Progress as States work to implement Human Rights Committee recommendations

Inhabitants of the suburbs, Madagascar, 06 September 2019. EPA-EFE/LUCA ZENNARO

In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Human Rights Committee has continued its work reviewing States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under its follow-up to concluding observations procedure.

The follow-up procedure has been used by the Committee since 2013. After the constructive dialogues between State parties and the Committee in Geneva, the Committee adopts concluding observations. From these, it selects two to four concluding observations on which the State party is expected to report within one year. The Committee reviews of the reports and, at its sessions, assesses the State parties’ progress in implementing them. The Committee does so by reviewing follow-up reports by State parties and assigning grades based on their action on the recommendations.

Grades are assigned to each area of concern in the Committee’s recommendations. These grades are: ‘A’ ‘largely satisfactory’; ‘B’ ‘partially satisfactory’; ‘C’ ‘not satisfactory’; ‘D’ ‘no cooperation with the committee or no follow-up report was received’; and ‘E’ ‘measures taken in response to the recommendation are contrary to or reflect a rejection of it’.

According to Marcia Kran, the member of the Committee who also serves as the Special Rapporteur on follow-up to Concluding Observations, the importance of this process cannot be overstated. “The follow-up procedure is influential in ensuring the work of the Committee has its intended effect. It encourages States to demonstrate meaningful progress toward key human rights goals,” Kran said. “After States report to the Committee, they often make improvements by developing new laws and institutions, building capacity and reforming practice. The follow-up process is an opportunity to showcase the tangible progress they have made.”

2018–2020 trends

Over the last three years, the Committee has reviewed 42 State party replies under the follow-up procedure. No A grades were awarded in 2018, while five were awarded in 2019 and two in 2020. The proportion of B grades increased steadily between 2018 and 2020 from 34 per cent (2018) to 43 per cent (2020).

Distribution of A to E grades as received by State parties during 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Top grades for Madagascar and Slovenia

In 2020, the Committee reviewed follow-up reports from 12 State parties: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Eswatini, Honduras, Italy, Madagascar, Mongolia, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia and Thailand. In evaluating State party reports, the Committee benefitted from submissions from civil society organizations and national human rights institutions, which offered crucial contextual information about the domestic civil and political rights situation and impact of the actions taken by State parties to apply the Committee’s recommendations.

According to Patrick Mutzenberg, Director of the Centre for Civil and Political Rights, a Geneva-based NGO that facilitates civil society interaction with the Committee: “the Committee’s follow-up process is one of the few procedures available that rates the State party’s compliance in a simple and straightforward manner”.

Two State parties received A grades in 2020. Madagascar received an A for establishing a Paris Principles compliant National Human Rights Institution, the Commission Nationale Indépendante des Droits de l’Homme.

“Madagascar is particularly honored by the recognition that the Human Rights Committee has granted it. All stakeholders in the field of the protection and promotion of human rights on the Big Island are aware of the scale of this issue for the entire Malagasy population and that is the constant focus of our efforts,” said Tivo Hely Rasamimanana, Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Madagascar in Geneva. “Madagascar welcomes, in compliance with its international obligations, the effective establishment of the Independent National Commission for Human Rights (CNIDH) and the fundamental role that [it] said plays in this common cause.”

Also in 2020, Slovenia received an A for passing the Protection against Discrimination Act and establishing the Advocate of the Principle of Equality. “My country is very grateful for the recognition by the Committee, as it highlights our commitment to non-discrimination,” said Sabina R. Stadler, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva. “Being awarded for passing the Protection against Discrimination Act, which established the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, comes with a great deal of responsibility. We certainly believe that its main goal lies in the implementation, more precisely in awareness raising, prevention and elimination of all forms of discrimination.”

“The Advocate of the Principle of Equality has since become a strong and independent voice, standing up for the rights of those who might have been left behind before. It proved especially essential in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic,” she added. “Slovenia firmly believes that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and will continue to progressively advocate to this end, both at home and international fora. We will do our utmost to continue leading by example also in the future.”

Thematic areas of follow-up

The concluding observations chosen for follow-up and on which States’ progress was reviewed in 2020 varied. However, common recommendations selected concerned preventing and eliminating discrimination; treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants; prohibiting and addressing torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and providing remedies to victims; and the protection of freedom of expression for human rights defenders and journalists.

A) Non-discrimination

Costa Rica, Mongolia and Slovenia were reviewed on efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination. Slovenia received an A, as above. Costa Rica received a B for carrying out media awareness campaigns on discrimination against those with disabilities, migrants and refugees and for becoming the first country in the Americas to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance. Mongolia received a B for its training of law enforcement and medical professionals on LGBT rights.

B) Treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Poland, Serbia and Slovenia were reviewed on the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Bosnia and Herzegovina received a C as it did not provide information on steps taken to guarantee refugees equal access to services. Italy received a C as it did not provide information on steps taken to improve detention conditions for refugees, ensure immigration detention is only used as a last resort, and ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement. Poland received a C as it did not provide information on measures to ensure immigration detention is reasonable, necessary and proportionate, that children are not detained except as a last resort, that access to asylum is not obstructed on discriminatory grounds and that the principle of non-refoulement is respected. Serbia received a C as it did not provide information on measures taken to provide access to an individualized asylum determination procedure, respect the principle of non-refoulement, and ensure adequate conditions in reception centers. Slovenia received a C as it did not provide information on measures taken to ensure access to individualized asylum determination procedures, provide counsel to asylum seekers, respect the principle of non-refoulement, facilitate family reunification for refugees, and ensure compliance of immigration measures with the Covenant.

C) Prohibiting and addressing torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

Colombia, Madagascar, Mongolia and Thailand were assessed on efforts to prohibit and address torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and provide remedies to victims. Colombia received a B for establishing an independent mechanism to receive and investigate complaints of torture in places of deprivation of liberty, but did not provide the number of investigations and prosecutions undertaken. Madagascar received a B for finalizing legal reforms prohibiting torture and making efforts to investigate allegations of torture. Mongolia and Thailand received Bs for carrying out training programs for police and the military regarding torture prevention and human rights. Mongolia also received a C as it did not provide information on the legal definition of torture and whether allegations of torture are investigated and prosecuted in practice. Thailand also received a B for its national justice system reform plan and measures implemented to provide victims of torture with financial reparation. It received a C as it did not provide information on establishing an independent mechanism for the prevention and suppression of torture and enforced disappearance.

D) Protection of freedom of expression, association and assembly for human rights defenders and journalists

Colombia, Eswatini, Honduras and Serbia were evaluated on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and violence against human rights defenders and journalists. Columbia received a B for creating institutions including an elite peace corps and a special investigation unit to protect human rights defenders. Eswatini received a B for providing training to judges and police officers on free expression, and passing new laws on freedom of assembly, although it did not report on steps taken to prevent and redress attacks on human rights defenders. Honduras received a B for efforts to provide effective protection to human rights defenders through legal reform and the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice Officials. However, it did not provide information on steps taken to further implement the Defenders Act, offer further protection to human rights defenders and journalists, and the number of cases investigated and prosecuted by the Special Prosecutor. Serbia did not report on measures taken both to provide effective protection to media workers from intimidation, and to refrain from prosecuting journalists and human rights defenders to deter them from freely expressing their opinions and therefore received a C.

For the Committee, it was not always clear from State party reports whether the steps discussed were taken before or after the adoption of its concluding observations. As well, reports often lacked detail on the results of State Party’s implementation efforts, such as the number and outcomes of investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators, remedies provided to victims, as well as the impact of any training carried out. “The Committee has encouraged State parties to address these points in their follow-up reports.

The Committee discontinued the follow-up procedure for the State parties reviewed in 2020. This was done as these countries were due to submit their next periodic reports shortly, and the Committee requested that they address the gaps in information in their next periodic reports. By adopting this approach, it maintains regular scrutiny of States parties’ progress on follow-up recommendations.

In 2021, the Committee is scheduled to review Australia, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Jamaica, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Norway, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Moldova, San Marino, Slovakia, and Switzerland under the follow-up procedure.

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