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    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    United Nations and International Human Rights Law: Charter Bodies and Treaty Bodies

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  • Introduction

    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

    Human Rights Bodies

    Charter-based Bodies

    Human Rights Council
    Universal Periodic Review Working Group
    Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

    Special Procedures

    Commission on Human Rights
    Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

    Treaty-based Bodies

    Human Rights Committee
    Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
    Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
    Committee against Torture
    Committee on the Rights of the Child
    Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
    Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

    Availability of Documents
    Introduction

    Human rights are fundamental to the United Nations. The Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations states that "We the peoples of the United Nations [are] determined... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…."

    One of the early acts of the General Assembly was to draft and adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (resolution 217 A of 10 December 1948). The Audiovisual Library of International Law provides an introduction to the declaration and its impact, a procedural history, and citation to the key documents. For the 60th anniversary, the UN libraries digitized the documents related to its drafting; these are available through a dedicated website as well as through the Official Document System (ODS) and UNBISnet, the library’s catalogue.

    More recent UN actions include the adoption of international human rights treaties, the creation of the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1993 and the establishment of the Human Rights Council in 2006.

    During its 60th session, the General Assembly adopted the World Summit Outcome, resolution 60/1 of September 2005, which called, inter alia, for strengthening of the UN’s human rights mechanisms. Reform of the human rights mechanisms is ongoing and the documentation is changing to reflect the changes. This guide provides an overview of current practice, as well as guidance on the historical documentation.

    >United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

    By resolution 48/141 of 20 December 1993, the General Assembly created the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Human Rights Bodies

    The Organization's work in human rights is carried out by a number of bodies. When researching human rights issues, a distinction must be made between Charter-based and treaty-based human rights bodies.

    Charter-based bodies:

    • derive their establishment from provisions contained in the Charter of the United Nations,
    • hold broad human rights mandates,
    • address an unlimited audience, and
    • take action based on majority voting.

    Treaty-based bodies:

    • derive their existence from provisions contained in a specific legal instrument,
    • hold more narrow mandates (i.e., the set of issues codified in the legal instrument),
    • address a limited audience (i.e., only those countries that have ratified the legal instrument), and
    • base their decision-making on consensus.

    Charter-based bodies

    The current Charter-based bodies are the Human Rights Council and its subsidiaries, including the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, and the Advisory Committee. Previously, the Charter-based bodies were the Commission on Human Rights and its subsidiaries, including the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

    The documents of the Charter-based bodies are available in several places.

    General UN documents databases, such as the Official Document System (ODS) and the library’s catalogue, UNBISnet, provide access to the full-text.

    UN-I-QUE, UN Info Quest, provides citation to selected types of documents. Each record within UN-I-QUE is presented in reverse chronological order and is historically comprehensive. This database focuses on documents and publications of a recurrent nature, such as:

    • annual and sessional reports of committees and commissions;
    • reports periodically/irregularly issued such as of special rapporteurs, independent experts, working groups, or missions to countries.
    In addition, specialized human rights document databases have been developed, including the Charter-based bodies database and the Universal Human Rights Index.

    Human Rights Council (2006- )

    The Human Rights Council was established by General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006. The Human Rights Council is the successor of the Commission on Human Rights. The Council meets in regular session three times annually and in special session as needed, and reports to the General Assembly.

    Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007, “Institution-building of the United Nations Human Rights Council,” sets out the main mechanisms and subsidiary bodies of the Council; General Assembly resolution 62/219 of 22 December 2007, inter alia, endorses the decision of the Human Rights Council to adopt resolution 5/1. The text of Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 is found in its report to the General Assembly for its 5th session (A/62/53).

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol A/HRC/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol A/HRC/[session]/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports are published initially as A/HRC/- documents. An annual cumulation covering all sessions for a year is later issued as Supplement 53 to the Official Records of the General Assembly (list of symbols). The reports provide summaries of the work concluded and contain the texts of resolutions and decisions adopted by the Council.
    • Resolutions and decisions are not released as separate documents but may be retrieved as individual items through the Charter-based bodies database.
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Council, issued under the series symbol HRC/-, are accessible through the search option at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.

    Universal Periodic Review Working Group (2007- )

    General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, which established the Human Rights Council, mandates a universal periodic review of each state's fulfillment of its human rights obligations and commitments. Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007, “Institution-building of the United Nations Human Rights Council,” sets out the main elements of the universal periodic review.

    The Universal Periodic Review Working Group holds three sessions per year. At each session, sixteen countries are reviewed, resulting in a four year-cycle to complete review of all 192 member states of the UN.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol A/HRC/WG.6/[session]/[country abbreviation]/-.
    • The Working Group issues a report for each country which summarizes the meetings held and includes conclusions or recommendations.
    • As of June 2009, the Working Group has not issued a sessional report that covers all the activities of the Working Group during the course of one session.
    • The OHCHR has developed a special database for the documentation related to the universal periodic review.

    Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (2007- )

    The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee was established by Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007. The Advisory Committee is composed of 18 experts serving in their personal capacity and functions as a think-tank for the Council. The Advisory Committee supercedes the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol A/HRC/AC/[session]/-.
    • The sessional reports carry a double symbol A/HRC/- and A/HRC/AC- (list of symbols). The reports contain the texts of recommendations and provide brief summaries of the meetings.
    • Press releases from the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site provide summaries of the statements made in meetings of the Advisory Committee. The OHCHR Media Centre also issues press releases related to the work of the Advisory Committee.

    Special Procedures (1947- )

    The Human Rights Council has responsibility for the special procedures, including those originally established by the Commission on Human Rights. The special procedures include special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts, and working groups, that investigate, discuss, and report on specific human rights issues under a country mandate or thematic mandate.

    • The series symbol under which special procedure documents are issued may vary. They may report on the topic to a principal organ, the Human Rights Council, or to a subsidiary body. UN-I-QUE provides comprehensive lists of the reports issued (e.g. reports of the Working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances).
    • Since 2006, documents of the special procedures are generally issued under the series symbol A/HRC/-.
    • Prior to 2006, documents were usually issued under the series symbol E/CN.4/- or E/CN.4/Sub.2/-.
    • Since 1994, the special procedures have met annually as a group. The report of this meeting is transmitted by a note of the High Commissioner (list of symbols).

    Commission on Human Rights (1946-2006)

    The Commission on Human Rights was established by Economic and Social Council resolution 5 (I) of 16 February 1946. The Commission met in annual and, when required, special sessions and reported to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Commission on Human Rights concluded its 62nd and final session on 27 March 2006; its work is continued by the Human Rights Council.

    • Working documents were issued under the series symbol E/CN.4/-.
    • Summary records of meetings were issued under the series symbol E/CN.4/[year]/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports carried a double symbol (series E/- and E/CN.4/-) and were published as Supplements to the Official Records of the Economic and Social Council (list of symbols). They provide summaries of the work concluded and contain the texts of resolutions and decisions adopted by the Commission.
    • Resolutions and decisions were not released as separate documents in paper format but some may be retrieved as individual items through the Charter-based bodies database.
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Commission, issued under the series symbol HR/CN/-, are accessible through the search option at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.

    Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (1947-2006)

    The Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was established by the Commission on Human Rights under the authority of Economic and Social Council resolution 9 (II) of 21 June 1946. The name was changed from Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities by ECOSOC decision 1999/256 of 27 July 1999. The work of the Subcommission is continued by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee.

    • The Subcommission met in annual sessions from 1947-2006 (list of symbols). Prior to 19 June 2006, the Subcommission reported to the Commission on Human Rights; its final report was submitted to the Human Rights Council.
    • Working documents were issued under the series symbol E/CN.4/Sub.2/-. The working documents of the final session were issued under the series symbol A/HRC/Sub.1/-.
    • Summary records were issued under the series symbol E/CN.4/Sub.2/[year]/SR.[meeting number]. The summary records of the meetings of the final session were issued under the series symbol A/HRC/Sub.1/[session]/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports carried a double symbol: series E/CN.4/- and E/CN.4/Sub.2/- (list of symbols). They provide summaries of the work concluded and contain the text of resolutions and decisions adopted by the Subcommission.
    • Resolutions and decisions were not released as separate documents in paper format but some may be retrieved as individual items through the Charter-based bodies database.
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Subcommission, issued under the series symbol HR/CN/-, are accessible through the search option at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Many reports were presented to the Subcommission by special procedures, such as working groups and special rapporteurs.

    Treaty-based bodies

    Several UN human rights conventions establish monitoring bodies to oversee the implementation of the treaty provisions. The treaty bodies are composed of independent experts and meet to consider States parties' reports as well as individual complaints or communications. They may also publish general comments on the treaties they oversee. The treaty-based bodies tend to follow similar patterns of documentation.

    The Secretary-General issues a “Compilation of guidelines on the form and content of reports to be submitted by States parties to the international human rights treaties” (HRI/GEN/2/Rev.6). This document provides details on the reporting requirements, including the core document, and treaty-specific documents.

    The documents of the treaty-based bodies are available in several places.

    General UN documents databases, such as the Official Document System (ODS) and the library’s catalogue, UNBISnet, provide access to the full-text.

    UN-I-QUE, UN Info Quest, provides citation to selected types of documents. Each record within UN-I-QUE is presented in reverse chronological order and is historically comprehensive. This database focuses on documents and publications of a recurrent nature, such as:

    • sessional reports of committees;
    • periodic reports of the states parties.

    In addition, specialized human rights document databases have been developed, including the treaty-based body database and the Universal Human Rights Index.

    Information about the treaties, including the texts and current status, is available from the UN Treaty Collection and from the OHCHR treaty-body Website. The historic archives section of the Audiovisual Library of International Law provides a growing number of scholarly essays on the human rights conventions, their impact, procedural history, and key documents from the drafting process.

    Human Rights Committee

    The Human Rights Committee was established pursuant to Article 28 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee meets in three sessions each year in New York and Geneva.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol CCPR/C/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol CCPR/C/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports are issued as Supplement No. 40 to the Official Records of the General Assembly (list of symbols).
    • From 1977-1987, the Committee published a Yearbook; from 1987-1993, this publication was continued by the Official Records of the Human Rights Committee (list of symbols).
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Committee, issued under the series symbol HR/CT/-, are accessible through the search option at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Article 40 of the Covenant requires States parties to submit an initial report within one year of the Covenant’s entry into force for the State party concerned and then upon the Committee’s request.
    • The Committee also considers communications under the Optional Protocol received from individuals who assert that their rights have been violated without domestic redress. The texts of the Committee's final decisions under the Protocol are included in its annual reports, as well as periodically cumulated on a selective basis (list of symbols).

    Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

    The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was established by Economic and Social Council resolution 1985/17 of 28 May 1985, to supervise the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and functions like a treaty body. The Committee meets in two sessions each year in Geneva.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol E/C.12/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol E/C.12/[year]/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports carry a double symbol (E/- and E/C.12/-) and are issued as Supplements to the Official Records of the Economic and Social Council (list of symbols).
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Committee, issued under the series symbol HR/-, are accessible through the search option at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Economic and Social Council resolution 1988/4 of 24 May 1988, requires States parties to submit an initial report within two years of its entry into force for the State party concerned and then every five years.

    Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

    The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was established pursuant to Article 8 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Committee meets in two sessions each year in Geneva.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol CERD/C/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol CERD/C/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports are issued as Supplement No. 18 to the Official Records of the General Assembly (list of symbols).
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Committee, issued under the series symbol RD/-, are accessible through the search option at the at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Article 9 requires States parties to submit an initial report within one year after its entry into force for the State party concerned and then every two years.

    Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

    The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was established pursuant to Article 17 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Committee meets in two sessions each year. Beginning in 2008, meetings are held in Geneva; previously all meetings were held in New York.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol CEDAW/C/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol CEDAW/C/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports are issued as Supplement No. 38 to the Official Records of the General Assembly (list of symbols). The reports were also issued cumulatively in the series The Work of CEDAW (list of symbols).
    • Press releases, issued under the series symbol WOM/-, are accessible through the search option at the at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Article 18 requires States parties to submit an initial report within one year after its entry into force for the State Party concerned and then every four years.

    Committee against Torture

    The Committee against Torture was established pursuant to Article 17 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee meets in two sessions each year in Geneva.


    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol CAT/C/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol CAT/C/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports are issued as Supplement No. 44 to the Official Records of the General Assembly (list of symbols).
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Committee, issued under the series symbol HR/-, are accessible through the search option at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Article 19 requires States parties to submit an initial report within one year after its entry into force for the State Party concerned and then every four years.

    Committee on the Rights of the Child

    The Committee on the Rights of the Child was established pursuant to Article 43 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee meets in three sessions each year in Geneva.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol CRC/C/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol CRC/C/SR.[meeting number].
    • Sessional reports of the Committee are issued as Supplement No. 41 to the Official Records of the General Assembly (list of symbols).
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Committee, issued under the series symbol HR/-, are accessible through the search option at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Article 44 requires States parties to submit an initial report within two years of its entry into force for the State Party concerned and then every five years.

    Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

    The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Worker and Members of Their Families was established pursuant to Article 72 of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The Committee meets in one session each year in Geneva.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol CMW/C/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol CMW/C/SR.[meeting number].
    • The sessional reports are issued as Supplement No. 48 to the Official Records of the General Assembly (list of symbols).
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Committee, issued under the series symbol HR/-, are accessible through the search option at the at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Article 73 requires States parties to submit an initial report within one year of its entry into force for the State Party concerned and then every five years.

    Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

    The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was established pursuant to Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee meets in two sessions each year in Geneva.

    • Working documents are issued under the series symbol CRPD/C/-.
    • Summary records of meetings are issued under the series symbol CRPD/C/SR.[meeting number].
    • The first session of the Committee was held in February 2009. As of June 2009, the sessional report has not been issued, and the pattern of documentation is not yet established.
    • UN Headquarters press releases for the Committee, issued under the series symbol HR/-, are accessible through the search option at the at the Press Releases website. Other press releases may be available through the UN Office at Geneva News and Media site and the OHCHR Media Centre.
    • Article 35 requires States parties to submit an initial report within two years of its entry into force for the State Party concerned and then every four years.

    Availability of Documents

    The United Nations began publishing documents in electronic format in 1993. Most documents issued prior to 1993 are not yet available online. All General Assembly, Economic and Socical Council, and Security Council resolutions have been digitized and are available through the Official Document System (ODS), the Library's catalogue UNBISnet, and through various websites, including the UN Documentation: Research Guide.

    Older documents, including human rights documents, are being scanned added to the ODS and UNBISnet on a daily basis. UN-I-QUE provides citation to the symbols for documents throughout the history of the organization: each record within UN-I-QUE is comprehensive historically. The Basic Research Tools and Indexes sections of the Research Guide provide more information related to historic research. Documents that are not available online may be consulted in paper at a United Nations Depository Library; please contact your nearest depository for details about its collection.

    Subject terms which might prove useful in conducting a search are: arbitrary detention; capital punishment; economic, social and cultural rights; genocide; human rights in armed conflicts; human rights violations; religious intolerance; right to development; right to food; right to peace; torture and other cruel treatment; war crimes; etc. Additional descriptors may be identified through the UNBIS Thesaurus. Proper names (e.g., Declaration on a Culture of Peace; Expert Seminar on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty) may also be used for constructing subject searches.

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