Introduction to Human Rights Week 7: International mechanisms of implementation - 1st part IV. Interview with Jean Zermatten Mr. Zermatten, you have been a juvenile judge for 30 years in Switzerland, first in the Canton of Fribourg and then in your home Canton, the Canton of Valais. You also founded the International Institute for the Rights of the Child in Sion. You are in charge of this institute. You have also been for many years a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child which is instituted by the UN International Convention on the Rights of of the Child. You are now the Chairman of this Committee. Thank you for accepting our invitation. The first question concerns the Committee membership. How is the Committee on the Rights of the Child formed and how are the members chosen? The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a legally binding text. A mechanism has therefore been put into action in order to control the application of this Convention. This is the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This Committee consists of 18 independent experts. These 18 experts must of course come from several countries. All the experts do not come from the same country. The 18 experts come from 18 different countries. They have been suggested by the States Parties. There should be an equality of gender. At the moment, the Committee consists of a majority of women. Indeed, there are 10 women out of 18 members. It is quite rare in Committees. I think that this Committee is the only one with this characteristic. These experts should not only represent the countries but also the main legal systems existing in the world. A balance should be found but it is not easy. The members are elected during the Convention Assembly of States Parties. There are 193 States Parties. This Human Rights binding treaty is therefore the most ratified. Nine experts are elected every two years by these 193 States. There is a quite high turnover. Of course, some of the members are re-elected. Nevertheless, the turnover remains quite important. All right, thank you. We know that the main mechanism in force within the UN treaty bodies is the report system. This system also applies within your Committee. Could you tell us what happens if a State refuses to submit its report or if it submits a clearly insufficient report in the sense that this report does not represent the situation of the rights of the child correctly in the State in question. It happens that States submit a report which is... I do not want to say "not good" because it might be a bit pejorative... so let's say that the report does not respect the instructions given by the Committee. Indeed, the Committee gives instructions to States. States have first to report on the Convention. Many of them also have to report on the two optional protocols to the Convention: the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It is a whole system of rights and the reports could be very different without instructions. This is why the Committee gave rather strict instructions and wants States to respect them in order for the comparisons from one State to an other to be possible. Some States respect these instructions very well. Others have some trouble respecting them. We are trying to give a technical help to States that have trouble respecting instructions because it is not easy to report on the Convention. Indeed, the Convention covers all the situations in which children are involved. This is to say, all the situations of life: education, health, protection, social insurance and migration. It is a challenge. Some countries feel disempowered by this challenge. They have not the technical facilities, or they have not the people to do it. It is difficult for them to find all the elements. I am especially thinking of the federalist States. So, in this situation, instead of asking them to write a better report, we are trying to say to States: "Please, have first a look at our instructions and then we can help you if you have difficulties." It is of course not the Committee itself that will help but the Committee will bring in partners such as UNICEF which have technical teams that can help in almost all countries. Concerning your question on the refusal: I think that the Committee has never seen a State refusing to report. But it is very common for a State to be late submitting a report. Many States are late. If we have a look at all the treaty bodies, we see that 75% of States are late. Some States are 6 months or one year late. Other States are many years late. The situation in the Committee on the Rights of the Child is that out of 193 States which have ratified the Convention, 190 have submitted their initial report and some of them are already at their 5th report. You can see the difference. Only three States are missing but there are three little Pacific islands which are really facing technical problems to write their reports. We have been helping them to write their reports. When there is one or many delays, the Committee reminds the due date and helps the States to obtain the report. The aim is of course to obtain the report and to control. Thank you. According to you, what would be the main contribution of the monitoring mechanism which led to the international Convention on the Rights of the Child? I would say that the main exercise of monitoring is a discussion on a specific situation concerning the rights of the child. It is what the Committee does today. Let me use a comparison: The Committee holds a mirror and shows to the State what it is in the mirror. It is a magnifying and distorting mirror. On the one hand, the Committee examines the progress made. Many States have worked a lot on the rights of the Child. They might not all have worked as much but there are noticeable progress. So, the first thing that the Committee does is to say: "Well done! You have legislated. Your law is good. You put a mechanism into action in order to apply it, that's very good. We are therefore considering that you meet the requirements promulgated by the Convention in this field. On the other hand, in the fields A, B, C, D the Committee has seen in your report that there are some gaps, some weaknesses or some texts that are in contradiction with the spirit of the Convention. Here are the other information that we received and this is the image we have. For example, in your right to education, you met all the conditions regarding primary education but not the ones regarding secondary education. You have way too many kids who do not go to secondary school. You must go a step further." Things are highlighted with a magnifying effect and with lights put on specific points. Indeed, the Committee cannot deal with everything. It tries to set priorities and to be specific to each country. We do not have a stencil that we apply to all the countries. Each country is unique, just like each child is unique. They have specific issues. The Committee tries to highlight them and also to say: "According to the content of the Convention, and according to what we said in our general observations - we published 17 general observations on 17 specific subjects - this is how you should interpret this Article and this is what you should put into action." So, after the diagnosis there is a suggestion in the form of a recommendation remedy, of therapy or of treatment. I do not want to use too many medical words but let's use an image: "here is the prescription, take this potion and let's see if it works." Some of the missions are asked by governments. With the help of, for example, UNICEF or of some organizations such as Save the Children, we go in the countries in order to try to ensure a follow-up. In my opinion, this should be more systematic. This would give some added value to our work. This is a general question that we can also ask ourselves regarding the other mechanisms of protection, both at the universal and regional levels. Now, another question: Does the control exercised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child risk to be redundant with the parallel control exercised by other UN Committees responsible of the respect of Human Rights? Does a collaboration or a competition exist between your Committee and the other Committees instituted by the treaty bodies? Of course, since many treaty bodies exist, we could wonder about the concurrence or the duplication. As far as rights of the child are concerned, I think that the risk is negligible. Indeed, the Convention promoted some specific rights for children. Let me take some examples. The right to birth registration is a specific right of the child. The right not to be separated from his parents can of course only concern children. The right to his name, his identity and his nationality can be a duplication but it is quite a specific right concerning children. The question concerning the best interests of the child is typical of the rights of the child. Child participation cannot be discussed by other Committees. There is therefore a specific set of rights. This is why the Convention is so specific. This is also why the monitoring exercises and the other exercises that we do, such as the case law activities through the recommendations to States, are specific. We are not going to deal with discrimination, at the risk of being a duplication. We are going to approach the issues concerning Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from the right of the child point of view. For example, the right of the child to the highest standard of health. It is always specific. So, I think there is no duplication and certainly no concurrence because we have a great collaboration with most of the treaty bodies. We are for example preparing a general observation on the prejudicial practices with the CEDAW Committee. It concerns the discrimination against women, the traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, early marriage and so on. A collaboration does exists. Furthermore, we use all the recommendations of the other treaty bodies as evidences when we look at which countries should have the priority. Of course, we collaborate a lot with the CEDAW Committee because this Committee takes care of girls and women. We are of course taking care of the girls. We also collaborate with the disabled Committee because the specificity of the Convention is also to deal with disabled children. Obviously, we are also interested in all the other observations made by the other Committees but we have common interests and we collaborate only with some of them. So, I would say that there is no duplication and no concurrence. We are complementary, I think. Thank you. Thank you.