Pilot Exercise Brings UN Treaty Bodies from Geneva to the Field

From 7 to 9 December 2021, the Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) conducted in Sierra Leone and in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat a pilot of a United Nations (UN) treaty bodies (TBs) focused review – i.e. a review carried out between the reporting cycles at the national level and designed to discuss how countries implement specific recommendations issued by UN TBs.

Florence Simbiri-Jaoko – a member of the GHRP Advisory Board –, Domenico Zipoli and Julio Veiga-Bezerra travelled to Freetown to discuss the implementation of the latest recommendations issued by four UN TBs – the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – with national actors.

They were accompanied by a UN TB delegation composed of one member (or former member) from each committee selected, one staff of the Commonwealth Secretariat, staff of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and diplomats from the Sierra Leone Permanent Mission in Geneva.

‘This new procedure would allow addressing some of the limitations of the system by reinforcing implementation on the ground, enhancing UN TBs visibility at the national level, avoiding a protection gap during two full reviews, and promoting ownership of the recommendations by all national actors’ explains Felix Kirchemeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

‘TBs are an evolving system and their members are committed and ready to lead changes’ underlines Andrea Ori, OHCHR Regional Representative for West Africa.

An Exchange with National Actors and Stakeholders

During a two-and-a-half-day workshop, the TB delegation discussed with national actors and stakeholders –the Inter-ministerial Committee, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, the National Commission for Children of Sierra Leone and representatives from civil society – how recommendations are implemented on the ground and related challenges. Representatives of both the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Resident Coordinator Office attended the event as observers. The civil society segment was co-organized with the support of the CCPR Centre and the Geneva-based coalition TB-Net.

‘This first focused review pilot demonstrated the potential that in-country presence of TB members can have on meaningful national participation. Since its inception, we designed the pilot to include all the relevant actors of the Sierra Leone national human rights system. The possibility to give updates and receive further guidance on the implementation of the recommendations issued by TBs during face-to-face, in-country meetings deepens the scope of action for both the international and national human rights monitoring mechanisms’ explains Domenico Zipoli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘In fact, the benefits do not only apply to national stakeholders. For TB members, it is also fruitful to spend time in the field, seeing the problems these countries are facing and being in touch with local stakeholders who cannot often travel to Geneva. This can facilitate more contextualized recommendations in the following reviews of the State Party in question’ he adds.

‘Experimenting this new in-situ and in-between model of states' reviews by TBs puts us at the gate of changes’ says Anis Mahfoudh, Regional OHCHR Capacity Building Programme in West Africa.

Focus on Torture, Gender Equality and Children’s Rights

Given the number of recommendations, this pilot clustered them around three core themes: the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, gender equality and children’s rights.

‘This approach allowed us to address a broad range of issues and to look at them in a holistic way and not solely in relation to a specific committee or treaty. We also made sure to apply an ‘all mechanisms approach’ to the discussions, linking TB recommendations to both the relevant recommendations accepted by Sierra Leone during the latest UPR cycle as well as reports of UN Special Rapporteurs’ explains Domenico Zipoli.

'TB members will benefit from such focused reviews not only to have first-hand experience of the situation on the ground but also to have the opportunity to engage with local stakeholders and receive information in a way that would otherwise be very difficult' explains Yashasvi Nain, Human Rights Officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

A Successful First Test

This first test was, in the opinion of all participants, a success, showing the benefits of such national follow-up between the full-scale Geneva-based reviews.

‘I am delighted to have had the chance to take part in this pilot review conducted by four UN treaty bodies. It is very important to try to imagine new ways to monitor UN Conventions’ says Benoit Van Keirsbilck, a Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and Director of Defence for Children International-Belgium who participated in this pilot in his personal capacity.

‘It was a participatory and learning exercise that can form the basis for exploring the appropriate modalities for strengthening the effectiveness of the TB system’ outlines Imeru Tamerat Yigezu, a Member of the UN Human Rights Committee who travelled to Freetown and participated in the pilot in his personal capacity.

‘By holding this pilot in Freetown, the newly established National Reporting Mechanism to International Treaty Bodies of Sierra Leone has gained momentum and is now adequately equipped with the requisite capacity for the effective implementation of its core objectives’ explains Samuel Housman Buggie Saffa, Deputy Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone in Geneva.

‘The presence of TB members in-country will result in more contextualized recommendations, which will translate into more meaningful and sustainable human rights protections’ underlines Dr Shavana Haythornthwaite, Head of the Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth.

National Exposure

The GHRP team and the UN TB delegation have been invited to present the objectives of the pilot at various TV programmes, including on the national Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation and on the AYV morning show ‘Wake Up Sierra Leone’ (from 17:38).

‘This wide media coverage shows the potential of this exercise for bringing attention to the recommendations issued by UN treaty bodies to any one country, as well as promoting the wider UN human rights treaty body system by bringing it closer to the people’ says Domenico Zipoli.

Future Pilots

Further pilots are scheduled in Africa and the Caribbean for the first half of 2022. For the latter part of 2022, the GHRP is also discussing the possibility of focused review simulations with two European, one Latin American and three Pacific Island States.

‘The idea of national-level reviews has been supported – although in different formats – by the Report of the Co-Facilitators of the 2020 TB review process and the Report of the 33rd Annual Meeting of TB Chairpersons. They are one of the practical outcomes of the review process carried out by the UN General Assembly to strengthen the UN TB system. We look forward to continuing showing the relevance of this approach via our simulations’ explains Felix Kirchmeier.

‘What we do in these pilots is, however, without prejudice to the model UN TBs might eventually develop. We are sure that lessons learnt from these exercises could be useful in any case’ he adds.

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