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The UN Human Rights Treaty Body System: Analysis of Procedural Developments in 2020

Kunaal Sinha,

Research Intern,

Internationalism.


The Human Rights Treaty Body System forms an important committee of the UN. This body has experts who review the reports submitted by State Parties. This body keeps a check on the state party by ensuring they are fulfilling their goals and obligations. Not only does it keep a check on the state parties but it also provides assistance to state parties to make sure that the provisions of the respective treaties are respected.

How successful are these policy changes in achieving the goal of equal human rights to all? There have been few changes in the resolutions to strengthen the Human Rights Treaty Body System and make it more effective. To track the changes in the policies and measure the effectiveness of the same we would be comparing the three biennial reports of Secretary-General. We can see that there has been a decrease in backlog from 258 in December 2015 to 230 in December 2017 and a further decrease by 20.4 percentage in the term of 2018 to 2019. This improvement in efficiency is due to an increase in the meeting time as decided in para 26 of the General Assembly resolution 68/268. Although these new policies have increased the efficiency of treaty bodies, we can see that there has not been much growth of the same. There has been an increase in the scope of work of the treaty body, as now it also assists in inquiry procedures, capacity building of state parties and comparing the statistics, we can say that there has been an increase in the ratifications by the state parties. The General Assembly in its resolution had admitted to the fact that it needs more resources, but instead of providing more resources, this policy change has put a bar on the resources which the treaty body already had. Referring to para 30 of the Resolution 68/268, the resolution puts a restriction on the documentation to just three languages, thereby reducing the documentation of the treaty bodies system. Though the intended goal was to reduce the cost involved with documentation instead it diluted the goals of the intergovernmental process. The intergovernmental process was launched in 2012 under the General Assembly resolution 66/254 with an aim to strengthen and enhance the functioning of the human rights treaty body system. The goal of this process was to conduct open, transparent, and inclusive negotiations. This transparency was not possible with the bar of three working languages. Though under the resolution 73/162 and the latest biennial report there has been no mention of such restriction, rather an emphasis has been laid down under General Assembly resolution 73/162 on importance of multilingualism as well as the importance of documenting in all the six official languages has been recognized for the effective functioning of the General Assembly resolution 73/162.

Apart from the increased meeting time there has also been a fixation of weekly workloads to not overburden the state parties as well as this helps in provides evenly distributed workload. The cost-cutting in documentation by way of putting restrictions on the number of languages is not possible, but restricting the length of documentation by helping the state parties in focusing their reports on short and important point is a good policy change. This too can lead to inconsistency with the goals of the treaty body that is being unable to submit everything within that report. To cut the costs what would be more, effective is the use of videoconferencing. Resolution 68/268 and 73/162 mentions the need to live webcast, though this would be more accessible but does not help in cutting cost, what would be more efficient is developing a secure live video conferencing facility which would cut cost needed for technical support as well as cut the spending done on the travel allowances as well as other allowances given to the experts forming the core part of United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body. This been said, the other policy change requires the need for a disabled-friendly website. Though the resolution states that the videos of these meetings should be made available online in sign language. There is no implementation of the same. If archives of videos in sign language are not possible as it would incur additional costs, there is a requirement to submit reports on the reasons why an easy to read formats haven’t been made available. There needs to be a permanent seat reserved for the disabled experts and the provision for the same should not be kept for exceptional cases on an ad hoc basis. The third biennium report expresses the need for more staff as the existing staff is unable to produce the documents for review by the committee. For increasing the efficiency of staff, experts can be provided with assistants, this field of assistants can be occupied by anyone from the academic field and the main purpose of these assistants would be to assist in briefing the experts on party reports and researching on the same. As per the third biennial report of Secretary-General, insufficient staff results in postponing the party meetings and these postponements would in the future lead to non-obligation of state parties and increase of the backlogs and the issue raised would also not be solved in time. Are there any temporary reliefs from such situations? The General Assembly shall pass a resolution for establishing temporary relief tribunals, which fast track the important human rights violations under any treaty.

Under the resolution of 68/268 of the General Assembly, it is urged to follow the simplified procedure wherein the treaty body sends in a questionnaire to the state parties and expects a report based on the questionnaire. The third biennial report by the Secretary-General criticizes this method on the grounds that this method has resource implications. The General Secretary is only partly correct in contending resource implications. As this though requires more time but helps the treaty bodies in addressing one concern at a time and reduces documentation burden. Under this method, all the states can send in their specific responses in the main document and any additional concerns can be raised via an attachment. This would not only reduce the burden of treaty bodies but would also help in concise drafting of reports by the state body. This will prevent the time utilized in the state party meetings for reviews of issues raised by the state parties.

Statement by H.E Tijjani Muhammad Bande, President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, comes during the crisis of COVID-19, this session would be conducted online, she mentions that this would not have the same impact as that of face to face meetings. There should not be any impediment in creation due to the conduction of virtual meetings, and that sign language can also be broadcasted side to side with the speaker. These videos can easily be made accessible in the archives.

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