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What do they do? How are they relevant to my work?

International human rights law lays down obligations which States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international human rights law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights.

Each of the treaties has specific provisions that state what a country must do to become legally bound to that treaty. Initially, a country might demonstrate consent or political will by signing a treaty. In order for a State to become legally bound by the treaty, however, the signature has to be followed by a formal act of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. Once a country is legally bound by the terms of a particular treaty it agrees to be monitored by the committee overseeing that treaty. This gives the Treaty Body or committee legal authority to monitor a country’s performance of its treaty-related obligations.

The Treaty Bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation by States parties of their obligations under these international human rights treaties (see below for the list of treaties and their corresponding treaty body). All treaty bodies, with the exception of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, are mandated to receive and consider reports submitted periodically by State parties detail­ing how they are applying the treaty provisions nationally. Most treaty bodies may also consider com­plaints or communications from individuals alleging that their rights have been violated by a State party, provided that State has opted into this procedure[1]. Some may also conduct inquiries and consider inter-State complaints.

The OHCHR in Geneva supports the work of the Treaty Bodies.

International Human Rights Treaties and Protocols and their respective Committees

Treaty  Entered into force

 

 State
Parties [1]
 Monitoring Body
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1976   169  Human Rights Committee**
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP1) 1976 115  Human Rights Committee**
 Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR-OP2) 1989 84 Human Rights Committee**
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1976 165 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights**
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR-OP) 2013 22 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights**
 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) 1969 178  Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination**
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of

Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

1981 189   Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against

Women**

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the

Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW)

2000 108 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women**
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) 1987 161 Committee against Torture**
Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture (OP-CAT) 2006 83 Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture  (SPT)
 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1990 196 Committee on the Rights of the Child**
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OP-CRC-AC) 2002 166 Committee on the Rights of the Child**
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OP-CRC-SC) 2002 173 Committee on the Rights of the Child**
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure (OP-CRC-IC) 2014 32 Committee on the Rights of the Child**
International  Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All   Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families  (ICRMW) 2003 50 Committee on Migrant Workers
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) 2008 172 Committee on the Rights of

Persons with Disabilities**

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (OP-CRPD) 2008 91 Committee on the Rights of

Persons with Disabilities**

 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) 2010 56 Committee on Enforced

Disappearances**

All treaty bodies have developed the practice of inviting State parties to send a delegation to attend the session at which the committee will consider their report in order to allow them to respond to members’ ques­tions and provide additional information on their efforts to implement the provisions of the relevant treaty. The examination of a report culminates in the adoption of “Concluding Observations”, the observations and recommendations issued by a treaty body after consideration of a State party’s report, and intended to give the reporting State practical advice on further steps to implement the rights contained in the treaty.

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and non-state actors, such as civil society organizations also have the possibility, in the context of the periodic reporting cycle, to submit reports, often referred to as ‘alternative’ or ‘shadow reports’. These can be written by individual organizations or jointly by an alliance of organizations. They provide an opportunity to present additional perspectives, issues of concern or information which they consider has been omitted from the State party’s report[1].

United Nations agencies, funds and programmes and UNCTs are also encouraged to actively engage with the Human Rights Treaty Bodies as appropriate and pursuant to their individual mandates. This could include participating in the sessions and submitting information of relevance to Treaty Bodies. Upon request, information  shared with the Treaty Bodies will remain confidential. Since 2005, an inter-agency group on CEDAW reporting has facilitated UNCT reporting to CEDAW regularly alongside other treaty bodies.

In March 2017, only 18 percent of States were fully compliant with their reporting obligations under the relevant international human rights treaties and protocols.

Strengthening the Human Rights Treaty body System

In April 2014, after two years of negotiations among Member  States, the General Assembly adopted resolution 68/268 on strengthening the human rights treaty body system.

For UNCTs, it is important to note that:

The treaty bodies now meet for almost 100 weeks per year (an additional 20 weeks of meeting time per year). The General Assembly called upon the Treaty Body Chairpersons to take a leadership role in harmonizing working methods and generalizing good practices across the treaty body system.

The resolution introduced the Simplified Reporting Procedure. Instead of submitting periodic reports, States parties can opt to receive questions from the treaty bodies (which are based on the Concluding Observations from the previous review as well as new developments). States’ replies to those questions will constitute the State party report. Hence the reporting process is reduced from two steps (State party report and replies to the list of issues) to one step. Treaty bodies are progressively introducing this new reporting procedure.

Finally, the resolution established the Treaty Body Capacity Building Programme in OHCHR to support States parties in building their capacity to implement their treaty obligations. The Programme aims at transforming reporting from a perceived burden to a concrete benefit for States and ultimately rights holders. The team organizes at least two regional “train the trainers” events for State officials with experience in TB reporting annually, establishes a roster of trainers from among those trained State officials, and provides trainings and advisory services at the national level. The team is identifying and sharing good reporting practices, and developing a  training methodology for each treaty accompanied by tools that can be used by States, non-governmental organisations and the UN in all regions. The Programme consists of a dedicated team in Geneva as well as capacity-building officers based in OHCHR’s regional presences in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Bishkek, Dakar, Panama, Pretoria, Santiago de Chile, Suva and Yaoundé.

The resolution called for a full review of the Treaty Body System in 2020.

To know more on the Treaty Body Strengthening Process:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRTD/Pages/TBStrengthening.aspx

How is the Treaty Body system relevant to UNCTs?

The  international human rights treaties and the work of the Treaty Bodies have far-reaching implications for many aspects of a Government’s programmes, policies, planning and goals. UNCTs can gain valuable information from reading existing Treaty Body material. They can also benefit from engaging with the Treaty Bodies throughout the reporting process. Principal areas of engagement are the following:

  1. Knowing the content of human rights treaties
  2. Knowing the Treaty Bodies’ jurisprudence (‘General Comments’)
  3. Supporting the Treaty Body reporting process and follow up to concluding observations

Each area of engagement is elaborated upon further below including how this information is useful for UNCTs.

Human Rights Treaties: What are the benefits of knowing about them? By becoming a party to a human rights treaty, States take on a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights contained in that treaty. In-country staff and UNCTs should know which treaties a country is a party to as this also entails certain legal obligations.

Information is readily available as to which treaties have been signed and ratified by a specific country and whether any reservations have been entered. Information is also available on when countries are scheduled to submit a report or are scheduled to be considered (reviewed) by a Treaty Body. See the useful resources and links section.

How is this information useful for UNCTs?

 Using human rights standards in programming – Knowing which legally binding commitments each respective state has undertaken, read in conjunction with general comments and with concluding observations addressed to the State party, can help identify potential areas for cooperation or coordination with the state and other stakeholders, including civil society, in order to support the state in fulfilling its treaty obligations

  • Allowing you to review the level of harmonization of national law with international standards in the country so that you could offer assistance to the Government to either review existing legislation, or draft and adopt legislation which conforms with international human rights standards
  • Checking the standards enshrined in the treaties and the concluding observations addressed to the State party can be a useful reference source and tool for programming, including setting priorities in the Common Country Assessment and UN Development Assistance Framework (CCA/UNDAF) or other national level programming documents
  • Advancing advocacy efforts – Identifying which treaties still need to be ratified by the state to focus relevant advocacy efforts
  • Awareness raising – Developing human rights educational and awareness raising material that supports local outreach, through:
  • summarizing or translating treaties, or the rights contained therein, into local languages
  • organizing educational and training activities on human rights among different groups of the population, including often excluded populations (children, youth, women, persons with disabilities, elderly, ethnic, sexual and gender minorities, etc)
  • working with the media to disseminate accessible and clear human rights-related information
  • providing training and education on human rights for public authorities, such as judicial bodies and the police, so that they are better able to respect, protect and fulfill their obligations to all citizens
Cambodia Case Study: Harnessing CEDAW to strengthen women’s human rights

The Convention on the Elimination on the Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) can be a powerful tool to deliver real change for women. Since ratification in 1992, the Cambodian government and civil society have actively engaged with CEDAW at the local, national and international level. UN Women Cambodia and the UNCT have progressively built on this momentum through strengthening ownership and understanding of CEDAW.

In late 2012, the Cambodian UN Theme Group on Gender (UNTGG) began compiling a joint UN Country Team (UNCT) confidential report to submit to the CEDAW Committee. This process was led by UN Women collaboratively with gender focal points from UN agencies. The resulting report was presented at the pre-sessional working group of the CEDAW Committee in February 2013.

The submission of this report was an important opportunity for the UNCT to highlight issues facing Cambodian women and influence the implementation of CEDAW in the years to come. Many key issues raised such as sexual and gender-based violence during the Khmer Rouge, women’s labor and land rights and violence against women made it into the list of questions sent to the Cambodian government by the CEDAW Committee.

UN Women and OHCHR have also supported the Cambodian Government in preparing for the constructive dialogue between the Government and CEDAW, assisting in the facilitation of a mock session, and supporting stronger reporting and implementation. This has included training on CEDAW for diverse ministries and government officials at the local, district and provincial level and for the Cambodian National Council for Women.

The investment in capacity development and engagement with the CEDAW reporting mechanisms has resulted in the empowerment of both civil society and government to be strong leaders pushing for better protection of women’s human rights. True engagement from diverse stakeholders with the CEDAW process presents a real opportunity to address the key challenges facing Cambodian women, as well as to model dialogue to strengthen democratic governance and track change.

Treaty Bodies’ jurisprudence: What are the benefits of knowing about it? Treaty Bodies regularly produce General Comments that provide guidance for States regarding the scope of a treaty and interpretation of specific human rights issues and the methods of work. General comments may also outline actions which would be considered potential violations of rights and offer advice to States on how best to comply with their obligations under the treaties.

Through their General Comments, Treaty Bodies clarify the content of and provide additional information and guidance relating to specific rights and the main corresponding state obligations. For example, General Comment 12 on the right to food from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  elaborates on what the state has to do to ensure the right to food and General Comment 13 on the right to education details actions the state must take to ensure education for its people and provides guidance on the content and key features of this right to take into account in programming.

How is this information useful for UNCTs?

  • General Comments can be used as a guidance and evaluation tool for national government programmes and UN programmes
  • General Comments can help to define standards and goals for monitoring and measuring implementation (outputs and outcomes)

General Comments can provide useful guidance in respect to aspects of a right that had not been considered previously, and which could be included into future programming.

The Treaty Body reporting process and follow-up to concluding observations: what are the benefits of supporting it? Human Rights Treaty Bodies note gaps between a States’ human rights treaty obligations and the actual situation experienced by people under their jurisdiction. Sources of information for Treaty Bodies include the State party’s official report and other information or independent reports (’alternative’ or ‘shadow’ reports) from UNCTs, UN agencies, funds and programmes, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) as well as civil society. Information and reports provided by UNCTs will be treated as confidential upon request. These inputs enhance the understanding of the human rights situation in the State, resulting in more relevant, focused and implementable recommendations.

All partners who have submitted a report to the Treaty Bodies can brief members during the session, just before the dialogue with the State party. These meetings are public or private depending on the treaty body. The process includes a dialogue with the State and results in the adoption of concluding observations, where the Treaty Body makes recommendations to the state for future action. As each cycle builds upon the previous one, the next State party report should focus on the progress made towards the implementation of the previous recommendations.

UNCTs can access more information on the work of Treaty Bodies as well as country reports, reporting due dates and concluding observations using various tools in the Useful Resources and Links section.

How is this information useful for UNCTs?

Knowing when a country is due to report is a good starting point for:

  • Communicating with the government ministry in charge of reporting and information collection and supporting them in the process through capacity building and other means
  • If appropriate, advocating for the establishment of adequate mechanisms to facilitate reporting and follow-up on the implementation of treaty body recommendations, for instance through setting up standing national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up (NMRFs) and encouraging the submission of overdue reports
  • UNCTs can provide coordinated input to the consideration of reports of States parties under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator or a designated lead agency, including progress achieved regarding implementation of previous recommendations
  • In addition, UN agencies, funds and programmes can submit thematic or specialized information and guidance and the UN can play a convening role to support the participation of civil society in the State reporting
  • Encouraging non-government stakeholders to participate in the Treaty Body reporting process to ensure the drafting process is inclusive, for example, highlighting entry points for civil society input, providing an opportunity for dialogue between NGOs and civil society on the drafting of additional or independent reports and by building awareness and providing training and guidance on the reporting process
  • Hosting civil society at UN in-country premises for the live web-casting of the treaty body dialogue with the State party
  • Enhancing the capacity of the State’s delegation in preparation of the dialogue with the Treaty Body, through the organization of preparatory workshops or ‘mock sessions’ and making use of webcasting as a training tool (http://www.treatybodywebcast.org)

Reading previous Treaty Body concluding observations can be useful for:

  • Finding out which areas the Treaty Bodies have asked the government to focus on and where the government may need support
  • Understanding what has already been reported on by the government previously
  • Contributing important information for programming, setting priorities and identifying new areas for programming
  • Providing important background for discussions with the government and authoritative input for advocacy with the Government

Following up on concluding observations by Treaty Bodies can be helpful for:

  • Ensuring the recommendations act as focus areas for interaction between the UNCT and national stakeholders including government agencies and ministries, NHRIs, NGOs, civil society, the media, and specific groups such as minorities and / or excluded individuals and groups, women and young people
  • Increasing public awareness of the recommendations to ensure information is widely disseminated and public scrutiny is more effective

UNCT Checklist for Engaging with Treaty Bodies

A print version of the checklist is available here.

Know which human rights treaties are in force in the country and any reservations that exist

Check the list of treaties ratified by your country at:  http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx
World maps on ratification/ Treaty ratification interactive dashboard:
http://indicators.ohchr.org/

Check the country’s reporting status:

World maps on reporting
http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/HRIndicators/Reporting_Compliance_Dec2015_map.pdf

Check if your country has overdue reports to the treaty bodies and if so, which ones:
http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/LateReporting.aspx

Know the timelines for submitting reports under the treaties to which your country is a party

Calendar of country review by Treaty Bodies
http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/MasterCalendar.aspx?Type=Session&Lang=En

Deadlines for the submission of documentation
http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/MasterCalendar.aspx

Reporting status to human rights treaty bodies

http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/Countries.aspx

Know which government ministry and/or branch and which individuals are responsible for considering the signing of treaties and ratifying the treaties that have been signed
Know with Government ministry and which individuals are responsible for the preparation of the State report
Read the State reports submitted to the different Treaty Bodies
Read the information reports submitted to Treaty Bodies by civil society, NGOs, NHRIs and others

The State reports and other additional reports are published on respective Treaty Body’s page.
Check them at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/HumanRightsBodies.aspx

Watch the country’s review / dialogue by the respective Treaty Body online:  http://www.treatybodywebcast.org/

Consider hosting civil society representatives to watch the dialogue at UN premises

Read the concluding observations of the Treaty Bodies to State reports and know if the State has established any formal or systematic procedure or body to follow-up on recommendations

Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en

Use Treaty Body recommendations for country programming [Compare your UNDAF and country programmes with the latest Treaty Body recommendations and look to see where it is possible to utilize the recommendations to inform programming].
Read any General Comments that deal with your programming priorities

Check: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/TBGeneralComments.aspx

Know if there have been any individual decisions issued by the Treaty Bodies in relation to the State

Check the Jurisprudence Database:  http://juris.ohchr.org/

Know which individuals, from the country, if any are members of a Treaty Body or are national experts that could be helpful in training and / or awareness-building

The list of committee members can be found on the on respective Treaty Body’s pages:

Check them at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/HumanRightsBodies.aspx

Disseminate information regarding nomination and elections of treaty body members in-country: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/ElectionsofTreatyBodiesMembers.aspx

Know who at the OHCHR can provide contact information for the Treaty Bodies
visit:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/HumanRightsBodies.aspx
To know more see below and Useful Links section:

Download: “The United Nations Human Rights Treaty System”, Fact Sheet No. 30/Rev.1 (OHCHR, 2012): http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet30Rev1.pdf

Stay informed and learn more about the work and impact of Human Rights Treaty Bodies. A backlog of the Human Rights Treaty Division newsletter is available here:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/Newsletter.aspx

For training purposes:

Distribute the booklet: “The Treaty Bodies at a glance” (Available in 6 languages : E F S C A R) http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/TB/TB_booklet_en.pdf

Distribute the video: “What is a human rights Treaty Body?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE0T45t040k&feature=related

Share the YouTube video of the Treaty Bodies “Bringing Human Rights Home
(available in 6 languages, E F S C A R)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JP0fB-_X0l8&feature=youtu.be

Republic of Moldova Case Study: Translating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights into Action

In the period since 2008, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Country Team have supported engagement by Government, civil society, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and the UNCT in the Republic of Moldova with the international human rights treaty body system, with the goal to strengthen the effective realization of human rights in the national system.

One example has been OHCHR work in the context of the 2011 review by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). CESCR reviewed Moldova’s action to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in October 2011. At the review, Government, civil society and the NHRI participated, with UNCT Moldova playing a supporting role in the formulation of key issues relevant for the Moldovan context. As a result of OHCHR expertise on the ground, all parties were able to frame current issues and challenges in terms which facilitated the ability of CESCR to bring the best possible guidance and recommendations to the Government for action.

At the review, Government, civil society and the NHRI participated, with UNCT Moldova playing a supporting role in the formulation of key issues relevant for the Moldovan context. As a result of OHCHR expertise on the ground, all parties were able to frame current issues and challenges in terms which facilitated the ability of CESCR to bring the best possible guidance and recommendations to the Government for action.

During 2012, the Government took comprehensive action to create an administrative framework for implementation of CESCR recommendations. The Ministry of Labour, Social Protection and Family led a process of developing an action plan, ultimately adopted by Government regulation, to distribute and supervise tasks related to the various recommendations by CESCR. UNCT Moldova has acted to support improvement of data on particular groups as identified by CESCR, in particular as concerns Roma, persons with disabilities and persons living with HIV/AIDS. UNCT Moldova has also extensively engaged to support various aspects of legal and policy reform identified by CESCR, in areas including strengthening privacy and confidentiality guarantees for persons living with HIV/AIDS, improving the policy framework for Roma inclusion, transforming modes of engagement with persons with mental disabilities by working to reform Moldova’s guardianship system, to name only several.

Text of Human Rights Treaties and Optional Protocols:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CoreInstruments.aspx

 List of signatures and ratifications of Human Rights Treaties by country: http://indicators.ohchr.org/

General Comments of all Treaty Bodies: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/TBGeneralComments.aspx

Comprehensive Review of the UN Treaty Body System (Fact Sheet 30) http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet30Rev1.pdf

Overview of the Treaty Body system: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/treaty/index.htm

Strengthening the United Nations human rights Treaty Body system: A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/HRTD/docs/HCReportTBStrengthening.pdf

State Party Reporting Obligations under the international human rights treaties: http://www.ohchr.org/SiteCollectionImages/Bodies/ReportingBurden.gif

 NGO Information Note on Guidance for CEDAW committee: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/NGO_Information_note_CEDAW.pdf


[1] Those human rights treaty bodies which can, under certain conditions, receive and consider individual complaints or communications from individuals are: HRC,  CERD, CAT, CEDAW, CRPD, CED.

[1] As of 20 February 2017. For specific States parties to each treaty see: http://treaties.un.org/Pages/Treaties.aspx?id=4&subid=A&lang=en

[1] Information notes with guidance on the specific reporting processes and requirements can be found in the Useful Resources section

Related Blogs and Country stories

Silo Fighters Blog

Data to drive better services for people with disabilities in FYR Macedonia

BY Sonja Stefanovska-Trajanoska, Suzana Ahmeti-Janjic | January 26, 2017

A young man in dark glasses holding an accordion shuffled on stage in Kumanovo during an event organized to celebrate the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the local community. “Mother, do you remember me?” he sang. The haunting song, of his own composition, told of his abandonment by his family solely because he was born blind. Stories like this are not unusual in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia . Although the country ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011, its inclusive spirit is not yet reflected in policies, public services or social attitudes. Persons with disabilities routinely face exclusion from the labor market, public services and social life. Stigma for disabilities which in other countries would pose little obstacle to leading a “normal” life remain severe. One such example is visual impairment. Policy support relies largely on cash benefits that discourage inclusion. And refining policies is difficult given the complete lack of census (or other) data on persons with disabilities. Before we can design programs to fight exclusion, we need to understand the depth and breadth of the problem. The social inclusion of persons with disabilities is a shared priority goal for the UN in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the creation of proxy indicators is a target in the UN Strategy for 2016-2020 which has recently been adopted by the Government. To address the challenge, UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF have joined forces in an attempt to generate – for the first time – proxy data that will help understand the numbers, locations and situations of persons with disabilities and the prevalence of specific disabilities. Data to understand access to social services In cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, national institutions and civil society, we are carrying out face-to-face surveys to understand the challenges that persons with disabilities face in realizing their right to work and to enjoy life in society. This data will help us identify badly needed social services that are currently non-existing in local communities. In addition, it will help us assess the conditions and quality of services provided in all 81 foster families in the country, and come up with recommendations to help prevent and reverse institutionalization. In parallel with this, focus group discussions are currently being held with professionals working in three major institutions that provide care services to persons with disabilities, to help identify and open new opportunities for employees working on rehabilitation processes. We are also launching an innovative application for smartphones and the internet to crowdsource information on the physical barriers that persons with disabilities face, for example in entering municipal buildings or visiting the doctor (One example: there is not a single gynecologist office in the country that is equipped to accommodate wheelchairs). Proxy approaches  We are focusing our data collection in three regions of the country – Pelagonija, Strumica and Skopje. We are designing methods to assess the biggest challenges people with disabilities face during their integration to the society, including: Physical barriers (we plan to geo-tag them) Entering the labour market Accessing public services, including education and healthcare Finding suitable residential solutions in the community The principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be followed in all planned activities – meaning that persons with disabilities will actively be engaged in every step of the way including design, collection and analysis of the results.  All questionnaires will be developed together with the representatives from the Associations and NGOs working with persons with disabilities . People living with disabilities will be involved in the face-face interviews as well as in the process of development of the new services they need. Approaches like user-journeys and positive deviance,  willl be used to identify and prioritize the barriers, needs and opportunities as experienced by people with disabilities. We are counting on this initiative to yield four key results: Sufficient proxy data on persons with disabilities in the country – to help make informed policies and decisions to dismantle the barriers to inclusion Engaging persons with disabilities in every step of the way – to ensure that they identify and prioritize their own needs Developing recommendations for future activities related to providing rehabilitation services for the labor market and for enabling people with disabilities to live in the community rather than in institutions Engaging municipalities and institutions to meet the priority needs identified by people with disabilities and their associations. Along the way, we aim to work together to stimulate a much-needed sea change in public attitudes, so that people like the young man with the accordion in Kumanovo are no longer shunned for their differences but rather cherished for their abilities. We’d love feedback if anyone out there has tried something similar!

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.

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