Enhancing the human rights treaty body system

The treaty bodies' response to the Secretary-General's Agenda for Further Change

The promotion and protection of human rights is one of the fundamental aims of the United Nations. The setting of legal standards in the field of human rights and the establishment of mechanisms to monitor those standards has been one the primary means of achieving this aim. Since the establishment of the first treaty body, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the system has grown to include seven treaty bodies.

As the system has grown, it has confronted challenges. These include delays in submission and/or consideration of reports, non-reporting, and duplication of reporting requirements among treaty bodies. Improving the effectiveness of the human rights treaty system has been an ongoing interest of individual treaty bodies, the meeting of chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly. These issues have also been the subject of discussion at the Inter-Committee Meeting.


In his 2002 report, Strengthening the United Nations: an agenda for further change, the UN Secretary-General identified further modernization of the treaty system as a key element in the United Nations goal of promoting and protecting human rights. He called on the human rights treaty bodies to consider the following measures:

(a) to craft a more coordinated approach to their activities;

(b) to standardize their varied reporting requirements, and

(c) to allow each State to produce a single report summarizing its adherence to the full range of international human rights treaties to which it is a party.

The report of the Management Review of OHCHR, conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) during 2002, made broadly similar recommendations, as did the General Assembly (resolution 57/300).

OHCHR consultations on the Secretary-General�s ideas with treaty bodies, States parties, UN entities, NGOs and other parts of civil society included an informal brainstorming meeting hosted by Liechtenstein in Malbun from 4 to 7 May 2003. The report of the Malbun meeting was considered by the second Inter-Committee meeting and the fifteenth meeting of chairpersons in June 2003 and submitted to the General Assembly (A/58/123).

In March 2005, in his report In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all (A/59/2005), the Secretary-General requested that "harmonized guidelines on reporting to all treaty bodies should be finalized and implemented so that these bodies can function as a unified system" (para. 147).