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3. Opportunities for You to Engage

3.2 Managing expectations

This section offers a reminder of what you need to invest in order to get the biggest impact out of the Treaty Bodies.


While the Treaty Bodies can provide substantive recommendations and decisions based on international legal norms and standards, they do not work fast and are under-resourced. Also, their procedures and working methods can be difficult to comprehend as these vary across the Treaty Bodies for each type of mandate or output.

Treaty Body procedures take time. Treaty Bodies are one of the slowest of the UN human rights mechanisms. They are precise and thorough, and this takes time. For example, after submitting an individual communication to a Treaty Body, it takes a minimum of one and a half years and up to five years to get a result. If you are looking for a rapid response, you may wish to engage with Special Procedures mandate holders instead. See ISHR Academy: Special Procedures.

Treaty Bodies have limited resources. This means that they:

  • are likely to face significant backlog in dealing with individual communication
  • may encounter delays in considering State reports and follow up communication
  • find it challenging to prioritise follow-up or assess implementation of their recommendation
  • can only undertake one inquiry at a time
  • can only travel a limited number of times per year to countries

Limited enforcement mechanism. Remember also that there are no mechanisms to ensure that States comply with the decisions and views adopted by the Treaty Bodies, or with the recommendations made by them. However, studies show that a significant number of recommendations provided to States by Treaty Bodies lead to at least some follow up, and nearly a quarter of Treaty Body decisions on individual complaints are implemented by States.

Translating Treaty Body actions. Once you get the result you want from a Treaty Body, you will have to put some effort into making sure that it translates into change back home. This can be done through various kinds of action, for example, media outreach, producing and disseminating summaries of views and recommendations, supporting multi-stakeholder discussions on follow up, as well as other national implementation plans.

When planning to engage with the Treaty Bodies, you will also need to keep in mind:

Timing of your action

Timing is crucial in your engagement with the Treaty Bodies, and you will need to be aware of the deadlines, including the deadlines to submit information, and the schedule or timing of country reviews.

For example:

  • If you wish to provide input into the periodic review process, you must make your submission by the deadline set by the Treaty Bodies, which is normally between 2 to 8 weeks prior to the start of the session when the State party will be reviewed. See ISHR Academy: Engaging prior to the Treaty Body review to find information on status and schedules related to the periodic review process.
  • If you wish to submit any follow up information to a Treaty Body, you will need to know when the State is due to submit or has submitted its follow up response, as the Treaty Bodies normally consider follow up information from civil society only once the State has submitted its information. You may need to reach out to the OHCHR Secretariat of the Treaty Bodies or to INGO TB-Net members to find out when a follow up review is scheduled to take place, as such dates are normally not publicly available in advance. (See Access below.)
  • If you submit an individual communication on the victim’s behalf, the Treaty Body is likely to send you requests for further information, or request a response to comments from the State party, within a set timeframe.
  • If you are sending a request for an urgent action, you should normally hear back from a Treaty Body within a short timeframe, which can be as little as 48 hours.

Resources

Every human rights defender and NGO has limited resources and of course you need to use them as efficiently and effectively as possible. In the context of engaging with the Treaty Bodies, this will mean picking and choosing when and how you engage, and also maximising your resources by building strong partnerships with Geneva-based and international institutions and NGOs who will be able to support you and your advocacy. For example, by following up with OHCHR staff who support Treaty Bodies to find out if action has been taken, or by engaging with the INGO members of TB-Net. (See Access below).

Access

Access to Treaty Bodies is made easier through the development of personal relationships. You may have to reach out to Treaty Bodies more than once to try to build a relationship with them in order to get the action that you seek. Personal relations are key and can make a significant difference, whether you link up with members of the relevant Treaty Body secretariat or Treaty Body members themselves.

Role of the media

Journalists covering the UN are mostly interested in substantive issues, for example specific human rights violations and decisions of Treaty Bodies, rather than processes such as the submission of NGO reports to a periodic review of a State. News coverage of action taken by Treaty Bodies can help bring attention to your issue which can serve your advocacy, and so it’s important to show why the action is newsworthy.

You can also engage with media at home to bring attention to your advocacy. For example, you can share the text of a Treaty Body inquiry report or press release, or share decisions and views adopted by Treaty Bodies regarding individual communications, or even provide summaries of recommendations and views. You can also organize an event in your country which includes live streaming (or replay) of periodic reviews happening in Geneva (keeping in mind the possible time difference), as well as debates, and invite the media to the event.

Example:

There are many examples of high-level media coverage of decisions of or submissions of communications or complaints to the Treaty Bodies.

The collective submission of a communication on climate change by a group of international youth activists to the CRC (2019)

Climate activist Greta Thunberg joined 15 other children from around the world to submit an individual communication to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in September 2019. Targeting Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey, the complaint alleges that these countries are ‘recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfil the petitioners’ rights.’ In particular, the communication alleges the petitioners’ rights to life, health, and culture – standards set out the in Convention of the Rights of the Child - have been violated. Whether or not the petitioners are successful, the mere act of filing the complaint has already brought the matter into the public eye.


In the next section you can find out more about the usefulness of NGO coalitions and the importance of coordination with other actors when engaging with Treaty Bodies.

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