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The LLM International Human Rights Law class of 2014-2015.

A Memorable Encounter in Geneva

The LLM International Human Rights Law class 2014-2015 travelled to Geneva, Switzerland for a week in November to observe the proceedings of UN Treaty Bodies and see international human rights law in action.

Here LLM students Emma Cross, Siddhi Soni, Okwudili Onwurah and Lois Pelfini summarise their week:

"During our weekly seminars in Exeter we engage in student led presentations and debates for three hours. In Geneva, our daytime observations consisted of observing and taking detailed notes on sessions lasting at least six hours a day. We balanced our observations with intensive group work to prepare our own concluding observations of the sessions. We focussed on some of the weaknesses of the State party reports to form recommendations for improvement.  

Our main observations were of the 53rd Session of the Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (CESCR) reviewing the State Reports of Guatemala, Nepal and Romania. It was interesting to see the variation in the State reports submitted to the Committee and the intensity of questioning posed. We noted the speed at which proceedings took place, with three hours for the State to deliver its responses and another three to reply to additional questions. We also observed the language and diplomacy used between the Committee and State. It gave us an insight into the manner in which both entities co-operate in order to find solutions to the issues raised.

In addition, we observed the Committee Against Torture's (CAT) review of Kazakhstan's State Report. It was fascinating to observe the differences in focus between the CESCR and the CAT and how international human rights law is being interpreted and applied at the UN level. We learnt much about the current situation in Kazakhstan regarding State prison conditions and the issues surrounding domestic violence. Students also returned to the CAT in the middle of the week to observe their discussion of specific Articles of the Convention Against Torture.

We also had several briefings to attend in and around the treaty body working day. We benefitted from personal addresses given by the CESCR Chairperson, Mr. Zdsislaw Kedzia (who gave Exeter students an official welcome during the week's proceedings) and spoke about the effectiveness of treaty bodies; Rapporteur Ms. Maria-Virginia Bras Gomes who gave us her professional view of the Nepalese delegation submissions in addition to Ms. Orlagh McCann who spoke about her work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the special procedures branch. We also learnt how civil societies impact on the activities of UN Treaty bodies and their direct contribution to the development and presentation of State reports. The Guatemala delegation also agreed to meet with us during the week and allowed for questions to be asked via their translator. This gave us the opportunity to hear their personal experiences and opinions on the issues raised during the sessions in relation to their State.

In addition, we highlighted the positive steps taken by each State to implement the relevant Treaties, in this case the Convention on ESCR and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We worked intensively in small groups to prepare our own concluding observations and recommendations on each State we observed. We presented these to each other and to our Module Convenor Dr. Michael Addo during our week in Geneva and opened the presentations up into the wider discussion of treaty body effectiveness.

Having spent the first half of the term studying the procedures of UN Treaty Bodies, it was completely inspirational to gain an in depth practical understanding of their work. We are grateful to the Law School for their support of our trip. Our class considered our time in Geneva to be the highlight of our LLM studies to date and would highly recommend the course to any future LLM students."

Date: 11 December 2014

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