Monday, May 30, 2016

Meeting of treaty body chairpersons May 31 to June 3, 2016

As I did last year I am going to post comments each day this week, to coincide with the agenda items of the annual meeting of Treaty Body Chairpersons. Please feel free to stop by from time to time to see what's happening. This year the meeting is being held in New York, from May 31 to June 3. To clarify -- I'm not in New York. I'm at home in Belgium, blogging the meeting.


On Tuesday, the meeting is scheduled to discuss:
  • Various opening, organizational matters in the morning
  • Item 4 reporting compliance
  • Item 5 adoption and implementation of the Addis Ababa Guidelines on independence & impartiality
  • Item 6 adoption and implementation of the San Jose Guidelines against intimidation or reprisals
  • Item 7 implementation of GA resolution 68/268 on strengthening the treaty body system


Lack of openness to NGOs

This year it is not indicated what portions of the meeting will be held in private, and which are public sessions.  In prior years NGOs were able to attend most sessions, even if there was no opportunity to speak. In recent years, NGOs have only been allowed to speak and attend during the one hour segment reserved for NGOs on the 3rd day (Thursday, June 2). 

No daily press coverage is available and the final report of the session usually only covers these topics briefly, and only if clear action points arose from the discussion. Those of us on the outside don’t have any insight anymore into what matters the Committee may be considering until it has become a finished proposal.

  • To the Committee, please consider re-opening the entire meeting to NGOs
  • Please also make it clear in the pre-meeting information which sessions will be public and what the credentials process is for persons interested in attending
  • Please also provide information on how and when an NGO who wishes to submit a statement may do so. If this information was provided and I just missed it, I apologize for raising this but perhaps this is some indication that the information was not prominently displayed
  • the link for the Secretariat's contact details on the meeting website is also not functional at the present time


Item 4: reporting compliance

This year the Committee again has before it a report on timely, late and non-reporting states, updated as of January 2016, but there is no analytical material included. UN Doc HRI/MC/2016/2

The data included in this report already appears in the “late and non-reporting states” online database at the OHCHR website (although the online version does not indicate when the data was last updated).

In addition the HRI/MC/2016/2 report before the Committee indicates the data is current only as of January 2016 – in other words 6 months old.  The report only covers delays in submitting state reports. It does not compare the trends, year to year, and it does not measure lateness in other aspects of state performance in the system, such as individual complaints, compliance with interim measures, timeliness in reporting under the OPCAT system, or follow up to recommendations of Concluding Observations and Views.

A snapshot of these statistics for one date only, does not provide the kind of data that can be useful to better management of the system. Is the problem of late submission of reports getting better or worse? If we were to try to improve performance, what would the priorities be? How should we measure success if we try to improve these figures?

For example, a quick review of the last several years’ reporting by states (from the annual reports to this treaty body chairs meeting and from the late and non-reporting states database) indicates that
  • The number of states that have no late reports pending has improved by 40% in the last 3 years from 22 in 2014, 29 in 2015, 25 in January 2016, and 31 as of today. 
  • But the number of total overdue reports has remained approximately the same – from 615 in 2014, 614 in 2015, 611 in January 2016, and 632 from today.
  • The number of reports that are 10 years or more overdue has increased by 28% from 134 in 2014, 173 in 2015, 173 in January 2016, and 171 today.

Number of timely states
Total overdue reports
More than 10 years late
Jan 2016
May 2016

*note that the Jan date of this year's report appears to be an outlier on several of these data points. All the other reports were taken as of the Mar-Apr-May timeframe and may be the better year-to-year comparison.

There are other trends you can pick up from a comparison of the last three reports prepared on this topic for the Meeting of the Treaty Body Chairs, but you can get the idea from this example.

  • Include year to year trends in each report on compliance
  • Include “last date this database was updated” information on the OHCHR website for the “late and non-reporting states” database
  • Include a link to the "late and non-reporting states" database on each of the treaty body websites; I find it hard to locate in the current OHCHR menu system (I usually have to use the search engine to find it and in that case I need to remember the name of the database to locate it)
  • Include information on follow up to Concluding Observations
  • Include information on follow up to recommendations made in Views
  • Include information on compliance with interim measures issued while individual complaints are pending before a treaty body
  • Include statistics on OPCAT reporting
  • Include statistics on inquiry reporting
  • Consider discussing and adding other measures of system performance from year to year, as this discussion progresses over time

Item 5 Addis Abba guidelines and item 6 San Jose guidelines

The Committee is also scheduled on Tuesday to discuss the adoption and implementation of the two guideline documents approved by the Committee in recent years, the Addis Abba guidelines on impartiality and independence of treaty body members, and the San Jose guidelines on actions to be taken on intimidation or reprisals taken against NGOs and others who submit evidence or testimony to a treaty body, for example concerning human rights violations in a particular state.

These topics are also addressed in the joint NGO statement which will soon be up and posted on the website for this meeting, which I strongly affirm and agree with. In addition, I’d like to raise the transparency issue with regard to each set of guidelines. To my knowledge there is no place on the OHCHR website that indicates yet whether all treaty bodies have adopted each of these guideline documents.  Only a few treaty bodies have so far identified the member of their group who will serve as the reprisals focal point for purposes of the San Jose guidelines. I have found no information yet on the experience or track record of any of the treaty bodies on any complaints they have received regarding either set of guidelines, and how to handle those complaints.

  • Please indicate whether all treaty bodies have now adopted each of these guidelines
  • Please indicate who the reprisals focal point is for each treaty body, and make sure that this contact information is easy to find on the treaty body website
  • Please indicate whether any complaints have been received by any treaty body under either of these procedures, and what if anything has been done about these complaints
  • Where violations have occurred, please post that information once the inquiry has reached its final conclusion
  • Please post the reporting procedures the treaty bodies intend to follow regarding each set of guidelines

Item 7 – implementation of GA resolution 68/268 on strengthening the treaty body system 

The last item on Tuesday’s agenda is an evaluation of areas that can be improved in the treaty body system, with reference to the objectives identified in the General Assembly resolution.  Particular items of discussion are the common core document in the state reporting system and information for the upcoming report of the Secretary-General on the work ongoing on the implementation of General Assembly resolution 68/268.

Implementation used to refer to states’ implementation of their human rights obligations, including recommendations from the treaty bodies. Here implementation is directed toward the treaty bodies implementing the states’ requirements in the GA resolution.  The GA resolution does more than that of course, calling many stakeholders to help improve the system, but it is somewhat regrettable that the term “implementation” has lost some of its focus on states’ obligations. It's sort of like the term has been "hijacked" from this more direct application of a call to states to improve their human rights. 

Very little of the subject matter in 68/268 deals with this original type of implementation and only one item in this 2016 meeting agenda appears to directly deal with the topic – item 10 remedies for individual complaints.  I will comment more on that item when I get to Thursday’s agenda items, but for now, I would hope that the Treaty Body Chairs would take a serious look at their overall agenda from year to year and make sure that the original type of implementation gets adequate attention on your agenda and on the agenda of each individual treaty body.  The general topic of implementation should be a standing agenda item of every substantive meeting in the treaty body system.  At least one treaty body has a standing item on implementation, but it is held in closed session, without civil society involvement.

  • Please make state implementation of human rights obligations a more central part of your standard working methods
  • Please make such discussions as open as possible, available for participation by civil society
  • Common core documents are serving a declining purpose in my view. Much of the information is not updated and is readily available at other locations on the Internet.  The OHCHR should compile those common locations where commercial, geographic and demographic information can be accessed, and instead ask the states to focus on updating local domestic legislation and other hard to get materials unique to their country situation
  • I strongly recommend to the Secretary General that he include comparative trends and propose future metrics to be used in evaluating the performance of the system, including scenarios that would clarify what workload and staffing levels would be required with more growth at current usage patterns in the system
  • Ideally a system like the treaty body system should be “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


I hope these suggestions come to the attention of the members of the Treaty Body Chairs that are meeting this week in New York and would welcome any comments or suggestions in that regard.  I would also hope that the Treaty Body Chairs would return to the prior practice of inviting NGOs to comment and participate in their sessions.  

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