Samoa's U.N. convention a model for future meetings

Samoa's hosting of a United Nations (U.N.) convention on children's rights, the first ever held outside Switzerland, has been commended as an example of how locally-based discussions can achieve change more effectively.

Instead of small delegations travelling from the Pacific to Geneva, the U.N. human rights headquarters, or video conferencing at strange hours of the night, the committee members brought the treaty body session to the region, meeting over 1000 people instead of a handful. 

The 84th meeting on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (C.R.C.) held in March hosted the 13 committee members on the convention, and large delegations from three Pacific Island countries undergoing their progress review. 

The Pacific Community’s (S.P.C.) human rights division conducted a consultative review of the historic event, where it found that among the committee members and the secretariat, the review sessions were better for having been hosted in the region.

“Dialogue had been enriched, was on more of an equal footing and the outcomes more contextualised,” they said.

“All indicators suggest C.R.C.84 was an unmitigated success.”

The review will contribute to an ongoing review process of the U.N. Treaty Body system.

The three countries under review, the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu, travelled just 585,151 kilometres in total instead of 807,192 kilometres, even with larger than normal delegations to meet the committee and deliver their reports.

In the report, the committee and U.N.C.R.C. secretariat agreed that moving the meeting to the region meant conversations were richer than they would be in the unfamiliar environment of Geneva or over video conferencing.

The campaign to get the meeting to Samoa was partly led by Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, who is the only Pacific Islander to ever sit on a U.N. Treaty Body committee.

And as well as the three countries under review, 11 other Pacific Islands sent delegations to attend the sessions and contribute to discussions in daily side events and over meals. 

“The decision to come to Samoa was one of the most important that the Committee has made,” committee member Amal Aldoseri told the review.

“[I] very much support holding future sessions at the regional level... This has been a milestone. Things have to change.”

Having all three countries do their review in the same week, in the same location, meant that the delegations could listen to the other sessions and learn from them. 

Being in the Pacific put the countries under review and the child participants of the event more at ease, S.P.C. found.

“The Committee were guests of the Pacific and this created conditions for a better balance of power and more constructive dialogue. This was particularly important to facilitate the meaningful participation of children.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic rearing its head around March, delegations of children from the Pacific Islands involved could not travel to Samoa nor two of the Committee members. 

But for the Samoan children who were able to attend, their understanding of child rights and of the convention in place to protect those rights improved.

According to the S.P.C. survey, out of 56 children 98 per cent said they learned about child rights, and 91 per cent said they learned about the C.R.C. or another human rights mechanism.

“There has been more engagement, more child participation than I have ever seen in my time as a member of the CRC. This has been a significant advantage,” said committee member Benyam Dawit Mezmur.

“The knowledge children reported to have gained was not merely superficial, with many articulating how they had come to understand complex issues such as the relationship between their own culture and faith and human rights, corporal punishment, early childhood development and climate change,” S.P.C. reports.

As well as bringing the session to the region, some of the committee members were able to take extra visits around the Pacific to prepare for future reviews.

Dr. Phillip Jaffee visited Vanuatu for two days and met the Law Reform Commission and Correction services on juvenile programs, and with various civil society organisations on child rights issues. He also gave a public lecture on the convention to the University of the South Pacific Law School. 

Bragi Gudbrandsonn visited Fiji for two days and met with various arms of Government, the National Coordinating Committee on Children, civil society organisations and gave a public lecture on child sexual abuse and the role of the C.R.C. at U.S.P. 

The Regional Rights Resource Team (R.R.R.T.) that conducted the review, interviewed 156 people who attended the session. They found an overwhelming consensus that bringing the session to the region was the right move. 

All told the move made the session more engaging, efficient and resulted in more contextually relevant recommendations for the countries under review.

It also taught the participating countries more about the treaty body process, which the survey revealed is something they did not fully understand before.

The Cook Islands delegation said they did not know they could nominate experts to sit on treaty bodies, and Tuvalu’s delegation said they might consider nominating people in the future.

One issue the committee members and the reporting countries did not quite align on was the quality of discussions.

The committee members felt dialogue was better in person and that their observations on each country’s progress could be better contextualised.

But some countries reported feeling like the committee had been “adversarial.”

S.P.C. believes this comes down to preparation and understanding the treaty body process.  

“This can only be addressed through greater awareness of the work of the treaty bodies, how the process works and with the political will to appoint the required people to the delegation. 

“CRC84 proved that regional sessions go a long way in achieving this and it could be contended that over time this new modality could address this concern.”


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