The UN System has two categories of human rights monitoring bodies:
- UN Charter-based bodies and mechanisms were created based on the UN Charter.
- UN Treaty-based bodies, created under international human rights treaties and made up of independent experts who monitor states’ compliance with their treaty obligations.
Charter-based bodies and mechanisms
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an intergovernmental council made up of 47 states. It strengthens, promotes, and protects human rights around the world.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a cooperative process through which the UNHRC can review human rights situations and records of all member states (193 as of this writing). It was initiated in 2006, and by the end of 2011, every member state had been reviewed once (with the exception of South Sudan, which became a member state in July 2011). The review cycle restarts every four years.
It is up to each state to describe the human rights situation in their country. With support from the UNHRC, states conduct reviews and submit reports. The reports must honestly reflect the human rights situation and declare what actions the state has taken to improve human rights within their borders and to fulfill their obligations in relation to the human rights conventions they have signed. Each country is treated equally when under review. The aim of the UPR is to remind states of their responsibilities and obligations with respect to human rights. Ultimately, the UPR intends to provide information that will enable the UN to address human rights violations across the world.
Complaint Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
The UNHCR has procedures for receiving complaints regarding consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested human rights violations. Under the “1503 Procedure,” as it is known in reference to the resolution under which it was adopted, a complaint is sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which then passes it on to the Human Rights Council. The Working Group on Communications considers whether the complaint is admissible and if so it forwards the complaint to the Working Group on Situations. After considering the complaint, the Working Group makes a report and recommendation to the Human Rights
Council. The UNHCR then considers the complaint in closed sessions and decides on a course of action.
A complaint may be deemed inadmissible if:
- It has manifestly political motivations and is not consistent with human rights law;
- It does not contain a factual description of the alleged violations, including the rights which are alleged to be violated;
- Its language is abusive;
- It is not submitted by the victim or by a person or group with direct knowledge of the violation or with clear evidence;
- It is exclusively based on reports disseminated by mass media;
- It refers to a situation already being dealt with by the UN or regional bodies; or
- Domestic remedies have not been exhausted unless it appears that such remedies would be ineffective or unreasonably prolonged.
Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
From time to time, the UNHCR will research a particular theme, for example, violence against women, freedom of expression, detention without trial, or human trafficking. The processes and means through which the UN conducts this research are known as “Special Procedures.” The term “Special Procedures” is also used to refer to investigations of human rights violations in particular countries.
In 2011, there were Special Procedures mandates to investigate eight countries: Burundi, Cambodia, North Korea, Haiti, Myanmar (Burma), Palestine, Somalia, and Sudan. The people who carry out Special Procedures mandates are “mandate holders.” They work as individuals, in which case they are titled Special Rapporteur, or Special Representative of the SecretaryGeneral, or Independent Expert. Alternately, Special Procedures mandate holders can be a working group, usually comprised of five members — one from each global region. It is very important for mandate-holders to be independent and impartial. Therefore, they serve in their personal capacity and do not receive any payment for their work.
Mandate holders are experts, usually prominent human rights figures from different fields. They include judges, academics, economists, leaders in the NGO sphere, former senior staff of the UN, and lawyers. When Special Procedures mandate-holders receive information about human rights violations in a particular state, they send letters to the government asking for clarification. They may carry out country visits if the government of the country in question agrees. After country visits, the mandate-holders issue a public report, called a mission report, containing their findings and recommendations.
When states sign treaties, they agree to improve the human rights situations in their countries in order to comply with the treaties. The main work of the treaty bodies is to review states’ reports about steps they have taken to comply with their obligations. Four committees (CCPR, CERD, CAT, and CEDAW) can receive petitions from individuals who claim that their rights under the treaties have been violated. The treaty bodies also interpret and comment on the treaties, and organize discussions on themes. There are nine human rights treaty bodies, one for each of the main international treaties.
The Human Rights Committee monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its optional protocols;
The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights;
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) monitors implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its optional protocol;
The Committee Against Torture (CAT) monitors the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment;
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols;
The Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) monitors the implementation of 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 implementation of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
The Committee on Enforced Disappearance (CED) monitors the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The treaty bodies are supported by the Human Rights Treaties Branch of the OHCHR, which is based in Geneva.