10 Nov 2016
Not so long ago, health warnings in most countries were messages in small type, barely visible on the side of the pack. Now many, many Parties have graphic health warnings, covering half the pack or more.
A key ingredient to this rapid spread of FCTC-grounded policies was the guidelines process. Hashing out the details of policy recommendations on these issues, in working groups and then at COP sessions, may have seemed like frustrating, hard work at the time. But in the process, Parties learnt from each other, from experts and from civil society, about what does and doesn’t work, about what has the biggest impact, about the pitfalls that regulators face. Parties helped each other to achieve giant steps in tobacco control policy.
Implementation review is an extension of the same idea: Parties helping each other, in this case to overcome the numerous implementation difficulties that most countries still face. An implementation review committee (IRC), made up primarily of Parties, would look at individual reports and identify Parties that appear to be facing particular problems implementing the FCTC. The committee would then follow up with those Parties individually to scope out the underlying problems and see what can be done to help fix them.
In the process, the committee would gather lots of information on Parties’ shared implementation problems, which it would in turn synthesise and report back to the COP.
There are many advantages to this kind of mechanism. First, it would give clear purpose to the biennial task of filling in the lengthy FCTC reporting instrument: identifying Parties most in need of help.
Second, in some cases Parties simply need structured advice, based on best practices from other countries, in order to overcome some types of obstacles. (Example: setting up an inter-ministerial FCTC committee that has real buy-in from non-health ministries.)
Third, where it becomes clear that Parties need technical assistance or more resources, implementation review would help in identifying what exactly the biggest needs are. And that in turn provides an excellent fund-raising tool for FCTC implementation.
Implementation review mechanisms (IRM) are common amongst international treaties. There are many different models; it’s important to think how the FCTC one should work, as the drafting group working on this issue will no doubt be doing.
In some treaties, such mechanisms may be primarily about providing a way for Parties to check up on each other. For example, a treaty may have quite a muscular IRM to enforce compliance.
The FCTC is not like that: the vast majority of Parties are full of good will and trying to do their best to combat a major public health problem. For the most part, they generally have little interest in checking up on their neighbours. Instead, they want to learn from each other.
Accordingly, implementation review for the FCTC should be about mutual support. This is baked into the Terms of Reference proposed by the expert group on reporting, which specifies that the proposed IRC “shall be objective, facilitative in nature… shall make non-binding recommendations, and be focused on assisting Parties…”
Mutual assistance is what got the FCTC this far – it’s crucial to allow Parties to collectively overcome their remaining implementation challenges.