Special Procedure implementation and follow-up: making it real

by Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group Blog BORRAR, Human rights implementation and impact, Human rights institutions and mechanisms, Human rights institutions and mechanisms BORRAR, Implementation BORRAR, Special Procedures

One of the clearest conclusions drawn from the joint URG-Brookings Institution research project on the effectiveness and the future of Special Procedures was that, despite regular reform efforts over the past two decades, follow-up on the implementation of recommendations made by Special Procedures remains ‘negligible’. In interviews conducted for the URG-Brookings Policy Report, numerous mandate-holders acknowledged that ‘follow-up on implementation remains one of our weakest links’.

Why is this the case? A sceptic could argue that, without proper and systematic follow-up to ensure that Special Procedure recommendations are actually implemented, especially those delivered to states following country visits, what is the point in having so many Special Procedure mandates (now at 50)? Is this not yet another case of the UN human rights system ever-widening without any consideration as to its actual impact on the ground?

Raising these and other points, a cross-regional ‘group of friends of the Special Procedures’ today delivered an important statement at the Human Rights Council drawing attention to the challenge of follow-up and implementation, and suggesting concrete ways in which these challenges might be overcome.

In the statement, delivered by the Ambassador of Honduras, H.E. Mr. Giampaolo Carmelo Rizzo Alvarado, the states noted that ‘the importance of strengthening cooperation between states and Special Procedures, and of improving system-wide follow-up and the implementation of recommendations have been widely and repeatedly recognised here in the Council and in its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. Making progress on these systemic issues is crucial in ensuring that the continued widening of the Special Procedure mechanism is accompanied by deepening in terms of its impact on-the-ground’.

The states went on to suggest ways to strengthen the system-wide impact of the Special Procedure mechanism through improving cooperation between states and mandate-holders, and by taking concrete steps to strengthen follow-up.

On cooperation, they noted that ‘Important steps have been taken over recent years to improve cooperation, especially by facilitating better dialogue between Special Procedures and states, and by improving transparency through, for example, the maintenance of a public list of country visits, including states that have extended standing invitations The sponsors of this statement acknowledge and welcome these steps forward, as well as broader efforts by mandate-holders to act jointly’.

‘Yet much more could be done. For example, in order to improve dialogue, information-exchange and cooperation, we believe it could be useful to optimize regular interaction with the Chair of the Special Procedures Coordination Committee’. In the opinion of URG, such a simple step would have strong positive implications for the effectiveness of the Special Procedure mechanism.

On follow-up, the group of friends stated that: ‘The relative lack of systemic and systematic follow-up on the implementation of Special Procedure recommendations has long been recognized as a key weakness of the system. And yet, to-date, little progress has been made’.

‘The supporters of this statement believe that a country visit and the presentation of a report and recommendations, should not be seen as the end of a process of cooperation, but rather the beginning. All stakeholders share a responsibility to work in this spirit, including maintaining a continued constructive dialogue’.

The statement then offered ideas and recommendations, for mandate-holders and states.

For Special Procedures mandate-holders, the statement called for more mandate-holders to ‘build on existing good practice and give greater attention to regular follow-up actions. We are conscious that capacity constraints mean that dedicated follow-up visits are not always possible, but note that other options can also be effective such as letters or questionnaires soliciting information on implementation and challenges faced (including capacity constraints), and regional seminars and workshops’.

For states, the group of friends highlighted the importance of countries taking voluntary steps to improve follow-up. Here, they argued, states could be ‘inspired by the practice of submitting UPR mid-term reports, which began as a voluntary gesture by a small number of states and yet has developed into a widely applied best practice’. They therefore encouraged member states ‘to engage in discussions, during forthcoming sessions, on how states could voluntarily share information on achievements and challenges following country visits’.
Watch Chapter 7 (00:37:22) of the Item 5 General Debate (29th Meeting of the 26th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council) for the statement delivered by  Ambassador of Honduras, H.E. Mr. Giampaolo Carmelo Rizzo Alvarado, on behalf of of 38 states, including Austria, Australia, Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Moldova, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and Uruguay.


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