One of the great values of UN human rights entities is in their ability to exert a kind of peer pressure to encourage countries to behave in more human rights-y ways.

Right now, there is a good example of that phenomenon underway. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the body of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child that monitors the implementation of the treaty. This includes periodically reviewing each member country’s record on upholding the convention.

The CRC is reviewing the record of the Holy See, better known as the Vatican.  And it wants answers on child sex abuse scandals

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) asked for “detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers or nuns” since the Holy See last reported to it some 15 years ago, and set November 1 as a deadline for a reply.

The request was included in a “list of issues”, posted on the CRC’s website, to be taken up when the Vatican appears before it next January to report on the Church’s performance under the 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It will be the first time the Holy See has been publicly questioned by an international panel over the child abuse scandal which severely damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church in many countries around the world.

The Holy See has threatened to pull out of the convention over these questions. But I seriously doubt it will do so because withdrawing from the Convention on the Rights of the Child while the Vatican is embroiled in a wide ranging child sex abuse scandal would be terribly embarrassing.

The Holy See is not North Korea. It cares about how other countries view its rights record, so chances are it will comply with this request. Deeper still, the “threat” of appearing before the CRC may inspire the Holy See to actually take action.

UN human rights bodies cannot compel countries to behave in a certain way. But their existence–specifically the fact that they have formal mechanisms by which members must submit their human rights record for review —  can help nudge countries in the right direction. That is the basic value of the UN’s system for monitoring human rights.