The UN Human Rights Treaty System: Universality at the Crossroads


The post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was constituted decades after most of the human rights treaties were adopted. Treaty body after treaty body was created, without a relationship to a High Commissioner, and without a relationship to each other. The result has been a burgeoning reporting burden, duplication of procedures, little effort to synchronize substantive outcomes, and rudimentary follow-up processes and responsibilities. In the meantime, treaty body members have struggled to preserve their independent expert status in a highly politicized UN environment, which has populated their numbers with many government surrogates and grossly underfinanced their work.

The reforms envisaged in this Report have assumed that improvements not requiring formal amendment will be more easily accomplished. Hence, the recommendations generally assume a six treaty body regime, and focus primarily on offering concrete suggestions for improvements in working methods of the treaty bodies and procedures at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The proposals for bolstering national level partnerships are also made in the context of the current conditions of overlap and a multiplicity of treaty bodies. Follow-up is the key missing component of the implementation regime, and therefore recommendations in this context are developed at some length. While one major reform requiring amendment is ultimately recommended, most of the specific recommendations concerning working methods and OHCHR processes remain relevant to a reorganized treaty regime. 

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Last updated on 08/17/2015