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What are Treaty Bodies?

Treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the provisions on the core United Nations human rights treaties by States parties. They do this primarily by reviewing the implementation reports submitted by State parties. Some treaty bodies also have a mandate to receive individual complaints and conduct inquiries.

Methods of Work

In addition to its obligation to implement the substantive provisions of the treaty, each State party is under an obligation to submit regular reports on how the rights in the treaties to which it is a party are being implemented. The relevant treaty committee considers these reports in the light of all information including that provided by other organisations, such as NGOs, NHRIs and UN entities and through oral and written questions to the State party. Based ont his process the committee adopts what are generally known as "concluding observations" which refer to positive aspects of a State's implementation of the treaty and areas where the treaty body recommends the State to take further action.

Human Rights Committee

The Human Rights Committee (HRC) is the committee of most relevance in the scene of enforced disappearances of all treaty bodies.

The HRC was established to monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Protocols in the territory of states party to the ICCPR. The HRC is formed by 18 independent experts and convenes three times a year for sessions lasting three weeks. These meetings take place normally in New York in March, and in Geneva in July and November. 

For the HRC to monitor the implementation of the ICCPR it has been mandated to perform the following tasks:

  1. To assess the reports presented by the State parties as well as the shadow reports presented by NGO’s and other stakeholders.
  2. To  issue its interpretations of the content of the human rights provisions of the ICCPR. These documents are known as general comments and are important documents since they contain the most authoritative interpretations of human rights and are very valuable to be brought forward in advocacy work or legal procedures.
  3. To consider inter-state complaints whereby one state party complaints about alleged violations of the ICCPR by another state party. 
  4. To consider Individual Complaints (often called communications) from groups or individuals.


HRC and Individual Complaints

If the HRC finds a violation of the ICCPR in an individual complaint, it adopts ‘views’. These views don’t have a legally binding effect, but the HRC will recommend the state to undertake certain measures of reparation. The remedy can take specific forms like:

  1. Payment of compensation
  2. Repeal or amendment of legislation
  3. Release of a detained person

The HRC’s Special Rapporteur on Follow-up on Views will also take up the case and communicate with the parties in order to facilitate a satisfactory resolution.

Situations of urgency requiring immediate action fall under rule 86 of Rules of procedure of the Human Rights Committee. In such cases there could be the adoption of interim measures (like protection of witnesses) to avert irreparable harm before the complaint is considered.

When making a complaint to the HRC it is important to consider the following:

  1. Complaints can only be made against states that are parties of both the ICCPR and the First Additional Protocol
  2. Communications cannot be anonymous
  3. A complaint cannot be considered if the same problem is being simultaneously investigated under another international procedure (however UNWGEID and the 1503 procedure do not qualify as international procedures)
  4. All domestic remedies must have been exhausted
  5. The person making the complaint doesn’t need to be familiar with legal or technical terms.
  6. NGOs can also submit reports and written information concerning specific cases to the HRC. They can submit complaints of enforced disappearance (with authorization from the family) or they can submit “alternative reports” concerning the situation of human rights in given countries to the HRC.
  7. All communications must be submitted in writing. As a signature is required, the complaint cannot be forwarded by e-mail.

ICCPR and Enforced Disappearances

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a United Nations treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created in 1966 and entered into force on 23 March 1976 as a sufficient number of states had become parties.

The ICCPR is divided into six mayor parts. The first three Parts set provisions about all the rights described in the Covenant and elaborates in substantive individual rights. The final Parts deal with the establishment of the Human Rights Committee, its monitoring functions and technical aspects

Articles in the ICCPR related to enforced disappearances are:

  1. Right to effective remedies (Art. 2)
  2. Right to life (Art. 6)
  3. Prohibition of torture (Art. 7)
  4. Right to liberty and security (Art. 9)
  5. Rights of persons deprived of their liberties (Art. 10)
  6. Right to a fair trial (Art 14)

Depending on the specific circumstances of the case, one can also invoke:

  1. Right to respect for private and family life (Art. 17)
  2. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 18)
  3. Freedom of expression (Art. 19)
  4. Rights of the family (Art. 23)
  5. Rights of the child (Art. 24)
  6. Political rights (Art. 25)
  7. Prohibition of discrimination (Art. 26)