Electing the Experts: Expertise and Independence in the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

Valentina Carraro*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Independent experts are employed in international organizations to carry out a variety of functions, including conducting independent evaluations of state performance in a given policy area. In the field of human rights, a well-known example of the use of independent expertise in public organizations is that of the United Nations treaty bodies, committees of independent experts in charge of monitoring state compliance with the major United Nations human rights treaties. Considering the sensitive tasks that these experts perform, and the fact that they are elected by states, the question of whether they actually possess the required levels of independence and expertise to fulfil their role arises. This article proposes and applies a framework to study the formal and informal processes leading to the appointment of expert committees in international bodies, and to assess their level of expertise and independence. Data were collected by means of an original survey and 40 semi-structured interviews. The article shows that the overall level of independent expertise possessed by committees is surprisingly high when considering the highly political electoral process. Therefore, it argues that to study the expertise and independence of expert committees, one should conceive of them as groups that might be able to maintain a certain independence from the states that have elected them.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1354066118819138
Pages (from-to)826-851
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number3
Early online date4 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • 3RD WAVE
  • Expertise
  • United Nations
  • global institutions
  • human rights
  • monitoring
  • treaty bodies


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