Human rights treaties create legal obligations for States parties to promote and protect human rights at the national level. When a country accepts one of these treaties through ratification, accession or succession, it assumes a legal obligation to implement the rights set out in that treaty. Implementation of the nine core human rights treaties is monitored by the ten human rights treaty-monitoring bodies.
Nine core international human rights treaties, these are:
(i) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR- adopted 1966; entry into force 1976)
(ii)The International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD – adoption in 1965; entry into force in 1969);
(iii)The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW – adoption in 1979; entry into force in 1981);
(iv) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR- adoption 1966, entry into force 1976)
(v)The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT – adoption in 1984; entry into force in 1987);
(vi) The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC – adoption in 1989; entry into force in 1990);
(vii)The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW – adoption in 1990; entry into force in 2003);
(viii)International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD- adoption 2006; entry into force 2008)
(ix)International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPED -adoption 2006, entry into force 2010)
The treaty bodies are the committees of independent experts which monitor implementation of the provisions of the core human rights treaties by States parties. Each Committee is composed of independent experts (ranging from 10 to 25 members) of recognized competence in the field of human rights, who are nominated and elected for fixed, renewable terms of four years by State parties. The following are the core Treaty Body committees:
- The Human Rights Committee (HRCttee);
- The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD);
- The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
- The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR);
- The Committee Against Torture, and its Subcommittee on Prevention (CAT);
- The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)
- The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC);
- The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW);
- The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD);
- The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED);
“The treaty bodies perform a number of functions aimed at monitoring how the treaties are being implemented by States parties. All treaty bodies, with the exception of the SPT, are mandated to receive and consider reports submitted periodically by State parties detailing their implementation of the treaty provisions in the country concerned. They issue guidelines to assist States with the preparation of their reports, elaborate general comments interpreting the treaty provisions and organize discussions on themes related to the treaties”.
The main outcome of the review is a series of recommendations to the country. Because they are issued by a body of international experts and contribute to evolving international jurisprudence, these recommendations carry significant influence and so can be a helpful source for civil society groups to cite in their advocacy. It would be great to hear how others have used treaty body recommendations in their work.
To really be helpful, recommendations need to be concrete and specific, which they aren’t always! A fundamental challenge with the reviews is that they are based on self-reporting. In other words, the treaty body relies on information from governments, who obviously have an interest in presenting their human rights record in the best light possible. Another challenge is that the treaty bodies have limited time and resources to dig deeper to corroborate or question what the government presents in its report. For this reason, civil society plays a crucial role in offering the type of independent information that can enable the treaty bodies to make specific and measurable recommendations.
WHAT MAKES FOR EFFECTIVE NGO ENGAGEMENT?
Throughout the review process, there are important entry points—both formal and informal—where civil society can have influence. For example, NGOs can submit “shadow reports” presenting an alternative assessment of the country’s human rights record to the report presented by the government of the country in question. Depending on the particular body’s working methods, NGOs can often hold briefing sessions with the treaty body members prior to the plenary session. They can also attend the plenary session as observers.
Following strategies can be helpful ways to make the most of these entry points:
Work collectively. The treaty bodies tend to give greater weight to information submitted by coalitions of NGOs. Though working in collaboration with others is not without its challenges, it does allow for a broader range of topics to be covered in one report or briefing, as well as more coordinated advocacy around some of the issues that have been raised. .
Be concise and provide well-evidenced arguments. It’s particularly important to highlight the links between poor outcomes on the ground (e.g. school drop outs) and inadequacies in the policy efforts of the government (e.g. long distances to get to school), with arguments based on facts and, when possible, figures.
Provide statistics, but explain their significance. The treaty bodies generally like to receive statistics as evidence of a particular human rights issues (OHCHR’s work on indicators was the result of a demand from the treaty bodies). However, when presenting data, for example, the number of doctors per capita, it’s important that it’s interpreted against relevant human rights norms. For example, many doctors in some parts of the country and not others might show discriminatory policy-making, decreasing numbers of doctors per capita might be evidence of retrogression etc.
Supplement the shadow report with additional information. Shadow reports can be quite formulaic as they’re generally structured around each article of the relevant treaty. It’s possible to share additional materials with the treaty body members when attending the session in Geneva. For example, CESR’s Visualizing Rights factsheets (see e.g. on Spain (link is external) and Egypt (link is external)) present similar information as the shadow reports they relate to, but in a way that’s much quicker and easier for treaty body members to digest.
Contact treaty body members. NGOs can approach and discuss their concerns with treaty body members before, during and after the review session. They are generally approachable and open to hearing NGO views. Briefing sessions can be helpful in fostering a constructive dynamic between NGOs and treaty body members.
Monitor the implementation of recommendations. It’s easy to see the recommendations as the ‘end’ of the review process, but in reality, sustained pressure at the national level is essential for getting them implemented. It’s also possible to report back to committee members in between sessions. It would be great to hear examples of good practice on this.
Bangladesh: Concluding Observation by Treaty Bodies: