This project investigates how the United Nations (UN) human rights treaty bodies – expert bodies tasked with monitoring the implementation of the core international human rights conventions – gain agency. The human rights treaty bodies are astonishing creatures: On the face of it, they are weak bodies that are chronically under-financed and lack any hard power resources to sanction signatory states that do not comply with their convention obligations. Moreover, although their expert members are supposed to act in their personal capacity, they depend on the signatory states for re-election and are therefore not always fully independent. Finally, the treaty bodies are composed of members who differ from each other in many ways but are also formally equal, which means that they have, in spite of their differences, to come to an agreement on how decisions are to be taken that is acceptable to all members. Yet, despite these unfavorable conditions, the treaty bodies have over time gained agency: They have been given additional competences by the conventions’ signatory states and they have employed inward-oriented self-legitimation strategies to gain autonomy. Despite the UN human rights treaty bodies’ elevated role in the global human rights regime, we know little about how and why the treaty bodies have gained agency. To fill this gap, the project pursues two objectives: First, the project will explain the evolution of thehuman rights treaty bodies’ competences and test hypotheses on member state preferences and the diffusion of templates. Second, the project will investigate how the treaty bodies employ inward-oriented self-legitimation strategies (such as commitment to fair procedures and association with ostensibly legitimate actors and institutions) to gain autonomy.
The project is part of the research unit RUECA on the emergence of non-hierarchical collective agency.