Friday, June 26, 2015

Treaty body chairs meeting, item 4(g)

Here are my comments to item 4(g) of the agenda of the treaty body chairs meeting:

 Item 4(g) Update on the post-2015 development agenda

      The one subject I would like to raise in connection with the post-2015 development agenda is rebuilding after natural disasters and civil conflicts.  This topic includes economic, social and cultural rights of course, but also making sure that a human rights approach is used in rescuing and rebuilding people’s lives.

Infographic courtesy of
The Nepal earthquakes. For example, within two weeks of the first of two major earthquakes in Nepal, over fifty countries were reported to have contributed rescue teams, supplies and/or aid to the country.  All of these countries of course have human rights treaty commitments; 43 of the 50 are a party to the CRPD; and 35 of the 50 had appearances coming up in the treaty body system during 2015.  It is suggested that a few questions be reserved in the constructive dialogue with state parties to ask about human rights issues in such disasters. Was a human rights approach used in the way that emergency/rebuilding assistance was delivered and implemented? Were vulnerable groups consulted in how local communities were rebuilt or priorities established? 

Every human rights treaty has some provisions relevant to a disaster situation. Some, like CRPD, directly address ensuring the protection and safety “of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters” (article 11).  All treaties have obligations relating to international cooperation. Most treaties have no limit regarding the protection of human rights only to its own territory but speak in terms of the human rights of “all persons” who are affected by its actions.  It is recommended that the treaty body system establish a task force composed of representatives from each of the treaty bodies to identify both common and unique issues in their respective treaty instruments regarding human rights obligations of states in times of natural disaster, and that this topic be made a regular part of each Committee’s constructive dialogue and report reviews with state parties when that government has been involved either directly or through aid efforts in a natural disaster or civil conflict situation.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Treaty body chairs meeting, item 6

Here are my comments to item 6 on the agenda. 

Item 6 Consultations in Costa Rica (6(a) NHRIs and 6(d) civil society)

·      Include summary of comments in final report. I hope the Committee’s final report includes a summary of the comments offered in the consultations with local civil society representatives

·      Option to submit comments privately? Were local civil society organisations given an opportunity to provide their comments in a private meeting on request? I note that this item 6 of the agenda and the accompanying program of work schedule indicates that consultations with local human rights institutions, the Inter American bodies, diplomats and NHRIs were all to be conducted in closed meetings. Only the consultation with civil society was in an open, public session. If any civil society organisations preferred a private briefing I hope they were given that opportunity in the session.

·      Priorities for NGOs. What issues do NGOs in the region feel the treaty body system should be prioritizing? [the following items come from an informal NGO survey that I conducted in 2014; a similar survey will be done in 2015]
  • Better scheduling announcements so it is more clear when events concerning your country are coming up
  • More focus on implementation
  • More time, space and consideration given to NGO input
  • More practical information on "know your rights" and "how to implement treaty body recommendations"
  • More information on the current status of follow up of particular concluding observations and Views (case decisions) with your country
  • Improved webcasting
  • Improve individual complaint mechanisms and the information on how to use them
  • more effectively drafted concluding observations
  • Improve the questioning practice and the time allocation between states and committee members during the review of reports
  • more focus on late and missing reports, and more criticism of reports which fail to respond to the issues raised but are over the page limits
  • better UN press release coverage
  • Other (please specify)

·        Treaty body best practices – NGO perspective. See NGO wish list that I posted under item 4(d)

·        Implementation. I note that the subject of implementation does not appear anywhere in this year’s meeting agenda (other than in the context of implementing Resolution 68/268). However, implementation of treaty body recommendations by states parties should be of primary importance. I hope the Committee devotes some space in its final report to the topic of implementation and makes it a more prominent part of its agenda next year.

Implementation guidance. For lack of any better part of the agenda to place this discussion under, I offer here an idea for providing a better reference for states parties, NGOs and other stakeholders, to better follow the topic of implementation.  The proposal is to create a space on each Committee’s website that would list all relevant “implementation guidance” documents that the Committee refers to in its various concluding observations, general comments and other statements and reports. I note for example that CESCR often refers to a number of specialized documents with reference to particular recommendations. 

For example [Implementation guidance documents, CESCR]:
·       General comment 3 on the nature of States parties’ obligations under the Covenant, especially with respect to the periodic evaluation of budget allocations for human rights based programmes (“maximum available resources’)
·       General comment 4 on the right to adequate housing
·       General comment 5 on persons with disabilities
·       General comment 7 on the right to adequate housing: forced evictions
·       General comment 9 on domestic application of the Covenant
·       General comment 10 on the role of national human rights institutions
·       The Paris Principles on establishment of an independent, adequately resources national human rights institution
·       General comment 12 on the right to adequate food
·       Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2004
·       General comment 13 on the right to education
·       General comment 14 on the right to the highest attainable standard of health
·       General comment 15 on the right to water
·       The Committee’s statement on the right to sanitation (2010 or 2011)
·       General comment 16 on the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights
·       General comment 18 on the right to work
·       ILO conventions 87 and 98 on labour unions and trade associations
·       General comment 19 on the right to social security
·       The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202) – relating to evaluating the adequacy of social security programs
·       The Committee’s Statement on Social Protection Floors, entitled “An essential element of the right to social security and of the sustainable development goals.” Adopted at the 54th session, March 6, 2015.  Issued as doc no. E/C.12/2015/1, dated 15 April 2015
·       General comment 20 on non-discrimination
·       Technical guidance on the application of a human rights-based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce preventable maternal morbidity and mortality (A/HRC/21/22).
·       The Committee’s statement on poverty and the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights (2001)
·       Conceptual and methodological framework for human rights indicators developed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (see HRI/MC/2008/3).
·       Statement on Ebola at the 53rd session (November 2014) (
·       Letter of 16 May 2012 to states parties on the protection of economic, social & cultural rights when austerity measures are taken in a financial crisis (available at the Committee website, under the heading “Statements and open letters”).

A similar list could be compiled for each of the other treaty bodies.  It would be very useful to list each of these documents, with a link to each, organized alphabetically by topic, in an easy-to-find location on the Committee website (perhaps you could poll the NGOs present at your consultation on whether this would be of assistance to them in their advocacy work).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Treaty body chairs meeting, item 4(e)

Here are my comments to item 4(e) on the agenda of the treaty body chairs. 

Item 4(e) Briefing on the OHCHR treaty body capacity-building programme

  •       Measureable statistics – does reporting compliance improve after these programmes are implemented?
  •       Should include implementation topics in the capacity-building training, including a listing of implementation guidance documents that should be consulted by the state party for each treaty, indexed by topic
  •       Encourage continuity of personnel on the state party’s treaty body team, new members should join after last review, go through the OHCHR training, and serve through next report’s review
  •       Capacity building should include how often and how to update common core report
  •       Encourage establishment of a standing, national reporting and implementation mechanism – identify common success factors
  •       Encourage official government websites be established by each state party, posting information on the state party’s treaty body compliance
  •       Encourage consultation with civil society in creating and operating the capacity-building programme; polling the local civil society on its concerns should be part of best practices identified in the capacity building program

Treaty body chairs meeting, item 4(d)

The chairpersons of the UN human rights treaty bodies continue to meet this week in Costa Rica. Here are my comments to item 4(d) of their agenda.

 Item 4(d) Reporting compliance by states

·      More transparent statistics. It is hoped that the treaty bodies can produce more transparent statistics on state reporting compliance. See the suggested measurements I listed as examples to my comments earlier, under agenda item 4(a), posted yesterday

·      Index to prior concluding observations in the next state report. To be able to better track whether state parties respond completely to the prior concluding observations of the Committee, the state party in its next periodic report should be asked to provide an index or listing in the table of contents, indicating where the response to each recommendation can be found in the report. 

·       LOIPR. When a state party has opted for the LOIPR process, it should be made clear that they are still responsible for responding to each of the prior concluding observations of the Committee. Or if some of the recommendations have become obsolete or duplicates, this should be clearly identified by the Committee when it is issuing its list of issues to the state party. 

·      Follow up. The follow up process could also be reported more transparently – how many state parties respond on time, how adequate are the responses, what if any comments were received by NGOs to the state party’s responses. Presently most of the treaty bodies report this data either annually in their annual reports, or per session, but no summary statistics are given – a 40 page spreadsheet containing such data is not easy to analyze. Also, please make it more clear to NGOs as to when they can respond to the follow up actions of a state party, including subsequent follow up requests made to the state party after the first submission.  The NGO submissions should be posted on the Committee website, or a summary of it included in the follow up report (which is the current practice of the Human Rights Committee).

·      Press releases. Treaty bodies should consider issuing press releases or reports to the press on a country by country basis, of the follow up process and the status with respect to that particular state party.

·      Data on list of issues. would also be helpful if there were reporting data provided on responses to the list of issues by states, and the follow up requested at the end of the session if some questions were not answered during the session due to lack of time.

·      End to end reporting. In other words, reporting compliance should be measured from end to end at each step of the reporting cycle, not just on the periodic or initial report itself

·      Common core reports. Common core reports should also be monitored for latest updates and page limits.

·      Government websites. States should be encouraged to establish official government websites on their human rights treaty obligations, updated with latest information, linked to each Committee website, & cross-linked from the Committee website back to the official government website

·      NGO wish list of harmonized best practices. While the General Assembly has indicated its list of practices that it would like to see harmonized in each of the treaty bodies, nothing is mentioned about practices that would improve NGO accessibility and involvement in the treaty body system. Here is an NGO wish list of such items, focusing on best practices of particular treaty bodies where available:

Desired practice or procedure
1. Reprisals
Each committee should have a focal point and a clear procedure for responding to reprisals.
2. Follow up process for concluding observations
The follow up process for concluding observations should be made more transparent to civil society.
·       Does each Committee accept submissions from NGOs in the follow up process?
·       When should an NGO submit a report on a particular state party’s followup, if the NGO wants its report to be considered by the Committee at the same time as the state report?
·       If the state party fails to respond on time but NGO submissions are timely submitted, the Committee should consider publicly posting such NGO reports on its website and in its reports on follow up.
·       Follow up statistics should be reported each session, and should be kept timely (some Committees are letting 2 or 3 sessions pass after the 12-month due date, before beginning to list the state  party in its follow up reporting). 
·       Also the follow up reporting by the Committee should include a list of state parties who have not yet responded (and are overdue); it should not just focus on those responses that have been received.
NGOs should be given adequate notice of state parties scheduled for an LOIPR report so that the NGO can provide timely feedback into the various steps in the process.
4. Review of non-reporting states
Each treaty body should have a procedure for reviewing non-reporting states and should invite NGOs to submit reports for such reviews.
5. Table of pending cases
CESCR’s practice of posting a table of pending individual communications is very helpful.  Other treaty bodies are encouraged to follow this practice.
6. NGO briefings
Scheduling NGO briefings as close as possible to the actual state party review facilitates travel and rooming expense of the NGOs, especially ones that have come long distances. Private briefings should also be available for those who request it.
7. Videoconferencing
The availability of videoconferencing for NGOs who are long distances from Geneva and without practical means of travel, should be encouraged. Currently a few treaty bodies are experimenting with videoconferencing in a few cases. We would encourage all of the treaty bodies to have such a procedure and to clearly notify on its website how it can be invoked.
8. Webcasting
Full,  end-to-end UN quality webcasting should be provided of all public treaty body sessions, and of the public sessions of this Committee of Treaty Body Chairs.  The webcasting should be indexed and archived, readily accessible to civil society.
9. Subscribe to updates in particular webpage content
A website user should be able to subscribe to updates of specific Committee webpages so that he or she can be notified anytime new content is uploaded to the site.
10. Availability of documentation
Documentation from each treaty body session often lags 1-3 months or more after the session. This makes it very difficult for NGOs to follow up on and make use of such materials in their advocacy efforts. Better on-time availability should be sought and measured.  From my reviews CEDAW seems to be the best at providing documentation quickly in the present system, including soon after a session has concluded.
11. NGO submissions to individual complaint process
Amicus-type submissions in individual complaints. Third party input into pending individual complaints before the Committee is currently being considered in at least one Committee (CESCR), which would be a welcome addition to the procedures permitting NGO input. No Committee has yet adopted procedures of this nature, but it is hoped that this process is coming soon.
12. Implementation.
Each Committee should have a standing agenda item on implementation, considered at least in part in public session, and should regularly invite NGO comment on how to improve implementation. Also, each Committee should list on its website any documents it regularly refers to in its concluding observations that are of the nature of “implementation guidance” documents. More on this topic will be discussed under my item 6(d) comments, to be posted tomorrow.