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HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

Working methods


I. Introduction

...

II. Guidelines for reporting by States parties

The Committee has noted that some of the reports submitted initially were so brief and general that the Committee found it necessary to elaborate general guidelines regarding the form and content of reports. These consolidated guidelines for State reports under the ICCPR (CCPR/C/66/GUI/Rev.2) were designed to ensure that reports are presented in a uniform manner and to enable the Committee and States parties to obtain a complete picture of the situation in each State as regards the implementation of the rights referred to in the Covenant.

The guidelines provide for comprehensive initial reports, prepared on an article-by-article basis, and focused periodic reports geared primarily to the Committee's concluding observations on the previous report of the State party concerned. In their periodic reports, States parties need not report on every single article of the Covenant, but only on those provisions identified by the Committee in its concluding observations and those articles in respect of which there have been significant developments since the submission of the previous report.(1)

Despite the guidelines, however, some reports are still so brief and general that they do not satisfy the reporting obligations under article 40. Even reports which were in their form generally in accordance with the guidelines have in substance been incomplete. In these cases the Committee can grant, during the examination of the report, the possibility to the State party to complement this information within a specified deadline.(2)

III. Consideration of reports of States parties by the Committee

Once the State party has ratified the Covenant it should submit, one year after the Covenant enters into force, its initial report to the Committee. For periodic reports, it is the Bureau of the Committee, at the end of the session at which the State party report is examined, which decides the number of years after which the State party should present their next report. The general rule (ever since this system was started two years ago) is that State parties should present their periodic report to the Committee every four years. However, the Bureau can add or subtract one year to this four-year period depending on the level of compliance with the Covenant's provisions by the State party. (3)

The Committee does not have rules on the number of reports to be examined each session, but this can vary from four to six reports; five reports being the average number of reports examined. Preference is given to those reports which have arrived earlier. Geographic criterion is usually not applied when selecting which reports are to be examined by the Committee.

A. Pre-session working group

The Human Rights Committee has replaced the working group on article 40 of the Covenant with Country Report Task Forces , which instead of meeting before the session meet during the plenary session. The principal purpose of the Country Task Force is to identify in advance the questions which will constitute the principal focus of the dialogue with the representatives of the reporting State. The aim is to improve the efficiency of the system and to ease the task of States' representatives by facilitating more focused preparations for the discussion.

The Country Report Task Force has between four and six members, taking account of the desirability of a balanced geographical distribution and other relevant factors. One of these members is the country rapporteur who is the person overall responsible for the drafting of the list of issues.

The working methods of the Country Report Task Force are as follows: First, the country rapporteur presents the draft list of issues for discussion to the Country Report Task Force. Once the members have made their observations, the list of issues is adopted by the Task Force as a whole. The Task Force then allocates to each of its members principal responsibility for a certain number of questions included in the list of issues, based in part on the areas of particular expertise or interest of the member concerned. Once the list of issues is adopted and edited, it is transmitted to the State party. Since 1999 the lists of issues has been adopted at the session prior to the examination of the State report, thereby allowing a period of two to four months for States parties to prepare for the discussion with the Committee. (4)

In preparation for the Country Report Task Force, the secretariat places at the disposal of its members a country analysis as well as all pertinent documents containing information relevant to each of the reports to be examined. For this purpose, the Committee invites all concerned individuals, bodies and non-governmental organizations to submit relevant and appropriate documentation to the secretariat.

The replacement of the pre-sessional working group, by Country Report Task Forces meeting during the plenary, has freed time for a pre-sessional working group on communications to meet, for five days, prior to each of the Committee's sessions. This working group is composed of at least five members of the Committee nominated by the Chairperson, taking account of the desirability of a balanced geographical distribution and other relevant factors. This working group is entrusted with the task of making recommendations to the Committee regarding communications received under the Optional Protocol. The Committee may designate special rapporteurs from among its members to assist in the handling of communications.(5) The secretariat facilitates the work of the special rapporteurs and the working group by assisting in the research and drafting of the requisite number of recommendations on complaints ready for action (normally 25 to 30 per session).

B. Constructive dialogue

It is the practice of the Committee, in accordance with Rule 68 of its Rules of Procedure, to examine reports in the presence of representatives of the reporting States. All States whose reports have been examined in this way have cooperated with the Committee but the level, experience and the number of representatives have varied. The Committee wishes to state that, if it is to be able to perform its functions under article 40 as effectively as possible and if the reporting State is to obtain the maximum benefit from the dialogue, it is desirable that the States representatives should have such status and experience (and preferably be in such number) as to respond to questions put, and the comments made, in the Committee over the whole range of matters covered by the Covenant. (6)

On occasion, States have announced that they would appear before the Committee but have not done so on the scheduled date. The Committee has decided that, if a State party has submitted a report but does not send a delegation to the Committee, the Committee may notify the State party of the alternative date on which it intends to consider the report or may proceed to consider the report at the meeting that had been initially scheduled. If the latter takes place, the Committee will examine the report and prepare provisional concluding observations which will be submitted to the State party. The Committee will mention, in its Annual Report, that these provisional concluding observations were prepared, but their text will not be published. (7)

The following procedure is generally used for the examination of State party reports: The representative of the State party is invited to introduce the report by making brief introductory comments, followed by the replies to the first group of questions included in the list of issues. It should be noted that States parties are encouraged to use the list of issues to better prepare for a constructive discussion, but are not expected to submit written answers. After this intervention, the Committee members will provide comments or further questions in relation to the replies provided. Although all Committee members participate in this dialogue, the members of the Country Task Force who are responsible for a pre-assigned number of questions, will have priority when asking questions to the representatives of the State party. The representative of the State party is then invited to reply to the remaining questions on the list of issues, to which will again follow the comments and questions of the Committee.

In general, the Committee devotes two meetings (of three hours each) to the examination of periodic reports and three meetings (of three hours each) to the examination of initial reports. In addition, it generally devotes between two and three hours towards the end of the session, in private, to the discussion prior to the adoption of the concluding observations.

Individual members of the Committee refrain from participating in any aspect of the consideration of the reports of the States of which they are nationals in order to maintain the highest standards of impartiality, both in substance and appearance.

C. Concluding observations/comments

The final phase of the Committee's examination of the State report is the drafting and adoption of its concluding observations. For this, the country rapporteur prepares, with the assistance of the secretariat and based on the constructive dialogue held during the plenary session, draft concluding observations for the consideration of the Committee.

The agreed structure of the concluding observations is as follows: introduction; positive aspects; factors and difficulties impeding the implementation of the Covenant; principal subjects of concern and suggestions and recommendations. Concluding observations also include a recommendation requesting the wide dissemination of the concluding observations in the State party concerned, as well as a paragraph requesting that additional information be provided to the Committee, within a specified deadline (usually of one year), on specific points of the concluding observations. The concluding observations also set out the provisional date when the State party's next periodic report is due.

This draft is discussed by the Committee in private session with a view to adopting it by consensus. The concluding observations, once adopted, are usually not made public until the day preceding the end of the session. They are forwarded to the State party concerned and included in the Committee's annual report.

IV. Follow-up to concluding observations/comments

After the adoption of the concluding observations, a follow-up procedure shall be employed in order to establish, maintain or restore a dialogue with the State party. For this purpose and in order to enable the Committee to take further action, the Committee shall appoint a special rapporteur, who will report to the Committee. The special rapporteur will report with regard to the information received from the State Party (within a specified deadline) as to the steps taken, if any, to meet the recommendations of the Committee. This sessional follow-up progress report will prompt the Committee plenary to make a determination of the date/deadline for the submission of the next report. This follow-up procedure does not apply in cases of examination of country situations (i.e. when the Committee examines the measures taken by the State party in the implementation of the Covenant in the absence of a State report).

V. Strategies to encourage reporting by States parties

The Committee notes, as appears from its annual reports, that only a small number of States have submitted their reports on time. Most of them have been submitted with delays ranging from a few months to several years and some States parties are still in default, despite repeated reminders by the Committee.

Since reporting by States parties is the fundamental mechanism by which the Committee discharges fully its obligation to monitor the observance of obligations under the Convention, the Committee has adopted special procedures for considering the situation of States parties that have failed to honour their reporting obligations.

When the State party has not presented a report, the Committee may, at its discretion, notify the State party of the date on which the Committee proposes to examine the measures taken by the State party to implement the rights guaranteed under the Covenant. If the State party is represented by a delegation, the Committee will, in presence of the delegation and in public session, proceed with the examination on the date assigned. If the State party is not represented, the Committee may, at its discretion, either decide to proceed to consider the measures taken by the State party to implement the guarantees of the Covenant at the initial date or notify a new date to the State party. In both cases the Committee will prepare provisional concluding observations which will be transmitted to the State party. The Committee will mention, in its Annual Report, that these provisional concluding observations were prepared, but their text will not be published. (8)

VI. Documentation supplied by the Secretariat

The Committee will be provided with country files on the reporting State party. These files will include all material received by the secretariat, such as the official report, NGO and IGO information and other relevant documents.

VII. Interaction with specialized agencies and bodies of the United Nations

The Committee invites specialized agencies and other bodies of the United Nations to cooperate in its work. The Committee invites specialized agencies to provide written reports containing country-specific information on States parties whose reports are before them. Representatives of these entities are also invited to address the Committee at the beginning of each session of the Human Rights Committee. Moreover, the Secretary-General can, after consultation with the Committee, transmit to specialized agencies parts of the reports received from State parties which may fall within their field of competence. The specialized agencies may then submit comments on those parts of the reports.(9)

VIII. Participation of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions in the activities of the Committees

In order to ensure that it is as well informed as possible, the Committee invites non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions to provide reports containing country-specific information on States parties whose reports are before them. Such information should be submitted in writing, preferably well in advance of the relevant session. The Committee sets aside the first morning meeting of each plenary session to enable representatives of non-governmental organizations to provide oral information. In addition to this, lunch-time briefings are organized to allow non-governmental organizations to provide further information to Committee members before the examination of the State report by the Committee. The Committee, in its Annual Report (2002) stated that it reserved the right to determine, at a later stage, whether other briefings by non governmental organizations should also become part of the Committee's official.(10)

IX. General comments/recommendations

Interpreting the Covenant so that there can be no doubts about the scope and meaning of its articles has become an important function of the Human Rights Committee. General comments are normally directed at States parties and usually elaborate the Committee's view of the content of the obligations assumed by States as party to the Convention.

As at April 2004, the Committee had adopted 31 general comments: amongst these, General Comment No. 24 on issues relating to reservations made upon ratification or accession to the Covenant or the Optional Protocols thereto, or in relation to declarations under article 41 of the Covenant, General Comment No. 29 on states of emergency and General Comment No. 31 on the nature of the general legal obligation imposed on States parties to the Covenant.

During the process of formulation of general comments, consultations take place with specialized agencies, non-governmental organizations, academics and other human rights treaty bodies, allowing for broader input into the process of elaboration of the general comment.

X. Statements adopted by the Committee

The Human Rights Committee does not adopt any statements to clarify and confirm its position with respect to major international developments and issues that bear upon the implementation of the Covenant.

XI. Individual Communications

Since the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR entered into force in March 1976, the Committee allocates time at each of its sessions to examine the communications received as well as the recommendations made by the pre-sessional working group on communications. The Committee considers these communications at private meetings and all documents related to the communications remain confidential. Only the final decision on any given complaint (inadmissibility decision or decision on the merits) becomes a public document.

Individual members of the Committee refrain from participating in any aspect of the consideration of the communications if: a) the State of which they are nationals is a party to the case; b) if the member has any personal interest in the case; c) if the member has participated in any capacity in the making of any decision on the case covered by the communication. (11)

The Committee has established follow-up procedures for communications by designating special rapporteurs for follow-up on views for the purpose of ascertaining the measures taken by the States parties to give effect to the Committee's views. (12) The special rapporteur shall make recommendations for further action by the Committee as necessary and shall regularly report to the Committee on follow-up activities.

XII. Other matters

Early-warning measures and urgent procedures

In the 1990s the Committee requested that several States facing serious difficulties in the implementation of Covenant rights ( Bosnia and Herzegovina , Croatia , Federal Republic of Yugoslavia , Burundi , Angola , Haiti , Rwanda and Nigeria ) either present their overdue initial/periodic report without delay or prepare ad hoc reports on specific issues. Only Bosnia and Herzegovina , Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia reacted to this initiative and submitted ad hoc reports. In March 2004, the Committee's Bureau discussed the possibilities of reviving the urgent procedure / ad hoc report procedure.

Meetings of chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies and inter-committee meetings

Besides attending the meetings of chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee addresses the Commission on Human Rights since 2003.

Other consultations

Since October 2000, all States parties to the ICCPR have been invited to attend a meeting, every two years, to discuss issues of concern with regard to the implementation of the Covenant.

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(1) Human Rights Committee, Recent decisions on procedures: 26/10/2001 , A/56/40, paras. 50-54

(2) Rule 70 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

(3) Rules 66 and 70A of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

(4) Human Rights Committee, Recent decisions on procedures: 26/10/2001 , A/56/40, paras. 50-54

(5) Rule 89 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

(6) General Comment No. 2: Reporting Guidelines, 1981, Thirteenth Session. See HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6.

(7) Rule 68 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

(8) Rule 68 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

(9) Rule 67 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

(10) Paragraph 12, Annex III, Annual Report of the Human Rights Committee (2002), A/57/40 (Vol. I)

(11) Rule 84 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

(12) Rule 95 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee

Country-specific information