Original HRC document


Document Type: Final Report

Date: 2018 Jul

Session: 39th Regular Session (2018 Sep)

Agenda Item: Item3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, Item5: Human rights bodies and mechanisms



Human Rights Council Thirty-ninth session

10–28 September 2018 Agenda items 3 and 5

Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,

political economic, social and culture rights,

including the right to development

Human rights bodies and mechanisms

Regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights

Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

United Nations A/HRC/39/58



I. Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 3

II. Establishment of regional and subregional human rights mechanisms ............................................ 3

III. Achievements of regional and subregional human rights arrangements .......................................... 6

IV. Challenges faced by regional and subregional human rights arrangements ..................................... 8

V. Role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

in the advancement of regional and subregional human rights arrangements .................................. 11

VI. Contribution of other actors to regional and subregional human rights arrangements ..................... 12

VII. Implications for the protection of human rights through regional and subregional human rights

arrangements .................................................................................................................................... 14

VIII. Conclusions and recommendations .................................................................................................. 16

I. Introduction

1. Pursuant to the adoption by the Human Rights Council of decision 32/115, the

Advisory Committee was mandated to prepare a report on regional arrangements for the

promotion and protection of human rights, in particular on the progress made in the

establishment of regional and subregional arrangements for the promotion and protection of

human rights; their achievements in all regions of the world; and the role that has been

played and can be played in the future by the Office of the United Nations High

Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in advancing cooperation between

international and regional human rights mechanisms. The Committee was further mandated

to identify ways to increase the role that regional and subregional arrangements play in

promoting and protecting human rights and to reinforce universal human rights standards,

including those contained in international human rights instruments, and to submit the

report to the Human Rights Council at its thirty-ninth session. It is hoped that the present

submission can take advantage of the celebrations marking the seventieth anniversary of the

Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna

Declaration and Programme of Action to promote the role of regional arrangements.

2. At its seventeenth session in August 2016, the Committee heard presentations from

experts, held discussions on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of

human rights and established a drafting group for the preparation of a progress report. The

group currently comprises Mohamed Bennani, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Mario

Luis Coriolano, Karla Hananía de Valera, Mikhail Lebedev, Xinsheng Liu, Kaoru Obata,

Katharina Pabel (Chair), Anantonia Reyes Prado, Changrok Soh (Rapporteur) and Imeru

Tamrat Yigezu.

3. At the same session of the Advisory Committee, the drafting group elaborated a

questionnaire, in accordance with decision 32/115, in which the Council encouraged the

Committee to consider the views and inputs of relevant stakeholders. The questionnaire was

disseminated to various stakeholders, including States Members of the United Nations,

international and regional organizations, relevant special procedures mandate holders and

treaty bodies, national human rights institutions and civil society organizations, with a

deadline of 31 October 2016. As of 1 February 2017, 23 responses to the questionnaire had

been received, including 9 from States, 5 from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 7

from national human rights institutions and 2 from other organizations.

II. Establishment of regional and subregional human rights mechanisms

4. The present report identifies five regions or areas where regional human rights

mechanisms have been (or are to be) established; Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Arab

States and Asia. 1 The first four regions already possess regional and subregional

mechanisms while Asia only has a few subregional mechanisms. Although regional and

subregional human rights bodies are very different, particularly in how their jurisdictions

and responsibilities overlap, the present study treats them as different facets of the same

process of localizing the protection and promotion of human rights. An overview of those

arrangements is set out below.

5. Europe has one of the most effective human rights regimes, stemming in part from

its combination of expert networks and intergovernmental cooperation. Its origins date back

to the formation of the Council of Europe in 1949 and the adoption of the European

Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1950. The European Court of

Human Rights, established in 1959 and restructured through Protocol 11 in 1998, functions

as the main human rights protection mechanism in Europe. All 47 Council of Europe

member States are party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Judges are elected

1 For the purposes of this report, Asia refers to the entire Asia-Pacific region, including Oceania.

by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and enjoy a high degree of

independence from their respective Governments. The States can also file State-to-State

complaints and in extreme cases even demand expulsion for flagrant and systematic

violations of the Convention. The decisions of the Court create binding legal obligations for

the State concerned.2 The European Social Charter, which addresses economic and social

rights, is subject to quasi-judicial enforcement. Insofar as they refer to legally binding treaty

provisions, the decisions and conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights —

the monitoring body established by the treaty — must be respected by the States concerned,

even if they are not directly enforceable in domestic legal systems. They set out the law and

can provide the basis for positive developments in social rights through legislation and case

law at national level.3 Other important organizations for the protection and promotion of

human rights in Europe include the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and

the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security

and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

6. The Inter-American human rights mechanism dates back to the approval of the

American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man by the Organization of American

States (OAS) in April 1948. The Declaration brought about the adoption of the OAS

Charter and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was established in 1959 to

enhance the implementation of human rights protections among the 35 OAS member States.

Following the adoption of the American Convention on Human Rights in 1969, the Inter-

American Court of Human Rights was established in 1979. The Commission monitors the

implementation of human rights by member States by making country visits, publishing

country and thematic reports and carrying out on-site visits. It also has a quasi-judicial

function in that it can interpret human rights instruments created by the OAS and makes

non-legally binding recommendations on individual complaints. Individual applications can

be lodged with the Commission based on the Declaration or the Convention.4 All cases go

through the Commission but only those OAS member States that have ratified the

Convention and accepted the jurisdiction of the Court can be brought before it. Some other

regional human rights treaties, such as the Inter-American Conventions to Prevent and

Punish Torture, on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women

and on Forced Disappearance of Persons, and the Additional Protocol to the Convention in

the Area of Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (San Salvador Protocol) also allow for

individual petitions to be lodged before the Commission.5

7. The African human rights mechanism emerged as a response to the challenges of

decolonization, racial discrimination, environmental protection and refugees. The African

Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights was adopted in 1981 and came into force in 1986.

In accordance with the Charter, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

was set up in 1987. The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights was established by a

protocol to the Charter in 1998, came into force in 2004 and was operational in 2006. As of

September 2016, the African Charter had been ratified by 54 of the 55 member States of the

African Union, the exception being South Sudan, and nearly half of the member States have

ratified the Protocol to the Charter. 6 The Commission accepts individual and State

complaints or communications based on the Charter, while the Court on may receive

applications either from the Commission, States parties to the Protocol, or African

intergovernmental organizations. Non-governmental organizations with observer status

before the Commission and individuals from States which have made a declaration

accepting the jurisdiction of the Court can also institute cases directly before the Court, but

only six African Union member States have accepted the competence of the Court to handle

2 See European Court of Human Rights, “The EHCR in 50 Questions” (February 2014), available at


3 For more details, see www.coe.int/en/web/turin-european-social-charter/about-the-charter.

4 See International Justice Resource Center, “Inter-American human rights system”, available from


5 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “The Organization of American States”,

available from www.oas.org/en/iachr/mandate/basic_documents.asp.

6 Other important institutions in the context of the African Union include the African Peer Review

Mechanism and the Pan-African Parliament.

such complaints. As of January 2016, the Court had received 74 applications and finalized

25 cases. 7 The Commission, however, has a longer history of judicial work. As of

November 2017, it had received 659 communications, of which it had finalized 446.

Another important regional human rights mechanism is the African Committee of Experts

on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which is tasked with promoting and protecting the

rights enshrined in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which came

into force in 1999 and has been ratified by 48 member States. In addition, there are

subregional courts which have over the years adjudicated on a number of important human

rights cases, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court

of Justice and the East African Court of Justice.

8. The current Arab Charter on Human Rights was adopted in May 2004 by the

Council of the League of Arab States (LAS) at the Summit level after the revision of an

earlier version that was adopted in 1994 but not ratified by any member State. of the

League. The Charter entered into force in March 2008, two months after the seventh

document of ratification had been deposited with the General Secretariat of the League,

pursuant to paragraph 2 of article 49 of the Charter. The Charter has been ratified by 14 out

of 22 LAS member States. However, it includes many provisions that are incongruent with

international standards.8 The Arab Human Rights Committee was established in 2009 to

oversee the implementation by State parties to the Charter of the rights and freedoms set

forth in the Charter and to issue its observations and recommendations in accordance with

the provisions of the Charter. In 2014, the LAS Council adopted the Statute of the Arab

Court of Human Rights. The Court will have jurisdiction over all cases resulting from the

implementation and interpretation of the Charter, or any other Arab convention in the field

of human rights. Another important mechanism to consider is the Organization of Islamic

Cooperation (OIC), a transregional organization with members in Africa, Europe, Asia and

even South America. The OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission was

launched in 2011 and has identified the rights of women, the rights of the child, human

rights education and the right to development as its key priorities.9

9. The Asia-Pacific region does not yet possess a regional arrangement for the

protection of human rights, even though several workshops to discuss the possibility have

been convened since 1990.10 However, some progress has been made at the subregional

level, particularly in South-East Asia. The first agreement of the Association of Southeast

Asian Nations (ASEAN) to consider the establishment of a regional human rights

arrangement was made in June 1993 following the Vienna Declaration and Programme of

Action. In November 2007, the ASEAN member States signed the Charter of the

Association of South East Asian Nations, in which the promotion and protection of human

rights was expressed, along with a commitment to the establishment of a regional human

rights mechanism. Accordingly, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human

Rights was established in July 2009. In 2012, the countries of ASEAN unanimously

adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration but a human rights court has not yet been

established. Although progress at the subregional level is promising, a regional framework

for the entire Asia region is still a work in progress.11 One example of this was the proposal

by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea to create an Asian human rights court,

which was announced at the third congress of the World Conference on Constitutional

Justice in 2014.

7 See http://en.african-court.org/index.php/cases/2016-10-17-16-18-21#finalised-cases.

8 See Mervat Rishmawi, “The revised Arab Charter on Human Rights: a step forward?”, Human Rights

Law Review, vol. 5, No. 2 (January 2005).

9 See www.oic-iphrc.org/en/about.

10 See www.hurights.or.jp/archives/focus/section2/1997/03/un-workshops-on-regional-arrangement-for-


11 See ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, available from http://aichr.org/press-



III. Achievements of regional and subregional human rights arrangements

Judicial and quasi-judicial decisions

10. The most visible contributions of regional human rights arrangements have occurred

in the form of court rulings and attempts by commissions to sway the behaviour of member

States.12 The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the landmark decisions of

the Inter-American Court of Human Rights even have an impact on countries beyond the

scope of the original ruling. For example, military officers from several Latin American

dictatorships had benefited from amnesty laws until the Court ruled in the case of Barrios

Altos v. Peru in 2001 that they were in violation of international human rights law.

Consequently, several countries, including Argentina and Chile, repealed their amnesty

legislation and began to prosecute military officers for violations going back to the 1970s.

Indeed, throughout the 2000s, the preventive approach of the Court to human rights

violations, especially its demands for reparations, led some to consider it a “unique driving

force for change.”13

11. The decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights 14 and later the

European Court of Human Rights have also had a considerable impact on law and practice

in several States. Examples of this include changes to detention practices in Belgium,

Germany, Greece and Italy, the treatment of aliens in the Netherlands, Switzerland and

other countries, press freedom legislation in Britain, wiretapping regulations in Switzerland,

legal aid practices in Italy and Denmark, procedures to speed up trials in Italy, the

Netherlands and Sweden, and privacy legislation in Italy.15 In Dudgeon v. United Kingdom

in 1981, the Court held that the criminal laws of Northern Ireland prohibiting consensual

sex between consenting adult males violated the right to privacy, as protected by article 8 of

the European Convention on Human Rights. As a consequence of the judgment,

homosexual relations between males were decriminalized in Northern Ireland in 1982.16

Even if the judgments of the Court are only formally binding vis-à-vis the respective State,

the case law develops human rights standards with significant relevance for all member


12. In 2001, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights considered a

communication that dealt with alleged violations of the human rights of the Ogoni people in

Nigeria. It marked the first time the Commission was able to deal with alleged violations of

economic, social and cultural rights in a substantial and firm manner.17 Another interesting

example of court activism is the East African Court of Justice, which has reinterpreted its

mandate to include cases of human rights violations.18 Furthermore, the ECOWAS system,

which is best known for its jurisprudence on women’s and children’s rights, allows actio

popularis, the filing of complaints by third parties on behalf of victims, which even the

European mechanism does not permit.

12 It should be noted that the African, Inter-American and European commissions on human rights,

among other regional arrangements, use precautionary measures where there is an imminent risk of

irreparable harm to individuals or groups. That is a powerful protection mechanism, especially for

human rights defenders at risk.

13 Geneviève Lessard, “Preventive reparations at a crossroads. The Inter-American Court of Human

Rights and Colombia’s search for peace”, International Journal of Human Rights, (January 2017).

14 The precursor of the enlarged European Court of Human Rights until the entry into force of Protocol

11 in 1998.

15 See Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, 3rd ed. (Ithaca, New York,

Cornell University Press, 2013).

16 European Court of Human Rights factsheet, “Homosexuality: criminal aspects”, (2014), available at


17 Fons Coomans, “The Ogoni case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights”,

International and Comparative Law Quarterly, vol. 52 (July 2003).

18 Ally Possi, “The East African Court of Justice: towards effective protection of human rights in the

East African Community”, Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, vol. 17 (2013).

Standard setting

13. Although court decisions, by establishing legal precedents, constitute a form of

strong standard-setting, regional arrangements are also successful at diffusing and

reinforcing human rights norms and standards in their regions in cooperation with member

States. The European human rights regime has contributed to human rights advancements

within European countries and serves as a reference model worldwide. The creation of and

high compliance with human rights norms has been possible due to strong pre-existing

norms within Europe, but the European Convention on Human Rights has also helped to

develop human rights standards in new member States, particularly with the accession of

many eastern and south-eastern member States after 1990. Montenegro, which acceded to

the Council of Europe in 2007, exemplifies the way in which a regional human rights

mechanism can assist standard-setting in a collaborative fashion, not only through court

rulings. According to the Government of Montenegro, the country has adopted numerous

strategic documents and action plans, including on displaced people, improvement of the

status of Roma and Egyptians, human trafficking, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender

rights and the protection of children and the elderly. In terms of legal changes, Montenegro

has amended the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, the Law on Gender Equality,

the Law on the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms and adopted a Law on the

Prohibition of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities. In line with

recommendations from the Council of Europe, Montenegro also included a comprehensive

definition of hate speech in the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination.19

14. This collaborative approach is evident in Africa as well. At its fifth session, the

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights resolved that States parties should

incorporate the teaching of human rights into their educational curricula and establish

committees on human rights at national, subnational and regional levels. Some African

countries, such as Nigeria, have incorporated the provisions of the African Charter on

Human and Peoples’ Rights into their domestic law. The Commission has also sponsored a

number of seminars and international conferences covering a broad spectrum of issues,

such as community work, economic, social and cultural rights, HIV and AIDS in Africa,

prisons and women’s rights.20

Publication of country reports, on-site observation and country visits

15. Regional arrangements also play a crucial role in collecting and disseminating

information about human rights conditions in the region, which allows cross-country

comparisons and the development of best practices. In 2014, the press unit of the European

Court launched six new factsheets on the case law concerning elderly people, persons with

disabilities, political parties and associations, hunger strikes in detention, migrants in

detention and domestic violence. It has now prepared a total of 59 factsheets in English and

French, many of which have also been translated into German, Italian, Polish, Romanian,

Russian and Turkish with the support of the Governments concerned. The press unit has

also prepared country profiles covering each of the 47 member States. In addition to general

and statistical information on each State, the country profiles provide information on the

most noteworthy cases concerning that State.21

16. Between 1970 and 1980 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights put

pressure on repressive Governments. Its reporting on Chile and Argentina under military

law had particular significance for internal and international human rights advocates. In the

early 1990s, the Commission began to closely monitor countries with fragile democratic

institutions that were still experiencing political violence. It published four reports on the

human rights situation in Haiti between 1990 and 1995 and three reports on Guatemala

between 1993 and 2001. In 1998, the Commission visited Peru and prepared a

19 Survey response by the Government of Montenegro.

20 Timothy F. Yerima, “Over two decades of African Commission on Human and People’s Rights:

flying or fledgeling”, Global Journal of Human Social Science Arts and Humanities, vol. 12, No. 12


21 See, for example, European Court of Human Rights, annual report 2014.

comprehensive report on the human rights situation. The report was released in June 2000

and was crucial in ending the Fujimori regime.22 In 1999 the Commission published a major

report on the human rights situation in Colombia, in which for the first time it considered

international humanitarian law, i.e., the law of armed conflict, to identify the legal regime

governing the ongoing internal armed conflict. More recently, reports were issued on

Guatemala (2016) and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (2018) which drew attention

to serious human rights challenges in those countries. The Commission has also publicized

prominent individual cases, such as its issuance of a public condemnation of the murder of

human rights defender Marisela Escobedo in Mexico.23 It regularly conducts on-site visits

to countries and publishes press releases with its recommendations. The Commission issues

an annual report, in which it highlights the most serious human rights violations in the

Americas. It also publishes thematic reports, of which the most recent refer to the

criminalization of human rights defenders and human rights standards in relation to human

mobility. Furthermore, it has been asking for transparency about the detention facility at

Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and urging its closure since the early 2000s.

17. While the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights is responsible for

reviewing State compliance through biannual reports on country efforts to implement the

African Charter, many States combine several years’ worth of reports instead of submitting

biannual reports. Moreover, seven member States have yet to submit a report at all. That

can be attributed to a lack of resources and interest in those States. African Commission

communications have only a 15 per cent implementation rate. Nevertheless, even that level

of transparency has had an impact. According to the Government of Kenya, the reporting

requirements of the regional mechanism have played a major role in strengthening the

rights of indigenous people. The new Kenyan Constitution provides several avenues for the

protection and strengthening of the personal and collective rights of indigenous peoples.

Article 27 obliges the State to develop legislation and affirmative action programmes.

Article 56 obliges the State to provide for adequate representation of “marginalized groups”

at all levels of government, undertake affirmative action on behalf of those groups and

promote the use of indigenous languages and the free expression of traditional cultures.

Article 100 requires the legislature to enact a law which will promote the representation of

marginalized communities.24

18. The Arab Human Rights Committee carried out its first examination of State reports

in 2012 and 2013, starting with Jordan, then Algeria and Bahrain. The concluding remarks

of the Committee are now published on its website in Arabic. Civil society organizations

are allowed to disseminate the concluding remarks in their countries for public outreach

(through the media, websites and social networks) and follow up with the national


IV. Challenges faced by regional and subregional human rights arrangements

Structural and financial challenges

19. Broadly speaking, structural challenges refer to the way in which a lack of political

will, membership issues, or greater than expected demand have manifested themselves in

poorly resourced or unbalanced regional arrangements. The global human rights system is

trying to do more with less. Thus, the greatest obstacle to the effective functioning of both

the Inter-American Commission and Court is the lack of adequate human and financial

resources. The 30 staff lawyers at the Commission, who are presently handling nearly 1,250

22 Robert K. Goldman, “History and action: the inter-American human rights system and the role of the

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights”, Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 31, No. 4 (November


23 See www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/preleases/2011/127.asp.

24 Survey response by the Government of Kenya.

25 See report of the International Federation for Human Rights and others on a seminar held in Cairo in

February 2013, “The Arab League and human rights: challenges ahead”, (May 2013).

open cases, cannot keep pace with the annual increase in the number of petitions and thus

cannot meet the reasonable expectations of States and victims for their prompt resolution.

The Commission receives an average of over 2,000 new petitions each year.

20. Membership issues also hinder both the Inter-American Commission and the Court.

As of 2013, 25 of the 35 OAS member States had ratified the Convention, while 2 have

subsequently denounced it, leaving 23 active parties. Only 21 of those parties have

acknowledged the jurisdiction of the Court in contentious cases. Notably, the United States

of America and Canada have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights,

although the United States remains the largest donor of voluntary funds to the Commission,

despite the fact that it has not signed the Convention. It contributes $2.3 million a year and

an additional $300,000 to the Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression. Very few OAS

member States contribute voluntary funding to the Commission and the Court.26 In 2016,

when the Commission faced its most serious financial crisis, OHCHR was crucial in calling

attention to the problem. Among the challenges facing the Arab Human Rights Committee

are the delayed submissions by States parties of their first and periodic reports on the

implementation of the Arab Charter on Human Rights and the effective implementation of

the Committee’s recommendations at the national level. Furthermore, eight LAS member

States have still not ratified the Charter and are therefore not yet members of the Committee.

21. The African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights also faces many structural

and resource challenges. Among them are a lack of capacity to ensure that the system is

accessible to rights holders and that norms and standards are effectively implemented and

enhanced at the national level; to monitor the non-compliance of member States with their

obligation to submit regular reports; to overcome challenges in implementing the decisions

of the Commission; and a very limited operating budget. For example, in 2002/2003, the

Commission only had a budget of $790,000, although this was subsequently increased to

around $7.9 million in 2011. 27 As with OAS, fiscal challenges are compounded by

membership problems. As of July 2017, only 8 of the 30 States parties to the Protocol to the

Charter had made the declaration recognizing the competence of the Court to receive cases

from NGOs and individuals. They are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi,

Mali, Tunisia and the United Republic of Tanzania. 28 Moreover, only 26 States have

accepted the jurisdiction of the Court. In its response to the survey, the Government of

Kenya noted a lack of political will to implement the decisions of the Court and a lack of

adequate funding as the main obstacles.

22. Although it boasts the best-funded regional arrangement in the world, Europe also

has a problem with structural imbalances. Within the European system, the Convention

makes provision for civil and political rights only, while the European Social Charter

covers social and economic rights. The two are not treated equally: while accession to the

Convention is a condition of Council of Europe membership, it is not a requirement for the

Charter, underlining the lesser status accorded to social and economic rights in the

European system.29 Ironically, the most critical problem appears to be the mounting number

of individual complaints. A combination of factors - the positive public reputation of the

Court in some countries, its expansive interpretation of the Convention and entrenched

human rights problems in other countries - has attracted tens of thousands of new individual

applications annually. Such cases often last for years, resulting in a mounting backlog. As

of September 2016, the Court had issued more than 10,000 judgments but had more than

74,000 pending cases. Some say the Court is becoming a victim of its own success and now

26 Survey response by the Government of the United States.

27 See Frans Viljoen, International Human Rights Law in Africa, 2nd ed. (Oxford, Oxford University

Press, 2012).

28 The following 30 member States have ratified the Protocol: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi,

Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho,

Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, the Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sahrawi Arab

Democratic Republic, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and the United Republic of


29 See Anna Greer and Louis J. Kotzé, eds., Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment

(Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015).

faces a docket crisis of massive proportions. There also remain substantive questions about

how the Court accomplishes its core mandate - protecting the civil and political rights

enshrined in the Convention - and whether the procedural framework it uses to achieve that

goal needs to be revised in response to changes in the legal and political landscape of

human rights protection in Europe.30 On a positive note, however, the backlog has been

decreasing since 2014 owing to institutional reforms.

Procedural challenges

23. Procedural problems are typically the result of institutional design decisions,

subsequent modifications, or day-to-day practices that serve to limit the efficacy or scope of

a regional arrangement. While the League of Arab States which was founded in 1945, was

the first regional mechanism recognized by the United Nations, it was almost 60 years

before member States adopted the Arab Charter on Human Rights. There exists a window

of opportunity to further enhance the compatibility of the Charter with international human

rights standards. The Arab Human Rights Committee can only receive State reports and

issue recommendations. It cannot decide on individual or inter-State complaints. The final

draft for the statute of the Arab Court of Human Rights has been revised to restrict access to

the Court to States parties only. However, member States can, at their discretion, permit

civil society organizations to present cases on behalf of individuals.

24. The Inter-American Court has a special unit dedicated to monitoring compliance

with its judgments and the average duration of the cases before it was 20 months in 2016,

less than the 24 months in 2014. The Inter-American Commission currently has no strong

institutionalized form of follow-up, although it is creating one. However, individual

complaints often take too long before the Commission, resulting in a backlog of cases. It

can take three or more years for the Commission to forward a petition to the relevant State

for an initial response. 31 According to the 2016 annual report of the Commission, it

received 2,567 petitions in that year alone, adding to a backlog of thousands of pending


25. The 11 members of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights are

part-time but fulfil numerous functions, which may limit the capacity of the Commission.

Commissioners and judges of the African Court are elected by the African Union to ensure

independence.33 However, some scholars consider the coverage of human rights by the

African Charter to be incomplete by international standards. For example, article 6 of the

Charter states that “no one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and

conditions previously laid down by law.” This means that as long as there is a pre-existing

law, Governments may deprive people of their freedoms.34 However, it should be noted that

these “clawback” provisions are fairly common in legal language and that the African

Commission has so far maintained a strict interpretation of them, thereby preventing their


26. The ASEAN Charter fails to provide an effective enforcement mechanism, as it

continues to emphasize sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in domestic

affairs. Thus, the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights is comprised of

government appointees accountable to their Governments, who can remove the appointees

at their discretion. It operates by consensus, which gives each State an effective veto over

the decisions of the Commission. In fact, the mandate of the Commission does not contain

explicit provisions for receiving and investigating complaints of human rights violations.

Discussions of complaints take place in closed meetings, so it cannot be confirmed whether

and which cases have been discussed. The Commission has yet to take public action in

30 See Laurence R. Helfer, “Redesigning the European Court of Human Rights: embeddedness as a deep

structural principle of the European human rights regime”, European Journal of International Law,

vol. 19, No. 1 (2008).

31 Survey response by the Government of the United States.

32 See www.oas.org/en/iachr/docs/annual/2016/TOC.asp.

33 See www.au.int/en/organs/cj.

34 See Sandhiya Singh, “The impact of clawback clauses on human and peoples’ rights in Africa”,

African Security Review, vol. 18, No. 4 (2009).

response to a complaint. Although NGOs are striving to improve human rights conditions

in Asia, that is proving to be difficult because the Commission has largely excluded civil

society organizations from participation in its initiatives.35

V. Role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the advancement of regional and subregional human rights arrangements

27. Mandated by Human Rights Council resolutions, OHCHR has consistently

organized workshops aimed at enhancing cooperation between the United Nations and

regional human rights mechanisms, including information-sharing on best practices and

lessons learned and discussions on possible new forms of cooperation. A key success story,

for example, is the Addis Ababa road map adopted by the special procedures of the United

Nations and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. 36 International

workshops on regional arrangements, preceded by consultations, were held in 2008, 2010,

2012, 2014 and 2016. Furthermore, OHCHR has a dedicated section, the National

Institutions, Regional Mechanisms and Civil Society Section, which is responsible for

supporting regional mechanisms. Although a key achievement has been the creation of a

network of 17 focal points for cooperation between regional mechanisms, which hold

annual meetings and coordinate the biannual workshops, this activity is coordinated by a

single person in the Section.

28. OHCHR supports the establishment and operation of national and regional human

rights organizations through capacity-building, such as training and technical assistance,

and facilitating information flows. The technical assistance programme integrates support

for national institutions with other forms of United Nations assistance, but more needs to be

done for effective capacity-building. In its response to the survey, the Government of

Kenya noted that it had faced a challenge with regard to training on various human rights

issues. It stated that more support was required for human rights awareness campaigns,

especially in regard to the abolition of the death penalty and the training of government

officers on a human rights-based approach to programming and planning, in order to build

their capacity to provide service delivery in a meaningful way. In its response, the National

Council for Human Rights of Egypt also noted that OHCHR could play an important role

by conducting training for the staff of the institutions concerned, helping to develop

information and documentation systems, and facilitating exchange of experience with

relevant institutions, especially those belonging to the international system of human rights

protection. OHCHR could also help to establish regional offices and human rights centres

that would provide an additional structure promoting the concept of regional protection of

human rights.

29. OHCHR also assists with the diffusion of international human rights standards to

regional arrangements. In the case of the League of Arab States, OHCHR provided

assistance in revising the 1994 version of the Arab Charter on Human Rights to improve its

compliance with international human rights standards. 37 OHCHR has encouraged the

security architecture of the African Union to adopt a human rights approach and supported

the 2017 African Union high-level dialogue on human rights, as well as planning for the

10-year action and implementation plan for the promotion and protection of human rights.

In the Americas, OHCHR supported the Inter-American Commission during its 2013

reform process and helped to raise public awareness during its budgetary crisis in 2016. In

2017 in the Middle East, valuable training on United Nations human rights mechanisms

was provided to the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission. Of course,

there are still challenges. It has been pointed out that OHCHR may consider facilitating

staff exchange and peer advice for regional mechanisms, provide regular training and

35 See https://humanrightsinasean.info/asean-intergovernmental-comission-human-rights/about.html.

36 See www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/SP/SP_UNHRC_ACHPRRoad%20Map.pdf.

37 Mervat Rishmawi, The League of Arab States Human Rights Standards and Mechanisms: Towards

Further Civil Society Management: a Manual for Practitioners (2015).

publish its performance assessment of regional mechanisms to identify areas where it can

provide further support.38

30. Working towards this end, OHCHR has set up 12 regional offices and is currently

carrying out plans to establish more in Asia. The regional offices have facilitated various

forms of planning and cooperation between international and regional or subregional

mechanisms. Key examples of those strategic activities include the annual meetings held by

the secretariats of OHCHR and the Council of Europe since 2007; the joint declarations on

the reinforcement of cooperation with the Council of Europe (in 2013) and the OSCE

Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (in 2014); and the participation of

judges from the European Court of Human Rights in the Human Rights Committee session

in July 2016 and of judges from the European Court and the Inter-American Court in the

session of the Committee against Torture in December 2017. OHCHR, which signed a joint

declaration with the Inter-American Court in 2014, now participates in planning activities

with both the Inter-American Commission and the Court, which in 2016 included meetings,

training and seminars in Washington, D.C., Guatemala and Panama City. Another

accomplishment was a workshop on regional and subregional human rights courts held at

Strasbourg, France, in 2015, which allowed the sharing of jurisprudence and best practices

by judges and experts from Africa, the Americas and Europe.

31. OHCHR plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap between regional human rights

mechanisms and the broader international community. For example, joint public statements

and technical cooperation with regional and subregional organizations have been an

important tool in denouncing violations and in assisting States to comply with international

legal standards.

VI. Contribution of other actors to regional and subregional human rights arrangements

National human rights institutions

32. National human rights institutions, which vary in size and capacity from country to

country, support regional mechanisms directly by creating connections for national actors at

the international level. For instance, in its response to the survey, the National Council for

Human Rights of Egypt explained that the effectiveness of the African human rights

mechanism could be improved by strengthening cooperation with national human rights

institutions, increasing awareness of the competences and goals of both the African

Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the African Court on Human and People’s

Rights, exchanging experiences with other regional mechanisms and learning from success

stories that have made these institutions more effective. It also noted that the African Union

Commission and the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions signed a

memorandum of understanding in January 2016 and have developed guidelines on the role

of national human rights institutions in monitoring the implementation of the findings of

the African Commission and the judgments of the African Court. European national human

rights institutions have created the European Network of National Human Rights

Institutions to coordinate their activities across a range of human rights issues. Finally,

there is the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, which was established

in 1993.

33. Owing to their role of ensuring fluid connections with human rights actors, national

human rights institutions have the potential to foster active dialogue between United

Nations and regional human rights regimes worldwide. Such institutions network both with

each other and with OHCHR in Geneva on a regular basis through annual meetings and in

regional meetings. Given the now recognized international status of national human rights

institutions, their potential to advance human rights is manifest. 39 The Iberoamerican

38 Survey response by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

39 See John von Doussa, “The potential role of national human rights institutions in the Pacific”, paper

given at the Australasian Law Reform Agencies Conference (September 2008).

Federation of Ombudsman has played this role in the Americas, linking national, regional

and United Nations systems. Another example is the Asia Pacific Forum of National

Human Rights Institutions, one of the most effective forms of collaboration in the region.

Established in 1996, the organization aims to support the establishment and efficient

operation of national human rights institutions in Asia and currently has 24 members. The

key roles of the Forum include building stronger national human rights institutions;

providing advice and expertise; collaborating and sharing knowledge; promoting gender

equality; contributing at the national, regional, and international level; and supporting

effective leadership and governance. It thus opens up new avenues for strengthening human

rights protections for the inhabitants of the region.

Civil society

34. NGOs push reluctant Governments to step up their human rights protection efforts

by pressuring them to ratify international human rights treaties. After ratification, they also

help to evaluate compliance. NGO monitoring and reporting serves are invaluable sources

of information for the enforcement authorities of regional regimes. In one example, the

International Commission of Jurists complained to the European Committee of Social

Rights that child labour incompatible with the European Social Charter was common in

Portugal. That led to Portugal amending its Constitution to prohibit the employment of

schoolchildren and increasing the minimum age for employment, which caused a dramatic

drop in violations.40

35. The productive engagement of NGOs in other regional mechanisms is also visible.

Although many NGOs are active, only a few examples can be cited. The Center for Justice

and International Law has participated in over 300 cases before both the Inter-American

Commission and Court on behalf of more than 13,000 victims. Its success has translated

into, among other things, the payment of monetary reparations (more than $66 million to

almost 2,500 victims); the reopening of investigations and cases that had earlier been met

with impunity; public apologies by high-ranking government officials; and changes in the

laws and practices of States.41 In Africa, the rules of procedure of the African Commission

allow NGOs to sit in on public sessions of the Commission and of its subsidiary bodies.

There are 515 NGOs with observer status with the Commission and the engagement of civil

society has been further enhanced by the NGO forum, an advocacy platform coordinated by

the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, which convenes in advance

of sessions of the Commission.42

36. Although Asia does not yet have a regional human rights arrangement, civil society

is working towards this goal. In 1993, building on earlier groundwork, more than 110

NGOs from 26 countries across Asia adopted the Bangkok NGO Declaration of Human

Rights, a hopeful step towards cooperative transborder human rights activism. Continued

efforts to build a comprehensive system of human rights norms led to the issuance of the

Asian Human Rights Charter in 1998, an important demonstration of the existence of a

normative consensus among representatives of Asian civil society. Although many

countries in the region do not have strong domestic civil societies, Asian NGOs have

compensated by creating transnational networks focusing on networking, coalition-building,

capacity-building and advocacy across borders, while also putting effort into monitoring,

documentation, campaigning, and training. For instance, the Asian Forum for Human

Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), one of the most prominent transnational NGOs

based in South-East Asia, has been implementing human rights advocacy programmes in

ASEAN countries to ensure the effectiveness of ASEAN human rights institutions and is

also making strenuous efforts to raise public awareness of and bring government attention

to regional human rights cooperation in Asia.

37. As of now, however, many NGOs, especially those in Africa, Asia and the Middle

East, suffer from a lack of legal protection and the resources to successfully carry out their

40 International Commission of Jurists v. Portugal, complaint No. 1/1998.

41 See www.cejil.org/sites/default/files/legacy_files/Report20_ENpdf.pdf.

42 For more information, see www.acdhrs.org/ngo-forum/.

activities. 43 According to the online monitor run by CIVICUS, civil society space is

narrowed, obstructed, repressed and even closed in most countries around the world, with

only a few northern European countries and New Zealand classified as truly open. 44

Shrinking civil society space suggests that NGO efforts to create subregional and regional

mechanisms from the bottom up cannot succeed unless they receive sustained support and

coordination by international actors.

VII. Implications for the protection of human rights through regional and subregional human rights arrangements

38. The foregoing analysis of the achievements and challenges of regional human rights

arrangements suggest that the most important factors determining the success or failure of

regional human rights mechanisms include the following factors:

(a) Commitment:

(i) The intent and will of individual States to conform to regional and

international standards;

(ii) Signing and ratification by most, if not all, of the States in the region;

(iii) Changes in laws or legal practices by individual States in the region;

(iv) Securing adequate human and financial resources for the regional and

subregional human rights arrangements;

(b) Procedures:

(i) Ensuring the institutional independence of judges from national interests and


(ii) Resolving backlogs and delays in human rights mechanisms (especially

courts) and preventing future backlogs;

(iii) Establishing enforcement mechanisms for decisions by regional human rights


(iv) Monitoring mechanism to follow up on decisions and increase transparency;

(v) Maintaining the integrity and neutrality of regional mechanisms;

(c) Collaboration:

(i) Alliances between global and local human rights organizations to uphold

international standards and hold perpetrators of violations accountable;

(ii) Role of national human rights institutions in coordinating and strengthening

the implementation of decisions and increasing the likelihood of compliance;

(iii) Protection of and participation by members of civil society in submitting

petitions, representing victims, pressuring responsible actors and following up on

court decisions.

39. Ideally, the efficient functioning of a regional mechanism requires all three factors to

operate in unison. A lack of member State commitment undercuts the vitality of the entire

structure, while a mismatch between commitment and collaboration will create adversarial

relationships that complicate the procedural level. Although the potential for procedural

flaws and inefficiencies exists in all regional arrangements, a synergistic relationship

between member State commitment and collaboration with international and civil society

43 Council on Foreign Relations, International Institutions and Global Governance Program, “The global

human rights regime” (May 2012), Available from www.cfr.org/human-rights/global-human-rights-


44 See https://monitor.civicus.org/.

actors helps to identify and manage such problems and, in the best cases, literally ties all

three levels together into a closely functioning and self-reinforcing system.

40. Conceptualizing successful regional mechanisms as integrated systems of

commitment, procedure and collaboration has important implications for ongoing efforts to

create new regional arrangements. First, it highlights the importance of the commitment of

member States but emphasizes that this factor does not exist in isolation. Collaboration with

domestic and international actors is required, even in the presence of strong member State

commitment, just as domestic and international actors cannot succeed without member

State commitment. This suggests that thinking sequentially is problematic when creating

new arrangements. Rather, a successful regional arrangement requires the parallel

development of self-supporting levels of collaboration, procedure and commitment. Modest

but balanced arrangements that are allowed to evolve organically may be more sustainable

than ambitious projects that seek to do too much too quickly.

41. Guaranteeing the commitment of member States to a regional human rights

arrangement may be hindered because of different types of State governance. In contrast to

norms prevailing in other regions, many Asian countries regard human rights issues as a

domestic issue. Since non-interference in domestic affairs is one of the principles explicitly

underlying the ASEAN founding documents, efforts to internationalize human rights

protection within the ASEAN framework are expected to encounter procedural problems

Furthermore, Asian countries tend to prioritize government-centred policy initiatives for

creating economic development and accept the relegation of individual rights for the

collective good.45 Those differences, combined with the growing economic and political

importance of Asia in the world, suggest that a simple transference of European models

may not be a realistic expectation.

42. Strong commitment by a powerful country or small group of countries could be one

way to generate momentum for a regional arrangement in Asia. As we have seen, a similar

role was played by the United States in creating and financing the Inter-American human

rights mechanism. For many international regimes, the presence of a leading nation is very

important. However, many Asian powers do not appear to be willing to take on this role.

43. Thus, there appear to be three possible routes to creating an Asian regional human

rights arrangement. The first is the narrow approach. That would consist of the creation of a

small subregional human rights arrangement that is geographically limited but marked by a

high degree of commitment, procedures closely modelled on best practices and deep

collaboration with international actors and civil society. For example, an Asian human

rights regime could be centred on a country with a strong human rights record and then

expand to neighbouring countries. That approach would have the advantage of maximizing

the protections for the inhabitants of member States in accordance with international

standards but could experience growth difficulties if its convention and enforcement

mechanisms were perceived as too intrusive.

44. The second route is the wide approach. That would consist of the negotiation of a

broad and inclusive human rights arrangement that encompasses the entire region. Owing to

widely divergent cultural values, types of governance and member State preferences, a

successful agreement would necessarily reflect the lowest common denominator. In all

likelihood, such an organization would be underfunded, procedurally handicapped and

would limit the opportunities for civil society engagement. Nevertheless, its existence

would be highly symbolic, provide at least a modicum of protection to the largest number

of people and could help to encourage member States to show more commitment in the


45. The third route to a regional arrangement in Asia would consist of a networked

approach, which closely resembles the method adopted in Africa. That would consist of the

development of multiple and overlapping subregional mechanisms among like-minded

countries. Those mechanisms would not have the same procedures because compromises

45 See Amartya Sen, Human Rights and Asian Values (New York, Carnegie Council on Ethics and

International Affairs, 1997).

would be necessary when establishing each body, realistically taking into account which

provisions member States would be comfortable ratifying and implementing. Attention

should be focused on the extent to which compromises could be made. This approach could

lead to the proliferation of organizations based on subregions, such as Central, Eastern,

Northern, South-eastern, Southern and Western Asia. Those organizations would cooperate

with each other but would reflect the distinctive approach to human rights protection of

each subregion. In parallel, further international agreements could be created at the regional

level focusing on addressing common issues, such as child poverty or the rights of the

elderly, or technical issues such as consumer privacy rights. In the long run, of course,

efforts would be needed to integrate these diverse subregional rights systems and single

issue regimes into a coherent whole. Criss-crossing the region with a network of

subregional arrangements would allow countries to move at their own pace. In doing so,

they would be encouraged by international civil society and assisted by the United Nations


46. It is clear from the case of Europe and other successful regional arrangements in

Africa and the Americas that strong regional cooperation and coordination greatly

contribute to the consolidation of universal human rights. The networked approach is not

only effective in creating new regional mechanisms, it will also revitalize existing ones.

Joint networks are essential for ensuring that overlapping global, regional, subregional and

national human rights actors maximize their potential and avoid jurisdictional conflict. For

stronger and more effective regional mechanisms, all actors, including Governments and

civil societies, will need to play important roles in promoting multilevel cooperation, which

will include national assemblies, courts, national human rights institutions, private sector

representatives and scholars from various fields. Specifically, there needs to be awareness

that sustainable procedures are the result of a careful balance between commitment and

collaboration. Finding that balance requires careful research, honest negotiations and a

willingness to listen and learn by local and international actors alike. Put simply, human

rights can be implemented to the fullest extent only when Governments, citizens and

international civil society are willing to engage in the process.

VIII. Conclusions and recommendations


47. Regional human rights mechanisms have made important achievements in

protecting human rights around the world. The European regime has made great

strides in changing laws and practices in its member States, including enhancing the

protections for vulnerable populations such as same-sex couples and children. The

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has helped to protect human rights

defenders and the rights of indigenous peoples, and has issued reports on member

States. The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and the Arab Human

Rights Committee publish reports which are used by civil society actors to further

advocate for the protection and promotion of human rights.

48. Despite these successes, regional human rights mechanisms are still struggling

to overcome serious limitations. Some of them do not enjoy the membership of all

States within their respective regions. In the case of the Inter-American human rights

mechanism, the United States, Canada and most Caribbean States have not ratified

the relevant convention. Likewise, some African and Arab States have not ratified

their respective regional human rights conventions either. In Asia, there is no region-

wide human rights arrangement. Regional arrangements also have many operational

limitations, including restrictions on the independence of judges, an inability to

enforce their decisions, or serious backlogs of cases. A lack of political will by relevant

States and insufficient funding are also serious obstacles, even in Europe.

49. The United Nations is essential to forging a complementary relationship

between regional and universal arrangements, because it is in a position to work with

all regional mechanisms and promote further exchanges of information and good

practices between them. South-South cooperation is vital in strengthening existing

regional mechanisms and developing new ones. The United Nations can also

strengthen the international legal order by actively promoting the exchange of

jurisprudence between regional mechanisms and active dialogue regarding common

issues and best practices. That is important for resolving potential tensions between

the universal approach to human rights and regional approaches. More specifically,

the partnership between OHCHR and human rights mechanisms (particularly

through its regional and country offices and through its special procedures and treaty

bodies) has proven crucial in the promotion and protection of human rights at the

local level. OHCHR helps regional mechanisms and States with drafting human rights

instruments, following up on the universal periodic review, supporting the work of

national human rights institutions, providing platforms and training, and by acting as

a bridge between global and regional mechanisms.

50. National human rights institutions and civil societies have also contributed to

regional and subregional human rights arrangements. They play a special role as an

institutional bridge between individuals and States and between States and

international society. Meanwhile, members of civil society have made significant

contributions to ensuring the long-term effectiveness of regional human rights

arrangements. NGOs, although facing resource constraints and shrinking civil society

space, successfully spread human rights values, lobby Governments, publish

independent reports, create blueprints for further human rights progress, draft

human rights conventions and even help to create new international bodies. This

bottom-up pressure can help regional arrangements to work more smoothly in cases

of strong member State commitment and can help generate commitment where it is

initially lacking.

51. At their best, regional human rights mechanisms can change State laws and

practices, promote the rights of the most vulnerable and serve as a reference model

for member States and neighbouring regions. To achieve optimal results from such

arrangements, there is a need to ensure that most, if not all, States within the region

ratify the relevant conventions. There is also a need to ensure the independence of

judges and the existence of an enforcement mechanism for their decisions. The

implementation of a monitoring mechanism to follow up on decisions is also necessary,

as is allowing members of civil society to participate in the process. More broadly,

collaboration with OHCHR, State Governments, local governments, national human

rights institutions, corporations and NGOs at all stages of the development and

operation of a mechanism must be ensured and strengthened. Lastly, securing human

and financial resources is vital for ensuring effective operation.

52. The implications of the present study for the prospects of a new regional

mechanism in Asia is that all actors, including Governments and civil societies, must

play strong roles in promoting a mechanism of multilevel cooperation. Although there

are several possible routes to creating a regional arrangement in Asia and improving

existing mechanisms elsewhere, it is certain that this cannot be accomplished by

simply mimicking mechanisms from other regions. It requires strong State leadership,

supplemented by all relevant stakeholders such as national assemblies and legislatures,

courts, national human rights institutions, law enforcement agencies and even



53. Member States of regional human rights arrangements need to make greater

efforts to guarantee adequate funding for the latter. Without funds, even the best

designed procedures will struggle to protect human rights adequately. The

sustainability of regional arrangements requires strong commitment by member

States and the active participation and oversight of other human rights organizations,

both domestic and international. That said, worsening economic conditions around

the world mean that regional arrangements may face increased competition for access

to State budgets. There is a need for innovative thinking and experimentation by

human rights practitioners and the international community to find ways to enable

regional arrangements to do more with less. Leveraging new technologies for greater

efficiencies or streamlining traditional methods of human rights litigation are just

some of the ways that resource constraints could be managed in the years ahead.

Another promising possibility is using private-public partnerships to forge new types

of funding arrangements between regional human rights mechanisms and Western

donors, especially large charitable foundations.

54. Asia may consider establishing a human rights court or a similar human rights

institution with a relevant mandate, building on lessons learned from other regions.

One way to create the necessary political consensus for this court would be an

innovative adaptation of the pre-existing universal periodic review process. Since all

Asian countries participate in that process, it could be leveraged to facilitate

discussions on enhancing regional human rights cooperation. Ideally, a regional

subforum based on the universal periodic review, especially if it was open to the

expanded participation of civil society, scholars and other relevant stakeholders, could

focus on cooperative solutions to common problems, carry out peer reviews and

encourage States to share their experiences on how to implement its recommendations.

It is noteworthy that regional mechanisms, such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE

Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the European Union

Agency for Fundamental Rights, are now taking part in the universal periodic review

process in Europe, which helps both OHCHR and the States involved. In Asia, this

process could be reversed. Starting modestly as an institution for providing technical

assistance to States engaged in the universal periodic review process, such a subforum

would be well placed to evolve into a more comprehensive regional mechanism.

55. More support needs to be given to the actors that play key roles in establishing

regional human rights cooperation at the national and local level, particularly

parliaments and legislatures, law enforcement agencies, courts and municipal or local

governments. A regional human rights mechanism is only as strong as the local actors

responsible for implementing and guaranteeing its protections. The facilitation of

horizontal cooperation between those actors will permit the dissemination of best

practices and help to create State preferences for regional human rights cooperation

from the ground up. As such, in the present report the Advisory Committee reiterates

its earlier recommendation that local governments participate more in United Nations

human rights mechanisms (A/HRC/30/49). The support provided by OHCHR for

human rights education at the level of local communities in Georgia in 2015 is

noteworthy in that regard.46

56. Regional human rights arrangements can further improve their effectiveness

by improving their communications and information dissemination. For instance, the

Government of Montenegro recommends the appointment of focal points for the

European Court and the Council of Europe who would regularly disseminate

information about special procedures and treaty bodies. 47 That could involve

cooperation with human rights institutions inside their jurisdictions, such as national

human rights institutions, civil society groups and individual scholars, as well as

coordination and information-sharing with other regional human rights arrangements.

Moreover, regional mechanisms must be more effective at explaining their importance

to the public because popular support is essential for maintaining a high level of


57. Human rights institutions, including regional human rights regimes, should

cooperate by tackling region-wide thematic issues, including but not limited to,

womens rights, childrens rights, the rights of migrants and the rights of persons with

disabilities. Efforts should be made to develop the treaties on specific subjects and

systems into effective tools for the promotion of human rights. An excellent case in

point is the Sustainable Development Goals, which officially aim to realize the

human rights of all. Regional cooperation in the practical implementation of the

Goals not only has tangible developmental benefits for the countries involved but can

46 Survey response by the Government of Georgia.

47 Survey response by the Government of Montenegro.

also be used to create the scaffolding of future regional human rights instruments,

particularly those protecting economic and social rights. Economic, social and cultural

rights may be the best place to expand regional mechanisms.

58. OHCHR needs to play a key role in facilitating the creation of a regional or

subregional human rights mechanism in Asia and in improving the operation of

existing arrangements in other regions. It could accomplish this by continuing to act

as an information clearing house that provides detailed, technical advice on best

practices and by creating forums where negotiations and exchanges of ideas can occur.

That could include offering regular newsletters that bring together updated

information from regional human rights mechanisms, including on best practices,

lessons learned, decisions, recommendations, reports, calendars and planned visits

(A/HRC/28/31). OHCHR could also help to establish regional offices and human

rights centres that provide additional institutional support for promoting the regional

protection of human rights.48 More substantively, thematic issues of common interest,

such as the fight against racial and ethnic discrimination, the rights of persons with

disabilities, gender equality, violence against women, and the protection of vulnerable

groups are areas where the OHCHR can contribute.49

59. However, in the present report the Advisory Committee acknowledges that

OHCHR cannot do more without adequate resources. Strengthening the relationship

between the United Nations system and regional mechanisms through research,

capacity-building and organizing workshops will require the allocation of more

personnel and financial resources to the task, even if this requirement can be offset

somewhat by the innovative use of technology. It is recommended that a special unit

within the National Institutions, Regional Mechanisms and Civil Society Section of

OHCHR be created to coordinate all activities involving regional mechanisms. The

unit will require more staff than the one person currently allocated to regional

mechanisms, preferably one P-4 and one P-3 or P-2. The section will also require

additional funding to take on a broader scope of activities.

60. In addition to supporting a network of focal points, the special unit could

conduct an exhaustive review of OHCHR activities regarding regional human rights

mechanisms to date and develop a comprehensive strategy detailing how the regional,

subregional and international human rights systems could be integrated into an

effective whole. That would include elaborating criteria and methodological tools for

evaluating and comparing regional mechanisms, determining their needs, compiling

information on best practices and devising capacity-building benchmarks. Ultimately,

the unit will seek to support the establishment of regional and subregional

mechanisms and strengthen the effectiveness of existing mechanisms, which will

require horizontal and vertical information-sharing and enabling their greater

participation in United Nations bodies.

48 Survey response by the National Council of Human Rights of Egypt.

49 Survey response by the Government of Montenegro.