The Human Rights Committee is the United Nations human rights treaty body responsible for overseeing implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) through its consideration of State reports, individual complaints, and inter-State complaints, and its preparation of general comments, substantive statements, and general discussions on topics addressed in the ICCPR. As of September 2021, 173 States are party to the ICCPR.
- WORKING METHODS
- CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
- RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The Human Rights Committee consists of 18 independent experts who are elected for a term of four years by States Parties to the ICCPR. See ICCPR, arts. 28, 32. Each member must be a national of a State Party to the ICCPR, of high moral character, and have recognized competence in the field of international human rights. See ICCPR, art. 28. No more than one national of a State can be included in the Committee. See ICCPR, art. 31. Further information about the election process can be found on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ web page on Elections of Treaty Body Members.
The Human Rights Committee works on a part-time basis and makes decisions during its sessions, generally held three times per year in either Geneva, Switzerland or New York, United States of America. The current meeting schedule can be found on the Meetings and Deadlines section of the Human Rights Committee’s main web page.
One year after the ICCPR’s entry into force, each State Party must submit a report to the Human Rights Committee detailing the status of its implementation of the ICCPR’s provisions. After the initial report, a State will submit periodic reports when the Bureau of the Human Rights Committee requests them. Historically, the first step in the Human Rights Committee’s review of periodic State reports has been the State’s submission of its report addressing the advances made since the previous reporting cycle, after which the Committee would adopt a list of issues to identify the topics it most wanted to discuss during a constructive dialogue with the State. On the basis of the reports and replies to the list of issues submitted by the State and civil society, the Committee would then prepare its concluding observations.
The Human Rights Committee has adopted a simplified reporting procedure, also referred to as “list of issues prior to reporting.” The first step of this procedure is that the Committee prepares the list of issues, to which the State responds. See Human Rights Committee, Guidelines for the Treaty-Specific Document to be Submitted by States Parties under Article 40 of the ICCPR, CCPR/C/2009/1, 20 November 2010, paras. 14-15. In 2020, the Committee moved to an “opt-out” model of the simplified reporting procedure, meaning that the State will respond to the Committee’s list of issue – rather than first preparing its own report – unless the State informs the Committee that it wants to use the traditional reporting procedure. See OHCHR, The Predictable Review Cycle.
The Committee has also agreed to limit the number of questions in each list of issues to 25 questions and has moved to a predictable review cycle based on an eight-year cycle of review, which will include a five-year review process and a three-year interval after one review process. See OHCHR, The Predictable Review Cycle. The UN Treaty Body Database’s master calendar indicates when the list of issues, State report, and concluding observations are due.
For more information about the simplified reporting procedure, see the Decision of the Human Rights Committee on additional measures to simplify the reporting procedure and increase predictability and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on strengthening the human rights treaty bodies, United Nations reform: measures and proposals, UN Doc. A/66/860, 26 June 2012.
The Committee may still decide to request a full report from a State, “[i]n particular, where a fundamental change has occurred in the State party’s political or legal approach to ensuring the enjoyment of Covenant rights…” See Guidelines for the Treaty-Specific Document to be Submitted by States Parties under Article 40 of the ICCPR, 20 November 2010, at para. 15. The State under review may also decide to use the traditional reporting method. See id. For those States submitting full reports, the UN Secretary General has prepared a Compilation of Guidelines on the Form and Content of Reports to be Submitted by State Parties to the International Human Rights Treaties, HRI/GEN/2/Rev. 6, 3 June 2009, containing more specific information on the form and content of State reports.
Whether the list of issues is adopted before or after the State submits its report, a Country Report Task Force of between four and six members takes primary responsibility for creating the list. A designed individual member of the Task Force, the “country rapporteur,” is responsible for overseeing the drafting of the list of issues and the Task Force members are then charged with taking the lead on specific questions.
Following the submission of a State report, the Human Rights Committee engages in an in-person constructive dialogue with representatives of the State party about the list of issues and the contents of the State and civil society reports submitted. The members of the Country Task Force responsible for preparing the list of issues generally have priority when asking questions of the State party representatives. These constructive dialogues are held during the Committee’s sessions and are generally webcast live on on UN Web TV.
The last phase of the process is for the Committee to draft and adopt concluding observations, a document which includes: an introduction, positive aspects, factors and difficulties impeding the ICCPR’s implementation, principal subjects of concern, and suggestions and recommendations. A provisional due date for the State party’s next periodic report is also given. The Committee will implement a follow-up procedure for two to four recommendations in its concluding observations for immediate implementation within one year. See Other Activities of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Participation of Stakeholders in the Human Rights Treaty Body Process, UN Doc. HRI/MC/2013/3/Corr.1, 22 April 2013, para. 2. A Special Rapporteur is also appointed for follow-up to concluding observations, and will produce a follow-up progress report for each session. The Committee keeps a current list of concluding observations.
The Human Rights Committee may consider individual complaints that allege a violation of an individual’s rights under the ICCPR if the State is a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which establishes the complaints mechanism. See First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966; entered into force 23 March 1976). Articles 1 through 5 of the Optional Protocol identify the requirements for the Committee’s consideration of an individual complaint. As of September 2021, 116 States are party to the Optional Protocol.
In order to submit an individual complaint, the model complaint form may be used to provide: (1) basic information, (2) the State party to which the complaint is directed against and the rights set out in the ICCPR that have been alleged to be violated, (3) steps taken to exhaust domestic remedies, (4) a chronological list of facts on which the complaint is based, and (5) a checklist of supporting documents, including copies of complaints or decisions before domestic courts and corroborating evidence. All individual complaints should be submitted to the Petitions Team mailing address:
Petitions and Inquiries Section
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
The Human Rights Committee’s searchable table of jurisprudence organizes its recent decisions by ICCPR article, subject matter, procedural issues, and outcome. The Committee also keeps a full list of its jurisprudence, which may be organized or searched by country or date, but which does not provide a description of the issues addressed in each decision. More information for the procedure on individual complaints can be found in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 23 Frequently Asked Questions about Treaty Body Complaints Procedure and Procedure for Complaints by Individuals under the Human Rights Treaties webpage.
Article 41 of the ICCPR provides a mechanism for States to complain about violations of the ICCPR made by another State. See ICCPR, art. 41. Both States concerned must have made declarations accepting this procedure, or the complaint will not be considered. This procedure for inter-State complaints, however, has never been used.
Early warning measures were used in the 1990s when the Human Rights Committee asked several States (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Burundi, Angola, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nigeria) either to present their overdue reports without delay or to prepare ad hoc reports on specific issues. The Bureau of the Human Rights Committee discussed the possibility of reviving the urgent procedure mechanism in March of 2004, but has not yet done so as of 2013.
Complaints of Systematic Violations (Inquiry Procedures)
The Human Rights Committee does not have a system in place for initiating inquiries regarding allegations of serious or systematic violations of the ICCPR.
The Human Rights Committee issues general comments to clarify the scope and meaning of the ICCPR’s articles. Such general comments help elucidate to States Parties what the Committee’s views are on the obligations each State has assumed by acceding to the ICCPR. Each general comment specifically targets a particular article of the ICCPR and is included on the Human Rights Committee’s list of general comments that have been drafted or adopted.
Open Letters and Statements
The Human Rights Committee will also, infrequently, make substantive statements, similar to pronouncements or press releases, regarding State practices or human rights conditions of concern, or commenting on developments within the UN human rights system.
Thematic Discussions and Conferences
The Human Rights Committee may also host general discussions to solicit input from other UN agencies, national human rights institutions, NGOs, and interested civil society stakeholders on topics of interest. As of January 2020, the Human Rights Committee had organized three general discussions. The first general discussion took place in October 2012 to prepare the drafting of the Committee’s General Comment on Article 9 (Liberty and Security of Person) of the ICCPR. The second general discussion took place in July 2015 to enhance the drafting process of the Committee’s General Comment on Article 6 (Right to Life) of the ICCPR. During the latest general discussion, which took place in March 2019, the Committee prepared the drafting of its General Comment on Article 21 (Right to Peaceful Assembly) of the ICCPR.
CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
NGOs and other civil society groups do not require ECOSOC consultative status to engage with the Human Rights Committee. Furthermore, any group may submit information to the Committee or prepare an individual complaint on behalf of a victim. Certain requirements, including prior registration, regulate civil society organizations’ participation in-person in the Committee’s sessions, however.
Non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society are encouraged to participate in the Human Rights Committee’s activities by providing alternative reports that contain information on States’ implementation of the ICCPR, comment on State reports and State replies to a list of issues, and convey information on States’ progress with regard to the Committee’s previous concluding observations. See Human Rights Committee, The Relationship of the Human Rights Committee with Non-Governmental Organizations, CCPR/C/104/3, 4 June 2012, para. 7. The Human Rights Committee also invites NGOs and other civil society stakeholders to address the Committee during the process of drafting lists of issues.
The Human Rights Committee welcomes oral presentations by NGOs and other civil society organizations during the presentation of States parties’ reports. Since its 103rd Session, the Human Rights Committee has allowed NGOs to engage with Committee members during a formal closed meeting preceding the examination of a State party’s report. See Human Rights Committee, The Relationship of the Human Rights Committee with Non-Governmental Organizations, CCPR/C/104/3, 4 June 2012, para. 3. Informal briefings are also allowed.
All NGOs and civil society stakeholders are also welcome to attend Human Right Committee sessions as observers, in which case they will not be given the opportunity to address the Committee.
If an NGO or other civil society stakeholder wishes to attend a Human Rights Committee session, the organization and individual must create an account and register through the United Nations Indico system.
RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The Committee’s outputs can be found on its website and are linked to in the relevant sections above. The UN Treaty Body Database also collects these documents, which may be searched by several criteria, but not by keyword or subject matter. For additional research tools, view the Research Aids section of this Online Resource Hub.
Webcasts of the Human Rights Committee’s sessions are periodically broadcast on UN Web TV.
The International Service for Human Rights’ Simple Guide to UN Treaty Bodies (2015) is a useful resource which examines each treaty bodies’ procedures regarding State reports, individual communications, State-to-State complaints, inquiries, urgent interventions, general comments, and NGO engagement.
Set up in 2008, the Centre for Civil and Political Rights is an organization designed to promote, facilitate, and develop civil society engagement with the Human Rights Committee. Its activities target both national and regional civil society organizations, and any civil society organization whose thematic mandate aligns with the ICCPR.