a government-sponsored website where information about that state's treaty body obligations are described. The website address should be included in the report or in the response to the list of issues. I've written on this topic before. Here is my suggestion for the minimum content of such a website: 

    the human rights treaties to which the state is a party
    a link to each of the UN treaty body websites for which it is a party
    the latest reports submitted to each treaty body
    the latest common core report submitted to the treaty body system
    the latest concluding observations of each treaty body
    the schedule of next appearances before each treaty body
    upcoming deadlines for submitting next reports or follow up information
    progress toward implementation and consultation opportunities for civil society
    information about the live and archived treaty body webcasts of appearances of the government
    the site should also be disability accessible in its design
    the content of the site should be regularly updated; the site should indicate when the content was last revised and the government's policy on how frequently it intends to update the site in order to keep the information current 

Once a state party creates such a website, the link should be added to the treaty body pages that describe that state's human rights activities.


3. Compliance with word limits

Each report should indicate in its introductory remarks the number of words contained in the report, to indicate whether the suggested word limits have been complied with.

4. National implementation mechanism

Each report or response to list of issues should indicate whether the state has established a national mechanism for treaty body reporting and follow up, as recommended in the High Commissioner for Human Rights' recent practical guide on this subject.  

If no such unit has yet been established, the state should be asked to indicate whether there are any future plans to do so and the anticipated timeline for creation of such a unit. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

North Korea ratifies the UN disability convention

The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea has now ratified, without reservation, the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). According to the official records of the UN Office of Legal Affairs Treaty Collection, the ratification became effective on December 6, 2016. Pursuant to the terms of the Convention, the government will now be responsible for submitting a report on its compliance to the treaty within 2 years, by January 6, 2019, and thereafter every 4 years.

Other treaties ratified

This is now the sixth of the twelve major UN human rights treaties that the DPRK has ratified. The others are:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1981)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1981)
  • Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (2001)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990)
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, regarding the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2014) (OPSC)

Reporting compliance

According to the UN database on reporting compliance, the DPRK has failed to submit reports timely for the two International Covenants referenced above -- both are more than 8 years overdue.  No reports are currently due for CEDAW or the CRC, but both items were submitted only recently (April and May 2016) after delays of 10 years and 4 years. Its initial report under the OPSC is due this month, December 10, 2016; there is no information yet regarding whether this report has been filed on time. 

Total ratifications of the CRPD

Nonetheless this latest ratification by the DPRK is welcome news. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is rapidly approaching universal ratification. It now has 172 state parties that have ratified it (or acceded to it), which represents approximately 90% of the total possible countries. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Voting results 2016

Five of six elections to be held in 2016 have now taken place, filling expiring roles on the UN human rights treaty bodies. These elections covered 47 candidates from 38 countries. The Committees affected were CEDAW, CESCR, CCPR (HRCttee), CRC and CRPD. The 6th election to be held later this year, for 12 of the 25 members of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, will be in October. Elected members will begin service in 2017.

Some results are surprising.  Some indicate some backsliding on prior successes.  Lets take a look at the results so far.


This year a group of NGOs have combined efforts to present information on the candidate profiles of persons running in four of the six elections discussed here (CEDAW, CRC, CRPD and HRCttee).  Candidates were asked to fill in questionnaires on their experience -- some of whom complied -- and you can see those answers at that website.

The Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights has also recently published a 25 page brochure on Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Election of Treaty Body Members (A Guide for UN Delegates Based in New York) at

and a Handbook for Treaty Body Members at

both of which provide useful information on the elections process.

Brief summary of each election


Elections of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESC) were held in New York by the Economic, Social and Cultural Council, on April 5, 2016.  

There were four new members and five re-elected members.  There will now be 5 women and 13 men on the Committee, a better balance than the previous 3 women and 15 men.

Newly elected:

  • Ms. Laura Maria Craciunean (Romania)
  • Ms. Sandra Liebenberg (South Africa)
  • Ms. Lydia Carmelita Ravenberg (Suriname)
  • Mr. Michael Windfuhr (Germany)
  • Mr. Mohamed Ezzeldin Abdel-Moneim (Egypt)
  • Mr. Chen Shiquiu (China)
  • Mr. Waleed Sadi (Jordan)
  • Mr. Zdzislaw Kedzia (Poland)
  • Mr. Mikel Mancisidor (Spain)


Elections of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) were held in New York on June 14th to 16th.  

There were seven new members and two re-elected members.  Since five women's terms had expired and all were replaced by men, the gender mix is now only one woman and 17 men (formerly, it was 6 women and 12 men).

Newly elected:

  • Mr. Ahmad Alsaif (Saudi Arabia)
  • Mr. Imed Eddine Chaker (Tunisia)
  • Mr. Jun Ishikawa (Japan)
  • Mr. Samuel Njuguna Kabue (Kenya)
  • Mr. Robert George Martin (New Zealand)  
  • Mr. Valery Nikitich Rukhledev (Russian Federation)


  • Mr. Monthian Buntan (Thailand)
  • Mr. Laszlo Gabor Lovaszy (Hungary)
  • Mr. Martin Babu Mwesigwa (Uganda)                                                                                           


Elections of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) were held in New York on June 21st.  Historically the composition of this Committee has been almost all women. Currently there is one man and 22 women. It would seem that this type of gender mix is also unhealthy -- it tends to diminish or marginalise the importance of the Committee, and deprive the Committee of a healthy mix of different views and perspectives. 

The elections produced six new members and five re-elected members.  The gender mix continues the same, with 22 women and 1 man.

Newly elected:

  • Mr. Gunnar Bergby (Norway)
  • Ms. Marion Bethel (Bahamas)
  • Ms. Rosario G. Manalo (Philippines)
  • Ms. Bandana Rana (Nepal)
  • Ms. Wenyan Song (China)
  • Ms. Aicha Vall Verges (Mauritania)


  • Ms. Nicole Ameline (France)
  • Ms. Hilary Gbedemah (Ghana)
  • Ms. Nahla Haidar (Lebanon)
  • Ms. Dalia Leinarte (Lithuania)
  • Ms. Theodora Nwankwo (Nigeria)


Elections of the Human Rights Committee under the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) were held in New York on June 23rd.  

There were three new members and six re-elected members.  There will now be 8 women and 10 men on the Committee, a better balance than the previous 5 women and 13 men. 

Newly elected: 
  • Ms. Marcia Kran (Canada)
  • Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris (Latvia)
  • Mr. Christof Heyns (South Africa)
  • Ms. Anja Seibert-Fohr (Germany)
  • Mr. Yuval Shany (Israel)
  • Mr. Koita Bamariam (Mauritania)
  • Ms. Tania Maria Abdo Rocholl (Paraguay)
  • Mr. Ahmed Amin Fathalla (Egypt)
  • Mr. Jose Manuel Santos Pais (Portugal)


Elections for the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) were held in New York on June 30, 2016.  Five new members and four existing members were elected.  There was a net gain of one more woman member so the gender ratio becomes 10 women and 8 men (previously it was 9 women and 9 men). 

Newly elected:
  • Mr. Cephas Lumina (Zambia)
  • Ms. Mikiko Otani (Japan)
  • Mr. Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna (Uruguay)
  • Ms. Ann Marie Skelton (South Africa)
  • Ms. Velina Todorova (Bulgaria)
  • Ms. Amal Salman Aldoseri (Bahrain)
  • Ms. Olga A. Khazova (Russian Federation)
  • Mr. Benyam Dawit Mezmur (Ethiopia)
  • Ms. Renate Winter (Austria)

Gender balance

As noted in the above summaries, gender balance has remained essentially the same after these five elections, although one treaty body (CRPD) has worsened considerably, one (CEDAW) has stayed the same (unbalanced), and three have improved their gender balance slightly. Here is a table showing the data: 

Treaty body
last election
1 of 18
under balanced
June 2016
2 of 10
under balanced
June 2015
5 of 18
under balanced
April 2016
5 of 14
under balanced
June 2015
7 of 18
under balanced
June 2015
4 of 10
under balanced
Oct 2015
8 of 18

June 2016
13 of 25

Oct 2014
10 of 18

June 2016
22 of 23
June 2016
77 of 172

*The total ratio remained the same but CRPD got worse, CEDAW stayed the same and the others got slightly better. Since CEDAW has an overbalance of women (96%), it brings the overall average up (to 45%). When you remove CEDAW from the count the system-wide average becomes 37%.  

Reporting compliance

Another interesting analysis is to look at the reporting compliance of states who nominate experts from their country to serve on one or more of these Committees.  Of the 38 countries who nominated one or more candidates who won a seat in these particular elections: 

  • 30 or 79% were overdue in submitting one or more reports under the treaty instruments (in other words, only 8 countries were up to date on all reports owed under the treaty body system when these candidates were nominated for election)
  • eight (8) countries (21%) were overdue in submitting their current report to the particular treaty body whose election was at issue -- and this included countries that were 10 years, 12 years, 13 years and 21 years overdue in submitting their current report!

Should countries who are this late in submitting their own reports to these Committees be permitted to nominate candidates in the elections process? Do states who vote on these candidates know about these reporting compliance figures when they vote? Would more transparency in these figures help to ensure better reporting compliance? 

Some discussion of these issues would seem appropriate as part of the treaty body strengthening process, in light of the generally held view that the elections process should be strengthened and improved, and that reporting compliance also needs to be improved. 


With five of six elections now complete in 2016, analysis of the results can begin. In determining what type of treaty body system we want, the election of members matters. The goals should include good gender balance and highly qualified candidates.  It is submitted that evaluating the reporting compliance record of states who nominate candidates is also fair game.  

Friday, June 3, 2016

Treaty body chairs meeting -- final day (June 3)

This post concludes my daily commentary on the agenda items of the Treaty Body Chairs meeting taking place in New York this week. Today I will comment on the final day’s agenda (June 3).

Friday Agenda (June 3)

The Committee is scheduled to discuss the following topics:
  • Any other business including next year’s agenda (item 11(c))
  • Adoption of the final report of this session (item 12)
I don't have any comments on the final topic (adoption  of report), but will split my comments on the first item into two parts -- (1) any other business and (2) next year's agenda

(1) Any other business (item 11(c))

Other than next year's agenda, which I will comment on in the next section, here is the open space on the Committee's agenda to consider new ideas. What else can be done to improve the effectiveness of the treaty body system? 

Some of the topics I would like to see more focus on include the following: 

  • disability access -- are the meetings and information of the treaty body system as accessible as possible to persons with disabilities? This is not just a topic for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. All Committees should be attentive to this issue and all meetings should be adequately equipped to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities to participate. Is there a fire evacuation plan in place for all public meetings of the treaty body system that includes how to evacuate a large number of disabled persons if they were in attendance?
  • new technologies -- how can the treaty body system make better use of new technologies? Is the system preparing adequately for potential cyber attacks or cyber surveillance of confidential information in the system? Should the High Commissioner consider creating a post for a CTO -- chief technology officer, who could advise the High Commissioner and treaty bodies on strengthening and improving technology systems?
  • size of committees -- do the current treaty bodies have the right number of members? I'm thinking in particular about the Committee Against Torture with just 10 members, yet a workload heavier than most other Committees. 
  • CMW -- how can the entire system work to improve the ratification numbers for the Convention on Migrant Workers which is in danger of being left behind as the system grows
  • implementation -- how can implementation be strengthened across the board?
  • current events -- how can the treaty bodies be as relevant as possible to current events that involve human rights? What role should treaty bodies play when major events like the Arab Spring, earthquakes or other humanitarian disasters, or migration flows occur?
  • civil society -- are there new ways to engage civil society more effectively?
  • improve reporting compliance -- how to develop better state compliance to reporting and follow up obligations? 
  • master calendar idea -- should a UPR style master calendar be adopted, with evaluations going forward on non-reporting states in the absence of a report

(2) Next year's agenda (item 11(c))

Here is a compilation of suggestions I have made in my other posts for agenda items next year, plus a few more:
  • Implementation should be a standing item on each year’s meeting agenda
  • Improve the jurisprudence database, including how to harmonize it with other such databases of other regional institutions
  • How to improve NGO participation in the annual treaty body chairs meeting and in the treaty body system as a whole
  • Broaden the scope of reporting compliance by adding to next year’s report information on state reports, inquiries, follow up procedures, interim measures, and OPCAT responses.  Compare the current year to past years on each of these classifications
  • Ideally a system like the treaty body system should be effectively managed and good management requires good data. Some more thought should be given to what types of data would be most useful for the treaty body chairs, each individual treaty body and the OHCHR office, to better manage their parts of the system
  • Perhaps take a broader look at complaint mechanisms on next year’s agenda, to explore effectiveness, backlog, staff resources, workload planning, data compilation, and other management related issues; complaints for these purposes should also include inquiries, early warnings, urgent actions, reprisals, etc. All of the different types of complaint mechanisms should be measured, published, explained, and be part of annual summaries


There are many valuable topics to discuss and only a limited amount of time available, but I hope the treaty body chairs are able to reflect on these suggestions and others made during the meeting, in order to continually improve the effectiveness of the treaty system.