Before We Need OHCHR Help

Before OHCHR Two years ago, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations agency to protect, defend, and promote our human rights, published ”How To Follow Up On United Nations Human Rights Recommendations”. It is intended for civil society organizations (CSO), specifically the larger national and international ones. This sixty-page “Practical Guide” has both useful information on OHCHR procedures and mechanisms, and offers many short case studies and insights into how different CSOs have used the UN system to advance human rights.

The OHCHR system of ‘follow up’ is well-intentioned, although it is extremely slow, bureaucratic, and not accessible to those without resources — who are perhaps those most in need of having their rights defended. Although this OHCHR guide is good at what it aims to do, it doesn’t take into account the needs of individual rights-holders or small rights-seeking organizations in communities around the world. Poor people from marginalized communities need to be able to address, simply, cheaply and without fear, the failures of their governments or local authorities to implement UN human rights recommendations – failures that can be fatal for them or their families.

For example, there are billions of poor marginalized people currently being denied access to medicines and adequate care, water, or food, all of which are the legal obligation of Governments to provide. They also have little or no access to free legal aid, which means that this system of ‘follow-up’ is often a non-starter — it leaves behind those most in need.

The IMAXI Cooperative believes that a more proactive method to better assure that our rights are respected is also required. We think that the meaningful participation of the affected communities in the decision-making processes of global and national institutions would have a major impact on holding the powerful to account, even before any of the OHCHR legal proceedings are needed.

In brief, we seek to develop a system in which community representatives, that are themselves accountable to those that they represent, can meaningfully participate in policy decisions – ‘a seat at the table’ – and can follow those decisions towards their implementation ‘on the ground’.

Affected community representatives would have a direct input on decisions so that policies can be in line with a human rights-based approach. Furthermore, as they would be directly linked with the folks in the community that they speak for, it can bring a system of accountability, recourse and reclamation into the process. A system of meaningful participation and accountable representation of affected communities could easily complement the follow-up system of the OHCHR, providing a bottom-up reality check for top-down empty promises and unfulfilled obligations perhaps before legal recourse is needed.

The IMAXI Cooperative is presently developing a new tool for those that need to have their rights realized, sooner rather than later. We’ve brought together a diverse group of activists, academics and experts to collaborate on an innovative research and development project that we call All Aboard.

All Aboard is a two step R&D project that will first assess the state of community participation in decision-making bodies within key institutions in global health, including the United Nations agencies (WHO, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women) and two major foundations, the Global Fund and Gates, and secondly, to apply this knowledge to efforts to secure ‘seats at their tables’. First the scientific research, then the evidence-based development of a system for the meaningful participation of marginalised communities and the accountable representation of their civil society organisations in the decision-making processes within global health.

We aim to arrange, over the next few years, many ‘seats at the tables’ for those that are excluded today, to better assure that the rights of the most-affected will be better respected.