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.
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.
9 December 2020