Posts Tagged ‘Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria’

New academic study of UN human rights treaty system calls for online databases on impact

February 16, 2020

Christof Heyns (University of Pretoria; Member of the UN Human Rights Committee.) and Frans Viljoen (Director, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria) reported on 11 February 2020 in Global Rights on the progress being made in a new, global academic study to answer the question “What difference does the UN human rights treaty system make, and why?”.

An comprehensive research project on the impact of the treaty system, which started some years ago, is now being expanded into a global study….The first steps of the study were taken two decades ago by a team of researchers coordinated from the University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR). …..The researchers documented numerous instances of impact, and we were in a position to draw general conclusions, published as a book and an article. This included that the evidence showed that the treaty system has had an enormous impact on the protection of human rights on the ground, in particular through the—recognized or unrecognized—incorporation of treaty norms into domestic law.

The following factors were found to be among those that have enhanced its impact: a strong domestic constituency for specific treaties; national action plans; and the windows of opportunity that comes with a change to democracy. We also laid strong emphasis on a greater emphasis on the role of national human rights institutions in mediating impact, and for them to do follow-up.

Factors found to have limited the impact of the system included the following: concerns for State sovereignty; a lack of knowledge of the system; the absence of a robust domestic human right culture; ineffective coordination between governmental departments; an ad-hoc approach to reporting; federalism; reprisals against human rights defenders; a preference for regional systems; and weak follow-up by treaty bodies.

We reported a rallying cry from many far-flung countries that ‘Geneva is very far’—not only in terms of geography but also in terms of accessibility and psychological ownership. And we proposed that the treaty bodies should consider holding some of their meetings away from  UN headquarters in Geneva.

Now, twenty years later, we are reviewing the same 20 countries, again with the help of researchers based in the respective countries, and again in collaboration with the OHCHR. We are asking the same questions. This study is now nearing completion, and we plan to publish it in the middle of next year, this time, with Professor Rachel Murray from Bristol University as co-editor. The data from the more recent study is still coming in. So far, the results provide further evidence of the strong impact of the system in most countries. However, a systematic analysis will only be possible once all the data has been gathered.

In the meantime, some of the issues identified up in the earlier study have been taken up within the system. There is for example a much stronger recognition of the role of national implementation and monitoring mechanisms. The Disability Rights Convention adopted in 2007, explicitly calls for creation of national ‘focal points’ and the designation of national human rights institutions to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the Convention….

The need to ‘bring the system closer to the ground’  is now recognized by a range of NGOs in preparation for the 2020 review of treaty bodies. The idea of treaty body meetings outside Geneva was advanced again by Heyns and Gravett in a blog two years ago, also on the basis of the regional experience, and the first such meeting for a UN treaty body is now being planned for 2020.

During the course of these two studies, we became very aware of the importance of getting a clear picture of the impact of the system, but also of the limitations of what we were doing. With only 20 countries covered, the sample size is quite limited; and, providing a snapshot at a particular moment in those countries means they are quickly overtaken by events. Following wide consultation, we are currently in the process of setting up an online database, where information on the impact of the system in all UN member states will be posted. The 20 country studies mentioned above, as well as the supporting documentation, will for a start be posted on a website. In the meantime, clinical groups are being formed at universities around the world, where international students are gathering the relevant information on their home countries, to be posted on the website. We anticipate that up to 50 new countries will be covered per year and ones covered earlier will be updated. In an era of crowd-sourcing, contributions from all interested parties—NGOs, individual researchers etc.—will be solicited.

This will be a large-scale and long-term research project, but hopefully it will help to allow the collective wisdom of people anywhere in the world to ensure that the treaty system remains as effective and as responsive to the needs of our time as is possible. It is also intended, in some way, to be a response to the lament that ‘Geneva is very far’ and to ensure that the treaty system is brought closer to the actual rights-holders, even if only virtually.

The treaty system has played a pivotal role in developing the substantive norms of the global human rights project over the last six decades. The future of the treaty system depends on whether it will continue to lead the way on substance, but more is required: it will have to enhance its visibility and broaden its ownership to a global audience, and treaty norms will have to find their way into domestic law and practices. This is the gap that the new study aims to help fill.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/17/treaty-bodies-case-law-database-saved-and-resurrected-by-un/

https://www.openglobalrights.org/what-difference-does-un-human-rights-treaty-system-make/

Report of the Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture 2019

July 24, 2019

Panelists at the 2019 Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture

The Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture was held at the Graduate Institute 18 July 2019 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/nelson-mandela-human-rights-lecture-in-geneva-on-18-july-2019/]. For the lecture, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Albie Sachs, Former Judge of the South African Constitutional Court, were present to share their incredible personal experiences of fighting for human rights.

Establishing the Rule of Law in South Africa as a form of ‘Soft Vengeance’ against Apartheid

A piece of paper, a body, a voice and the dreams of millions of people, including our hope; for those of you in the audience, that’s my text for today’, began Mr Sachs, who had fought against apartheid since age 17, was appointed by Nelson Mandela to the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1994 and played a critical role in the creation of the first draft of South Africa’s Bill of Rights, adopted in 1996 by the South African parliament as an integral part of the South African Constitution. Mr Sachs explained that his efforts to establish a rule of law in South Africa were a form of ‘soft vengeance’ against apartheid, exemplified through his own, personal tribulation. On 7 April 1988 in Mozambique, as a result of a car bomb, he lost his right arm. …Commenting on the trial of one of the accused car bombers, Mr Sachs said, ‘My vengeance will be if the person receives a fair trial, and if his guilt is not beyond doubt, will be acquitted, because this will prove that we will have established the rule of law’.

Standing Up and Acting for Change

Michelle Bachelet recounted her own experience as a human rights defender. She told of dictatorship in Chile, the torture and killing of her father and her mother’s detention. In defiance of the anger she felt at her family’s situation, she found the perseverance to stand up and act for change, becoming the first woman President of Chile (dually elected), then Executive Director of UN Women, and eventually replacing Zeid Raad Al Hussein in 2018 as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

‘[…] the world today faces complex challenges, challenges too big for one country, challenges that do not respect borders’, she said. ‘[…] And we see a pushback on human rights. And I say, let’s pushback the pushback’.

Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture Michelle Bachelet

Video of the Lecture. You can watch here the Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture in its entirety.

https://www.geneva-academy.ch/news/detail/247-human-rights-warriors-tell-their-stories-at-the-nelson-mandela-human-rights-lecture

 

Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture in Geneva on 18 July 2019

July 12, 2019

On the occasion of Nelson Mandela International Day, Albie Sachs, Former Judge of the South African Constitutional Court, and Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will reflect on today’s challenges to human rights and how to move the human rights agenda forward based on their personal experiences.

THURSDAY 18 JULY 2019, 18:00 – 19:30  AUDITORIUM IVAN PICTET | MAISON DE LA PAIX, GENEVA

Welcome remarks:

  • Andrew Clapham, Professor of Public International Law, the Graduate Institute, Geneva
  • Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, Ambassador, South African Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva

Keynote speech:

  • Albie Sachs, Former Judge, Constitutional Court of South Africa

Discussion with:

  • Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Christof Heyns, Professor of Human Rights Law, University of Pretoria (moderator)
  • Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, Ambassador, South African Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva
  • Albie Sachs, Former Judge, Constitutional Court of South Africa

Closing remarks:

  • Frans Viljoen, Director, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture is presented by the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, the Washington College of Law at the American University, the Human Rights Council Branch at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in collaboration with the South African Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

This lecture is part of the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition and will be followed by a reception.

https://graduateinstitute.ch/communications/events/nelson-mandela-human-rights-lecture