The United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies are committees of experts created to monitor governments’ implementation of specific human rights conventions. Currently, 10 of the human rights agreements drafted under the auspices of the United Nations are overseen by treaty bodies. Each committee’s mandate is defined in the treaty it oversees or in a protocol to that treaty.
Each committee – with the exception of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture – issues concluding observations based on its review of each State party’s reports regarding its implementation of the treaty’s provisions, which generally must be submitted every few years. The same nine treaty bodies are also authorized to publish general comments (also called “general recommendations”) interpreting the scope of each treaty’s provisions or providing guidance on issues related to its mandate. Some treaty bodies also organize general or thematic discussions, which focus on a particular right or aspect of each convention.
Currently, eight of the 10 UN treaty bodies may also receive and decide individual complaints (also called “communications”) regarding violations allegedly committed by those States that have authorized the committee to receive complaints against them. States generally can accede to the individual complaints mechanism by signing the relevant protocol or submitting the necessary declaration to the treaty. The committee issues a decision (“views”) regarding each individual complaint, and while these decisions are not generally considered binding on States, they do represent a reasoned interpretation of the relevant treaty to which the States parties have agreed to be legally bound.
One additional UN treaty body – on the rights of migrant workers – will be authorized to receive individual complaints after 10 States have ratified the necessary instrument.
Some treaty bodies also receive inter-State complaints, which is when one State alleges that another State has violated the relevant treaty.
Finally, some treaty bodies have the competence to consider requests for urgent action or early-warning procedures, which are aimed at preventing or halting serious violations of the relevant convention. Some bodies may initiate confidential inquiries when they receive information regarding grave or systematic violations, so long as the State concerned has agreed to those “inquiry procedures.”
The United Nations Treaty Bodies
- The Human Rights Committee oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and may receive individual communications relating to States parties to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
- The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and may receive individual complaints relating to States parties to the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR.
- The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) oversees implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and may receive individual complaints against States parties that have made the relevant declaration under Article 14 of the ICERD.
- The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and may receive individual communications relating to States parties to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.
- The Committee Against Torture (CAT) oversees implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (Convention against Torture) and may accept individual complaints against States parties that have made the relevant declaration under Article 22 of the CAT.
- The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), which was established pursuant to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OP-CAT), visits places of detention and advises States and National Preventive Mechanisms on best practices to prevent torture and ill-treatment.
- The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two protocols. The Committee accepts individual complaints against States parties that have ratified the Third Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure.
- The Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) oversees implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW). An individual complaints mechanism is pending and will begin operating when 10 States parties have made the relevant declaration pursuant to Article 77 of the CMW.
- The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD) and may receive individual complaints against States parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
- The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) monitors implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) and may consider individual complaints against States parties that have recognized the Committee’s competence pursuant to Article 31 of the Convention.
Resources for Advocates
For further information about the mandate, outputs, and jurisdiction of each UN human rights treaty body, see the IJRC page on each committee (linked to above).
View the exhaustion guide for an overview of how the UN human rights treaty bodies interpret and apply the procedural requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies in their complaints processes.
Each treaty body’s decisions, concluding observations on States’ reports, and general comments on treaty provisions can be most effectively searched through the UN Treaty Body Database, treaty body Jurisprudence Database, and other resources listed in the Jurisprudence & Documents Databases section of this Online Resource Hub.
The UN also maintains a list of general comments issued by the treaty bodies.
See IJRC’s Country Factsheets for an overview of which UN (and regional) human rights treaties and complaint mechanisms a particular country has accepted. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also maintains information on the current status of States’ ratification and reporting on its Human Rights Bodies page.
The UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s UN Treaty-Based Bodies Research Guide provides useful information on researching, citing, and identifying documents published by the treaty bodies.