Promoting Quality, Independent and Diverse Treaty Body Membership

23 November 2021

The ten United Nations (UN) human rights treaty bodies (TBs) oversee the implementation by states of the international legal obligations they accept when they become a party to the relevant treaties. While their contribution to human rights protection is important, they are little known to non-expert audiences.

Our new Working Paper Promoting Quality, Independent and Diverse Treaty Body Membership discuss the membership of UN TBs, a key issue to ensure proper human rights protection and the credibility of the overall system.

Written by Dr Claire Callejon – a leading expert on UN TBs functioning –, it starts by identifying the current shortfalls and then moves to propose concrete solutions for a more institutionalized, open and transparent selection process to ensure quality, independent and diverse TB membership.

‘This paper gives an overview of the current membership and practices of nomination and election but also draws inspiration from informal NGO initiatives and election processes in other courts and monitoring bodies. On this basis, it puts forward suggestions for a more stringent and transparent election process, which would definitely benefit the openness, credibility and impact of the system’ says Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

Expertise, Independence, Diversity and Transparency

The analysis of UN TB membership – 172 experts who sit in the 10 UN TBs – raises a number of questions in terms of expertise, independence and diversity.

‘The procedures for selection, nomination and election of UN TB members is not very widely known. Such low visibility invites for non-transparent processes, where political considerations sometimes can take precedent over substantive concerns. This compromises the independence and the effectiveness of TB membership, with potential negative effects on the system as a whole’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier.

For instance, the analysis reveals that many experts hold executive positions in their respective governments or work for different ministries and in various capacities. Similarly, while the current total number shows an almost equal representation of male and female members among TBs – with 88 men and 84 women – gender parity can only be found in two Committees, namely the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

Towards a More Institutionalized and Transparent Selection Process

The research highlights that open, formal and transparent processes for nominating candidates at the national level remain the exception, and therefore not provide the guarantees that states parties nominate the best candidates. It also shows that screening mechanisms to review nominations are instrumental in assisting states parties to elect the most suitable candidates.

Based on this analysis, the author calls for the establishment of procedural guarantees to oversee compliance of prospective candidates and makes specific recommendations regarding the nomination of experts, their election and the transparency and availability of information about candidates.

‘As a resource document, this paper will surely be useful for academics and civil society representatives engaged in strengthening the UN TB system. But the document also gives a neutral insight into today’s procedures for states wanting to know the options out there to best handle the selection of TB members’ explains Felix Kirchmeier.

Upcoming GHRP Friday

This Working Paper will serve as a background for an upcoming GHRP Friday that will discuss on 3 December 2021 the nomination, election and membership of UN TBs.

The GHRP Fridays provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss the results of the United Nations (UN) Treaty Body (TB) 2020 Review and practical ways to implement change. They are open to all interested delegations, TB members, staff from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society.

This event series of the Geneva Human Rights Platform – co-organized with the Permanent Missions of Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Morocco, Switzerland and Uruguay to the UN in Geneva – aims at discussing the outcomes of the 2020 UN Treaty Body Review.

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