Advocacy update

Justice Initiative Calls for Strengthening of UN Human Rights Treaty Body System

August 31, 2020
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The Open Society Justice Initiative intervened on August 28, 2020 in an informal civil society consultation about the state of the United Nations human rights treaty body system. The submission calls for streamlined communications procedures and digital upgrades to case management systems for the benefit of both States and petitioners.

There are currently ten human rights treaty bodies, which are committees of independent experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of international treaties ratified by States under international law. 

Adopted in 2014, Resolution 68/268 was intended to strengthen the functioning of the human rights treaty body system. However, the bodies have a growing backlog of State reports and urgent petitions, demonstrating a need for increased resources and capacity to ensure proper human rights protection.

On August 28, 2020, the Open Society Justice Initiative submitted the following intervention to the UN General Assembly: 

“The Open Society Justice Initiative is an operational program that is part of the global philanthropy, Open Society Foundations. We have a long history of both litigating before UN treaty bodies and contributing to the state review process.

The treaty bodies’ petitions capacity is incredibly important: it provides a uniquely valuable forum—and crucial safeguard—for many rights-holders. For millions of people living outside of regional human rights systems that offer a right of petition, the treaty bodies are quite literally their last hope. Indeed, the increase in the quantity of petitions submitted to the UN treaty bodies in recent years is but one testament to the value of these procedures. 

However, some treaty bodies have amassed a significant and unacceptably long backlog of individual communications. This is a result of the failure of the General Assembly to provide the necessary amount of staff resources to the treaty bodies as indicated in the formula in Resolution 68/268.

The Justice Initiative hopes that the co-facilitators' report to the General Assembly will call upon States to correct this deficit, and to ensure that the treaty bodies have sufficient funding to address their existing communications workload, both through meeting time and appropriate staffing.

To emphasize, we also consider that the introduction of a case management system for the Petitions Unit, accompanied by an online submissions platform—where both states and petitioners can access information about the progress of communications—would provide immediate improvements for the benefit of all parties involved in the litigation of individual cases before the treaty bodies. As noted, the UN treaty body system is one of few human rights mechanisms receiving individual complaints that still does not have a modern, digital case management system or an online submission platform. We urge the co-facilitators to recommend to states that additional resources are provided to the treaty bodies for this purpose and to address other technical needs.

Finally, and crucially, the co-facilitators should not recommend, and the General Assembly should not take actions, that would compel the treaty bodies to reject broad categories of petitions on admissibility or other grounds. We have consistently encouraged the treaty bodies to review and streamline their procedures relating to individual communications as much as possible and to consider developing clear and transparent objective criteria for more efficient adjudication. However, it is critical for the General Assembly to respect the treaty bodies’ legal competence to establish their own rules of procedure and to make their own interpretation of the treaties they monitor."


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