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

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Abstract

Independent experts are employed in international organizations to carry out a variety of functions, including the conduction of 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 UN treaty bodies, committees of independent experts in charge of monitoring state compliance with the major UN human rights treaties. Considering the sensitive tasks 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 fulfill 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 forty 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, which might be able to maintain a certain independence from the states that have elected them.
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Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
DOIs
StateE-pub ahead of print - 4 Jan 2019