This section explains how an individual becomes a member of a UN Treaty Body, and examines some of the criteria and challenges in ensuring that the profiles of these experts are as diverse as the global population.
Independent and impartial
Members of the Treaty Bodies are independent experts who are of recognised competence in human rights and ‘of high moral standing or character’ or ‘of acknowledged impartiality’, as stipulated by the relevant treaties.
Although Treaty Body members are elected by States, they serve in their personal capacity and it is expected that they will carry out their duties with absolute impartiality and objectivity. The Treaty Bodies are intended to serve as autonomous expert bodies and not political or inter-governmental bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Council or the UN Security Council.
The Addis Ababa Guidelines on the independence and impartiality of members of the Treaty Bodies set out a series of principles and practical steps for ensuring the neutrality of committee members. It is up to each Treaty Body to implement the Guidelines. Many Treaty Bodies have adopted them or incorporated them into their rules of procedure.
Nominations by States parties
Treaty Body members are nominated and elected by the States who are parties to a particular human rights treaty (with the exception of CESCR whose members are elected by ECOSOC Member States). The nomination process for members is set out in each treaty and begins at least four months before the election. States parties to a treaty may nominate members from among their own nationals for fixed, renewable terms.
The OHCHR Secretariat to the Treaty Body oversees the nominations process, receiving nominations (including curricula vitae (CVs) of the nominees in the prescribed format), compiling the final list of nominees, translating documents into UN official languages, and circulating these to the Permanent Missions of the States parties to the treaty.
Updates and information on the process, including call for nominations and list of candidates are posted on the OHCHR Treaty Bodies election web page.
Several TB-Net INGOs that engage in UN Treaty Body elections have created an online platform with information on the Treaty Body elections and the profiles of the candidates.
You can also find video statements from Treaty Body candidates here.
Elections of Treaty Body members
The number of members on a Treaty Body committee varies from 10 to 25. Most Treaty Body members are elected for four-year terms. Elections are staggered, that is, elections for half of the total membership of a committee take place every two years. Members of three Treaty Bodies (CPRD, SPT and CED) can be elected only for two terms maximum, while there is no such restriction on re-election for members of other Treaty Bodies.
The OHCHR also organises the elections of members for all Treaty Bodies, except the CESCR which is organised by the ECOSOC Secretariat according to their rules of procedure.
Elections are held through secret ballot at an election meeting. Treaties also make provisions for appointment of a new member if a position becomes vacant before the term is over.
For more information on the elections process, see the OHCHR Guide on Election of Treaty Body Members.
Diversity among Treaty Body members
When electing Treaty Body members, an attempt should be made to ensure equitable geographical distribution and representation of the different legal systems and backgrounds. Currently, CESCR is the only Treaty Body that has a formal geographical quota. Balanced gender representation should also be a factor for consideration of Treaty Body membership.
There have been active efforts by some organisations to promote gender balanced composition of Treaty Body membership as women have been traditionally under-represented. For example:
Members of Treaty Bodies are unpaid, though they receive an allowance from the United Nations for attending meetings of the Treaty Bodies.
An open and consultative process in the nomination of candidates for the SPT was conducted by the UK in 2006. See the OHCHR Handbook for Human Rights Treaty Body Members (pages 23-24).
In the next section you will learn about using the Treaty Body grading system for assessing state compliance with Treaty Body Committee recommendations during follow up.