The joint civil society letter attracted over 500 civil society signatories, of which CAP Liberté de Consience, demonstrating the importance of this issue for civil society groups.

The letter has been sent to each of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies and to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  

To the attention of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies and the Human Rights Treaties Branch of the OHCHR

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, write to you concerning the functioning of the U Treaty Bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the work of the Treaty Bodies, with the postponement, cancellation and scaling-down o nearly all sessions scheduled for 2020. Since July 2020, most of the Treaty Bodies have me virtually and limited their activities, rescheduling all the reviews of states parties planned. Th effects of the pandemic have been exacerbated by the financial crisis that the OHCHR and the UN are undergoing. This is an unprecedented situation which requires exceptional efforts from all stakeholders to overcome it. Appreciating the significant efforts of Treaty Body members to continue many activities, we remain concerned that the challenges and constraints analyzed very well by the Treaty Bodies’ Working Group on COVID-19 still apply.

The 28th August letter of the High Commissioner to Member States recommended that all sessions until the end of the year will take place online, while some will be cancelled. Although we understand that the current situation has created enormous challenges, we are seriously concerned by the increasing backlog and protection gap due to the fact that the Treaty Bodies are not reviewing States. We are also concerned that there is lack of clarity as to what work they will be able to carry out in the coming months.

We urge the Treaty Bodies and their Secretariats to schedule State reviews no later than 2021, and OHCHR to prioritise resources and tools for this. We recommend anticipating risks and possible scenarios with clear mitigation and contingency plans that are public and proactively communicated to civil society. Should the pandemic further prevent the scheduling of physical sessions of the Treaty Bodies in 2021, we consider that a pragmatic approach should be taken which allows online State reviews on a temporary and exceptional basis.

Learning from the experiences of the past months, the Treaty Bodies should define the conditions for online State reviews and be supported by the OHCHR and the other UN departments accordingly to allow such reviews to take place online or in a hybrid mode. Moreover the webcast is essential in the specific context of online public sessions and must be reliable. 

The letter is available in English, French, Spanish and Russian.

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