Report Highlights the Benefits of UN Treaty Bodies’ Focused Review Pilot

10 March 2022

The report of the first focused review pilot conducted in Sierra Leone by the Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) and the Commonwealth Secretariat shows the benefits that such a mechanism could bring to both the work of United Nations (UN) treaty bodies (TBs), as well as to the implementation of their recommendations.

This exercise was conducted in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN in Geneva, the Government of Sierra Leone and TB Net/CCPR Centre. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also participated as an observer to the proceedings.

‘The report is based on feedback from participants to the Sierra Leone pilot. It shows the potential of focused reviews for the entire TB system and for national implementation’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

Strengthened National Capacity to Engage with the TB system

Pilot participants – ministerial representatives, diplomats from the Sierra Leone Permanent Mission in Geneva, society organizations (CSOs), independent state institutions and OHCHR representatives – attested that a fundamental outcome is a strengthened capacity to participate in the monitoring of TB recommendations for all categories of national actors involved, including the Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC), the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) and CSOs.

‘This pilot notably broadened their understanding of the TB reporting system, brought to life the reality of being accountable to TBs, and boosted confidence to participate in subsequent TB reviews’ says Dr Domenico Zipoli, Research Fellow and Project Coordinator at the GHRP.

Increased Role and Accessibility for National Stakeholders

Another result of the pilot project, and the focused review procedure as a whole, is the widened scope of participation, including national and sub-national governance structures and individuals and organizations that are usually marginalized from the standard Geneva-based TB proceedings.

‘Our presence here at the national level was very useful in terms of enhancing the participation of the state party, and also, more importantly, the civil society, which ultimately is helpful to enhance the implementation of the treaty bodies’ recommendations’ says Imeru Yigezu Tamrat, a Member of the Human Rights Committee who participated in the pilot in his personal capacity.

Fostered Cooperation among National Actors

The establishment of a national task force among ministries and the focused review-specific CSO coalition brought together a number of key national stakeholders, thus fostering cooperation and coordination opportunities already before the focused review session in Freetown.

‘Some of the main challenges that small states face when engaging with the treaty body reporting process often relate to coordination issues between various ministries and state agencies, as well as capacity constraints. Such in-country focused review can help to address some of these challenges’ underlines a member of the Inter-ministerial Committee of Sierra Leone.

Contextualized and Clustered Recommendations

The pilot conducted in Sierra Leone resulted in a compilation of the recommendations examined in the focused review. Given their number and overlapping issues, they were clustered around five core themes: the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, pretrial detention, women’s access to health, gender equality and children’s rights.
‘The focused review allows for a process that facilitates a more robust and strengthened understanding of the context. This, in turn, can lead to recommendations that are tailored to the situation at hand, enhancing the potential for stakeholder buy-in and impactful solutions.’ explains Dr Shavana Haythornthwaite, Head of Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Linked with a stronger contextualization by TB members of the issues faced by Sierra Leone, this led to exchanges that are more practical. Ultimately, this may also lead to more context-aware concluding observations at the next review cycle.

According to several participants, a focused approach and face-to-face interactions between national stakeholders and TB members in the country enabled them to dedicate more time to the most pressing human rights issues and facilitated a more in-depth understanding by TB members of the situation on the ground.

‘It is helpful to look at the reality on the ground and understand the challenges that both the civil society and the state party face in trying to engage with the treaty body system, and some of the other burdens they face such as the lack of resources, especially in developing countries’ underlines Imeru Yigezu Tamrat.

‘This approach allowed to address a broad range of issues in a holistic way, not solely in relation to a specific committee or treaty. When possible, the discussions went even further by applying an ‘all-mechanisms approach’ that linked TBs recommendations to the relevant recommendations accepted by Sierra Leone during the latest UPR cycle as well as reports of relevant UN Special Rapporteurs’ explains Dr Zipoli.

In addition, the GHRP – in collaboration with the four participating TB experts – drafted a compilation of updates on the recommendations under focused review. Such compilation is the result of exchanges between the TB delegation and the national actors participating in each of the dedicated sessions of the three-day focused review pilot. They will be shared with the relevant national authorities and the four TBs, informing the next cycle of reviews.

Strengthened Visibility of the TB system

The presence of TB members in Freetown spurred national media coverage in both printed and cable media outlets. A team from the national broadcasting corporation attended both the opening and closing of the event and representatives from the TB delegation and the GHRP were also invited to participate in a live morning show hosted by a national TV channel.

Participants also stressed how the focused review contributed to a stronger national-level perception of the TBs as one integrated and coherent system.

‘This created momentum within ministries and among CSOs but also among ordinary citizens in Sierra Leone and invited sectors of the population to learn more about the rights contained in the treaties’ explains Dr Zipoli.

In Geneva, the Commonwealth Secretariat organized in partnership with the GHRP a discussion for Commonwealth missions based in Geneva to share the findings from the Sierra Leone pilot and discuss further challenges and opportunities.

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