The international human rights system has expanded significantly over the past twenty years, both in terms of new human rights treaties, as well as the mechanisms established to monitor and advise States on human rights promotion and protection. It has empowered individuals worldwide, including the most marginalised and disadvantaged, to claim their rights and seek redress. At the same time it has shaped States’ responsibilities for respecting and protecting the human rights of those within their jurisdiction. This human rights architecture has led to important policy, legislative, and other improvements in all countries, strengthening the global realisation of human rights..
This expansion has also been accompanied by efforts to rationalise and strengthen the various component parts of the system. For example, several efforts have been made over the last decade to strengthen the Treaty Body system. The latest started in 2009 and led to GA resolution 68/268, on the strengthening of the Treaty Body system, which prevented the Treaty Body system from collapsing under a massive backlog of State reports and individual petitions, by allocating more meeting time, suggesting the rationalisation of some working methods, and establishing a Treaty Body Capacity Building Programme.
With regard to the comprehensive system of Special Procedures, efforts have been made over recent years to consolidate the system and its coordination, including by enhancing the role for the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures as the main body representing and acting on behalf of Special Procedures. Since 2015, a report of the Special Procedures, containing facts and figures on their work as well as information on their impact has been presented annually to the Human Rights Council (Council). The report offers a comprehensive picture of what the Special Procedures have achieved over the course of the year. Mandate-holders have also increasingly addressed issues of common concern through their Annual Meetings, which allow for the consideration of common working methods, enhanced coordination, the development of common approaches to crosscutting issues, and consultations with external stakeholders.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is seeing much more active engagement by both States under review (SUR) and recommending States, with strengthened guidance to States and all other stakeholders to ensure a greater focus on assessing the implementation and impact of recommendations.
Fifty years after the adoption of the ICCPR and the ICESCR, fifty years after the creation of the first Special Procedures mandate, ten years since the establishment of the Council, and a few months before the UPR begins its third cycle, member States are increasingly focused on the issue of implementation of treaty obligations and human rights recommendations coming from the entirety of the UN human rights system, in particular from Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and the UPR.
In this regard, States are faced with increasing requirements in terms of implementing treaty obligations, reporting to the international and regional human rights systems, and following up on the manifold recommendations or decisions emanating from the human rights mechanisms. The effective implementation of so many recommendations may pose challenges for even the best-resourced and well-intentioned member State.
The international human rights mechanisms can help alleviate these challenges through improved coordination and the leveraging of synergies. This would ultimately lead to more cross-referencing of recommendations, as well as efficiencies in terms of the total number of recommendations generated by the overall system, (e.g. through a more effective and complementary planning of reporting calendars). Such inter-linkages and efficiencies would greatly facilitate the implementation of recommendations by States.
For States, notwithstanding the above-mentioned challenges, reporting and engaging with the international human rights mechanisms offers a unique opportunity for a comprehensive self-assessment of the situation on the ground, including through data collection and analysis, and for legislative and policy review. To meet their requirements and seize such opportunities, States are increasingly adopting a comprehensive, more efficient and sustainable approach to reporting, engagement and follow-up, through the establishment of a new type of State structure, known as a National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up (NMRF). Many States have also made public commitments to establish such mechanisms, especially in the context of the UPR.
An NMRF can be defined as a national State mechanism or structure that is mandated to coordinate and prepare reports to and engage with international and regional human rights mechanisms (including Treaty Bodies, the UPR, and Special Procedures), and to track and coordinate national follow-up and implementation of treaty obligations and human rights recommendations coming from the UN human rights system. NMRFs perform these functions in coordination with relevant ministries, specialised State bodies (such as the national statistics offices), parliaments and the judiciary, as well as in consultation with national human rights institutions and civil society.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has acknowledged this trend and increasing momentum behind the establishment of NMRFs, and has conducted research to identify, through existing country practices, key ingredients for a well-functioning and efficient NMRF. This research resulted in the publication, in June 2016, of a Practical Guide and accompanying Study on ‘State Practices of Engagement with International Human Rights Mechanisms.’ The publications describe State practices with regard to NMRFs in the Bahamas, Cambodia, Mexico, Mauritius, Morocco, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, and Senegal; and identify good practices, while not proposing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
Based on a review of States’ practices, a number of conditions for an NMRF to be effective have been identified. Firstly, it is fundamental that an NMRF is standing (i.e., its structure, whether ministerial, inter-ministerial, or institutionally separate, should be maintained beyond the completion of a single report). Secondly, an effective NMRF may benefit from a comprehensive formal legislative or policy mandate, as well as a common intra-governmental understanding of its role and political ownership at the highest level. Thirdly, the national mechanism should have dedicated and continuous staff, building expertise, knowledge and professionalism at the country level.
In addition, the Study has shown that an effective NMRF possesses the following four key ‘capacities’:
(1) An engagement capacity, including the capacity to engage with the international and regional human rights system and to centrally facilitate the preparation of reports and responses to, or visits of, the UN human rights mechanisms.
(2) A coordination capacity, including the capacity and authority to disseminate information, and to organise and coordinate information gathering and data collection from government entities, but also other State actors such as national offices for statistics, parliaments and the judiciary, for reporting and follow-up to recommendations;
(3) A consultation capacity – the capacity to foster and lead consultations with the country’s NHRI(s) and civil society; and
(4) An information management capacity, which refers to the capacity to track, capture and thematically cluster recommendations and decisions, develop implementation plans (including identifying responsible government ministries and/or agencies, timelines and indicators), and maintain national databases for tracking purposes, including with a view to preparing the next periodic report or responding to calls for inputs from Special Procedures.
The four capacities intend to provide a conceptual framework to guide national level discussions: the current status quo and possible room for improvement can be easily assessed against each capacity.
NMRFs have the potential to become one of the key components of an effective national human rights protection system, overcoming obstacles to implementation, and bringing international and regional human rights norms and practices directly to the national level. The essence of the reporting and engagement process is nationally driven. NMRFs build national ownership and empower line ministries, enhance human rights expertise among parts of government in a sustainable manner, stimulate national dialogue, facilitate communication within and across government, and allow for structured and formalised contacts with parliaments, the judiciary, national human rights institutions and civil society. Through such institutionalised contacts, the voices of victims and their representatives will also be increasingly heard. NMRFs furthermore enhance the coherence and impact of each State’s human rights diplomacy.
With the right capacities at hand, States are best placed to genuinely pursue the implementation of recommendations and deliver real impact, strengthening the everyday enjoyment of human rights for all.
Beatriz Balbin Chamorro, Chief of the Special Procedures Branch at OHCHR
Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch at OHCHR
Shahrzad Tadjbakhsh, Chief of the Universal Periodic Branch at OHCHR
OHCHR, through its Treaty Body Capacity Building Programme and its UPR Trust Fund on Implementation, stands ready to lend its continued support to States, in particular on reporting, the establishment and/or strengthening of NMRFs, in building its various capacities, and in supporting thematic follow-up. Ms. Christina Meinecke (firstname.lastname@example.org), Mr. Jeroen Klok (email@example.com), and Mr. Jong-Gil Woo (firstname.lastname@example.org) may be contacted for further information and assistance in this regard.
Feature photo: Georgia’s national mechanism for reporting and follow-up (NMRF), the Human Rights Council of Georgia, chaired by the Prime Minister.