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Grouping individual communications together: a new strategy to address the backlog of work facing the CRC Committee?

Grouping individual communications together: a new strategy to address the backlog of work facing the CRC Committee?

Under its Optional Protocol to the CRC on a Communications Procedure (CRC OP3), the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recently begun to consider multiple cases together within individual decisions. Does this signal a new strategy to address the backlog of work facing the Committee?

This trend first began in the Committee’s 85th session late last year (see, e.g. Communications 79/2019 & 109/2019 and case note by Helen Duffy) and became most evident in the recent 87th session where the Committee considered, and ultimately discontinued, nine cases against Spain concerning age-determination assessments of unaccompanied children within three decisions, grouping three cases per decision (Communications 70/2019, 71/2019 & 72/2019; 62/2018, 64/2018 & 65/2018 and 66/2018, 67/2018 & 68/2018). Grouping cases together this way enables the Committee to reduce the number of decisions it is required to produce, and potentially signals a new strategy to address the backlog of work it faces.

Before the introduction of the CRC OP3, the Committee was already dealing with a backlog of States Parties reports – something that could serve to undermine the Committee’s credibility as a body responsible for monitoring State implementation of the CRC (Doek, 2018). Backlog also presents a challenge for maintaining the quality of work the Committee produces. When introduction of the CRC OP3 was first discussed, some raised concerns as to whether this would come at a cost to the Committee’s other functions and resources (Smith, 2009). The Committee has made, and continues to make, valuable contributions in the area of implementation of children’s rights outside of the CRC OP3. Concluding Observations and General Comments, for example, have contributed to make the efforts of implementing provisions of the CRC more substantial and targeted (Doek, Krappmann and Lee, 2020).

Currently 71 decisions are pending before the Committee. The experience of other UN treaty bodies with communications procedures more established than the relatively new CRC OP3 suggests that this number is likely to grow. Members of the Human Rights Committee, responsible for monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have estimated that they could produce a maximum of ten views a session, totalling thirty views a year (Steiner, 2000). Under this estimate, the Committee already faces a delay of almost two and a half years and the CRC OP3 is far from full ratification. Even without new ratifications, if the number of claims brought against the present States Parties increases, the consequences of this on the Committee’s workload could be drastic.

Litigators also have a role to play in addressing this issue by strategically selecting the type of complaint they bring under the CRC OP3. For example, submitting information to trigger the Inquiry Procedure under Article 13 CRC OP3 may be more effective than submitting multiple individual communications concerning the same issues.

Whether the Committee further develops this new trend of grouping similar cases together at the current September session remains to be seen.

References

  • Doek, J. 2018. The human rights of children: an introduction, in: Liefaard and Kilkelly (ads) International Human Rights of Children, Springer.
  • Doek, J. Krappmann, L. and Lee, Y. 2020. The Role of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in monitoring child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect.
  • Smith, L. 2009, Monitoring The CRC in Alfredsson et al (eds) International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
  • Steiner, H. 2000, Individual claims in a world of massive violations: What role for the Human Rights Committee? In P. Alston & J Crawford (Eds.) The Future of UN Human Rights Treaty Monitoring, Cambridge.