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3. Opportunities for You to Engage

3.4 Periodic reviews – Why are they useful?

You can engage with Treaty Bodies in all areas of their work – periodic reviews, individual communications, general comments, inquiries, early warnings and urgent actions, and by following up on Treaty Body actions.

This and the next two sections focus on:

Periodic reviews

Periodic or country reviews allow for Treaty Bodies to monitor a State’s implementation of its obligations under the treaties.

This reporting process may be the most useful (and most commonly used) tool of the Treaty Bodies from the perspective of human rights defenders.

Below you will find questions to help you consider why periodic reviews might be useful to your advocacy, followed by some examples of how other human rights defenders have engaged and used this tool.

For more information on what they are, see ISHR Academy: Periodic reviews – What can Treaty Bodies do?


Reflection Questions

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Q1- How could periodic reviews be useful/advantageous to you?

  • The periodic review offers the opportunity to:
    • Obtain specific recommendations grounded in a binding treaty that you can use in advocacy directed to your government (Treaty Bodies are experts/quasi-judicial mechanisms)
    • Provide comprehensive and evidenced-based information on the situation of human rights at national / local level, thus ensuring Treaty Bodies have information at hand to make relevant concluding observations and recommendations to your country
    • Gives voice to victims
    • Ensure greater scrutiny of your State’s efforts and promote accountability
    • Stimulate public debate
    • Open dialogue with your State and other actors
    • Build relationships with Treaty Bodies for future action
    • In restrictive national environments, engage with State representatives, which would not otherwise be possible in-country

Q2- Could they be harmful/disadvantageous?

  • Submitting information or contributing to a periodic review by Treaty Bodies could lead to reprisals by your government. Sadly, national authorities often target and retaliate against organisations and individuals who cooperate with the Treaty Bodies. There are a range of preventive and remedial measures that you can take including:
    • Request that your submission be kept confidential and not published on the OHCHR website
    • Request confidential and private discussions with the relevant Treaty Body members. Such requests can be made directly to the Treaty Body Secretariat at the OHCHR, and/or with support from TB-Net members for Treaty Bodies which receive support from their members.
    • Report immediately any instances of threats or intimidation, including unwanted pictures or films by State delegations during reviews, to the Treaty Body focal point on reprisals through the OHCHR Secretariat.
    • For more information on reprisals, including contact information to report an act of intimidation or reprisal against anyone who has cooperated with the UN Treaty Bodies, see the dedicated webpage of the Treaty Bodies on reprisals.
    • See also ISHR Academy: Security

Q3- Consider how periodic reviews support/complement your existing advocacy strategies

Remember:

  • Obtaining focused recommendations directed to your State from a UN Treaty Body should be seen as part of a wider advocacy strategy, and part of your planned follow-up. You may wish to consider how the Treaty Body recommendations serve your advocacy objectives and how they support the process of implementation and compliance at the national level.
  • You can use other UN human rights mechanisms, for example the Universal Periodic Review, to push your State to comply with recommendations made by a Treaty Body.
  • You can use recommendations from Treaty Body inquiry reports and other outputs to support your submissions in the periodic review of your State

Examples of using periodic reviews

Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Mali – NGO written inputs prior to and participation in the review by the CESCR

The review of Mali in 2018 by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) was the first opportunity in the 40 years since Mali ratified the Treaty for NGOs to participate in the review, as Mali has not engaged directly with the CESCR in its previous reviews.

The NGO Coalition Malienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (COMADDH) made written submissions to the CESCR before its review, and participated in the session. COMADDH’s suggested recommendation on human rights defenders was identified by CESCR as a priority recommendation, meaning that Mali had a limited amount of time to implement that specific recommendation and that the Committee would undertake a follow up review to assess its implementation.

This is a good example of how the combination of written inputs by an NGO ahead of the review, participation in the review of the State, and interaction with members of the CESCR contributed significantly to the adoption of a dedicated recommendation on human rights defenders.


Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Mexico – NGO alternative report to the Committee Against Torture (CAT)

A coalition of over 100 NGOS submitted an alternative report to the CAT during its seventh periodic review of Mexico in 2019. This shadow report was based on inputs from a wide range of national and international NGOs. Working through a coalition meant that NGOs covered a broad range of issues – resulting in a comprehensive report covering all provisions of the Treaty. This report directly contributed to the adoption by the Committee of a range of targeted recommendations in its concluding observations.


Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

China – Lack of NGO consideration during follow up by CEDAW Committee

When China was reviewed by the CEDAW Committee in 2014, the Committee adopted a priority recommendation that China should improve the independence of the judiciary and prevent all forms of political interference in the judiciary. Two years after the adoption of the recommendations, the CEDAW Committee undertook a follow up review based on information submitted by China in which China affirmed that a number of measures had been taken to improve the situation of the independence of the judiciary.

National NGOs had not been able to submit information in time for the adoption of the decision by the Committee, and the Committee failed to take information from civil society into account as part of its follow up review. It therefore concluded that China had complied with the recommendation, even though national NGOs took a very different view.

This unfortunate example shows the important and invaluable role NGOs have at all stages of the review process, including follow up.


Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Iraq – NGO participation in first periodic review by CRPD

Iraqi disability rights NGOs participated in the Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD)’s first review of Iraq in 2018. The NGOs submitted an alternative report and participated in person during the Committee’s session in Geneva, through which they highlighted specific issues facing disabled individuals in Iraq and gaps in compliance with the Treaty. As part of this process, the International Disability Alliance (IDA) held a workshop in Iraq with representatives of the national NGOs to finalise the drafting of their alternative report to the CRPD and prepare the national NGO representatives for participation in Geneva.


Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Mauritania – Continuing the struggle against modern slavery with support from a UN Committee

When Mauritania was reviewed by the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in 2013, NGOs raised a series of concerns and suggested recommendations in relation to the ongoing prevalence of modern forms of slavery. Their inputs to the List of Issues and to the periodic review contributed to the adoption of an urgent recommendation by the CCPR to adopt and implement a national road map on the eradication of modern slavery. With support from the UN Human Rights office, the Mauritanian authorities subsequently adopted the road map. The CCPR acknowledged the significant progress which had been made in complying with the recommendation by adopting a grade “B1” which recognized that the government had taken “substantive action” to comply with the recommendation.


In the next two sections you will find tips on how to make inputs into the periodic review of your country.

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