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Introduction to the Committee

Human Rights Committee

The Human Rights Committee is the body of 18 independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties.

All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how civil and political rights are being implemented. States must report initially one year after acceding to the Covenant and then whenever the Committee requests. In accordance with the Predictable Review Cycle, the Committee requests the submission of the report based on an eight-year calendar. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of ‘concluding observations’.

In addition,

The Committee also publishes its interpretation of the content of human rights provisions, known as general comments, on thematic issues or its methods of work.

The Committee meets in Geneva and normally holds three sessions per year.

The work of the Committee

No country’s record of protecting and promoting civil and political rights is perfect and free from criticism. As a result, the Committee’s task is to encourage each State party:

  1. To maintain in place those laws, policies and practices that enhance the enjoyment of these rights;
  2. To withdraw or suitably amend those measures that are destructive or corrosive of Covenant rights;
  3. To take appropriate positive action when a State party has failed to act to promote and protect these rights; and
  4. To consider appropriately the effects in terms of the Covenant of new laws, policies and practices that a State party proposes to introduce in order to ensure that it does not regress in giving practical effect to Covenant rights.

One of the great strengths of the Committee is the moral authority it derives from the fact that its membership represents all parts of the world. Instead of representing a single geographical or national perspective, the Committee speaks with a global voice.

The Committee’s work has a real effect in promoting the enjoyment of civil and political rights in many countries, even though the cause and effect relationship is at times difficult to identify. There are numerous instances of an individual complaint leading to positive results for the individual concerned, be it in the form of a payment of compensation, a commutation of a death sentence, a retrial, an investigation into particular events, or a number of other remedies, in the State party concerned.

Over the years, the Committee’s work has resulted in many changes of law, policy and practice, both at the general national level and in the context of individual cases. In a direct sense, therefore, the Committee’s discharge of the monitoring functions entrusted to it under the Covenant has improved the lives of individuals in countries in all parts of the world. It is in this spirit that the Committee will continue to make its work relevant and applicable to all States parties, and to strive for the enjoyment of all civil and political rights guaranteed by the Covenant, in full and without discrimination, by all people.

For more information about the work of the Human Rights Committee, read the Civil and Political Rights: The Human Rights Committee Fact Sheet.