ILO supervisory machinery

What does it do? How is it relevant to my work?
Since 1919, representatives of governments, employers and workers have come together to adopt international labour standards – 189 Conventions, giving rise to international treaty obligations, as well as over 200 Recommendations.

Eight of these Conventions have been designated by the ILO as “fundamental”, with “particular significance both as human rights and enabling conditions for the achievement of other ILO strategic objectives, and for the creation of decent jobs”[1]. These include the Conventions addressing child labour, forced labour, non-discrimination in employment and occupation, and freedom of association. Most recently, ILO constituents also adopted the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930. The foundation of the right to decent work is respect for the fundamental rights of workers, as set out in these Conventions. Human rights are not only the foundation of decent work; decent work has been recognized as a human right itself which is also recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which has provisions dealing, not only with the right to work, but with the various aspects of decent work, including just and favourable conditions of work, protection against unemployment, equal pay, social protection and the right to form and join trade unions[2]. Similar provisions are included in other international human rights treaties. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has made it clear, in general comment No. 18, that “work” as referred to in the ICCPR, means “decent work”, making specific reference to a range of ILO Conventions[3]. The ILO Conventions and Recommendations, and the comments of the ILO supervisory bodies, elaborate on and provide substance to the right to decent work.

Fundamental Conventions Date Ratifications (as of March 2017)
Forced Labour Convention (No. 29) 1930 178
Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105) 1957 175
Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) 1973 169
Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182) 1999 180
Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100) 1951 173
Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111) 1958 174
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (No. 87) 1948 154
Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98) 1949 164

ILO supervisory bodies

The ILO has a comprehensive and long-standing supervisory system, with a range of different and mutually reinforcing mechanisms. The main ILO supervisory mechanism linked to governments’ regular reporting obligation under ratified Conventions, and addressing all Conventions, is the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (Committee of Experts). The Committee of Experts considers annually over 2000 country reports. The Committee of Experts makes two kinds of comments: observations and direct requests. Observations, which are published in the Committee’s annual report, generally contain comments on fundamental questions raised by the application of a particular Convention by a State. Direct requests relate to more technical questions or requests for further infomraiton, and are directly communicated to the Governments concerned. The Committee of Expert’s annual report, containing over 800 observations on a wide range of Conventions, is then examined by the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference. The reports of these supervisory bodies contain observations and conclusions that touch upon people’s daily lives. They address violations of rights, as well as a range of issues relating to conditions in labour markets that can enhance opportunities for enterprise and job creation, and improve pay and working conditions, social protection, productivity, and labour-management relations.

In addition to the regular reporting procedures, the ILO Supervisory machinery includes a number of complaints or grievance mechanisms to deal with allegations of a breach of specific Conventions, in this connection, there are also representation and complaints procedures, as well as special freedom of association procedures. Individual communications are not addressed, but workers’ and employers’ organizations have an important role in each of the supervisory processes. The various mechanisms are described in the Table below.

The ILO supervisory machinery and the UN human rights mechanisms reinforce and complement each other. The ILO supervisory bodies regularly refer to information provided to and the reports of the Treaty and Charter-based bodies, and these bodies, as well as in the context of the UPR, refer to ILO conventions and procedures. Ratification of ILO conventions is, for example, regularly recommended in the context of the UPR. The ILO provides reports to the Treaty and Charter-based bodies, and the ILO Committee of Experts meets annually with members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to exchange views.

Mechanism Composition Role Role of employers’ and workers’ organizations Periodicity Outcome
Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations 20 independent experts Established in 1926.

Under ILO Constitution, articles 22 and 23 – regular reporting obligation on implementation of ratified Conventions in law and practice

Employers’ and workers’ organizations may submit observations in the context of the examination of the Government’s report. These observations are examined by the Committee of Experts. 3 years – for fundamental and governance Conventions


5 years for all other Conventions

Observations and directs requests to Governments. General survey on particular Conventions for broader guidance.

Annual report with observations , as well as general survey, submitted to Conference Committee

Conference Committee on the Application of Standards Equal representation of workers’, employers’ and government delegates Standing Committee of the annual International Labour Conference. Examines the annual report of the Committee of Experts and its general survey. Employers’ and workers’ organizations take part in the discussions and in the adoption of conclusions Approximately 25 individual cases examined annually – chosen at the beginning of the Conference by the Committee’s officers Conclusions recommending specific steps be taken. Follow-up missions and technical assistance often result.

Situations of special concern are highlighted in “special paragraphs” of the Committee’s report. Discussion further feeds Committee of Experts’ reflections.


(article 24)

Three member committee of the Governing Body – one worker, one employer and one Government representative. Under articles 24 and 25 of the ILO Constitution, examines allegations of failure to secure effective observance of a ratified Convention. Representations can be submitted only by workers’ and employers’ organizations, and a workers’ and employers’ representative sits on the tripartite committee that examines each case. The Committee is established by the Governing Body for each representation which is has determined to be admissible. Report to the Governing Body with information submitted, conclusions and recommendations. This report further feeds Committee of Experts’ examination.

(article 26)

The Governing Body may establish a Commission of Inquiry, the ILO’s highest-level investigative procedure, consisting of three independent members. Under article 26 of the ILO Constitution, a complaint against a member State for non-compliance with a ratified Convention may be filed by another member State having ratified the Convention, a delegate to the International Labour Conference, or by the Governing Body. A Commission of Inquiry is set up to address persistent and serious violations. As a delegate to the International Labour Conference, a workers’ or employers’ organization can initiate a complaint. The Governing Body determines if a Commission of Inquiry will be established. The Commission of Inquiry investigates the complaint and adopts a report with recommendations. When a member State refuses to fulfil the recommendations, the Governing Body can take further action under article 33 of the ILO Constitution, to secure compliance.
The Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) Eighteen members (titular and deputy)  – 6 representatives of government, 6  of workers’ organizations, and 6 of employers’ organizations, with an independent Chair. A standing Governing Body Committee. Established in 1951 to examine complaints of violations of freedom of association, irrespective of ratification of the relevant Conventions. Employers’ and workers’ organizations can submit complaints to the CFA, and are also represented on the CFA. Complaints are addressed as they are received. CFA meets and adopts reports three times per year. CFA reviews complaints and either recommends no further action or issues recommendations and requests Government to keep it informed. CFA may also propose a “direct contacts” mission to address the issues.
Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission on Freedom of Association 3, independent experts . Similar to the article 26 complaint, but with a focus on freedom of association Constituted on the basis of an agreement with the UN Economic and Social Council. Ratification of the relevant Conventions is not necessary, nor is membership in the ILO (UN would obtain consent) Employers’ and workers’ organizations can submit complaints and provide evidence for the investigation. The Governing Body decides whether to appoint a Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission. The Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission investigates the complaint and adopts a report with recommendations, which is followed up by the CFA.
NORMLEX: Date Base of International Labour Standards
All ILO instruments, observations and direct requests, and reports of the supervisory bodies are available through NORMLEX, the ILO’s information system on international labour standards. The database is easily searchable by country, subject, Convention, key words, etc. Country profiles are also available on NORMLEX, providing a quick overview of ratifications, reporting obligations, and the most recent comments or reports of the supervisory bodies, and have quick links to national legislation. See http://www.ilo.org/normlex. The database is available in English, French and Spanish.

How is the work of the ILO supervisory bodies relevant to UNCTs?
The work of the various international human rights mechanisms, including the ILO supervisory mechanisms, are mutually reinforcing – their observations, conclusions and recommendations need to be examined together if UNCTs are to have a complete picture of the country’s human rights situation, including any specific challenges and areas of concern. The comments, conclusions and recommendations of the ILO supervisory bodies are thus important as analytical input to the UNDAF preparation, in identifying priority areas for programming interventions, and in assessing progress.

At least every three years, governments must submit reports with respect to the eight fundamental Conventions. The Government can even be asked to report outside the regular cycle, if there is a communication by a workers’ or employers’ organization. There may also be supplementary information and conclusions for cases that are brought before the Committee on the Application of Standards, or if representation or complaints reports have been issued regarding a particular country. Together, these mechanisms provide a wealth of information and guidance to assist UNCTs in understanding and analysing the human rights situation in the country, and the elements that contribute to the violation or promotion of a particular human right.

The comments, conclusions and recommendations of the ILO supervisory bodies are important as analytical input to the UNDAF preparation, in identifying priority areas for programming interventions, and in assessing progress. Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCP) also provide key elements for the UNDAF process. The role of the supervisory bodies and DWCPs in the UNDAF process was highlighted in the 2010 UNDAF Guidance Materials. See useful resources section.

In addition, as workers’ and employers’ organizations are part of the ILO governance structure, ILO often has privileged access to national trade unions and business representatives. ILO constituents at the national level can be important in providing practical and up to date information on the human rights situation, and can be key partners in developing and implementing related strategies and programmes. They are often on the front line of addressing human rights concerns in a country.

Myanmar Case Study: Forced Labour

The fundamental right to be free from forced labour is linked to the need for an enabling environment for freedom of association and collective bargaining. An important example of the impact of supervisory mechanisms can be seen from the long-standing engagement on the issue of forced labour in Myanmar and the efforts taken to promote its elimination. This has resulted in significant improvements in the legislative framework.

For a number of years, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations had made comments on violations of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) in Myanmar. A Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the Governing Body in March 1997 under article 26 of the ILO Constitution and this was followed by the adoption of a resolution by the International Labour Conference which aimed to ensure measures to address the perpetuation or extension of the system of forced or compulsory labour referred to by the Commission of Inquiry. The cooperation between the ILO and the Government was strengthened in 2001 through the signing of an Understanding to allow a high-level team to assess the realities of the forced labour situation in the country and the appointment of an ILO Liaison Officer in Myanmar.

A complaints mechanism was established in a Supplementary Understanding between the ILO and the Government in 2007 aimed at giving victims of forced labour the opportunity to channel their complaints to the competent authorities with a view to seeking redress. Following the repeal of the Village Act and Towns Act of 1907, which was specifically requested by the Commission of Inquiry, the Committee of Experts also welcomed positive developments in the application of the Forced Labour Convention by the Government, and encouraged it to pursue on-going efforts towards the elimination of forced labour in all its forms, both in law and practice.

The Committee of Experts welcomed the passage of the Labour Organization Law which addressed gaps in the legislative framework in relation to the right of workers to form and join organizations of their own choosing. When in force, the Labour Law will provide that newly formed workers organizations will be in a position to exercise fully their trade union activities, including with a view to playing their part towards the full and effective elimination of forced labour. As a result of recent progress, the International Labour Conference in 2013 decided to discontinue the special measures put in place to secure observance by the Government of Myanmar of its voluntarily undertaken international obligations.

UNCT Checklist for engaging with ILO supervisory bodies

A print version of the checklist is available here.

Know which  ILO Conventions the member State has ratified and of those outstanding Conventions determine if the Government has committed to become a party
Read the observations and direct requests of the Committee of Experts relating to ratified ILO Conventions
For more information on a particular subject, read the relevant general survey of the Committee of Experts, and general observations on particular Conventions
Determine if any of the Committee of Experts’ observations regarding the country have been discussed by the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards
Read the discussion of the Conference Committee on the country concerned, and examine the conclusions adopted.
Check if any recent representations or complaints have been filed under articles 24 or 26 of the ILO Constitution
Read any reports arising out of representations or complaints and any follow-up
Read any recent cases of the Committee on Freedom of Association pertaining to the county and any follow-up
Determine which issues arising out of the ILO supervisory bodies should be priorities for UNDAF programming interventions
Engage with national employers’ and workers’ organizations and Ministries responsible for labour and employment in designing and implementing strategies and programmes
Contact the international labour standards department in Geneva or the International Labour Standards specialist in the relevant ILO country or regional office for further information and guidance

 Rules of the Game: a brief introduction to International Labour Standards (Rev. 2009)


 Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations

 Report of the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards, 2013

 Freedom of Association – Digest of decisions and principles of the Freedom of Association Committee of the Governing Body of the ILO, Fifth (revised) edition, 2006

 Special procedures for the examination in the International Labour Organization of complaints alleging violations of freedom of association

Giving globalization a human face (General Survey on the fundamental Conventions)

Handbook of procedures relating to international labour Conventions and Recommendations (Rev. 2012), ILO – describes the procedures operating within the International Labour Organization in relation to the adoption and implementation of Conventions and Recommendations http://www.ilo.org/global/standards/information-resources-and-publications/publications/WCMS_192621/lang–en/index.htm

[1] Resolution concerning the recurrent discussion on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, International Labour Conference, 2012, para 5.

[2] Article 23. See also Articles 20, 22, 24 and 25.

[3] The right to decent work is also reflected in Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Article 11 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Articles 25, 26, 40, 52 and 54 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW).

Related Blogs and Country stories

Silo Fighters Blog

An excellent tool for mainstreaming human rights

BY Jessica Braver, Valeria Guerra, Maria Jeannette Moya | July 28, 2015

The process of reviewing a country’s human rights records can become an opportunity to bond human rights with development. In Argentina, the Universal Periodic Review process has promoted human rights as the daily work of everyone in the UN system. This spirit exemplifies the ‘Human Rights up Front’ initiative. Human rights are at the core of the United Nations mandate. In the UN Charter (1945) and in UN resolutions, we have reaffirmed our faith in fundamental human rights. As UN staff members, we need to bear this in mind in our daily work, regardless of our area of expertise. Improving UN action to safeguard human rights Human Rights up Front seeks to ensure that the UN system takes early and effective action to prevent or respond to large-scale violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. The initiative, launched in 2013 by the UN Secretary-General, calls for a major cultural shift within the UN, placing the protection of human rights and of people at the heart of UN strategies and operational activities. A leading role in human rights mainstreaming Human Rights up Front highlights the role of the UN Resident Coordinator (RC) system in mainstreaming human rights, encouraging us to work together in a more cohesive and coherent way. In Argentina, the Resident Coordinator’s office has been working on positioning the topic in the UN agenda, as well as on building an inter-agency culture for the Universal Periodic Review, so as to install human rights mainstreaming as a priority. What is the Universal Periodic Review? The Universal Periodic Review examines the human rights situation of all 193 UN Member States (A/RES/60/251) under the umbrella of the Human Rights Council. The State under review submits a report declaring what actions it has taken to improve human rights situations in the country. Information is also provided by relevant stakeholders, and by UN international experts and agencies working in the country, who highlight concerns and propose action. Each State is assessed by fellow State representatives, under the principles of cooperation and equal treatment. State delegates then make recommendations for action. The expertise and on-the-ground knowledge of UN agencies, funds and programmes working in each country are invaluable assets for the UPR. And we, as UN officials, must make the most of this opportunity to help improve the human rights situations of our host countries. How we did it in Argentina We welcomed support from the OHCHR The RC’s office has been supported by the Regional Office for South America of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Argentina participated in the OHCHR UPR Project covering five South American countries, which provided an overall framework for UPR-related matters, information sessions and technical assistance on how to draft our UPR report. OHCHR insisted that the effective engagement of the whole UN system was crucial to a successful UPR process. In the end, Argentina received 119 recommendations in its second UPR (2012), some of which embodied inputs from the UN system, which meant that local agencies, funds and programmes could see their added value reflected in the outcome report. We established the Inter-Agency Group on Human Rights Based on conversations held by the RCO, OHCHR-South America and the Government, the Inter-Agency Group on Human Rights (IAGHR) was set up in 2012. It supports the monitoring of recommendations made to Argentina, having its own duties, coordination mechanisms and work plan. It also puts a special emphasis on including a human rights-based approach in the preparation of the new 2016-2020 Cooperation Framework for Argentina. Five agencies helped hire a human rights advisor At the suggestion of OHCHR, a human rights advisor for the RC’s office was hired to specifically address human rights mainstreaming and to monitor the implementation of UPR recommendations. The position was funded by OHCHR, UNICEF, UNDP, UNODC and UNHCR. The human rights advisor was also part of the five-country OHCHR UPR Project. We created a matrix linking human rights and development The OHCHR UPR Project prepared a matrix systematizing all recommendations made to its countries of coverage. The UN system in Argentina produced its own matrix linking the UPR recommendations with development projects by the different UN entities. By connecting UN initiatives with the UPR recommendations, which were accepted by the country, the UN system found a new and strong source of legitimacy. Further, the State committed to implement the UPR recommendations in four and a half years. We took action with the government and other stakeholders The UN System in Argentina provided support to the government in following-up and implementing UPR recommendations. Also, workshops were held to disseminate the UPR mechanism and its recommendations among UN System, Senate, Judiciary, civil society and ombudsperson’s office. These workshops encouraged the submissions of UPR midterm reports. How can you use the UPR process to enhance human rights? There can be no peace without development, no development without peace, and there is neither without human rights. On one hand, the Universal Periodic Review process presents a unique opportunity to engage Member States in the protection of human rights, and encourages cooperation between States and the exchange of international experiences to strengthen policies and institutions. On the other hand, UPR is a key instrument for the UN System to provide a framework for coherence and joint action among UN System and also opens a window for cooperation with the governments and other stakeholders in the process of follow-up and implementation of UPR recommendations. If you have a story to share about the UPR, please post a comment and links for more information.

Country Stories

Viet Nam Engaging with International Human Rights Mechanisms to Achieve Universal Access to Education

March 8, 2014

The most important reason for us to support mother tongue-based bilingual education is to promote social equality in education by creating equal opportunities for ethnic minority children to have access to quality education. - Mr. ViVan Dieu, Director, Research Centre for Ethnic Minority Education, Viet Nam Institute of Educational Sciences. Abstract As a direct result of Viet Nam undergoing the Universal Periodic Review in May 2009, the government invited six Special Procedures mandate holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council to visit Viet Nam. Four Special Procedures visited Viet Nam during 2010-2011, one of whom was the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues in July 2010. During her visit, the Independent Expert on minority issues engaged closely with the United Nations country team, which contributed to ensuring that her recommendations reflected the realities, priorities and challenges in the country. The recommendations from the Independent Expert proved a valuable tool for guiding and strengthening efforts to move forward on ensuring equitable and inclusive growth in Viet Nam. In particular, her engagement with UNICEF on the issue of bilingual education for children of ethnic minorities resulted in an explicit reference to UNICEF’s work in this area and a recommendation that this approach be supported and expanded in the country. These recommendations added significant weight and credibility to UNICEF’s work on bilingual education, providing UNICEF with an advocacy tool to raise attention and commitment to this approach. Bilingual education has since been recognized by the Ministry of Education as one of the solutions to reducing disparities in access to education. Background The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam is a one-party state ruled by the Communist Party of Viet Nam. It has an estimated population of 87.8 million people, of which 14.3 percent belong to one of 53 minority ethnic groups.1 Many of these ethnic groups have their own distinct language, religion and cultural identity and live in remote parts of the country. The rest of the population belongs to the majority ethnic group, known as the Kinh. Over the past two decades, Viet Nam has achieved rapid economic growth and has significantly reduced overall poverty rates from 58.1 percent in 1993 to 14.5 percent in 2008.2 As a result of this growth, Viet Nam attained the status of a middle income country in 2010.3 One of the biggest development challenges that Viet Nam faces in the process of transitioning to a middle income country is the widening gap between rich and poor and between different regions. The ‘feminization of poverty’4 is also a growing challenge. Local customs, patriarchal attitudes and traditions have led to gender inequality in the labour market and in political and public life. Furthermore, ethnic minorities continue to be particularly vulnerable to high levels of poverty and inequality. While in 1990, only 18 percent of those living in poverty belonged to ethnic minorities, by 2008 ethnic minorities accounted for almost 56 percent of the poor.5 In 2012, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted its concern over the lower level of development indicators among ethnic minorities, especially regarding access to health and education.6 Viet Nam faces significant human rights challenges in the area of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly. Space for expressing views on government policies and practices is also limited.7 Education for ethnic minorities The official language used in schools in Viet Nam is Vietnamese. While the law recognizes that ethnic minorities have the right to use their mother tongue in schools in order to preserve and develop their ethnic and cultural identity, the lack of teaching capacity in minority languages has meant that in practice children are taught in Vietnamese only. As many minority communities have only a limited understanding and proficiency in Vietnamese, this has created a language barrier for many of these children. Lack of access to education in their mother tongue, together with the use of Vietnamese, is considered one of the reasons why the net primary school completion rate among ethnic minority children (61 percent) is significantly lower than the rate for Kinh (86 percent). For minority women the problem of illiteracy is particularly acute; literacy rates for ethnic minority women are just 22 percent, as compared to 92 percent for ethnic Kinh women.8 Strategy Engaging with international human rights processes and mechanisms Since 2008, UNDP has been implementing a capacity-building project on human rights treaty reporting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project has provided an opportunity for the United Nations country team in Viet Nam to engage with and support the government in its interaction with international human rights mechanisms. Supporting engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, human rights treaty body reporting, sharing knowledge on processes and procedures, and supporting the government in organizing visits of Special Procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council proved a useful way to concretize human rights concepts and provide expertise to the government. In May 2009, Viet Nam was assessed under the Universal Periodic Review. This afforded the government an important chance to present an overview of the main opportunities and challenges they faced in meeting their international obligations, as well as to demonstrate progress made toward achieving key commitments under human rights treaties. It also provided an opportunity for the United Nations to support the government to engage effectively with this process. At the government’s request, UNDP, in close coordination with the United Nations country team and with OHCHR Geneva support, facilitated training for government officials on the Universal Periodic Review. As part of this training, UNDP invited other countries from the region (Indonesia and Philippines) that had already undergone the process to share their experiences with Viet Nam. These activities helped build the government’s capacity and openness to engaging with international human rights mechanisms and, in doing so, strengthening the quality of Viet Nam’s engagement in the Universal Periodic Review. Viet Nam ensured representation at the highest level, which reflected the importance given to the Universal Periodic Review by the government. The Universal Periodic Review experience, in turn, generated greater momentum to engage with other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. One of the follow-up measures to the Universal Periodic Review process was the government’s invitation to six Special Procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council to visit Viet Nam. BOX United Nations Special Procedures: The Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Special Procedures are either an individual (called Special Rapporteur or Independent Expert) or a working group, usually composed of five members. Mandate Holders serve in their personal capacities and do not receive salaries or other financial compensation for their work. They rely on government invitations and cooperation to carry out their work. Mandate holders are appointed by the Human Rights Council and their work is supported by Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). END BOX Viet Nam received four visits of United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders between 2010 and 2011: the Independent Expert on minority issues (July 2010); the Independent Expert on extreme poverty and human rights (August 2010); the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt (March 2011); and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health (November – December 2011). These visits provided significant occasions for Viet Nam to benefit from the expertise of Special Procedures in its efforts to follow up on the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, and to address key human rights issues in the country. The United Nations country team took a number of steps to maximize the value and impact of these visits and to optimize the benefits of the government’s engagement with the Special Procedures. As a first step, and in collaboration with OHCHR Geneva, the United Nations country team organized workshops for the government to provide guidance on the overall procedures of such visits and the mandates of the Special Procedures. During the visits, the United Nations country team and technical experts from the agencies played an important role by providing the Special Procedures with technical expertise on issues falling within their mandates. This was particularly important in Viet Nam where civil society is developing its capacity to engage in these processes. In turn, being able to draw on this expertise ensured that the Special Procedures report and recommendations reflected the realities, opportunities and challenges in the country. United Nations country team engagement with the Independent Expert on minority issues In July 2010, the Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougal, visited Viet Nam. The United Nations country team viewed the visit of the Independent Expert as an opportunity to strengthen and further reinforce government efforts to address widening inequalities and persistent poverty among minority ethnic groups. Supporting the government to achieve inclusive and equitable growth is a core part of the United Nations country team’s development agenda. At the beginning of the visit, the United Nations country team organized a formal briefing with the Independent Expert to discuss key issues, challenges and opportunities. This was followed by in-depth briefings with technical experts from several United Nations agencies. The United Nation’s inter-agency approach proved extremely valuable in this process. Having all United Nations agencies around the same table provided the Independent Expert with a breadth of expertise and knowledge on a wide range of issues affecting her mandate – ethnic minority poverty, cultural diversity, sexual reproductive health for minorities and bi-lingual education. United Nations agencies’ expertise in the relevant areas enabled the Independent Expert to support the agencies’ work. It allowed the Independent Expert to draw on agency expertise to make concrete and useful recommendations that could assist the government to move forward. According to the Independent Expert, her visit was, “a great opportunity to re-introduce Viet Nam to the international human rights mechanisms. It allowed Viet Nam to share its accomplishments and the obstacles it has had to surmount with the Human Rights Council and human rights mechanisms. The government took my mission very seriously. They learned a lot from the mission on what they can expect in engaging with human rights mechanisms.” Engaging the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues in support of bilingual education for ethnic minorities Internationally there has been consistent recognition of the value of bilingual education in improving learning and reducing drop-out rates.9 To examine ways by which this concept can best work in Viet Nam, the Ministry of Education and Training worked together with UNICEF to pilot a project on bilingual education in three provinces (see Box 1). In addition, to generate support among government counterparts for this approach and to ensure the government would benefit from the expertise of international human rights mechanisms, UNICEF, in collaboration with the United Nations country team, strategically engaged with the Independent Expert on minority issues during her visit in July 2010. UNICEF provided the Independent Expert with in-depth briefing notes on the legal framework for ethnic minority languages in education and their rights to use their mother tongue in school. UNICEF also held face to face meetings with the Independent Expert and organized her participation in a mother-tongue teacher training workshop. This participation enabled her to interact directly with teachers being trained. BOX Box 1: UNICEF’s Action Research on mother tongue-based bilingual education in Viet Nam UNICEF has been supporting the Ministry of Education and Training to implement and monitor a pilot project on bilingual education since 2008. The pilot project is being carried out in three provinces – Lao Cai, Gia Lai and Tra Vinh – in the minority languages of H’mong, Jrai and Khmer, respectively. Students in each province will complete the pilot programme by 2015. Through the project, teachers are trained in bilingual education techniques and provided special teaching and learning materials developed in consultation with local communities. The project is being carefully monitored for evidence of improvements in the quality of education. The ultimate objective is to feed the research results into a national education strategy that supports bilingual education.10 END BOX Results In the Independent Expert on minority issues’ report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the issue of bilingual education for ethnic minorities featured prominently among the key recommendations. The Independent Expert explicitly referred to the example of UNICEF’s work in bilingual education and recommended that this approach be supported and expanded to other districts. According to the Independent Expert’s report, “the importance of improving the education outcomes of minorities cannot be overstated. Access to quality and appropriate education is a fundamental gateway to development and poverty eradication for minorities in Viet Nam..." The independent expert saw clear evidence that bilingual education ultimately serves to increase the potential of ethnic minority children and communities to learn and use Vietnamese…The government should permit and support bilingual education for ethnic minority children.”11 Her recommendations to Viet Nam were fully in line with the United Nations country team’s overall policy recommendations on minority issues outlined in the United Nations’ One Plan. This is an achievement realized through the engagement and cooperation of the United Nations country team with the Independent Expert during the course of her visit. Most importantly, the visit of the Independent Expert provided a powerful advocacy opportunity for the United Nations’ efforts to promote bilingual education. By validating the methodology that UNICEF and the Ministry of Education were piloting and encouraging its institutionalization, the recommendations provided authoritative inputs for UNICEF to draw upon in advocating for this approach.12 The recognition and support of the Independent Expert added weight and credibility to the methodology, providing a significant recommendation for its acceptance in the country. The Ministry of Education has now formally recognized that bilingual education is one of the solutions to strengthen ethnic minority children’s education.13 Moreover, early results from the UNICEF Action Research on mother tongue-based bilingual education are promising. As a whole, children enrolled in the programme are performing better than minority children not enrolled in the programme in language competency tests in both their mother tongue and Vietnamese. They also outperform ethnic minority students not in the programme in listening comprehension and mathematics. As a result of the encouraging results from the Action Research, this approach is increasingly being recognized as a good practice, both nationally and in the region. One provincial department of education and training has opted to use its own funds to more than double the number of bilingual education classes; 344 Mong ethnic minority children are now enrolled in these classes. Three additional provinces, Dien Ben, An Giang and Ninh Thuan, have also expressed interest in the methodology and have committed to applying the approach. The Provincial Department of Education and Training is supporting these efforts and has scaled up mother tongue-based bilingual education so that each school year from 2011 to 2015, a new group of 210 children aged five will enter mother tongue-based bilingual education classes. Specific policy recommendations on the use of bilingual education have also since been promulgated by the National Assembly and Committee for Ethnic Minorities. In addition, delegations from Myanmar and China visited Viet Nam to learn from this experience. Equally, the report from the Independent Expert raised the visibility and interest in the approach among donors and development partners in Viet Nam. These partners have expressed interest in supporting the follow-up to the Independent Expert’s recommendations. For example, the European Union delegation in Viet Nam welcomed the Independent Expert’s recommendations on the expansion of mother tongue-based instruction and requested UNICEF to prepare a concept note on how this approach could be expanded within the country. The experience of Viet Nam also highlights the important role that the United Nations country team, through its long-term presence in the country, technical expertise and normative mandate, can play in supporting the government to follow up on recommendations of the Special Procedures mandate holders. As noted by the Independent Expert, “the United Nations country team is essential and may be the only possible mechanism for follow up, given the limited capacities of Special Procedures” Since the visit of the Independent Expert on minority issues, Viet Nam’s growing engagement with other human rights mechanisms is leading to greater international exposure on the issue of bilingual education. The country recently reported to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 2012)14 and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (June 2012).15 Both Committees, in their Concluding Observations to Viet Nam, urged the country to increase the provision of bilingual education programmes for ethnic minority children, further supporting and validating Viet Nam’s efforts in this area. Lessons Learned The Universal Periodic Review presents an opportunity for government to strengthen its engagement with all international human rights mechanisms and for the United Nations country team to support government capacity in engaging with these mechanisms. The United Nations country team can play an important role in maximizing the value and impact of the visits of Special Procedures mandate holders. Engaging with the United Nations country team during a country visit allows the Special Procedures to draw upon the expertise of development agencies to offer concrete and useful recommendations that can help the government move forward on human rights issues. Access to quality and appropriate education is a gateway to development and poverty reduction for minorities. The introduction of bilingual education for minority children can help these children to make better early progress and creates strong and culturallyappropriate foundations for their future schooling. The recommendations of international human rights mechanisms can provide valuable and authoritative inputs to integrate human rights into United Nations advocacy, policy and programming initiatives to further development outcomes. The visits of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council can ensure that government efforts to address human rights challenges and to mainstream human rights into development programmes benefit from internationally-recognized expertise. Endnotes UNICEF Action research brief UNICEF, Vietnam and the Millennium Development Goals United Nations in Viet Nam Website United Nations compilation report to the Universal Periodic Review, OHCHR, March 2009, A/HRC/WG.6/5/VNM/2. Viet Nam Millennium Development Goals National Report 2010, p. 114. Concluding Observations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Viet Nam, June, 2012, CRC/C/VNM/CO/3-4. Concerns over access to freedom of information, the independence of the media from the State, freedom of assembly, the ability of individuals, groups and civil society to express their opinions or dissent publicly were noted at the interactive dialogue of the Universal Periodic Review of Viet Nam by the Human Rights Council in May 2009: A/HRC/12/11. Report of the Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, January 2011, A/HRC/16/45/Add.2. Mission to Viet Nam (5-15 July 2010) UNICEF Annual Report 2010, p. 23. UNICEF Action research brief  Report of the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, 24 January 2011, A/HRC/16/45/Add.2 paras. 85, 87 and 89. Mission to Viet Nam (5-15 July 2010) UNESCO has been a key partner with UNICEF in advocating for and promoting multilingual education in Viet Nam. The 2011 “Management Document on Teaching Vietnamese to Ethnic Minority Students” of the Ministry of Education and Training, explicitly cites the Action Research on mother tongue-based bilingual education as one of the four solutions to improving education for children of ethnic minorities. Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Viet Nam, March 2012: CERD/C/VNM/CO/10-14. Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Viet Nam, June 2012: CRC/C/VNM/CO/3-4.