Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Treaty Body Chairs meeting -- day 2

I’m continuing my daily commentary on the agenda items of the Treaty Body Chairs meeting that is going on in New York this week. Today I will comment on Wednesday’s agenda. 


The Committee’s annotated agenda includes:
  • in the morning to prepare for the consultation with states parties later that day (item 8 of its agenda)
  • to discuss agenda item 9, improving the system’s engagement with national human rights institutions 

Consultation with states (item 8 of the agenda)

The consultation with states was always an interesting segment in the agenda when NGOs were allowed to attend in prior years. Is the consultation meeting going to be public this year? Will NGOs be able to attend? If not, will the consultation with state parties be summarized in the final report of the session? This feedback can be very important to those of us on the outside who are trying to assess whether certain initiatives might be possible in the strengthening of the system, which states seem the most interested or have the most concerns, and whether states have any particular concerns or suggestions that might affect the developments in the future for the treaty body system.

It seems to me that preparing for the states parties consultation should be more than simply identifying who will speak about what topic in informing the states of recent treaty system developments.  Some attention should be focused on suggestions and concerns identified by the states in the prior annual consultation. Some key data about the current state of the system should be addressed.  Perhaps also a summary of concerns from civil society could also be mentioned in the consultation. And some thought should be given to some key messages that would be useful to communicate to the states at the consultation.

  • please re-open this segment of the annual meeting to NGOs so they can attend and listen if they wish to
  • compile a list of suggestions and concerns raised at the prior year’s consultation with states, and include a brief report on treaty body system developments on those items
  • key message 1 – the need for more resources: communicate the clear need for more resources for the treaty body system, and the impacts from the lack of those resources; preferably include both an overall statistical measure of the resource need and some particular examples of where the lack of resources is having a current negative impact on the system
  • key message 2 -- late reporting behavior by states wastes resources: communicate the clear message that delays in state reporting compliance, in particular late and non-reporting behavior, submitting reports that are over the page limits, and failing to respond timely to requests, has a time and resource wasting impact on the system; it creates “noise” in a system that needs to be as efficient in the use of resources as possible; if feasible present some clear statistics describing this impact and how it wastes resources
  • key message 3 -- government websites. We urge all states to think of ways to improve their public dissemination of human rights treaty information to their constituents, including through the use of the Internet and new technologies; every state party at this point should have a public website that reports its activities and its coming events in the treaty body system, includes posting copies of recent concluding observations and reports, and scheduled civil society consultations on implementing recommendations and preparing upcoming reports. The government website should inform its agencies and civil society about human rights and the treaty commitments of their state. For example, please see my suggestions on what a well-managed government website on treaty obligations should at a minimum contain. 
Improving engagement with national human rights institutions (agenda item 9)

The second item to be discussed in Wednesday's session of the Treaty Body Chairs meeting is how to improve the engagement of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) with the treaty body system.

It is true that NHRI involvement in the treaty body system is light.  This is another area that might benefit from some statistical analysis – how often do NHRIs participate in the state reporting function or other functions of the treaty bodies? Is the engagement improving or decreasing?  What type of involvement adds the most value to the treaty body system results? 

It may also be useful to investigate how the treaty body system could make it easier for NHRIs to participate.  Perhaps a more user-friendly website and procedures. Perhaps create a website page that specifically addresses the issue, titled something like “how NHRIs can effectively engage with the treaty body system.”

Better information on treaty body jurisprudence might also be helpful, including up to date information on latest individual case decisions.

Another idea might be to encourage NHRIs more toward the implementation side of the treaty body system, and less toward the shadow reporting function which tends to be extensive and time consuming.

One should always also bear in mind the Paris Principles to ensure true independence of NHRI contributions.

The link to the OHCHR background paper on this topic is not working as of today.

  • compile statistics on the extent of NHRI engagement in treaty body activities; is the engagement increasing or decreasing?
  • Conduct a survey of NHRIs asking them how the treaty body system could improve its information and procedures in a way that would make it easier for NHRIs to participate
  • Create a separate webpage on the OHCHR site directed toward NHRIs, listing relevant resources and explaining how NHRIs can get more involved
  • Address in particular how NHRIs can be more involved in the implementation side of the treaty body activities. Perhaps encourage them to submit reports on the follow up recommendations from Concluding Observations and views. Even a brief type of scorecard of which recommendations have been implemented by the state and which have not, as of the reporting deadline.
  • Please note that the OHCHR background paper on this topic was not available at this time. The link that identifies it does not work.  


Like the other topics on the agenda, both of these subjects would benefit by more statistical evaluation, and more website information that can make the treaty body system more user friendly. All of this takes money and resources of course, which are in great shortage in the current UN budget.  But the need for more resources too should be a clear message that is communicated to states parties.  

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, on the agenda items scheduled for the Committee’s Thursday session.

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