John Morijn, PhD (EUI (Law)) is senior human rights adviser, Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and assistant professor of human rights law, University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author only, and do not in any way reflect the position of the Dutch government.
A while back I reported on discussions that were (re)started in 2009 about how to revamp the way in which UN human rights treaty monitoring functions. About three years into this debate the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has now published her own long-awaited report. It contains a number of very valuable proposals that, if implemented as a package, would constitute a great leap forward. The report is an admirable piece of work by the High Commissioner and her Office. Yet it also still leaves one or two things to be ironed out and explicated in the process leading up to the likely adoption of a General Assembly resolution. It is therefore important to keep up the pressure. It is also crucial to alert the European Union, which only very recently proudly adopted its Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, that it is now time to practice what is has been preaching for decades and put its money where the mouth is. In particular, footing part of the reasonable bill that will come with strengthening the existing UN human rights monitoring system in line with the High Commissioner’s proposals would seem a natural and desirable move for the EU, simply because it would be fully in line with many of its internal and external policy objectives (and therefore a rather economical way to pursue its enlightened self-interest).
Having learnt from earlier mistakes made by her Office – previous multi-faceted proposals to reform the way in which treaty monitoring functions got to be reduced and identified only with a (perfectly reasonable yet rather far-reaching, and therefore easily criticised) idea to merge the various treaty bodies – the High Commissioner this time took a smart approach. She explicitly presented the report as a ‘compilation’ of ideas tabled by others ‘to identify synergies, linkages and mutual reinforcements’. The selection criteria she used were that, apart from actually strengthening the treaty bodies’ mission to enhance promotion and protection of human rights, the proposals should a) respect the treaties and do not require amendments, b) have been proposed by more than one contributor to the debate and be likely to generate agreement, and c) be compatible with and make for a coherent package with other proposals. This approach has the admirable effect of front-loading and side-lining expected criticism in one move, leaving space for a strategic pick-and-choose among the very numerous proposals tabled.