The Treaty Body Members Platform in 2020: A Special Year

The Treaty Body Members Platform (TBMP), an initiative of the Geneva Human Rights Platform, connects experts in United Nations (UN) treaty bodies (TBs) with each other as well as with Geneva-based practitioners, academics and diplomats to share expertise, exchange views on topical questions and develop synergies.

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most meetings and exchanges had to take place online.

From Informal Personal Meetings to Online Sessions

‘This initiative allows for informal personal meetings across the various TBs, with their members discussing thematic issues and organizational question among themselves as well as with other Geneva-based actors. This informal and inter-personal dimension is at the core of the TBMP and makes this initiative an appreciated offer among TBs members’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier, Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

‘Yet, in this year marked by the COVID-19, the format had to be adapted and only one ‘normal’ session could be held at the beginning of the year. After that, we had to move all the sessions online but managed to keep the informal nature of the discussions and exchanges that are at the core of this initiative’ he adds.

A session of the UN Human Rights Committee

A Pioneer in the Organization of Online Meetings

The move to online meetings started by mid-April with an informal meeting – co-organized with the Human Rights Institute at Columbia University Law School – bringing together UN TBs Chairpersons and focal points for the 2020 Review, initially scheduled to take place at Columbia University in New York.

‘We managed to organize this meeting online in a record time and this is in fact one of the first Zoom conferences for the system that allowed us to discuss issues around the 2020 Review by the UN General Assembly, establishing the commonalities of positions of states, TBs members, NGOs and academia’ explains Felix Kirchmeier.

Substantive Discussions: From the Impact of Pesticides to Corruption

The TBMP also allowed for discussions ranging from the impact of pesticides on the rights to health and life to concrete ways on how to bring corruption cases to the various TBs individual communication procedures.

‘It is key to keep discussing the specific inroads to the UN TB system, both for the victims as well as to keep the system alerted and connected to the work of NGOs and grassroots organizations who can benefit from this interaction’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier.

The Work of UN TBs during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Another important online meeting – co-organized with Paris Human Rights Center and, for one segment, with civil society – focused on how TBs can coordinate their working methods in the ongoing situation of online meetings. It notably involved members of the formal TB working group on COVID working methods, but also some TB Chairs and other members. As the insecurity of the sanitary and thus travel situation continues, TBs members underlined that they cannot allow any widening of the protection gap created by the postponement of state reviews. Thus, they subsequently decided, as a provisional measure, to take up the reviews in an online format in 2021.

Building on the Positive Aspects of Online Meetings

The online meetings of the TBMP showed both the limits of virtual informal exchanges, but also their potential. More participants could join than in face-to-face meetings, where participation is usually restricted to the TBs members who are in session in Geneva.

‘These online meetings allowed us to have, each time, the 10 TBs represented. The interpretation features and other technical means to increase the accessibility of the discussions also went beyond what we can usually offer at Villa Moynier’ explains Felix Kirchmeier.

‘In 2021, we hope to be able to welcome TBs members again in person in Geneva, but the first part of the year will probably be fully online. In any case, we will build on the positive aspects and developments we experimented during 2020 and the expertise we developed in organizing large online meetings’ he adds.

A man typing on a laptop