Saturday, April 9, 2011

What is the extent of overdue state reporting in the human rights treaty body system?

Statistics about the human rights treaty body system have often been difficult to obtain. I welcome the recent initiative of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights to post some of this information. A link to state reporting statistics popped up recently at the High Commissioner's website. The downloadable spreadsheet indicates that a more complete database will eventually be available, but for the time being we are invited to read the data in spreadsheet format.

The introduction in the spreadsheet indicates that data is included up to March 25, 2011, to be updated monthly. For each treaty instrument it notes numbers of initial reports still not submitted by state parties, the number of periodic reports overdue from state parties, and some other statistical information. You need good eyesight or other assistance to read the details. It prints out to 3 pages, large A3 size paper, fine print. For purposes of this post I just wanted to focus on the late reporting data and compare it to total number of state parties for each human rights treaty.

The chart below is my interpretive illustration of the late reporting data for each treaty instrument (the new Convention on Enforced Disappearances, CED, is not included since it has just come into force). This is not an official UN chart -- it is my own adaptation of the data at the UN site. Hopefully this approach offers some interesting analysis. [For brevity's sake I'm going to use the same acronym for most treaty instruments and the treaty body tasked with administering it -- so CED refers both to the new Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the treaty body that will be created to administer it; the two exceptions are the CCPR and OPCAT, explained below at the end of this post].

Please note: I've not tried in this chart to depict the separate reports on optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Since the CRC is the only treaty instrument with such reports, it would tend to skew the comparison. However, it should be noted that the volume of reporting under the CRC is considerably more than under any of the other treaty instruments due in part to these optional protocol reports. The optional protocol reports will eventually be subsumed into the main reporting work of the CRC and thereafter will not be managed as a separate stream.

Next, while these figures appear to show CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) with one of the smallest non-reporting profiles, this status is somewhat misleading, since it is due in part to the large backlog of unreviewed reports that CEDAW has at the moment. States aren't late with their next report if the prior report has been submitted and is still awaiting review. But this observation is not intended to be a criticism of CEDAW either -- CEDAW is the treaty body with the second highest number of state parties (186), and it has historically had the smallest amount of regular treaty body session time allocated to it in UN budgets. CEDAW is currently under a catch-up schedule that will hopefully reduce the backlog soon.

The Committee Against Torture (CAT) also suffers from a large backlog of state reports to review, accounting for some of its lower percentage of late reporting. They too are under a special catch up schedule this year and next and will hopefully be able to reduce this backlog.

Another observation is that late reporting is approaching 50% of the entire state party membership for some treaty instruments. It is especially unfortunate that many states have not even filed their initial reports to the treaty body, some more than 20 years overdue.

It is my belief that a key to the success of the UN human rights treaty body system in the future, will be to manage this workload effectively, measure these trends, set improvement goals, and implement structures that both improve the state parties' reporting performance record and minimize the backlog swings from year to year. Comments welcome.

The remaining treaty instruments and treaty bodies shown on the chart are as follows:
  • CCPR -- Convention on Civil and Political Rights (administered by the Human Rights Committee)
  • CESCR -- Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (committee of same name)
  • CMW -- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Committee on Migrant Workers)
  • CRPD -- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (committee of same name)
The 10th treaty instrument/treaty body, not shown in the above chart is:
  • OPCAT -- Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (administered by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, SPT; this instrument does not have the state reporting mechanism of the other 9 treaty bodies)

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