Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Article 33: Bridging the Gap Between Domestic and International Law

by Meredith Raley

The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is a milestone achievement for human rights in many ways. In addition to the many important substantive rights it guarantees, such as the right to education, independent living and health, the convention also contains important procedural innovations that will encourage its implementation. One of the biggest obstacles to realising the rights laid out in all UN human rights conventions has always been the difficulty of translating international treaties into domestic law, or implementation. Historically, this process has been slow and uneven, even for treaties that are widely ratified. In an effort to prevent the same problems from befalling the current convention, the CRPD includesArticle 33 which is an attempt to bridge the gap between international and domestic law, with the goal of fuller and faster implementation of the rights enshrined the Convention.

Article 33 requires state parties to the CRPD to set up a framework to guide and monitor the implementation of the Convention. It also requires that civil society be involved in the implementation process. The framework required by Article 33 is divided broadly into three parts: The focal point, the coordination mechanism, and the monitoring mechanism. Article 33.1 requires states to ‘designate one or more focal points within government for matters relating to the implementation of the present Convention’. This focal point will be the government body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the CRPD. The purpose of a focal point is not to make a single government body solely responsible for ensuring that all domestic laws and regulations conform to the CRPD, as the convention is wide-ranging and covers areas that are the responsibly of many different ministries, branches, and levels of government. Rather, by focusing responsibility for overseeing the implementation process with a single body, Article 33.1 ensures that someone within government is always focused on the implementation process, and can encourage action to bring national laws in line with treaty obligations. This way, the complex problem of implementation is not simply ignored, postponed, or constantly assumed to be the responsibly of a different party. The article also allows for multiple focal points, largely to accommodate federal systems that have multiple levels of government responsible for different parts of implementation.

Article 33.1 also asks state parties to ‘give due consideration to the establishment or designation of a coordination mechanism within government to facilitate related action in different sectors and at different levels’. As mentioned, full implementation of the CRPD will require action from many different sectors of government, and for many state parties, action at multiple levels of government will also be necessary. For this reason, states are encouraged--but not required--to designate a coordination mechanism, which will be responsible for harmonising actions across all levels of government. The necessity of this part of the framework depends largely on a state party’s legal system.

While 33.1 is about the governmental side of implementation, 33.2 addresses the need for independent monitoring. In order to ‘promote, protect, and monitor’ implementation of the CRPD, state parties must establish or designate ‘a framework, including one or more independent mechanisms’. For many states, it is expect that this framework will include their National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). See here. For most states that have a NHRI, it typically takes the form of a Human Rights Commission, such as the New Zealand Human Rights Commission (see here) or an Ombudsman, such as Sweden’s Equal Opportunities Ombudsman (see here). NHRIs such as these are established under the Paris Principles (see here), a set of guidelines that ensure a NHRI remains independent of government and so can effectively monitor the human rights within its country. The Paris Principles are referenced within Article 33.2, which states that when establishing a monitoring body under 33.2 ‘States Parties shall take into account the principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights.’ This means that even states that do not have and do not plan to establish a NHRI must take the Principles into account in order to establish a mechanism that fulfills 33.2. The monitoring mechanism helps the process of implementation by providing oversight, ensuring that implementation is not postponed, and that the rights in the CRPD are properly and fully implemented. The monitoring process must also, according to 33.3, fully involve civil society.

The goal of Article 33 is to correct one of the longest-standing problems in human rights law: how to translate international treaties into domestic law. There are certain assumptions about why states fail to implement treaties built into this article. It assumes that a states fail to implement treaties not out of malice, but instead because implementation is continuously postponed, or poorly managed, or it is not clear who is responsible for the implementation process. Hopefully, for the CRPD, many of these problems can be avoided, and full implementation will be achieved more quickly and easily than it has been in the past.