From 23 to 24 March 2022, the Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) conducted in Grenada, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat, its second pilot of a United Nations (UN) treaty bodies (TBs) focused review – designed to discuss how countries implement specific recommendations issued by UN TBs between sessions.
Felix Kirchmeier and Domenico Zipoli travelled to St. George’s to facilitate the pilot focused review on the latest recommendations issued by two UN TBs – the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – with national actors, focusing on a limited number of core themes.
They were accompanied by an informal TB delegation composed of one member from each committee – travelling in their personal capacity –, one staff of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Regional Office for Central America and of the UN Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Multi-Country Office (MCO).
A full day of in-situ visits – ahead of the actual discussions around the TB recommendations – allowed the TB delegation to visit institutions working on the core themes identified for the pilot: the national machinery for the advancement of women, violence against women, juvenile justice, the harmonization of legislation on child rights, as well as corporal punishment and discrimination.
‘The visits prior to the pilot focus review enabled us to discover three very concrete projects related to children's rights: a school for teenage mothers, a shelter for mothers who are victims of violence and a rehabilitation centre for children in conflict with the law. The exchanges with the stakeholders, and in one case with the children, confronted us with contrasting realities: a lot of goodwill on the part of the stakeholders, but far too few resources to meet the challenges.
These visits fuelled the debate during the dialogue with state actors, and enabled the questions asked to be more targeted and in line with the reality of the country’ says Benoit Van Keirsblick, a member of the UN CRC.
During a two-day workshop, the TB delegation discussed with national actors– representatives from different ministries, statutory bodies like the Office of the Ombudsman and the Child Protection Authority, and national civil society organizations (CSOs) – how recommendations are implemented on the ground and related challenges.
This in-country interaction facilitated multi-sectoral participation that would have otherwise not happened in Geneva.
According to several participants, this approach was considered much more in-depth and useful than the ‘standard’ preparation for the full TB review, based on desk research, email exchanges and siloed participation by different national human rights actors.
‘This spurred a nation-wide discussion on the implementation of TB recommendations and each stakeholders’ role in the monitoring and reporting to the different committees’ explains Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.
‘This exercise was also an opportunity for both the National Coordinating Committee on Human Rights and national CSOs to strengthen their engagement with each other in light of the ongoing review cycles of both the CRC and CEDAW. The commitment to stronger cooperation between government and CSOs represents a clear result of the focused review pilot’ underlines Dr Domenico Zipoli, Project Coordinator at the Geneva Human Rights Platform.
‘The Commonwealth Secretariat has continued to work on providing technical assistance to the Member States in improving their engagement with Geneva-based mechanisms, such as the UPR and treaty bodies. With processes like the focused review that aim to bring the Geneva process closer to reality, the national institutions and states' engagement with UN mechanisms will be strengthened even further’ says Yashasvi Nain, Human Rights Officer, Commonwealth Secretariat.
Prior to the pilot focused review, the majority of national participants had not engaged with reporting to the TB system directly. The two-day sessions in St George’s, modelled around the modalities of dialogue taking place during the Geneva-based sessions, provided national human rights actors with a first-hand experience of the state reporting procedure as well as more precise insights into the rights prescribed in the conventions. At the same time, it also facilitated a more practical understanding by the participating TB members of the challenges to implementation specific to the Grenadian context.
‘The exercise was very useful for all parties involved. Those of us who attended from abroad were able to immerse ourselves in the current reality that the country is experiencing with its strengths and limitations. And both state bodies and civil society found a new space to channel their concerns and receive guidance and ongoing support’ says Leticia Bonifaz Alfonzo, a member of the CEDAW.
‘With the goal of promoting and protecting human rights within the Commonwealth, the Secretariat has continued to work with member countries towards strengthening national institutions and mechanisms. In order to strengthen treaty bodies effectively, national mechanisms and national actors also need to effectively engage with them – in-country reviews offer this opportunity’ underlines Dr Shavana Haythornthwaite, Head of the Human Rights Unit at the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The report of this Grenada focused review pilot will be published within the next three weeks and the GHRP staff will brief the CRC and CEDAW about this second focused review pilot during their upcoming sessions in Geneva.
‘With this second pilot, we start having a clearer image of the benefits and format of these focused reviews and we are currently discussing the possibility of conducting further pilots in Europe and the Asia-Pacific throughout 2022. At the end of the process, an overall report will entail the lessons learned and recommendations regarding the format and benefits of these focused reviews.’ says Felix Kirchmeier.
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