Expert opinion to support the preparation of the Common Core Document of Turkmenistan
10 Dec 2015 by Nazik Myradova
Francesca Del Mese is the consultant for UNDP’s project of support “Development of legal capacity and institutional mechanisms” implemented since 2015. Ms. Del Mese is an international barrister with 17 years of post qualification experience, specializing in capacity building national human rights institutions and ensuring compliance with the UN treaty monitoring mechanisms.
UNDP: What is the Common Core Document and why is it important for Turkmenistan?
Ms. Del Mese: At the international level, there are a number of UN Committees that monitor implementation of UN human rights treaties. Each UN Convention / treaty has a Committee attached to it, for example, the Committee for the Convention on the Prevention of Torture, which is made up of experts who specialize in the subject matter of the treaty. Each country that is a signatory to that Convention should report to that Committee periodically, normally every four years. This is known as the ‘reporting cycle’. Countries are obliged to write individual reports for each of the Committees, which go into depth about how the Country is implementing the specific articles of the treaty. The Common Core Document is a general report that Turkmenistan will submit to all the Committees, as it talks about the geographical, political, economic, religious, cultural and legal context of the country. It is therefore one part of a two part submission, and important because it tells the world how Turkmenistan is governed. Basically, it’s an opportunity for countries to tell the rest of the world about their strengths and capabilities, as well as areas that require more attention and strengthening.
UNDP: You have worked in many countries of the world assisting in preparation of various human rights document. Could you comment on the practices of reporting to the UN treaty bodies?
Ms. Del Mese: Something that is very common across the board is the late submission of reports by countries. This can be for many reasons, largely due to lack of capacity and resources in the country concerned. There have been huge efforts by the international community in recent years to work together with countries to ensure timely reporting. Most countries are very receptive to this and have vastly improved the timings of their reporting cycles. It should also be remembered that although each country is obliged to report to the relevant Committees if they are a signatory to a specific Convention, the process is not judicial. Countries should therefore not view it as a combative procedure, but rather an exploratory and constructive means by which they can ensure they uphold human rights, both in line with their obligations and international standards.
UNDP: What human rights promotion and protection areas are important for the developing countries?
Ms. Del Mese: The UN says that all human rights are interdependent and indivisible. This means that countries should not focus on one human right to the detriment of others. For example, if there is no right to education, then the right to work is also undermined. Similarly, if the right to freedom of religion is violated, then the right to freedom of assembly will be affected. So the responsibility of States to uphold and ensure that human rights are realized is a complex and interdependent process. Developing countries will have a number of needs that should be addressed, although it is difficult and controversial to set out a hierarchy. Each context is different, however, there are some basic priorities. In fragile States where there is conflict, even the most basic right – the right to life, is violated, whereas in States that do not experience conflict but are nonetheless developing, it may be important to focus on economic development as a means by which people’s general quality of life can be improved. These kinds of issues need to be explored for each country and set out in National Action Plans, making sure that no area of human rights is neglected. In terms of what signals development, there are a number of indicators that can be referred to. UNDP has a Human Development Index, which looks at issues such as life expectancy, infant mortality and education etc. This gives a good idea of how each country is doing from a developmental perspective, and demonstrates the link between poverty and under-development and degradation of human rights. There are also other indicators such as the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and the World Bank databank, both of which can be accessed online. In addition, many countries have their own statistical departments and have carried out censuses, which can give a good idea about issues such as literacy, concentrations of populations, gender distributions etc. These figures can inform policies and approaches to human rights development initiatives.
UNDP: What happens to the reports on human rights submitted by the government?
Ms. Del Mese: The reports are submitted to each of the Committees, as I’ve described above. Then the Committee examines the report, and asks questions to the country, otherwise known as a ‘List of Issues’. The country then has to respond to these specific questions, after which there is a meeting in New York or Geneva, at which a delegation of the relevant country is present and there is a dialogue between them and the Committee about the relevant issues. Finally there are what is known as ‘Concluding Observations’ published by the Committee, which point out positive steps that the country has taken regarding human rights, as well as recommendations for improvement. It is hoped that each country will work on these specific recommendations so that by the time of the next reporting cycle there will have been some positive progress in those areas.
UNDP: Who is the special rapporteur on human rights and what his role is?
Ms. Del Mese: There are a number of UN Special Rapporteurs for human rights issues. Their job is to investigate, monitor and recommend solutions for various human rights complaints. They could be seen as being an ambassador for the issue they are representing, and as such are vital in highlighting concerns that need to be addressed.
UNDP: How do human rights standards relate to the development programming process?
Ms. Del Mese: Human rights are not a stand-alone issue that can be compartmentalized from other capacity building measures. They are endemic to countries’ well-being and therefore should be mainstreamed throughout all policy and programmatic processes. Neither are they a luxury that should only be realized in developed countries. Many countries, including those suffering from dire poverty, have signed up to UN human rights Conventions, meaning they have an obligation to ensure those rights are realized within their jurisdiction. Of course, those countries will need assistance, and this is exactly what the UN is doing through their various programmes. In addition, upholding human rights is not a ‘Western’ concept concocted by a few elite countries. The UN system is represented globally, and all Member States have the opportunity to shape, formulate and debate human rights Conventions and policies, regardless of cultural or ethical demographics within that country. For this reason it is imperative that UNDP carries out its human rights projects, so that it can work together with respective governments in assisting them attain international standards regarding human rights compliance.