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UNITED NATIONS TREATY BODIES AND HOW THEY FUNCTION

PART TWO: HOW A STATE BECOMES PARTY TO A HUMAN RIGHTS TREATY AND FULFILLS ITS OBLIGATION TO THE TREATY

February 16, 2016  By: Bankole Clifford Ekundayo Morgan, Human Rights Advocate

(The thoughts expressed in this article are purely and entirely those of the author)

HOW A STATE CAN EXPRESS ITS CONSENT TO BE BOUND BY A TREATY?

Procedurally,each human rights treaty has as a parameter on how States must proceed to bind themselves by the substantive provisions of a treaty, and when the treaty will enter into force. These two issues are very much key in the entire process.

As a matter of fact, a state can express its consent to be bound in several ways, in accordance with the final clauses of that particular treaty. The human rights treaties allow for consent to be expressed either, through signature followed by ratification, acceptance or approval or through accession. In some circumstances States may also bind themselves through succession. As per procedure and in line with international law, some treaties require a minimum number of States Parties before they can enter into force.

RATIFICATION AS THE FIRST STEP IN BECOMING A STATE PARTY TO HUMAN RIGHTS TREATY

Ratification exercise is very important in becoming a State Party to a Human Rights Treaty. This is the first step to be achieved by a State Party before it can be fully recognised as a party to a treaty. It is evident that by this act a State registers its willingness and agrees to be bound by a treaty under International Law. Thus committing itself to promote, protect and fulfill fundamental human rights as prescribed by International Human Rights Law. For a State to become a party to a treaty it must first express its consent in writing, then follow it up by an act of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession. Thedate of entry into force of the treaty for that particular State must have passed. That is the treaty must have been in existence. In the field of human rights, States have the primary responsibility to adhere to the provisions contained in the signed treaty.

STATE PARTY TO A TREATY IS UNDER OBLIGATION TO SUBMIT REGULAR REPORTS

Human Rights reporting is very important and State Parties are always encouraged by the United Nations – through reporting bodies – to kindly adhere to their reporting obligations. By signing and ratifying human rights treaty, States Parties to a treaty have the obligation to implement the substantive provisions of the signed treaty. Additionally, each State Party is under an obligation to submit regular reports to the relevant treaty body on how the rights are being implemented. In order to meet its reporting obligation, each State Party must submit a comprehensive initial report usually within one year of the treaty entering into force for that State. In other treaties a period of two years as in the case of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Covenant on the Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It must then continue to report periodically (in accordance with the provisions of the treaty (usually every four or five years) on further measures taken to implement the treaties.

LEGAL JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATIVE MEASURES

One key issue which must be factored in the report is that the report must set out the legal judicial administrative measures taken by States to give effect to the treaty provisions, and mention any difficulties that have been encountered in implementing the rights. In order to ensure that the report contains adequate information to allow committees to do their work, each treaty body issues guidelines which should be followed by States on the form and content of the State reports.

REASON FOR STATE PARTY TO REPORT

One major reason why State Parties are required and encouraged to report is for them to take stock of their human rights protection mechanism within their jurisdiction for the purpose of policy planning and implementation. Treaty Bodies always encourage State Parties to see the process of preparing their reports as an opportunity  for them to register their commitments towards their primary obligations, which are: to Promote, Protect and Fulfill human rights. It is very important to note that the reporting procedure creates the enabling environment for the Committee, and the States Parties as a whole, to facilitate the exchange of information sharing among States and to develop a better understanding of the common problems faced by States and a fuller appreciation of the type of measures which might be taken to promote effective realisation of each of the rights contained in the relevant treaty.

OBSERVATION TOWARDS STATE OMISSION AND OR INACTION TO SUBMIT REPORT

As a human rights advocate, I have observed over the years that State parties view the process of reporting to treaty bodies as a huge and considerable challenge posed at them. My view is that it is just a matter of proper planning and commitment towards the respect for the promotion and protection of human rights.  A State which has ratified all the seven core human rights treaties is expected to produce more than twenty (20) human rights reports over a period of 10 year, that is one report every six months. This is not impossible, but rather possible where there is the political will and resources are available. States must also produce responses to a list of issues and prepare to attend treaty body sessions, and then may need to submit further reports on follow up to concluding observations.

It is a plain truth that more often states fall behind in their reporting obligations or in some cases fail to report. In the case of some States they have for over a long periods of time failed to submit their reports and have deliberately not responded to the committees’ requests to report. This frustrates the work of Treaty Bodies and has some impact on the human rights record of that State. States must always do their best not to fall victim of not reporting and if they had, they must try hard to clear backlog of reports.

THE ROLE OF NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS IN THE REPORTING PROCESS

National Human Rights Institutions are very much instrumental and seen as an internal mechanism in the projection and realisation of human rights. The establishment of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) is a basis for the work of the international community. The essence of setting up NHRIs is to ensure the respect for the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights. NHRIs do so by among other things, improving the implementation of conclusions and recommendations of human rights treaty bodies at the national level through the strengthening of national capacity. NHRIs can constructively engage their governments, civil society organisations and other national stakeholders to try and enhance compliance with treaty body recommendations.