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The treaty bodies perform a number of functions in accordance with the provisions of the treaties that established them. Their thematic focus and their working methods all differ slightly, but in general, they:

  • consider States parties' reports;
  • consider individual complaints;
  • conduct country inquiries;
  • adopt general comments and organize thematic discussions to interpret the provisions of their treaty or treaties;
  • attend the annual meeting of Chairpersons; and
  • contribute to the treaty body strengthening process.

For a comprehensive overview of the United Nations human rights treaty system, download OHCHR Fact Sheet 30 

States parties' reports

When a State ratifies a treaty, it has 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 enough to guarantee that they will be enjoyed in practice.

So, 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 the SPT) on how the rights are being implemented.

In addition to States parties’ reports, the treaty bodies may receive information on a country’s human rights situation from other sources, including national human rights institutions (NHRIs), international and national civil society organizations (CSOs), United Nations entities, other intergovernmental organizations, 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, referred to as ‘concluding observations’.

Individual complaints

Eight of the committees (CCPR, CERD, CAT, CEDAW, CRPD, CED, CESCR and CRC) can receive petitions from individuals. Any individual who claims that their 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.

In addition, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families contains provisions for individual communications to be considered, but these are not yet operative.

Country inquiries

Six of the committees (CESCR, CAT, CEDAW, CRPD, CED, and CRC – when the relevant Optional Protocol enters into force) may 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.

General comments and days of general discussion

The Committees also solicit input, organize discussion days and events, and publish their interpretation of the content of human rights provisions (known as general comments or general recommendations) on thematic issues or methods of work. These cover a wide range of subjects, from the comprehensive interpretation of substantive provisions, such as the right to life or the right to adequate food, to general guidance on the information that should be submitted in State reports relating to specific articles of the treaties.

The annual meeting of Chairpersons

The annual meeting of the Chairpersons of the Human Rights treaty bodies provides a forum for members to discuss their work, share best practices, and consider ways to enhance the effectiveness of the treaty body system as a whole.

Treaty body strengthening

In 2009, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on State parties as well as on other stakeholders to initiate a process of reflection on how to streamline and strengthen the treaty body system to achieve better coordination among these mechanisms and in their interaction with Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review.

NGO, civil society and NHRI (National Human Rights Institutions) engagement with the Treaty bodies (deadlines for submissions)

Civil society actors, non-governmental organizations and National Human Rights Institutions have a key role to play in assisting the Committees and the treaty bodies to fulfil their mandate effectively. Their participation in the Committee’s activities provides a comprehensive picture of the human rights situation in States parties, and of the way they are implementing each of the rights and obligations enshrined in the respective Convention.

Human Rights Impact stories

The  impact stories highlight the direct impact on victims or positive change in legislation or policy in a State party or impact on the development of international law and jurisprudence to which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the human rights treaty bodies, special procedures, the UPR, and the Humanitarian Funds have contributed. We would welcome your feedback by writing to [email protected].