Recent Developments Highlight Increased Collaboration Among Human Rights Bodies

Signing of the MOU between the UN and the World Economic Forum
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Over the past several months, supranational human rights bodies have announced a flurry of joint events and agreements, highlighting some specific rights challenges and the increasing importance of technical collaboration. Between September and November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were among the bodies that entered into cooperation agreements or hosted events to formalize and enhance collaboration in the implementation of human rights instruments. While there are many other examples over the past decade, it is noteworthy that these collaborations appear to be happening with increasing frequency, formality, and transparency.

Cooperation Focused on Technical Strengthening & Exchange

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights entered into a cooperative agreement with the African Commission in September 2019, complementing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the OHCHR and the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) that was signed in February 2019. [OHCHR Press Release: ACHPR] The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, signed the MOU along with the ACHPR’s Chairperson, Soyata Maïga. [OHCHR Press Release: ACHPR] They agreed on specific areas of cooperation, including: sharing good practices on norms and standards, human rights jurisprudence, and regional and international bodies’ practices; collaborating on thematic and geographic areas, and increasing capacity building in the human rights context; supporting activities between the ACHPR and international human rights bodies, including by contributing to the development of human rights jurisprudence, standards and guidance, and recommendations; drawing on the experience of the ACHPR commissioners for UN bodies missions, and on the experience of UN human rights mechanisms or bodies for African Union missions; and, engaging jointly with the African Union Peace and Security Council, the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, and UN Human Rights Council on human rights issues. [OHCHR Press Release: ACHPR] The OHCHR and African Commission will reportedly hold regular consultations to exchange information and to encourage the implementation of this agreement. [OHCHR Press Release: ACHPR]

In October 2019, the three regional human rights courts—the IACtHR, the AfCHPR, and the European Court—held the first International Human Rights Forum in Kampala, Uganda where they signed an MOU, agreeing to strengthen their relationship. [AfCHPR Press Release: Kampala] Going forward, the courts pledged to organize the International Human Rights Forum biennially, hold private and public sessions, encourage Member States and civil society to support the Forum’s activities, and to allocate sufficient funds and resources to ensure that decisions and resolutions reached at the Forum are implemented. In terms of capacity building, they agreed to to conduct staff exchanges between the courts and facilitate “knowledge-sharing” on human rights issues via digital platforms. With regard to public outreach and domestic implementation, the courts agreed to increase dialogue with national courts, share judgments to ensure that national courts reference and implement the regional courts’ judgments, develop online courses for victims and advocates, and to publish annual reports on leading judgments online or in electronic form. [AfCHPR Press Release: Kampala] The next International Human Rights Forum will be hosted by the European Court in Strasbourg, France in 2021. [AfCHPR Press Release: Kampala]

In November 2019, the IACtHR and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) completed the third annual Forum of the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS Forum). The IAHRS Forum is an event organized by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court to encourage and facilitate a debate about the status of human rights in the region, the effectiveness of the Inter-American System, and States’ compliance with the Court’s and the Commission’s decisions and recommendations. [IACHR Press Release: Forum] The 2019 Forum was held in Quito, Ecuador and focused on the 60th anniversary of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court’s 40th anniversary, addressing opportunities and challenges facing the Inter-American system. [IACHR Press Release: Forum] Over the two-day period, civil society organizations also held events and activities addressing issues related to migrant and refugee children, corruption and human rights, human rights and climate change, and violations of the right to housing, among others. [IACHR Press Release: Forum] In some instances, members of the Court or the Commission participated in the events organized by civil society. [Note: IJRC participated in the Forum and co-organized a Forum event on forced sterilization of Indigenous women in the Americas.]

Cooperation Focused on Discrimination

In October 2019, the OHCHR hosted and coordinated two workshops to improve cooperation between the UN and regional human rights mechanisms with regard to discrimination. Between October 21 to October 22, 2019, the OHCHR hosted a workshop on cooperation among UN and regional human rights oversight bodies, focusing specifically on challenges related to the rights of minorities, migrants, refugees, persons of African descent, and Indigenous persons. See International workshop on enhancing cooperation between United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms. Participants included representatives of all of the existing supranational human rights systems, as well as civil society organizations, government representatives, and academics. See id. The UN High Commissioner will present a report summarizing workshop discussions during the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council, which will be held in February 2020, pursuant to UN Human Rights Council Resolution 34/17 on Regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights. [Note: IJRC participated in the workshop at the invitation of the OHCHR, and presented on the importance of human rights defenders’ access to information and participation at the international level.]

Additionally, from October 23 to October 24, the OHCHR, working together with the African Union, held a regional meeting for Africa on the International Decade for People of African Descent to address “recognition, justice and development” from Africa’s perspective. [OHCHR Press Release: Africa] The meeting focused on strengthening and adopting legal frameworks in accordance with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. See OHCHR, Regional Meeting for Africa on the International Decade for People of African Descent: Information Note (2019), 2. Previously, the OHCHR held two similar meetings in Brasilia to address the issue from a Latin American and Caribbean perspective, and in Geneva to address the issue from a from European, Central Asian, and North American perspective. See id. at 1.

Cooperation Focused on Freedom of Expression

Finally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed an MOU on October 2 to strengthen freedom of expression protections in the region, including protections for journalists. [UNESCO Press Release] The MOU focuses on the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in the region by training judicial actors on the international and regional legal frameworks that apply to the right to freedom of expression and press freedom. [UNESCO Press Release] As part of a global effort to implement trainings and to facilitate the exchange of information with respect to freedom of expression, UNESCO has reached similar agreements with the AfCHPR and the ECOWAS Court of Justice. [UNESCO Press Release]

Additional Information

To learn more about the African, Inter-American, European, and United Nations human rights systems, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To stay up-to-date on international human rights news, visit IJRC’s News Room or subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

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