Annual Conference Underlines the Importance of Strong National Human Rights Systems

21 October 2021

Closing the trilogy of Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) Annual Conferences dedicated to the connectivity between United Nations (UN), regional and national human rights mechanisms and actors, the 2021 edition addressed the crucial links between national human rights actors and Geneva-based international mechanisms.

With over 500 registered participants in Geneva and online and 24 partners – including the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN-Habitat, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, renowned academic institutions, major international NGOs and fellow Geneva-based platforms – the conference’s sessions focused on the capacity of domestic actors to mutually engage with each other and liaise with Geneva-based international human rights bodies in the context of implementation, monitoring and follow-up to UN human rights recommendations.

‘The conference was exceptional in the diversity of panelists, the choice of thematic issues, the content of the discussions and the impressive spread of organizations co-hosting the event. We can now see the growth of the GHRP as an essential network in Geneva that brings together a range of voices across NGOs and independent institutions at a time when collective work is essential to continue to promote human rights, the relevance of UN mechanisms and the inevitable task of connecting international and national work on human rights’ says Miloon Kothari, Independent Expert on Human Rights and Social Policy and member of the GHRP Advisory Board.

An Inspiring Start

In her keynote speech, Sima Samar, founder of the former Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, addressed the functions, history and purpose of this institution, which was an important and active national actor with a very broad mandate until its recent closure by the Taliban.

She also underlined the importance that international actors step-in in this extreme case of a National Human Rights Institution’s collapse, but also reminded that the national level – where individuals continue to act event in the most adverse circumstances – remains important.

‘Sima Samar set the tone for the discussions, reminding us of the crucial importance of both sides of the coin to ensure respect for human rights at the local level: the national and the international’ recalls Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

Coordinated Implementation: A Key Topic for National and International Actors

Representatives from National Human Rights Institutions, mayors, parliamentarians, diplomats, members of UN treaty bodies, experts from OHCHR, UNDP, NGOs and academia discussed their mutual engagement and devised strategies to increase the effectiveness of their cooperation and ensure respect for human rights at the local level.

‘National implementation is a key focus of the international human rights community. This conference allowed to bring around the stable many key actors – national and international – to further explore this topic and identify what works and what does not work’ says Felix Kirchmeier.

Key Takeaways

The discussions highlighted the importance of coordinated National Human Rights Systems (NHRSs) and the value of domestic stakeholders’ participation across Geneva-based human rights mechanisms.

‘Panelists underlined the key role that NHRSs play – by fostering, leading or providing a platform for consultations among national actors – to strengthen the transparency, ownership and accountability of monitoring and implementation processes at the national level. Given the overlap and interconnections among the various international treaties and related states’ obligations, they also recalled that engagement and coordination at the national level are paramount for implementation of international human rights standards’ explains Domenico Zipoli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘They also highlighted that solid NHRSs also function as a counterbalance to one of the main problems of the current international human rights system – the extent of overlapping recommendations coming from different monitoring bodies. As states are often subject to similar obligations under multiple human rights treaties, NHRSs can solve – through their streamlining potential – the often stated overburdening of the state apparatus vis-à-vis its international commitments’ he adds.

Felix Kirchmeier at the 2021 Annual Conference of the Geneva Human Rights Platform

The plenary panel on the role of new technologies provided an especially dynamic exchange among experts in the field of digital tools designed for comprehensive human rights monitoring and implementation.

‘In recent years, the International human rights system has been successful in normative standard-setting and creating national level obligations but this has not been matched by progress in effective methods of implementation and reporting. And the human rights sector is far behind where it should be in terms of developing digital tools that facilitate effective implementation and reporting at the national level, and engagement with the international human rights system’ underlines Ashley Bowe, Chief of Party at the Pacific Community and Founding Trustee at Impact OSS Trust.

GHRP Follow-up

The discussion will inform the future work of the platform and its various initiatives, including the one focusing on the local implementation of global human rights or the Treaty Body Members’ Platform that connects experts in UN TBs with each other as well as with Geneva-based practitioners, academics and diplomats to share expertise, exchange views on topical questions and develop synergies.

‘The session on the digital shift also encouraged us at the Geneva Human Rights Platform to further contribute to this evolving field. In the coming months, we will to partner with relevant institutions to explore possible convergences, complementarities, and best practices concerning available human rights tracking databases. It is indeed crucial that we assess the value of digitalization for a more systemic approach to human rights monitoring and implementation’ explains Felix Kirchmeier, announcing the topic of ‘Digital Connectivity’ for the 2022 Annual Conference.

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