The New Tactics online dialogue “Using Shadow Reports for Advocacy” explored the various tactics in using shadow reports for supporting democracy and promoting government accountability in human rights. In the beginning of the dialogue, participants defined what constitutes a shadow/alternative report and identified the pros and cons of its use. After establishing a common understanding of shadow reports, the participants transitioned into discussing some of the deeper topics and challenges: issues of credibility, effective process of writing a report, using reports for advocacy, and addressing non-state actor torture by shadow reports.
Shadow reports are a method through which NGOs can supplement or provide an alternative point of view to governmental reports that states are required to submit under international treaties. In the beginning of this dialogue, the distinction was made between the shadow report and alternative report. “Alternative report” refers to a report that is submitted to the particular committee before the official governmental report has been made available. A “Shadow report” is then a report that has been published after or in response to the governmental report. For the purposes of this summary, the term “shadow report” will be used, but we acknowledge that some of the participating organizations have worked on alternative reports in the past. Shadow reports are a unique tool through which NGOs can present opinions of civil society on government action and present it to the United Nations’ Committees. One of the participants has described the role of civil society as the “monitor of monitors,” that illuminates what the government has done with respect to what it claims to have achieved.
In this section, participants have identified strengths and weaknesses of creating shadow reports:
- Opportunity to review evidence on a topic and your own work over the past four years – possibility to reveal the “big picture.”
- The process provides you with an international forum where you can raise your concerns; it is an opportunity for advocacy in an international legal environment.
- It enables civil society - NGOs and others - to present another side of the story to the committee than the one presented by the State Party.
- The shadow report can be used in other advocacy work, and with a little editing can be turned into an annual report for the NGO.
- The resulting Concluding Observations issued by the committee can be very useful in subsequent advocacy work.
- The process presents a good opportunity to work in coalition with other organizations.
- Creating a shadow report is very labor intensive and requires a lot of resources.
In this initial portion of the dialogue, participants have shared powerful examples of how producing a shadow report has had an impact on the Concluding Observations and subsequently on state party behavior. Here are a few examples:
- Committee on the Administration of Justice - Northern Ireland: CAJ's use of shadow reports to monitor torture in Northern Ireland is outlined early on in the dialogue , and the tactic through which they achieved it has been documented in one of the New Tactics Tactical Notebook: International Monitoring Bodies
- Defence for Children International - Palestine: Based on DCI's shadow report addressed the treatment of children in miltary courts. As a result the Concluding Observations included an appeal for the establishment of a "youth court."
- IWRAW: Given IWRAW's wide geographical scope, several examples of impact were mentioned in this dialogue.
When discussing the process of creating a shadow report, four main areas have been discussed:
- Credibility and accountability
- How to effectively create a report?
- Shadow reports and advocacy
- Challenges in shadow reports: Non-state actors and non-recognized territories
Credibility and Accountability
As shadow reports aim to present an alternative view to that presented by the State Party, one of the primary challenges is its credibility. The dialogue raised the issue whether cooperation between the organization and the government can jeopardize the credibility of the report. Some of the recommendations included: possible re-wording of goals in order to be more effective with the state party, and communicating with former NGO workers that are now in government but be careful as to not to compromise their position. Furthermore, organizations ought to maintain transparency with civil society by creating awareness, for example by creating round table discussions such as the one in Albania. A crucial issue in maintaining credibility is the process of data collection. The dialogue emphasized the need for accuracy. Potential forms of reasonable proof included: the use of sworn affidavits, victims' testimonies, reference recent reports, and court cases. It is advised to identify potential causes of why victims hesitate to provide sworn affidavits (e.g., fear of retaliation), and mention them in the report.
While investing time and resources into collaborating with other organizations can contribute greatly to the report. Collaborating with larger NGOs can add an international dimension and foster legitimacy of the report, collaborating with local NGOs has the potential to strengthen the on-the-ground work related to the issue, as well as continue building awareness in civil society. BAOBAB, an organization in Nigeria, shared their story of how writing a shadow report in a colaition helped advance women's human rights.
- How to submit a report?
- Human Wrongs, Human Rights - A guide to the human rights machinery of the UN
- Simple Guide to the Treaty Bodies
- How to apply for observer status with the UN? You can look at the UN handbook here.
The effort invested into shadow reports will pay off more, if it is a part of a long-term strategy. Shadow reports can be utilized as tools for education in civil society, ways to provide the media with a tangible document, as resources in collaboration with other organizations that work on similar goals - as shown by this example by Fahamu in Kenya.
Challenges in Shadow Reports: Non-State Actors and Non-Recognized Territories
Non-State Actor Torture: During the dialogue, the issue of Non-State Actor Torture (NSAT) has been given significant attention, for there is a lack of legal means to address NSAT, and it can be more difficult to present such shadow reports to the Committee. The Canadian example shows that shadow reports can break new ground and provide a case study for those who work on issues that are not well addressed by international law.
Non-Recognized Terriories: Another challenge comes with trying to write a report about a territory that is not officially recognized by the UN, and the applicability of certain human rights norms may not be legally recognized in those territories. DCI - Palestine shared their experience in one of their posts.