Human Rights Treaty-based Bodies

There are ten human rights treaty bodies that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties:

The treaty bodies meet in Geneva, Switzerland. All the treaty bodies receive support from the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva. The chairpersons of the ten Human Rights Treaty Bodies meet annually to discuss their work, share best practices, and consider ways to enhance the effectiveness of the treaty body system as a whole.

The treaty bodies perform a number of functions in accordance with the provisions of the treaties that established them. These include consideration of State parties’ periodic reports, consideration of individual complaints, and conducting country inquiries. Additionally, they also adopt general comments interpreting treaty provisions and organize thematic discussions related to the treaties.

When a country ratifies a treaty, it assumes a legal obligation to implement the rights recognized in that treaty. However, becoming a party to a treaty is only the first step, because recognition of rights on paper is not sufficient to guarantee that they will be enjoyed in practice.

Therefore, in addition to their obligation to implement the substantive provisions of the treaty, each State party is also under an obligation to submit periodic reports to the relevant treaty body (except under the OPCAT) on how the rights are being implemented.

In addition to State parties’ report, the treaty bodies may receive information on a country’s human rights situation from other sources, including national human rights institutions (NHRIs), civil society organizations (CSOs), both international and national, United Nations entities, other intergovernmental organizations, and professional groups and academic institutions. Most committees allocate specific plenary time to hearing submissions from CSOs and UN entities.

In the light of all the information available, the relevant treaty body examines the report in the presence of a State party’s delegation. Based on this constructive dialogue, the Committee publishes its concerns and recommendations, often referred to as “concluding observations”.

In addition, six of the Committees (CCPR, CERD, CAT, CEDAW, CRPD, and CED,) can, under certain conditions, receive petitions from individuals. Any individual who claims that her or his rights under the treaty have been violated by a State party to that treaty may bring a communication before the relevant committee, provided that the State has recognized the competence of the committee to receive such complaints and that domestic remedies have been exhausted. It is also the case that three treaties (the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure) contain provisions for individual communications to be considered by their respective committees, but these are not yet operative.

“Six of the Committees (CESCR, CAT, CEDAW, CRPD, CED, and CRC – when the relevant optional protocol enters into force) may, under certain conditions, initiate country inquiries if they receive reliable information containing well-founded indications of serious, grave or systematic violations of the conventions in a State party.”

Additional information on the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies is available here.

The UN OHCHR has launched a major public online database that contains all case law issued by the UN human rights Treaty Bodies. It is available here.