UN budget shortfalls affecting UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

October session of the HR Committee might be cancelled

View of the Palais Wilson - Geneva - where most of the sessions of the UN Treaty Bodies take place.

In April this year, the Chairpersons of all 10 treaty bodies were informed that six of them are very likely to cancel sessions in 2019 for financial reasons – an unprecedented consequence of some UN member States delaying payments to the organization.

The six committees at risk are the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee Against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

This means that reviews already scheduled with States, as well as the consideration of complaints by individual victims of serious human rights violations will not take place as planned.

The hearings are the culmination of years of preparatory reports by governments and human rights activists. Countless NGOs already started the process of preparing their alternative reports and gathering information about the countries to be reviewed, since they were expecting to be able to participate in the reviews in October 2019. Instead, they are now faced with a high level of uncertainty.

The cancellation of sessions will have numerous other negative consequences, and will seriously undermine the system of protection, which States themselves have put in place over decades. Reducing the committees’ hearings and other activities is likely to have drastic repercussions beyond this year, and would increase the already existing backlog.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights receives only 3.7% of the total UN regular budget, an insignificant sum compared to its important mandate to promote and protect human rights around the world. While the savings would be modest, around $ 2 million according to spokesman for the OHCHR, it would have considerable consequences, not only on the treaty bodies, but also on all stakeholders, including NGOs.

"The cancellation of sessions will have numerous other negative consequences, and will seriously undermine the system of protection, which States themselves have put in place over decades."

- Patrick Mutzenberg, Director of the Centre

NGOs call to avert the cancellation of TB’s sessions

In a joint letter to Mr. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Centre, with its colleagues from TB-net and several other NGOs* ask the following:

  • For urgent exploration of how resources could be redeployed in order to avert the cancellation of sessions of the treaty bodies;
  • Reassessment of the projected shortfall in light of the recent payment by a number of Member States of their assessed contributions; and
  • As a last resort, to make an urgent appeal to Member States to make available funds that could forestall this outcome.

In addition, in a separate and open letter to all Permanent Missions to the United Nations, 400 NGOs across the world, urge all UN member states to:

  • Pay their assessed contributions without further delay, unless they have already done so, in order to assure the functioning of the UN’s human rights mechanisms.
  • Prioritise securing adequate funding for the UN’s human rights pillar, with the promotion and protection of human rights being also indispensable to development, peace and security.
  • Initiate, in due time ahead of the 2020-2021 budget negotiations, discussions on how to reverse the trend of reduced regular budget for OHCHR and assuring that the UN’s human rights mechanisms are not disproportionately affected by over-all cuts to the UN budget, including by restoring the budget allocation for travel of representatives for these mechanisms.

 

Amnesty International, International Service for Human Rights, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Open Society Justice Initiative.

 

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