Part 8 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.
This topic analyzes the reporting obligations of state parties to the core international human rights treaties, and the NGO’s role at all stages of the reporting process.
Section 1: Overview of state reporting obligations
In all the monitoring systems discussed to date, state parties are obliged to submit reports to the relevant body (Committees in the case of treaty bodies; the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review; the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights for the Africa regional system; and the Advisory Committee for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in the case of Europe).
The aim of the report is to explain how the appropriate provisions and rights are being implemented by the state party, and to set out the legal, administrative, and judicial measures taken by the state party to implement their international obligations. Reports also: compel state parties to comprehensively review the measures they have taken to implement human rights obligations; make state parties monitor their own progress in upholding their obligations; help identify problems and shortcomings; lead to the analysis of future needs and the setting up of relevant goals for a more effective implementation; and lead to the development of appropriate policies to achieve these goals.
The reporting pattern is generally the same for each mechanism:
State presentation and questioning (only relevant to UN treaty bodies and African and European regional mechanisms)
- In examining state reports, the monitoring bodies undertake an important role in terms of advising states on how to improve compliance with the international standards to which they have subscribed.
- The monitoring bodies are not tribunals, and the Concluding Observations are not legally binding and cannot be enforced. The Conventions, however, are binding, and states often accept advice from monitoring bodies.
- The state report is the main document used by the committees. Governments often submit idealized descriptions of the human rights situation in their countries by avoiding disclosing problems and shortcomings.
- To assess the accuracy of state reports, committee members can consider information from other sources.
NGOs play a strategically important role before, during, and after the monitoring process in the following ways:
- Pressure: Reporting on time can prove to be a challenge for some state parties. NGOs play a key role in pressuring governments to submit overdue reports.
- Consultation: NGOs can sometimes be consulted in the drafting of the state report.
- Shadow reports: If a government is not interested in consulting NGOs, or it has not included the issues the NGOs raised, NGOs can submit written information directly to the committee in the form of a ‘shadow report’ (also referred to as ‘parallel report’ or ‘alternative report’).
Prior to the session
- List of issues: Some UN treaty bodies prepare a ‘list of issues’ on the basis of the state party report and other information. This list is usually compiled at a session of the committee six to 12 months before the state report will be examined. This list contains committee’s concerns and questions for the state party.
- Information for members of monitoring bodies: The secretariat of the monitoring body compiles all documents related to the country under examination (including shadow reports from NGOs) for the members of the body to read.
During the session
- Lobbying: NGOs can hold informal discussions with individual expert members of monitoring bodies.
- Briefings: It is possible for NGOs to provide informal briefings to expert members of monitoring bodies. These meetings provide NGOs with the opportunity to explain issues, update members, and answer questions.
NGOs can submit information to the committees alone or as part of a coalition of NGOs.
Once a monitoring body has considered a state party report, it adopts the ‘Concluding Observations’. They are made public and can be found on the website of the relevant monitoring body.
- Concluding Observations reflect the monitoring body’s position on the implementation of treaty provisions.
- They refer to positive aspects on the implementation of provisions but also identify areas where further action is needed.
- They therefore contain recommendations on the further implementation of the treaty by the state party.
Recommendations are not legally binding and cannot be enforced.