Membership of treaty bodies
"The ultimate success of any monitoring system…. depends on the calibre and independence of the experts monitoring implementation of treaty standards." – former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, 2006.
The quality of individual members serving on international treaty monitoring bodies has a significant impact on the overall effectiveness of the committees, as well as perceptions of their independence and expertise.
Despite requirements contained in the international human rights treaties that the members of the treaty bodies shall be "independent" experts with "recognized competence" relevant to the treaty, too often states parties elect individuals who hold positions in the executive or administrative branch of government and who are in, or appear to be in, a conflict of interest with the work of the treaty body.
Also, states often nominate individuals who have recently retired from posts in the executive or administrative branch of government.
A study undertaken in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights between 1999 and 2001 revealed that an average of 50% of all those persons elected to treaty bodies over the course of the history of the treaty body system were employed in some capacity by their government (see Anne F. Bayefsky, The UN Human Rights Treaty System: Universality at the Crossroads, April 2001).
In addition, some individuals have limited background or experience relevant to the treaty concerned.
See the CVs of current treaty body members on the OHCHR webpages of the treaty bodies.
What happens at the national level?
States parties to the treaties can nominate – usually from among their nationals – the candidates standing in the election for a seat on the relevant treaty monitoring body. In most cases, the process of identification and selection of a candidate is, at best, unclear and often entails the state approaching an individual to assess their interest in being put forward as a candidate.
A few states publicize vacancies for a seat on the international human rights treaty bodies and organize a recruitment process to select their candidates. However, in the vast majority of situations, the identification of a suitable potential candidate is done bilaterally between the state and the individual concerned.
Vacancies for seats on treaty bodies are seldom publicized and there is no formal consultation at the national level with civil society.
What happens at the international level?
Elections of individuals to serve on international expert bodies take place at meetings of states parties through secret ballots and often after vote-trading. Information about the nominated candidates is not always made publicly available sufficiently far in advance of the elections.
The information that is provided about candidates may not be relevant to the position for which they are standing. Groups or blocs of states may have already agreed in advance to put forward, and support, a single candidate.
What can be done to improve the process?
National and international non-governmental organizations, independent national human rights institutions and parliamentarians can encourage the government to establish a transparent process at the national level that is both open to all potential candidates who meet the criteria as specified in the relevant international human rights treaties and which ensures broad consultation.
Amnesty International's ten recommendations on the selection and election process
- All states eligible to do so should nominate a candidate for elections to treaty monitoring bodies, who meets the highest standards of independence and expertise.
- In selecting their candidate, states should take full account of the criteria established in the text of the relevant treaty regarding membership, as well as the range of skills, experience and knowledge relevant to the position.
- States should establish an open and inclusive process which is transparent throughout at the national level, aimed at attracting candidates from a wide range of backgrounds who meet the criteria.
- States should advertise the vacancy widely, including through publications chosen to target those who may meet the criteria.
- States should make provision for the active involvement of civil society organizations to participate in the nominations procedure, including by assisting states in obtaining applications from highly qualified candidates and providing information on how the applicants meet the requirements of the post, if they know them.
- States should refrain from nominating candidates who hold any paid or unpaid position within the government that could compromise their independence and impartiality.
- States should refrain from nominating candidates who have already completed two consecutive terms on the same treaty body.
- States should make a detailed and public statement on how the selected nominee meets the criteria of the treaty.
- States should review the knowledge diversity, geographical and gender balance in the treaty body's composition before every election takes place. States should bear this information in mind when nominating and electing candidates.
- During the elections, states should vote only for candidates that meet the highest standards of independence, impartiality and expertise.
Amnesty International takes no position for or against individuals nominated or elected to serve as members of independent international bodies.
Follow these steps:
Step 1: Check to which international human rights treaties your state is a party.
See the Information on the status of ratifications of international human rights treaties on the OHCHR-website.
Step 2: Check forthcoming elections of treaty body members.
States parties to the relevant treaty can nominate experts to stand as candidates in these elections.