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Introduction

Greetings from IWRAW Asia Pacific!

We are writing to alert you to recent discussions about reforming the treaty body system as well as to seek your ideas and input into proposals IWRAW Asia Pacific should put forward to the reform discussions.

We feel it is essential that the experiences and recommendations of national level women’s groups, who use the treaty body system to bring about greater protection and accountability for human rights at the national level, are considered in the reform process.

IWRAW Asia Pacific invites you to share your views on the kinds of reforms you would like to see made to the treaty body system as well as your views on features which should be strengthened and not undermined through a reform process. To this end, we have set up this on-line survey inviting your feedback on specific questions.

What you need to do: Please answer all questions on the left by leaving a comment on the individual question page. Please leave your name, contact and organisation details as well.

We urge you to take the time to respond to these questions and share your views on this important matter.

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Context and Background of the Treaty Body Reform Discussion

Since 2003 there have been on-going discussions, initiated by the OHCHR, about reforming the treaty body system with the aim of making it more efficient and streamlined. There was a lot of debate on this topic among the OHCHR, States, Committee members and NGOs on the two key proposals:

(1)  Reform of the treaty body reporting process, and

(2)  Reform of the composition of the treaty bodies

Reform of the Treaty Body Reporting process:

With the proliferation of new human rights treaties (e.g. migrants, disabilities) and with more and more states ratifying these treaties, there was concern that the reporting process would become untenable for both the State Parties submitting reports and the treaty bodies entrusted with reviewing them. Hence the idea to reform the reporting process arose.

At first there was some discussion on having the states submit one report to all treaty monitoring bodies, but this idea was short lived.  Almost all agreed that there was simply no way one report could properly account for all of the State Party obligations under the various human rights treaties to which they were a party.

In 2006, the decision was made at the UN Inter-Committee and Annual Chairpersons Meeting to adopt a more streamlined and harmonised reporting process which consists of the state preparing and submitted a common core document (CCD) to all treaty bodies and a treaty specific document (TSD) to each separate treaty body.  The CCD should contain information on obligations common to all treaty bodies, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, and the TSD would contain information on State obligations specific to each specific treaty (e.g. on migrants, on women, on children, etc) following specific guidelines developed by each treaty body.

The guidelines for the CCD can be found at http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G06/419/42/PDF/G0641942.pdf

The CEDAW Committee has recently issues guidelines for the TSD which can be found at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/E.CN.6.2008.CRP.1.pdf

One implication of the common core document is that women’s NGOs need to work together with other NGOs in the country on the alternative reports to the expanded core document as it is key for NGOs to respond to the areas that the State party has not addressed in the common core document. Furthermore, as equality and non-discrimination are included in the common core document, NGOs can try to ensure that the standards set by CEDAW are integrated by the other treaty bodies through that common core, which is how CEDAW can impact CERD, HRC, etc

Reform of the composition of the treaty bodies

There were two key proposals put forward for reforms to the composition of the treaty bodies:

1. One Unified Treaty Body:

    The reform put forward by the OHCHR in its “Concept Note” (2005) would create one single, unified treaty monitoring body to oversee implementation of all human rights treaties (instead of having one monitoring body per treaty, as is currently the case).  On the whole this proposal of the OHCHR has been rejected by almost all of the treaty bodies, and NGOs alike (including CEDAW Committee). It was felt that the specificity of the rights and obligations contained in each treaty would be overlooked and diluted if this reform were to happen and that women’s human rights would be particularly vulnerable to this trend. The CEDAW Committee and IWRAW Asia Pacific argued that the rights of women are historically and contemporaneously marginalised and that there was therefore a need for a specific treaty body with expertise in women’s human rights to review a States fulfilment of their obligations under the CEDAW Convention and assist the State to meet its obligations through the constructive dialogue, concluding observations, general recommendations and terminations of cases and inquiries under the OP CEDAW.

    2. One Unified Complaints Body:

      One idea for reform put forth by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination suggests creating one common body to all treaty bodies which will oversee all complaints procedures. The CEDAW Committee has rejected this idea as have many NGOs for the same reasons as why a unified treaty body is untenable – the rights of women would be lost in such a body with very few gender experts appointed etc.

      Harmonisation of working methods

      The model of reform which has been implemented since 2006 is the harmonisation of working methods across treaty bodies. This was put forth by the CEDAW Committee and has been supported by the OHCHR Treaty Bodies Branch. A number of reforms towards this goal have already taken place including:

      • Moving the servicing of the CEDAW Committee from Division for Advancement of Women (DAW) in New York to OHCHR in Geneva to ensure greater cohesion and closer working relationship with other treaty bodies. The positive side to this move is that it may encourage increased integration of women’s human rights concerns into the work of other treaty bodies.
      • Harmonisation of terminologies used – OHCHR has changed terminologies given to the CEDAW Committee’s outcome documents so that these are harmonised across the treaty bodies i.e Concluding Observations (replaces Concluding Comments) and General Comments (replaced General Recommendations).
      • Towards the greater harmonisation across treaty bodies, the CEDAW Committee and the Committee on Migration are working on a joint General Comment.

      IWRAW Asia Pacific along with other NGOs (the NGO Coalition for Treaty Body Reforms) have been using this entry point to lobby for further reforms across treaty bodies such as:

      • Ensuring maximum space for NGO oral briefing in all treaty bodies (using CEDAW and CRC as a model).
      • Encouraging treaty bodies to adopt methods for following-up on the  implementation of concluding observations including the appointment of a Rapporteur for this purpose and accepting information from NGOs on this – note: the CEDAW Committee has just adopted a decision outlining a method for follow-up including the appointment of Rapporteurs (Decision 41/2).
      • A method for ensuring the greater appointment of women with women’s human rights expertise across all treaty bodies.
      • Ensuring a common transparent practice for circulating draft General Comments and soliciting feedback from NGOs.

      Background Materials

      • Making United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies More Effective: A Gender Critique of Reforms to the Reporting Process – the case of the ‘Common Core Document’, by Dianne Otto, IWRAW Asia Pacific 2005

      Questionnaire

      Please click on a link to go to the different questions. Leave your responses in the comment field. Do remember to leave your name, and organisation contact details once you’ve answered a question.

      General

      Question 1.1

      Question 1.2

      Question 1.3

      Question 1.4

      Concrete proposals for reform

      Question 2.1

      Question 2.2.1

      Question 2.2.2

      Question 2.2.3

      Question 2.2.4

      Question 2.2.5

      Question 2.3

      Question 2.4 (a)

      Question 2.4 (b)

      Question 2.4 (c)

      Question 2.4 (d)

      Question 2.4 (e)

      Question 2.4 (f)

      Question 2.5

      Question 2.6

      Process for Developing Reform Priorities

      Question 3.1

      Question 3.2