I used the case example of the recent events in Iran for my remarks. Even though the political protests and police repression would most naturally fall into the category of civil and political rights, and thus fall within the mandate of the Human Rights Committee (who monitors the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), many of the other Committees also have complementary mandates that could also be invoked to examine the situation in Iran.
Some of the questions that the other treaty bodies could be asking include -- What is happening to the economic, social and cultural rights of the protesters and their families? What are the conditions of detention of those who are being detained? Are their families able to visit them? Are there reprisals against the protesters in their employment -- are they losing their jobs because of their activities? Are there children or families affected by the unrest? Are there women being arrested? How are the women being treated?
Most of these other Committees could also be examining this situation from the unique perspective of their own treaty's mandate. It is important to tackle an emerging human rights problem in this multi-disciplinary way. Each treaty body should cross reference the other treaty body's work when examining a situation, but then also contribute its own unique perspective on the problem from the reference point of its particular mandate.
I also pointed out that failing to cross reference other committees' work makes it seem as though you don't realize that other committees are also looking into the same country situation and may have issued a report on the circumstances. This omission often leaves a committee open to criticism by the state government concerned who will claim the committees are duplicating effort and should not be commenting at all on their situation since it has been taken up by another committee.
Sure enough, right on cue, several state governments complained on Tuesday during the meeting with state parties, that Committees were doing overlapping and duplicative work, failing to stay within their own treaty mandate in commenting on particular country situations.
The Iran case is a tragic one, and one that is recently in our news headlines. But unfortunately it is also a very hypothetical case study for the treaty bodies since Iran has only ratified 4 of the 9 core human rights treaties and has only recently submitted a compliance report (in July 2008) to one of the 4 treaty bodies to which reports are due, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Unless a country is willing to submit its regular periodic reports to the treaty bodies, it is very difficult for the treaty bodies to review their conditions. Some of the treaty bodies have emergency powers that would enable them to investigate new, emerging problems, but these powers are rarely invoked. Some treaty bodies also will schedule a review of a non-reporting state, in the hopes to nudge it into submitting a report. But in the case of Iran, none of these procedures have yet been invoked by any of the current treaty bodies.
Compliance reports are due every 2 to 5 years under each of the human rights treaties. But Iran hasn't filed any reports in the other 3 treaties to which it is a member for many years.
- It ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1975 but hasn't filed a report since at least 1994 (the UN treaty body database is not clear on when or if an earlier report might have been filed).
- Iran ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1975, but hasn't filed a report since at least 1993.
- It ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994 and last filed a report in 2003.
The other 5 treaty instruments that Iran has not ratified and which are considered the remaining core human rights treaties, are:
- The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which entered into force in 1979
- The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which entered into force in 1984
- The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which entered into force in 2006
- The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW), which entered into force in 1990
- The Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which entered into force May 2008
Iran does not have any treaty body appearances scheduled for 2009. Its report to CERD will be heard in public session in 2010. Iran is also usually very active in human rights meetings at the UN, but it was not present at the states parties consultation on Tuesday with the Inter Committee meeting.