Samoa's U.N. session credited with reviving Treaty system

A special United Nations meeting in Samoa this week has revived a treaty system "on life support," the chief secretariat running the session, Orest Nowosad, has said. 

In April, the U.N. will close the books on a nearly decade long review of the Treaty Body system of 10 committees that for the last few years have been on shaky ground. 

Critics inside and out of the U.N. have called for less duplication across the treaties; a solution to the lack of reporting by member states; and the follow-up of recommendations, among other concerns.

But bringing 13 out of 18 committee members on the Convention on the Rights (C.R.C.) of the Child to Samoa to review children’s rights in four Pacific Island nations may have had a life-saving effect on the system, Mr. Nowosad said. 

"I see it as an absolute necessity to keep the treaty body system alive," he said on the sidelines of the 84th Extraordinary Session of the C.R.C.

"As the system grows it comes more popular and as it becomes more popular we need to be more accessible to the people, and the victims. Travel isn't cheap and the distance to places like the deep blue waters of the Pacific, it's almost impossible to get to Geneva."

Mr. Nowosad said the experience in Samoa, especially of having so many children and civil society partners involved in the session, has been moving. He found himself moved to tears guiding dozens of high school students into the committee session at the beginning of the week.

The week has far exceeded any such session held in the Geneva U.N. Headquarters in Switzerland, and even the expectations of the secretariat for the Apia session, he said.

"I [didn’t] think the system was dead yet, but it's close to the verge of collapse so it is getting a perspective, a new dynamic which is needed.

"The system is on life support right now and we are really hoping that the General Assembly in its review will look at new ways to be more effective and more efficient, being out there and allowing us to really reach the people."

While it may have cost the United Nations and its partners more money to bring the session to Samoa, Mr. Nowosad said the return on investment had been positive. 

He said including nearly 100 children who may have never travelled to Geneva, civil society organisations who would not travel and the inclusion of larger country delegations made the undertaking worthwhile. 

Committee member Professor Ann Skelton agreed, adding that not only were the formal reporting sessions more fruitful but the informal conversations over meals, walking to side sessions and listening to the panelists at those events were never going to happen from Geneva.

When the next overseas regional meeting will be hosted is not yet known. The committee secretariat will review the success of the session and assess when and where they could do it again. 

Mr. Nowosad did not hesitate when he said he wanted to see it happen.

"I would [do it]. Whether the system will, I am not sure, because we have to see that evaluation, but I think the event has just blown me away. 

"We had 172 people in the room with Tuvalu. If this was held in Geneva you probably wouldn't have the delegation, you wouldn't have had any civil society and you wouldn't have generated the interest from the larger Pacific community that has been generated here. 

"You would have had at best a few members from Tuvalu on a screen looking at one or two people speaking but not seeing the whole committee."

One of the ways the recently cash-strapped U.N. was able to make the Apia session happen was by partnering with the region's organisations and diplomatic partners for funding and human resources. The Pacific Community and its human rights resource division were able to leverage funding to help the programme.

Miles Young, the Director of the Regional Rights Resource Team (R.R.R.T.) said several factors aligned to finally bring a committee session to the region - something that has been wanted for many years.

With three Pacific countries under review (Tuvalu, Federated States of Micronesia and the Cook Islands) and one conducting their pre-session review (Kiribati) all at once, a Pacific Islander sitting on the committee, Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and the upcoming treaty body review, Mr. Young said "the stars aligned.

"We were very forceful in trying to get here, we worked hard to get it here," he said.

Asked whether the treaty body review was the factor that made it happen, Mr. Young said "perhaps."

Committee member Ann Skelton said treaty body groups like the C.R.C. need to take responsibility for thinking about how to better reach its member’s states, and that going to the regions is just one answer to that challenge.

"Some countries say oh, we have got to go to Geneva so many times a year to do these reports and we are putting so much effort into the reports that we can't get on with doing the work. 

"I do think that this might be an interesting part of the answer, could treaty bodies be more movable and travel around? There are a lot of logistical things to think about."

But for the countries for whom travel to Geneva is not too expensive or inconvenient, the travel and reporting process still retains value for Professor Skelton, who said she did not want to "undermine" the work done from there.

"I am glad we were part of this first experiment to take the U.N. to the people, and I am hoping that what comes out of this will be something sustainable that can be done in other regions as well. 

"The treaty body system needs to be a leader system and have simplified reporting that focuses in on the actual problems in the country," she continued.

The system is also considering combining a country's reporting for multiple treaty bodies around the same time, to cut down to trips for reporting and ease the burden on the country.

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