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States’ Compliance to International Treaties

Louis Bodmer

6. Conclusion

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6.1. General synthesis

1In this section I synthesize all the data analyzed in my research and provide a general reflection on my hypotheses with regard to my empirical results.

2A) Thanks to my analysis, I have been able to identify the TRAN surrounding the UNCRC. The principal actors emerging from the research are states (whether they have ratified the Convention or not), intergovernmental bodies (such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child established by the Convention), IOs (such as UN agencies, funds and programs and financial institutions), NGOs (either international or domestic), experts (for instance, academics) and individuals (notably, children and youth). The role of fora and alliances should be included in the mapping of this network because they have an important role in ensuring states’ and other actors’ accountability to the Convention. Private actors, media and civil society have also been identified, yet due to the scope of my research, I did not focus specifically on their role. The graphic mapping of the TRAN (figure 13) reflects the actors identified in my research. This representation of the TRAN stems from my analysis and it is an indicative scheme, which is not supposed to be complete.

Fig. 13: UNCRC Treaty Accountability Network

3Elements pertaining to the TRAN were identified for each actor analyzed. Interestingly, the role of peer accountability between TRAN actors is important. Participants in the TRAN engage to a large extent with each other, and often not publicly. The multidirectional relationships between members of the TRAN is confirmed by the analysis. Actually, they often provide mutual assistance and cooperate with each other in several respects. These relationships imply accountability relations among each actor within the TRAN. The periodical review by the Committee on the Rights of the Child consists of one of the most prominent tools developed.

4Thus, my analysis confirms the existence of a TRAN following the establishment of the UNCRC. It also verifies the major role that this network has regarding accountability of the different actors composing it.

5The various accountability concepts developed in the study are identified in the analysis.

6The Convention and its protocols establish several accountability mechanisms (see. figure 9). The UNCRC and its related protocols establish their own direct accountability mechanisms such as the periodic reports submitted to the Committee by states. Interestingly, holding states accountable via the Committee can be understood as an indirect accountability mechanism used by NGOs and IOs. Moreover, it should be highlighted that strong importance is given to the voice of children, the encouragement for state parties to include communities and to foster the creation of links between the local and the international levels. The third Optional Protocol on communication develops this principle even further than the UNCRC and other protocols.

7Concerning UNICEF and TDHS, the concepts assumed in the first, second and third hypotheses of my study can be retrieved throughout the inspection of the data. The following graph summarizes the number of accountability mechanisms by concept.

Fig. 14: UNICEF & TDHS Accountability Mechanisms

8The first hypothesis of my research is conclusive both for TDHS and UNICEF because they are involved in a TRAN regarding the UNCRC. These organizations have developed several joint programs such as fora, campaigns and partnerships. Interestingly, TRAN participants constitute alliances and participate in networks with other actors to enhance their power and influence to hold states accountable.

9My second and third hypotheses can also be confirmed by the empirical results of this research. I was able to identify both direct and indirect accountability mechanisms in the analysis of both UNICEF and TDHS. The importance of certain mechanisms found in both organizations does not demonstrate large differences between them (see figures 15 and 16). The ratio of peer accountability is respectively 42% and 43% for TDHS and UNICEF. Moreover, the proportion of direct accountability mechanisms appears more important for the NGO (42%) than for the IO (19%). Finally, the data demonstrate that UNICEF has proportionally developed more mechanisms of indirect accountability (38% of its mechanisms) than TDHS (26% of its mechanisms). This divergence might be explained by the nature of UNICEF, known to be less confrontational with states than an NGO.

10Both actors emphasize the role of empowerment as a key element for creating actors of change and to indirectly hold states accountable. Interestingly, indirect accountability mechanisms are not uniquely used through the empowerment of aid recipients of IOs and NGOs: for instance, UNICEF and TDHS are used as intermediary actors of the Committee to provide advice to states on the implementation of the Convention. Both actors also foster other organizations (for instance, local NGOs) to hold states accountable. Another intriguing process is that UNICEF utilizes NGOs to convey messages it would rather not promote itself in order to dodge states’ reprisals. Thus, indirect accountability does not necessarily imply empowerment of aid recipients but can be applied to a vast array of other complex and non-direct relationships.

Fig. 15: Synthesis UNICEF Fig. 16: Synthesis TDHS

11While the proportions of each concept for both actors do not show strong differences between UNICEF and TDHS, the qualitative approach followed in this study makes it possible to add several elements to the analysis.

12TDHS has a more militant and micro-level approach to holding states accountable. In fact, this seems logical due to the nature and size of the organization and its programs compared to those of UNICEF. Both organizations have developed mechanisms to hold states accountable and, at the same time, mechanisms to be held accountable themselves by their aid recipients. TDHS, by the specificity of its governance and structure, offers a more inclusive approach to aid recipients. In the case of UNICEF, the organization provides access through several specific programs, but this is less clear-cut than in the case of TDHS. UNICEF seems, by its nature, to be closer to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Although TDHS also engages with this body to some extent, it does so from a further standpoint. Moreover, the direct accountability mechanisms implemented by TDHS are more focused on public information and raising awareness about the UNCRC with a minimal presence in multilateral fora thanks to the FITDH. Regarding UNICEF, it has larger advocacy power going through multilateral institutions and directly to states to hold them accountable. Nevertheless, both actors use advocacy on multiple actors and promote positive child and youth development. The differences between these types of actors might stem, as indicated by the literature, from the distribution of power among them.

13A result that IOs and NGOs have in common is that the peer and direct accountability concepts have been designed with a vision that seems to be too oppositional. Indeed, from empirical results, both mechanisms seem to be shaped in a less confrontational manner than I expected, relying almost exclusively on cooperation.

14Peer accountability refers more substantially than expected to the TRAN as a means of assisting community and keeping an eye on each other. Further studies should confirm this assessment. Nevertheless, in the case of UNICEF, the organization has established the UN Partner Portal, which monitors all the partners with whom UN agencies work. UNICEF has also developed guiding principles, thereby holding partners with whom it works accountable. TDHS applies the same mechanism with NGOs it works with. Thus, it might be useful in further studies to bring peer accountability and TRAN closer together in conceptualization. Furthermore, it seems that organizations aim to support each other and to progress together. The creation of joint programs and alliances underlines this. Thus, IOs and NGOs hold each other accountable on some topics but do this through mutual improvement and alliances, rather than publicly, in order to avoid deteriorating their image which is often contested by political forces (FITDH, 2021).

15C) The state engages with the actors composing the TRAN. Several accountability pathways have been developed by Switzerland, notably for children and youth to voice their demands formally. There is a form of peer accountability existing in Switzerland because the government encourages all levels of the federal state (federal, cantonal and municipal) to engage with experts on child rights and related organizations, either non-profit or private. The Swiss government emphasizes as well the need for the empowerment of children and youth as a means to encourage citizens to participate actively, notably on the subject of child rights. Thus, it is interesting to see that the government of Switzerland favors all actions that can push its accountability by children and youth regarding their rights. The role of the UNCRC and of the TRAN in developing these pathways could be further analyzed in a subsequent study. Actually, one could assume experts and non-state actors have been able to lobby the government on the creation of laws related to this theme.

16The following graph summarizes the number of different accountability pathways, peer accountability and TRAN references. The purpose of the graph is to provide a synthesis, yet without drawing inferences from it.

Fig. 17: Synthesis Switzerland

17D) The graphs below (figure 18) depict the assessment of the accountability mechanisms developed by the UNCRC and its protocols, Switzerland, UNICEF and TDHS, according to Grant and Keohane’s classification.

Fig. 18: Accountability comparison according to Grant & Keohane (2005)

18Accountability mechanisms developed by the UNCRC and its related protocols are mainly peer (between actors surrounding the Convention) and supervisory (such as the Committee’s universal report on countries). Public reputational instruments are also particularly present. Yet, these are, as mentioned by the authors, present in all forms of accountability. Legal accountability mechanisms are also present, as one could expect with the creation of an international treaty (mainly through recommendations to states by the Committee), and fiscal accountability also has a certain weight (where states provide funds to the agencies surrounding the UNCRC as well as its bodies).

19Switzerland is subject to hierarchical accountability mainly because of the superior role of international law in its constitution and the need to respect its ratification of the UNCRC. There are also supervisory accountability mechanisms because the federal and cantonal governments have created commissions working on matters related to children and youth and also, for instance, because of the power youth parliaments throughout the country have to make demands on their governments regarding their rights. There is also obviously fiscal accountability since Switzerland funds the implementation of the Convention on a regular basis. Legal accountability can also be retrieved because the country has ratified the UNCRC and all of the three OPs. Peer accountability is also present because Switzerland promotes exchanges between all institutional levels, from the Confederation to the municipalities, experts and organizations related to child rights. These results correspond to the expectations of the authors (see Grant & Keohane, 2005, p. 39, annex 9.8).

20Regarding UNICEF and TDHS, mechanisms are mainly supervisory with peer accountability while public reputation instruments are used in both types. There are no clear discrepancies between UNICEF and TDHS/FITDH according to this classification. When compared to the expected results of Grant and Keohane, some of the mechanisms are found in the analysis, yet not all of them. Moreover, the discrepancies between IOs and NGOs are not salient.

6.2. Limitations

21It is necessary to assess the limitations of this research. Firstly, the cases studied here are certainly not representative of the huge number of NGOs, IOs and states, which possess all their own specificities. For instance, Switzerland is obviously not an example of all democratic states. Thus, it would be interesting to conduct a large-N analysis since the theoretical and empirical relevance of the subject has been demonstrated here. Secondly, I have used the sources available and it is likely that other documents, not released publicly, may slightly change the evidence found in this analysis. Moreover, the definition of my core concepts could differ and I proposed ways to improve them such as merging TRAN and peer accountability or developing further the conceptualization of indirect accountability since the empirical evidence demonstrated the complexity lying behind this concept. Finally, while Grant and Keohane’s classification provides interesting insights on the distribution of types of accountability amongst the different actors considered in this research, it was challenging to classify the different mechanisms raised in the analysis within the categories these authors developed. This supports my first assumption that their framework was not the most pertinent to my analysis.

6.3. Conclusion

22To conclude, this research has provided an empirical answer to the question of the extent to which non-state actors are able to hold states accountable regarding an international treaty. It has also made it possible to identify whether NGOs and IOs hold governments accountable directly or indirectly through the empowerment of the populations they support. Thus, thanks to this study, I was able to confirm the central role of NGOs and IOs as accountability-holders in the context of the UNCRC and demonstrate the different means they use to increase states’ accountability to their commitments. I identified and analyzed direct and indirect accountability mechanisms and these concepts have been proven to be relevant in this context. Moreover, the importance of a TRAN as a theoretical tool for other treaty analyses should be highlighted since it offers new insight into how, by whom and with what roles treaties are surrounded.

23Thus, I can confirm that NGOs and IOs have a substantial role to play in holding states accountable. This accountability focuses on citizens’ empowerment. Notably, participation is a strong transformative factor in this direction. States’ responses to their commitments may vary, but the case of Switzerland shows that the country has created specific accountability pathways for the population to voice its concerns.

24Moreover, the relationship between members of the TRAN and states appears to be more cooperative than I thought before. It is also possible to note that IOs are more inclined to work together with states without confronting them while NGOs are more inclined to opt for a more confrontational posture.

25This research establishes new dimensions for research and practical policy. Firstly, it identifies accountability as a core concept to understand relationships between different actors gravitating around an international treaty. Secondly, it demonstrates the salience of new concepts such as TRAN, as well as direct, indirect and peer accountability, which enable a better comprehension of existing mechanisms when addressing international treaties. Thirdly, it provides the academic literature with ideas for further research, notably to replicate the study on a larger-N basis; focusing on non-democratic states; and analyzing other actors than IOs and NGOs, such as multinational companies or religious groups. Finally, it raises the question of the accountability of non-state actors with respect to international treaties. Regarding practical policy implications, NGOs and IOs are playing a more significant role in the way states comply with international treaties. The importance of accountability as a key tool for policy-making and to empower marginalized groups is also emphasized throughout this research. Therefore, this study implies that these are effective tools to create changes and push for the compliance of states in a non-confrontational manner. It also confirms that there are pathways through which actors can proceed and demand that their states comply with specific treaties.

26This study raises numerous other research questions: for example, do these accountability mechanisms operate in the same manner in other states, democratic or not? To what extent are these mechanisms applied when the state is not part of a treaty and can they be used to push states to ratify a treaty? To what extent do NGOs and IOs hold accountable actors other than the state?

27Finally, when De Tocqueville writes that “they [the people] are the cause and end of all things: everything proceeds from them, and to them everything returns” (2003, p. 65), one could argue that this is even more significant today. The organizations studied here are always trying to implement more socially inclusive policies, improving their inclusion of aid recipients in their governance. The reasons behind this are certainly a direct answer to the critiques of their lack of accountability, and the will to secure funding for their survival. It is yet to be seen if this will bring better policies. On a positive note, this study demonstrates that a more human-centered vision of policy-making is emerging and it can bring more effective and socially coherent outcomes.

6.4. Post-Scriptum

28I had the opportunity to conduct an extra interview with Maud Roure, head of the transition to peace and promotion of youth leadership programs at the Kofi Annan Foundation (KAF). KAF does not work specifically on the UNCRC, but its work coincides well with the theme I delved into for this thesis. This interview was highly relevant to my topic because it gave me the opportunity to test my concepts with another NGO, operating in a related field. Through its programs, notably Extremely Together, KAF fosters 10 youths, scattered around the world, to mobilize their peers in their communities to fight against extremism. It does so through diverse approaches such as theatre plays, community radio shows, workshops and social media campaigns (KAF, 2021). Through the empowerment of these youth, KAF aims at ameliorating their situation. The inclusion of these engaged youths in some of the Foundation’s decisions matches precisely my conceptualization of accountability (KAF, 2021). The Foundation writes position papers as well as recommendations, for instance to the UNGA or to the EU (KAF, 2021). These examples match with my concept of direct accountability mechanisms. Furthermore, KAF is also part of a network of actors with whom it cooperates, notably gathering together academics, local NGOs and political parties. Through these partnerships, KAF is able to strengthen its role and its ambitions. It surely enables the Foundation to hold other actors accountable to remain faithful to their commitments, namely regarding the UN Security Council resolution on Youth, Peace and Security. In this resolution, the role of youth is acknowledged as a key element in peacebuilding (KAF, 2021). Thus, this reinforces my concept of TRAN, yet with regard to another commitment than the UNCRC analyzed in this work.


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