Unlike world conference documents and United Nations declarations (such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), human rights treaties carry a continuing legal obligation for the countries that ratify them. There are currently ten human rights treaties and each treaty has a body of experts (treaty monitoring body) that reviews the countries that have ratified the treaty (States parties).
- The Human Rights Committee (CCPR) monitors the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) monitors the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) monitors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
- The Committee Against Torture (CAT) monitors the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
- The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) monitors the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) monitors the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
- The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) monitors the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (OPCAT) has a preventive mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Committee against Torture. It may visit all places of detention and advises states on prevention of torture.
- The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) monitors implementation of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
Women’s Human Rights Treaties
The primary treaty that addresses women’s human rights is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Convention). Ratification of other human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CESCR), also imposes an obligation to eliminate discrimination and to provide for women’s equal enjoyment of those rights. Most countries have ratified one or more of the human rights treaties—so women from almost everywhere can use the treaties to help enforce their human rights.
States that ratify the CEDAW Convention (States parties) agree to take all appropriate measures to improve the status of women and to change laws and customs that impede women’s advancement in political, economic, social, cultural, civil, and all other fields. As of February 2013, the CEDAW Convention had been ratified by 187 countries.The sixteen substantive articles of the Convention outline the obligations to eliminate discrimination and pursue equality in education, health care, employment, family life, and participation in public and political life. Most significantly, States parties undertake to eliminate prejudices and customs that perpetuate stereotyped gender roles and inequality.
States parties are obligated to report on the status of women and girls within one year of ratification and every four years thereafter. A 23-member group of independent experts, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), monitors Convention implementation, reviewing country reports on implementation and addressing individual complaints. When a State party’s report is scheduled for review, any NGO with knowledge of sex discrimination issues in that country may submit a shadow report to be considered by the CEDAW Committee. Guidance for producing a shadow report and presenting it to the Committee is available in IWRAW’s publications, Producing Shadow Reports to the CEDAW Committee: A Procedural Guide and Assessing the Status of Women in the 21st Century: a Guide to Reporting under the CEDAW Convention.
The CEDAW Committee issues Concluding Observations (previously called Concluding Comments) at the end of every Session. These remarks are the official opinion of the CEDAW Committee on the progress the reporting States parties have made in complying with the obligations of the CEDAW Convention.
With the adoption in 2000 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, women from States parties gained an avenue for making individual claims of Convention violations as well as an opportunity to request a CEDAW Committee inquiry into situations of “grave or systematic” violations of women’s human rights. Under the complaints procedure, when a woman’s human rights have been violated, and she has exhausted all possible remedies within her country, she may petition the CEDAW Committee to hear her complaint. Under the inquiry procedure, the Committee may initiate inquiries into situations of “grave or systematic” violations of women’s rights.
For additional information on the Convention and the Committee:
United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (for information through December 31, 2007
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is the treaty that outlines generally the rights to education, health care, employment, and family life stated in more detail in the CEDAW Convention. It includes a clear and fundamental obligation of equality that complements the terms of the CEDAW Convention and provides women with another, broader venue—the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—for claiming their rights. NGO voices are multiplied by having more than one venue for human rights advocacy, and governments pay greater attention when more than one body underscores the obligation to implement women’s human rights. IWRAW’s Equality and Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Guide to Implementation and Monitoring under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, is designed to assist NGOs in using the Covenant.
A shadow report, sometimes called an alternative report, is a document written by NGOs evaluating government efforts to meet the obligations of a human rights treaty.
The reporting process for all human rights treaties includes a requirement that the States parties present a report describing their successes in and challenges to meeting their treaty obligations. A treaty monitoring body, elected according to the terms of the particular treaty, reviews the report and conducts a dialogue with the government officials who present it. NGOs have the opportunity to present a written report on implementation of the treaty. The NGO shadow report provides a response to the State party report, including clarification of factual issues, indication of misleading information, or information on a situation that is absent from the State party report. Each of the treaty monitoring bodies has established a process for NGOs to present their information orally as well as in writing.
Any NGO with credible information may present a shadow report. For information on
- CEDAW shadow reports: consult Assessing the Status of Women
- CESCR shadow reports: consult Equality and Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Guide to Implementation and Monitoring under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Common core document (CCD) shadow reports: consult New Guidelines for Human Rights Treaty Reporting: Opportunities for Women’s Rights NGOs
Shadow reports may only be submitted in conjunction with a treaty body’s review of the particular state. The treaty monitoring body will not review a shadow report apart from the scheduled State party review. (Of course a specific, individual concern may be submitted as a complaint under the Optional Protocol of the treaty if applicable.)
Shadow reports should be submitted to directly to the Secretariat for CCPR, CESCR, CERD, CEDAW, CAT, CWM, and CRPD. For CRC, shadow reports must be submitted to the CRC Coalition.
For current and more detailed information about submitting to a specific treaty body, please see each specific treaty body homepage on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.
The treaty monitoring bodies invite NGOs to provide reports in advance of their pre-sessional working groups (approximately one year prior to the review session) or directly to the treaty body at the time the State is being reviewed. Each treaty body has different procedures for receiving and using NGO reports. Most allow NGOs to make formal presentations during the session in which the State party is being considered. Informal lunchtime meetings with NGOs have become standard for many of the treaty bodies as well. Some treaty body experts are willing to meet individually with NGOs in addition to these briefings.
A comprehensive overview of NGO participation in the work of the treaty bodies as of 2008 is in the “Report on the Working Methods of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies Relating to the State Party Reporting Process,” HRI/MC/2008/4 (05/06/2008). Procedures for interaction with NGOs are subject to change as the treaty monitoring bodies continue to address harmonization of working methods. NGOs should check the home page of specific treaty bodies for the most up-to-date instructions on the process. Submission of reports and initial approaches to treaty body experts are made through the Secretariat; contact information will be on the respective treaty body’s home page.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is engaged in a major effort to harmonize reporting and review of governments’ performance under all the human rights treaties. As of 2012 the General Assembly has also undertaken an “Intergovernmental Process” for strengthening the treaty monitoring system.
One result of this process is the adoption of new guidelines for State party reports to treaty bodies, Harmonized Guidelines on Reporting under the International Human Rights treaties, Including Guidelines on a Common Core Document and Treaty-Specific Documents (HRI/MC/2006/3).
The Common Core Document requirement presents a new opportunity for NGOs to submit a report on women’s human rights to any treaty body without undertaking major efforts in addition to their work with the CEDAW Convention. States parties are now requested to provide a common core document (CCD) that presents an account of the State’s laws and policies relating to non-discrimination, equality, and effective remedies. This document therefore includes information that is directly relevant to monitoring implementation of the CEDAW Convention and the non-discrimination provisions of all the other human rights treaties. It is to be consulted by all the treaty monitoring bodies in their reviews of States’ treaty implementation. Working with the CCD therefore provides an opportunity for women’s human rights NGOs to submit relevant information to any treaty body that is reviewing their government’s human rights performance. For more information about the new CCD guidelines and shadow reporting for the new CCD, please see the IWRAW manual, New Harmonized Guidelines for Human Rights Treaty Reporting: Opportunities for Women’s Human Rights NGOs.
The United States is the only industrialized country—and one of only eight countries in the world—that has not ratified the CEDAW Convention. IWRAW is working with other US-based organizations to promote Convention ratification. Ratification is essential to rebuilding the stature of the United States as a global citizen as well as to increasing accountability of the U.S. government to its own citizens.
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