Posts Tagged ‘treaty bodies’

COVID-19 emergencies should not be shortcut to silencing human rights defenders

March 17, 2020

Following on the heels of the joint statement on the Corona virus by the two High Commissioners [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/17/two-high-commissioners-issue-rare-joint-statement-re-covid-19/], more than a dozen U.N. experts on issues including on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, health, education, and religious belief, along with the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention signed a statement urging Governments in crisis mode not to use the emergency measures to suppress human rights.

The rights experts, who are appointed by the United Nations Human Rigbhts Council but who do not speak on behalf of the world body, said they recognized “the severity of the current health crisis and acknowledge that the use of emergency powers is allowed by international law in response to significant threats” but they went on to “urgently remind states that any emergency responses to the coronavirus must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory.

The experts stressed that the use of emergency powers should be declared publicly and the U.N. treaty bodies should be notified if fundamental rights, including movement, family life, and assembly were being significantly limited. “Moreover, emergency declarations based on the COVID-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals,” they insisted. The emergency, the experts said, “should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders.”

They warned that some states might find the use of emergency powers “attractive because it offers shortcuts.” “To prevent such excessive powers to become hardwired into legal and political systems, restrictions should be narrowly tailored and should be the least intrusive means to protect public health,” they said.

 

Emergency Powers in Virus Fight Must Not be Used to Quash Dissent: UN Experts

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/

Lack of funds forces lack of oversight by UN

May 20, 2019

wrting for IPS on 20 May 2019 relates that the “    

The Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says six of the UN’s 10 treaty bodies are being forced to cancel their sessions this year due to financial reasons. The situation has been described as “an unprecedented consequence of some UN member States delaying payments due to the Organisation.” Anna-Karin Holmlund, Senior UN Advocate at Amnesty International, told IPS: “Amnesty is deeply concerned by member states’ delay in paying their assessed contributions, which will have a direct effect on the ability of the UN to carry out its vital human rights work.” By 10 May, only 44 UN member states – out of 193 — had paid all their assessments due, with the United States owing the largest amount.

The OHCHR said last week the cancellations meant that reviews already scheduled with member states, as well as consideration of complaints by individual victims of serious human rights violations — including torture, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances -– will not take place as scheduled. “The cancellation of sessions will also have numerous other negative consequences, and will seriously undermine the system of protections which States themselves have put in place over decades,” said a statement released by the OHCHR.

The chairpersons of the 10 Committees are deeply concerned about the practical consequences of cancelling these sessions and have sent a letter to the UN Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, requesting they, together with Member States, explore ways of addressing this situation, “as a matter of urgency.”..

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/uns-mandate-protect-human-rights-takes-another-hit/

Third Committee of UN General Assembly 2018 will consider human rights issues

October 5, 2018

With the last session of the the Human Rights Council having been considered fruitful by civil society [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/29/in-spite-of-or-because-of-the-us-absence-the-39th-human-rights-council-considered-a-relative-success/], the focus is now on New York. This week, the UN General Assembly’s principal human rights committee – the Third Committee – kicked off its deliberations (Tuesday 2 October, running through to 21 November 2018).  This is a key moment in the year for UN member States to take action in support of the respect of human rights globally, through the negotiation and adoption of resolutions focused on thematic or country situations.   The ISHR provides the following insight:

Over 50 Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, chairs of working groups and treaty bodies will present findings and recommendations to the Committee, and engage in interactive dialogues with member States.  These reports and exchanges should inform the focus and shape of negotiated resolutions. 

The Committee will consider over 60 resolutions, this year focusing on a range of issues from extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to the rights of indigenous peoples, and the human rights situation in Syria.  Once adopted, resolutions will pass to the UN General Assembly plenary for confirmation in early December. 

While opportunities for civil society to interact with the Third Committee are more limited than those available at the Human Rights Council, NGOs can attend formal sessions, follow them on  UN Web TV and engage informally with individual member States.  For more on the Third Committee see here.  

ISHR will be working to see the inclusion of positive references to human rights defenders and civil society space, in Third Committee resolutions.  We will be monitoring the Third Committee closely, as well as the General Assembly plenary meetings, and reporting on key developments. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @ISHRglobal and at #UNGA73for the latest updates.

Also, note that the ISHR will be hosting two side events during the Third Committee session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/09/civil-society-participation-at-the-un-subject-of-ishr-event-on-17-july/]

The first event will be about implementing commitments on human rights defenders, and it will be held on Tuesday 23 October at 1:15 p.m-2.45pm. The location of the event is to be confirmed. See here for updates.

ISHR’s second event will focus on treaty bodies and the importance of ensuring transparent elections. ISHR aims to facilitate dialogue about ways to improve treaty bodies and election processes moving forward. Time and date for this event to be confirmed. See here for updates.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-73rd-session-agenda-third-committee

To say it again clearly: assaults on human rights defenders are incompatible with international human rights treaties

June 27, 2018

In a ground-breaking joint statement on 23 May 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and representatives from all of the UN human rights treaty bodies have affirmed that all forms of abuse or undue restrictions against human rights defenders constitute violations of States’ parties obligations towards the realisation of rights set out in the Treaties. The statement was adopted on the eve of the 30th annual meeting of Treaty Body chairs on the occasion of a consultation initiated by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and ISHR in New York.

This pronouncement constitutes a major step forward in the protection of human rights defenders and lays the ground for substantial enhancement of treaty body recommendations and jurisprudence in that area” says ISHR head of treaty body advocacy Vincent Ploton.

The statement reiterates the vital and central role played by human rights defenders to promote and support the application of the fundamental rights enshrined in the core international human rights treaties. It further contextualises the importance and relevance of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders which “reaffirms, is underpinned by, and elaborates binding human rights obligations, including rights set out in the Treaties, and is relevant to the interpretation and implementation of the Treaties”.

The Committee on economic, social and cultural rights (CESCR) was the first to adopt in 2016 a statement affirming that threats and violence against human rights defenders amount to violations of the Covenant. “We are delighted that fellow Treaty Bodies are now following suit with the adoption of this new joint statement”, says ISHR’s New York Director Madeleine Sinclair.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, the statement confirms that the core international human rights treaties and the Declaration prohibit discrimination against individuals and groups who champion such human rights norms and standards. It reaffirms that all individuals should be able to engage with treaty bodies free from all forms of interference, intimidation, abuse, threat, violence, reprisal, or undue restriction. It concludes with a series of practical measures that States ought to take to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders, including the adoption of specific legislation to protect and recognise defenders, and the revocation of legislation which restricts or hinders their work.

Read the full statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23154&LangID=E

[The statement was endorsed by the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and the following Treaty Body members in their individual capacity: Virginia Brás-Gomes, CESCR Chair; Dalia Leinarte, CEDAW Chair; Noureddine Amir, CERD Chair; Ahmadou Tall, CMW Chair; Danlami Basharu, CRPD Vice-Chair; Felice Gaer, CAT Vice-Chair; Marcia Kran, HRCttee member; Olga Khazova, CRC Vice-Chair and Satyabhooshun Gut Domah, SPT member.]

https://www.ishr.ch/news/treaty-bodies-threats-and-assaults-human-rights-defenders-incompatible-core-international-human

Academics want UN Treaty Bodies to become ‘fit for purpose’

May 9, 2018

The Geneva Academy’s new publication Optimizing the UN Treaty Body System outlines a series of recommendations related to the functioning of United Nations Treaty Bodies (UN TBs) to prepare for the upcoming review of UN TBs by the UN General Assembly in 2020. ‘While the last words will remain with states and TBs members, this report can provide a basis for negotiations and the blueprint for future changes’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier, co-coordinator of the Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020.

This work is the outcome of a three-year consultative process to collect academic inputs and ideas via the creation of an academic network of independent researchers, a call for papers, a series of regional consultations, annual and expert conferences, as well as ongoing interactions with key stakeholders: states, treaty bodies, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other parts of the UN. ‘The issue of TBs’ reform is almost as old as the system itself: many proposals that are on the table today were already formulated before. Our academic contribution takes these proposals out of their political context by analysing them, their relevance, their likelihood to be implemented and the possible need for updates’ adds Felix Kirchmeier.

The final objective of the publication and of the entire process is to make the TB system ‘fit for purpose’ by outlining measures to optimize its functioning, effectiveness and efficiency while safeguarding its key protection role and maintaining the existing legal framework.

‘While the publication provides several detailed recommendations, it notably call for a consolidated state report and a single review, or a semi-consolidated state report and two clustered reviews; the implementation of incremental changes in the TBs working methods; and a consolidation of TBs’ structure in terms of membership, as well as financial and substantial support’ underlines Kamelia Kemileva, Executive Manager at the Geneva Academy and co-coordinator of the Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020.

The 45-page study contains many interesting ideas and I copy here only one of particular interest which is to improve the system’s accessibility and visibility:

To meet its purpose, TB output must be accessible and visible. Many contributors expressed concern on this account. Modern technology offers easy solutions, some of which have been implemented but could be taken further.

Contributors unanimously welcomed the webcasting of country examinations and consider it an important improvement. However, they recommended that webcasts should be broadcast and archived in all working languages, as well as the language in which the review is held – the only one that is available at the moment. They also suggested that webcasts should be easier to access via links on the OHCHR home page in each country and via each committee’s session web page.

Many contributors also called for a readily accessible, up-to-date, comprehensive database of TB jurisprudence. It was noted that information on TB findings is currently hard to find (when available), that the database is incomplete, and that decisions are not always available in all UN official languages. Accessing and understanding TB jurisprudence remains a challenge for all stakeholders – whether they are victims of human rights violations, TB members, states, national and regional human rights mechanisms, civil society organizations, or scholars.

Contributors recommended that more user-friendly fact sheets and jurisprudence summaries should be prepared to disseminate TB findings and other important developments.

To increase visibility, contributors proposed maintaining dedicated pages on social media platforms. This would bring TBs’ work to the attention of larger audiences, assist Committees to update information on their activities, and create followers. More generally, the system’s achievements and impact on rights-holders should be better documented and publicized.

(my earlier posts on TBs include: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/06/the-outcome-of-the-treaty-body-strengthening-process-workshop-on-9-may-2014-in-geneva/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/18/on-24-october-there-is-a-side-event-in-ny-on-the-implementation-of-human-rights-treaty-body-recommendations/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/17/treaty-bodies-case-law-database-saved-and-resurrected-by-un/)

———–

https://www.geneva-academy.ch/news/detail/121-optimizing-the-un-treaty-bodies-system

On 24 October there is a side event in NY on the implementation of human rights treaty body recommendations

October 18, 2016

The Permanent Missions of Costa Rica, Finland, and Switzerland to the United Nations, together with Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), are organizing a side event in the margins of the General Assembly’s 71st session in New York on 24 October 2016 on the topic of: Implementation of United Nations human rights treaty body recommendations.

The event will take place at 3pm in Conference Room 6 of United Nations HQ in New York.

Some of the question to be discussed are: How can implementation of human rights treaty bodies’ recommendations be strengthened? What progress has there been in the area of follow-up and implementation since the High Commissioner’s 2012 report on strengthening the United Nations human rights treaty body system and Resolution 68/268? What are the national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up (NMRF) and which models have been the most effective in different States?

The discussion will focus on tools to encourage engagement and compliance with human rights treaty body recommendations in order to improve the promotion and protection human rights for all, including the treaty body follow-up procedures, national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up, and the role of civil society. Speakers will include representatives of treaty bodies, OHCHR, civil society, and government.

For more information, please contact m.sinclair@ishr.ch.

Profile of Sharon Hom, human rights defender working on China

January 12, 2016

The ISHR on 3 December 2015 carried a profile on Sharon Hom, human rights defender working on human rights in China.

Read the rest of this entry »

Treaty bodies case law database saved and resurrected by UN

February 17, 2015

For someone who 25 years ago (!!) started the development of legal databases on human rights (specifically the legal protection of refugees) and wrote articles about it (e.g Int J Refugee Law (1989) (1):89-100.doi: 10.1093/ijrl/1.1.89Pp. 89-100, see ABSTRACT below), the news that the UN has now published, on-line, a database of case law on human rights is exciting and it should be for all practitioners.

The new site http://juris.ohchr.org/ contains all case law issued by the UN human rights expert committees, the Treaty Bodies.

The database was developed using data from the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) of Utrecht University School of Law (of which I had the honor to be the first Director). Since the mid-1990s, SIM had developed a comprehensive record on the jurisprudence stemming from the decisions by four Treaty Bodies on complaints brought by individuals.  Over 20 years, academics compiled and indexed Treaty Bodies’ case law, making the SIM database the most authoritative online resource on this. Due to budget restrictions, SIM stopped updating the database  from 1 January 2014 and took it offline on 1 January 2015. However, SIM offered its data free of charge to the UN Human Rights Office.

This allowed us to build our own database, with an expanded remit and search capability, and we aim to continue developing it. It is an important part of our efforts to make the work of the Treaty Bodies more visible and accessible, and we hope it will benefit a range of users all over the world,” said Mr. Ibrahim Salama Director of the UN Human Rights Treaties Division. .

There are 10 Treaty Bodies that review and monitor how States that have ratified a particular treaty are implementing the rights contained in it. Eight (listed below) can also consider complaints by individuals who believe their rights have been violated and who have exhausted all the legal steps in their own country.

The site http://juris.ohchr.org contains case law indexed by various categories, including State, date, subject and keywords, which can all be used as search criteria. Users can submit their comments on the functioning of the database as part of ongoing efforts to improve it.

The Committees that can receive and consider individual complaints are:

  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Abstract of 1989 article on the development of legal databases: “Today’s information technology can be used to improve the legal protection of refugees, by providing information relevant to the asylum procedure, and laying the foundation for progressive development at the international level. The positive potential of legal databases is only now beginning to be realised, thanks to pioneering efforts within human rights and related documentation centre networks. UNHCR is helping to set up a case law database, in co-operation with non-governmental organizations. A database on national legislation is also planned, as is a full text database of international legal instruments database. Legal literature continues to be covered by the database REFLIT (REFugee LITerature) of UNHCR’s Centre for Documentation on Refugees (CDR/UNHCR). This article examines two basic kinds of information-retrieval systems, ‘free text’, and ‘indexed’, and considers their different structures, uses and search procedures, with reference to work on a forthcoming refugee thesaurus. The author calls attention to the need for standard formats, such as those of HURIDOCS, and to problems of scope and coverage. He suggests that information and documentation are areas in which practical co-operation between the UN, governments and non-governmental organizations could be implemented to advantage.”

DisplayNews.

Treaty Bodies add ammunition to struggle against reprisals

May 20, 2014

Thanks to Theo van Boven, who alerted me, I am happy to report another small step in the war against reprisals. On 21 April 2014 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Strengthening on the Treaty Bodies in which operative paragraph 8 strongly condemns intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and others who coöperate with the treaty bodies. (A/RES/69/268).   For text of resolution: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/68/268

for more posts on reprisals: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/