The role of UN field staff in supporting national tracking systems for following up to human rights recommendations

by Emilie Filmer-Wilson, Human Rights Adviser, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Blog, By invitation, In focus: domestic implementation of universal norms

The number of human rights recommendations made to Member States has increased rapidly over the past few years. To track progress with meeting these recommendations in a more systematic manner, a number of Member States have created specific tracking mechanisms and tools. In these efforts, they are increasingly turning to UN Country Teams for support. To enable UN field staff to effectively respond to these requests, the UN Development Group, under the leadership of UNFPA, has just published a study on ‘UN Country Team Support to Tracking the Follow-up of Human Rights Recommendations.’

The UNDG Study explores the rationale for tracking recommendations and their follow up, and highlights the early experiences of a number of countries, including in the development of tracking tools. It focuses on the specific role of UN field staff in supporting these initiatives and sets out guiding principles for ensuring that national tracking systems are sustainable, effective and in line with human rights principles. In so doing, the Study aims to encourage similar activities among other UN Country Teams, and to strengthen coherence across the UN.

The Study is part of a wider effort by the UNDG to enhance the engagement of the UN development system with the international human rights mechanisms; so that human rights standards and the recommendations generated by the mechanisms are leveraged to strengthen development programming and policies. This will in turn help ensure stronger normative-operational linkages in the UN’s development work, including as part of the 2030 Development Agenda.

The UNDG Study outlines guiding principles for UN Country Teams to follow when supporting Member States in creating and/or strengthening these national tracking mechanisms, based on the country experiences documented in the Study. These principles include:

  • Promoting a comprehensive approach to tracking follow up of all human rights recommendations: a tracking system that weaves together international, regional, and national recommendations ensures that the full breadth and complementarity of each system is maximized;
  • Making engagement pro-active and aimed at strengthening national ownership: promoting cooperation and dialogues across multiple institutions, including line ministries, parliaments, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and civil society, to ensure wide national ownership;
  • Supporting a sustainable structure: national mechanisms should be institutionalized and benefit from a formal legal or policy mandate, ensuring the sustainability of their functions;
  • Ensure partnership with national human rights institutions (NHRIs): strong collaboration and coordination with NHRIs is important to ensure that the capacity and role of NHRIs are strengthened, and that their expertise is drawn upon in the process;
  • Advocate for national human rights action plans: these can provide valuable steps towards implementing human rights obligations, signaling political investment, and translating broad principles into concrete action; and
  • Encourage the use of databases: databases can be a useful practical tool to consolidate and track follow up of human rights recommendations.

While creating comprehensive tracking systems on human rights recommendations is an important step, it is only one step in wider efforts to ensure effective the follow up of human rights recommendations. The UN development system, working at national level, has a critical role to play in supporting States implement their international human rights obligations and commitments, and thereby promote sustainable development. We hope that this Study will further encourage and inspire UN field staff to engage with international, regional and national human rights mechanisms to achieve progress with development and human rights.

Emilie Filmer-Wilson is a Human Rights Advisor at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The United Nations Development Group (UNDG) unites the 32 UN funds, programmes, specialised agencies, departments, and offices that play a role in development. 

Photo credits: Three women working in a field in the Memo village (Timor-Leste). 27 July 2012. Credits: UN Women/Betsy Davis Cosme.

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