The United Nations treaty system is crumbling and urgently needs reform if it is to be effective, according to 2011 Senior Australian of the Year and Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO.
Speaking at a Law Week breakfast hosted by Minter Ellison in Sydney this morning (18 May), McCallum - who is totally blind - spoke of his work as Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and how a lack of funding coupled with a growing number of treaty bodies is crippling the system.
McCallum said that while he firmly believes in the UN and what it stands for, the fact that the number of treaty bodies has increased from five to nine over the last 10 years, with another two to be established shortly, means that UN funds are being stretched beyond breaking point. As such, many countries are unable to meet their reporting obligations, making the treaty system futile.
"Conventions are words on paper, and we want to make them living," said McCallum. "And the only way to do that is if nations [meet their reporting requirements]."
However, McCallum said that it is generally considered a victory if only 50 per cent of countries which are party to a UN treaty meet their reporting requirements, and the number of nations able to fund staff to fulfill reporting obligations under a growing number of treaties is dwindling.
"The nations that we want to report [to us] are often smaller and poorer nations," said McCallum. "The system will grind to a halt unless something is done."
McCallum also spoke of the importance of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in ensuring that the true situation about human rights in any given country comes to light.
"When governments report, the temptation is to look as good as possible," he said. "Most countries don't want to hang out all their dirty washing at once ... We rely on alternative reports from NGOs."
McCallum, who also teaches law at the University of Sydney and consultant at HWL Ebsworth, said being a part of the CRPD is an "extraordinary privilege".
A review of the treaty system, of which McCallum will be a part, is currently being planned.