United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Treaty Bodies

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 Treaty Bodies

On the basis of reports from States Parties, information from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and data from other pertinent sources, Treaty Bodies are international committees of independent experts who monitor States parties’ implementation of the eight core human rights treaties and their optional protocols.

What Is the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations?

The United Nations General Assembly established the UNHCHR, or United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 1993. The UNHCHR works to promote the upholding of generally accepted human rights norms throughout the world and among its member states.

The UNHCHR’s primary responsibility is to warn state governments and the general public when these standards are broken or neglected. Victims of violations of human rights are to be heard by the UNHCHR.

What Is the Structure of the UNHCHR?

The six treaty monitoring bodies under the UNHCHR (committees). These committees were established by international treaties to oversee their execution, including:

  • Human Rights Committee: Monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Committee against Torture: Monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Monitors implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child: Monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Why Do These Committees Exist?

An international treaty must be put into effect at the national level once a nation has ratified it. A periodic report on the actions it has taken to ensure that the treaty’s requirements are followed must also be sent to the treaty authorities.

In the presence of a delegation from the nation, the committees review these reports as well as data from additional sources. Following that, the committee will make its concerns and suggestions to the government for more action. The state must then endeavor to put those suggestions into practice.

Committing to Better Protecting Human Rights

A “treaty” (sometimes referred to as a “convention” or “covenant”) is a piece of international legislation that binds the States party to its provisions. By ratifying or adhering to a treaty, a state freely accepts to be bound by its terms. This process is known as becoming a party to the treaty.

A state is required by international law to uphold and implement the terms of the applicable treaty once it becomes a party to it. This implies that the State Party’s domestic legislation must be brought into compliance with the treaty’s terms and cannot be in conflict with them in any way.

A state may occasionally express a reservation over a specific provision of a treaty that it has ratified. The state is no longer seen as being required to comply with that specific provision if the reservation to the relevant article is accepted. Some of the international human rights treaties have been strengthened by the insertion of optional protocols.

These protocols may strengthen protection in a specific area or include extra steps that permit more monitoring or receiving of private communications. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as the model for eight fundamental international human rights treaties, which are as follows.

Reports from States Parties

A State is required by law to carry out the rights outlined in a treaty once it has been ratified. Being a party to a treaty is only the first step, though, because rights are recognized on paper does not mean they will be exercised in reality.

Therefore, each State party has a duty to execute the treaty’s substantive provisions and report on how those provisions are being carried out regularly to the appropriate treaty body (other than the SPT).

The treaty bodies may also obtain information on a nation’s human rights situation from national human rights institutions (NHRIs), international and national civil society organizations (CSOs), United Nations agencies, other intergovernmental organizations, professional associations, and academic institutions in addition to the reports provided by States parties. Most committees set aside a specified period of time during plenary to hear testimony from CSOs and UN agencies.

The pertinent treaty body reviews the report in the presence of a state party delegation after considering all the material available. The committee publishes its concerns and suggestions, known as “concluding observations,” as a result of this fruitful discussion.

Days of General Debate and General Remarks

As well as publishing their interpretation of the text of human rights provisions (known as general remarks or general recommendations) on specific topics or working methods, the

Committees frequently invite feedback and host discussion days and activities. These include a wide range of topics, including general instructions on the data that should be included in State reports relating to particular treaty articles, as well as a thorough interpretation of substantive provisions, including the right to life or the right to enough sustenance.

The Chairpersons’ Annual Meeting

Members of the treaty bodies can discuss their work, exchange best practices, and think about ways to improve the system’s effectiveness as a whole during the annual conference of the Chairpersons of the Human Rights treaty bodies.

Strengthening the Treaty Body

In order to improve coordination across these procedures and in their interactions with Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on State parties and other stakeholders to start a process of reflection in 2009.

What Should I Do if I Think an International Human Rights Treaty Violates My Rights?

There are processes in place for four of the treaty organizations that allow anyone to file concerns for review. However, only those people who are governed by a State that has formally adopted these processes are eligible to file a complaint.

On the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, you may find a list of the countries that have formally recognized these processes. Certain requirements must be met before a complaint can be filed. These consist of the following:

  • Every available local remedy must be used (i.e., submitted to local courts).
  • The alleged victim, a designated representative, or another person who has legal standing to act on the victim’s behalf must physically file the complaint; it cannot be anonymous.
  • The complaint must be about a specific right in the treaty being violated.
  • If the same issue is being looked into by another international inquiry or settlement procedure, a complaint cannot be taken into consideration.

Do I Require a Lawyer with Experience in International Law?

The study of international law can be challenging at times. You might be able to determine if you have a case with the aid of a government attorney knowledgeable in matters of international law.

A lawyer can help you determine if you even have rights under an international treaty in your country if you feel that your human rights under that treaty have been infringed.

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