The importance of seeing engagement with treaty body monitoring as part of a long-term advocacy strategy was also discussed. The results from treaty body reviews take time; some governments, depending on the specific political context at a given time, may be more or less receptive to the recommendations of treaty bodies or willing to act on them. For this reason, it is important to manage expectations amongst the civil society groups that participate in such reviews. One way of addressing this issue is to work backwards from the starting question: what's the best possible outcome of this review? Generally the answer will be: a concrete, specific recommendation that can reinforce calls for reform from national actors. Then the next question is: what does the treaty body need to be able to make such a recommendation? Although many factors indeed determine whether a review is successful, the factors that civil society groups do have control over is the quality of and breadth of support for the information they submit. So that's something worth investing time and energy in. At the same time, it is important to think about how to use shadow reports in conjunction with litigation and other advocacy efforts.
Another interesting point raised was that working in coalitions might not always be necessary if your organization’s aim is to get a single issue onto the agendas of a variety of treaty bodies by consistently reporting only on that issue.
Other suggestions for effective engagement that came out in the discussion included:
- Be creative with your issues and targets. If you country hasn’t ratified the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, could you engage other treaty bodies on ESCR issues? The Human Rights Committee recently made strong recommendations against the criminalization of homelessness in the US, and this issue was also raised by the Committee Against Torture, for example.
- Think about the report writing process as the curation, not production of information. Many NGOs already have existing material that can form the basis of a shadow report.
- Get in early! The earlier NGOs seek to influence the treaty review process, the more likely they are to be successful.
- Develop a calendar of when your state will be reviewed by the various treaty bodies, including deadlines for submitting parallel reports.
- Plan for follow up in advance. In the best cases, the international review can help with engaging different government departments, which might be difficult in the day to day. That momentum can be harnessed in follow up too.