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Human Rights Committee discusses its methods of work

Human Rights Committee
MEETING SUMMARY 

2 November 2018

The Human Rights Committee this morning heard the presentation of the report of its working group on lists of issues which reviewed the Committee’s current practices and made recommendations towards improved methodology relating to lists of issues and lists of issues prior to reporting, and better alignment with the work of other treaty bodies.

Presenting the report, Sarah Cleveland, Committee Vice-Chair, remarked that lists of issues and lists of issues prior to reporting were an extremely important step in the Committee’s approach to periodic review and dialogue with States parties, adding that the vast majority of the questions raised on the dialogue by Committee members were based on the issues addressed in the lists.  Those texts therefore should be consciously drafted with an eye toward the concerns and recommendations that the Committee would want to address in its concluding observations.  The recommendations offered by the working group addressed, inter alia, the lack of a standardised approach to the development of lists of issues, civil society participation, length and style of a list of issues, and the roles of the Secretariat, Rapporteurs and Task Force members in the preparation of a draft list of issues.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the high quality, comprehensive nature, and usefulness of the working group’s report, which should be distributed to new members due to join the Committee at its next session.  The Experts underlined the critically important coordinating role of the Rapporteur to ensure that there was no overlap in questions, and stressed that the Committee should focus on issues under the exclusive jurisdiction of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Committee decided that the working group’s report would be translated into the Committee’s official languages and be distributed to the Committee’s new members, and recommended that the next Bureau continue to work on the recommendations.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 2 November, to discuss follow-up to views and then officially close its one hundred and twenty-fourth session.

Methods of Work

SARAH CLEVELAND, Committee Vice-Chair, presented the report of the working group on lists of issues in which it reviewed the current practices of the Human Rights Committee and made recommendations to improve the Committee’s methodology and practices relating lists of issues and lists of issues prior to reporting, and better align with the work of other treaty bodies.  Lists of issues and lists of issues prior to reporting were an extremely important step in the Committee’s approach to periodic review and dialogue with States parties.  The vast majority of the questions raised on the dialogue by Committee members were based on the issues addressed in the lists, Ms. Cleveland stressed, noting that they should be consciously drafted with an eye toward the concerns and recommendations that the Committee would want to address in its concluding observations.

Turning to the specific recommendations, Ms. Cleveland noted that currently, there was no standardised approach to the development of lists of issues.  Each member of the Secretariat and the Rapporteur had a particular, individual approach to preparing a draft text, which led to inconsistency in the coverage and detail from one list of issues to another, as well as to some path dependency and repetition, as issues previously addressed by the Committee tended to be reiterated in the subsequent lists.  Such an approach, the Vice-Chair added, resulted in some unevenness in the issues covered in the lists of issues, and it was observed that the Committee consistently addressed certain issues, regardless of whether other treaty bodies also addressed them.  Those included national human rights institutions, gender equality and wage gaps, violence against women, torture, trafficking in persons, and corporal punishment.  As a result, there were fairly formulaic requests for information in lists of issues, and fairly formulaic rather than context-specific concluding observations.  At the same time, Ms. Cleveland continued, the Committee tended to under-examine, or to examine unevenly, some issues that fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Covenant, including the follow-up to the concluding observations and views, privacy issues (article 17), freedom of expression (article 19) with respect to structural control of the media, and issues under article 25 concerning elections, multi-party issues, and corruption.

The working group recommended the development of detailed guidelines for the preparation of lists of issues for the Secretariat and Task Force members, and a comprehensive checklist of possible topics that might be raised with the State party, to help ensure greater consistency of approach to lists of issues and more reliable coverage of concerns under the Covenant for a particular State party.  A comprehensive checklist of issues commonly addressed in lists of issues could help ensure consistent coverage, but should be used as a starting point only - lists of issues should be focused on issues of importance to this Committee for the particular State party, in light of reviews by other treaty bodies.  As such, the priority should be given to issues of particular importance for that State party and the issues that fell primarily within the jurisdiction of the Covenant, and be narrowed in light of issues previously raised with a State party, that therefore need not be asked again.  Also, the lists of issues should be consciously crafted in light of both the recent past and forthcoming reviews by other treaty bodies as it could reduce the time that the Committee devoted to certain issues, however, they should not ordinarily cause the Committee to omit core issues under the Covenant from the list of issues altogether.

The working group also recommended that the process of notifying civil society of the preparation of lists of issues should be strengthened, including by giving non-governmental organizations adequate timely public notice of the planned preparation, ordinarily through the inclusion on the Committee’s public agenda at least two sessions in advance of the adoption of the list of issues. The working group noted the 25 questions limit in the preparation of lists, and remarked that the strongest concluding observations, that provided the greatest specific and practical guidance to the State party on how to improve the human rights situation in the country, generally began with detailed lists of issues specifically tailored to the situation in the country.  The primary concern with respect to length and style should be to ensure the prioritization of the main issues under the Covenant in relation to the particular State party, to prevent necessary overlap among lists of issues of the various treaty bodies, and to strengthen complementarity among the competent treaty bodies for a single country.

The report, the Vice-Chair continued, also addressed the role of the Secretariat, the Rapporteur and Task Force members, recommending that the Head of the Secretariat Unit should be involved in providing overall direction and guidance on the preparation of draft lists of issues, ensuring internal consistency and quality control, and that Rapporteurs and Task Force members should play a more active role in ensuring coverage and prioritization of issues.  It was further suggested that the Committee made lists of issues prior to reporting the default practice for the preparation of lists of issues, from which States could indicate a desire to opt out.

In conclusion, Ms. Cleveland informed the Committee on the practices in preparing lists of issues employed by other treaty bodies, and outlined the Working Group’s next steps, including to begin preparing, in consultation with the Secretariat, more detailed internal guidance on preparation of lists of issues.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the high quality, comprehensive nature, and usefulness of the report of the working group on lists of issues.  An Expert suggested that it should be distributed to new members who would join the Committee at its next session, and also proposed that a specific section or a template be included in a list of issues on the implementation of the Committee’s previous concluding observations.  Other Experts underlined the critically important coordinating role of the Rapporteur, who should ensure that there was no overlap in questions that Experts asked during a dialogue with a State party, and that questions to be asked during the dialogue were clearly outlined in advance.

The Committee must remember that its primary jurisdiction was civil and political rights and focus on issues under the exclusive jurisdiction of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and also pay particular attention to the implementation by States parties of previous concluding observations and views.  With regards to civil society participation, the Experts noted an imbalance between States parties, both in terms of the number and quality of civil society contributions as well as their impartiality, and stressed the importance of building partnership with civil society organizations in the field, and building their capacity, both before and after dialogues with States parties.

Summarizing the discussion, YUVAL SHANY, Committee Chairperson, noted the general support of the Committee for the working group’s report and, noting that the recommendations were not yet ready for official adoption, proposed that an official recommendation be made to the next Bureau to continue to work on this matter.  The Committee decided that the Working Group’s report would be translated into the Committee’s official languages and be distributed to the Committee’s new members.
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For use of the information media; not an official record
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