Since our inception, the Centre attached significant importance to the enabling of meaningful participation of civil society in the work of the Human Rights Committee. To this end, the Centre updated its Civil Society Advocacy Guide in 2021, which provides civil society organisations with comprehensive guidance on the application of the ICCPR and the reporting processes of the UN Treaty Bodies. Due to the popularity of virtual engagement, the Centre also developed online versions of this tool, using an interactive web platform as well as video storytelling to communicate our guidance clearly and with widest reach.
For the work of the Human Rights Committee to be effective, it must be easily accessible. To increase accessibility, the Centre produced several new tools in 2021 that helped highlight the work of the Committee:
Finally, we also organised several international training sessions for journalists in Nicaragua, Honduras and across Latin America. These sessions helped to introduce the universal human rights framework to the journalists, and provide them with background on the importance of reporting on human rights issues and obligations relevant to their country.
We have also come to understand the importance of ensuring that the Committee's work and recommendations are reflective of the reality within the country under review. In December 2021, the Centre, in collaboration with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the Geneva Human Rights Platform and the Commonwealth Secretariat, implemented a pilot project for a first-ever in-country ‘Focused Review’. The pilot session took place over two-and-a-half days, from December 7 to 9 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This pilot consisted of a review carried out between full reporting cycles at the national level, designed to assess and compare differences in how countries implement specific recommendations, in particular where issued by different Treaty Bodies. Throughout the Focused Review process, we worked to identify synergies between activities undertaken to implement different recommendations, and in particular where thematic recommendations by different bodies may be complementary.
The participation of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in this project has allowed us to combine in-field observations with a more academic approach. Similar projects are currently being planned for 2022, as well as the development of a methodology that will allow us to conduct a large-scale review and assessment of the UN Treaty Bodies’ recommendations using this new in-country approach.
Interview with Domenico Zipoli, Research Fellow and Project Coordinator at the Geneva Human Rights Platform
This new pilot procedure consists of a review carried out between full reporting cycles at the national level, designed to provide an update on how countries implement specific recommendations issued by different Treaty Bodies. The pilot project in Sierra Leone focused on the recommendations for follow-up of four Treaty Bodies, namely the Human Rights Committee, the CAT, the CEDAW and the CRC.
Collaboration with the CCPR Centre in this project was essential to facilitate the participation of Sierra Leonean civil society representatives. Further, the follow-up visits implemented by the CCPR Centre in a number of countries represented an important “best practice” to learn from and adapt to the focused review pilot initiative.
As the Treaty Bodies system is based in Geneva, many national stakeholders are either required to attend online or cannot attend. And it is not just about including the government, but also the crucial non-state actors that make the Treaty Bodies system an open and independent review of human rights standards and practices in any one country. At the same time, it is important for Treaty Bodies’ members to visit these countries, observe the problems that these countries are facing, and hear from local civil society organisations who cannot often attend the sessions in Geneva. The benefit is that the Treaty Body members are exposed to important local context which can result in more tailored recommendations in the long run, while also facilitating access to the Treaty Body system by promoting it in the country and the region.
Moreover, to be able to have a face-to-face meeting in a country may strengthen the independent, thorough monitoring of human rights standards, as well as providing important context for future recommendations. In the case of Sierra Leone, following the review, both Ministerial representatives and civil society organisations felt the Treaty Bodies system was more accessible to them when present in the country, and they were very eager to learn from the process and increase their participation going forward. It helped them build a relationship, trust, and confidence, and provided the opportunity to increase engagement with the Treaty Bodies system in the future.
The Geneva Human Rights Platform has been the lead coordinator of the pilot project. The link between international and domestic human rights monitoring mechanisms is also at the core of our research here at the Geneva Academy and at the Geneva Human Rights Platform. The mapping of national actors invited to participate and the overall design of the pilot, including the agenda of the focused review session, was inspired by our ongoing research on National Human Rights Systems (NHRSs). This project aims to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the strengths and weaknesses affecting different NHRSs. It also inspects the effectiveness of international human rights recommendations by focusing on national monitoring and implementation strategies.
With a basis in Sustainable Development Goal 16, both the pilot and our research activities rely on the underlying assumption that in the absence of a receptive domestic human rights infrastructure, UN initiatives are at risk of structural complications which may undermine a more interconnected system of human rights monitoring. The Focused Review procedure fosters interconnectivity, and creates an opportunity for different national human rights actors to interact and build coalitions as well as to engage with Treaty Bodies members.
The Centre also continued its research into thematic areas of focus for the Human Rights Committee. In 2021, we continued our work on the link between corruption and human rights at the international level, by participating in a series of CSOs events at the Ninth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Egypt in December 2021, and advocating for the need for an independent expert on corruption and human rights.
We also continued our engagement with the Human Rights Committee on recommendations relating to corruption and its impact on civil and political rights. In this manner, the Centre participated in a study commissioned by UNDP Moldova on the 'Impact of corruption on Human Rights in Moldova', which outlined a series of policy recommendations and interventions aimed at limiting the impact of corruption on human rights. This research partnership approach was new for the Centre, as we endeavour to work closer with national experts on the implementation of UN recommendations. Going forward, the findings of our research will be shared with other national actors in the region. We also plan to conduct a similar exercise with experts in other countries as an effort to improve the implementation of recommendations made by UN bodies.
Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions continued to impact the fulfilment of civil and political rights worldwide. The Centre continued its efforts initiated in 2020 with the production and dissemination of tools, guidelines and other materials designed for advocates to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on respect for human rights during the pandemic. In 2021, we expanded the reach of our materials by translating both guidelines and flashcards into other languages (including Thai, Tajik, Kyrgyz, Russian & Kazakh) and distributing them with authorities and civil society in the respective countries.
The Centre also continued its work in expanding the collective understanding of complex areas of the ICCPR and promoting their application worldwide. In 2021, we focused on article 21 and 25 of the Covenant relating to the Right of Peaceful Assembly and the Right to Participate in Public Affairs respectively. Regarding Art. 21 and the recent HR Committee’s General Comment No. 37 on the right of peaceful assembly, the Centre published a simple Q&A document which stepped readers through answers to twenty- four questions designed to improve understanding of the General Comment and the right of peaceful assembly. The Centre also interviewed Yuval Shany, former Chair of the HR Committee, for this publication.