Human Rights Law Research Guide

This guide will lead researchers through primary materials and introduce important secondary sources. While general human rights sources are covered in the guide, special attention is paid to resources that specifically address international women's human

UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

Brief Overview

Each of the UN's nine core human rights treaties, as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, has a corresponding mechanism, known as a treaty body, responsible for implementing the treaty and for monitoring the compliance of state parties with their obligations under the treaty.  Each treaty body consists of a committee of independent experts, who are elected by the state parties. 

A treaty body differs from a charter body in four key respects:

  • It derives its authority from the provisions of a particular treaty (or protocol thereto), not from the UN Charter.
  • The scope of its authority (mandate) is limited to the set of issues specified in the treaty (or in the relevant protocol thereto).
  • Its authority to monitor compliance and to consider individual complaints is limited to the state parties that have ratified the treaty and any relevant protocols.  It does not extend to all UN member states.
  • Its decision-making is based on consensus, not majority voting.

Country Monitoring

Each treaty body periodically assesses the compliance of each state party with its obligations under the treaty.  The monitoring process varies slightly from one treaty body to the next, but closely resembles the process used by the Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review. 

After ratifying a core human rights treaty, a state party must submit an initial self-assessment of its compliance to the relevant treaty body.  The treaty body then conducts its own review, which typically includes on-site visits and interviews.  The treaty body also solicits input from NGOs and civil society organizations before issuing its own observations and recommendations in the form of a state party report.  The entire process is repeated on a regular basis.

Treaty Body Database
This is the most comprehensive resource for retrieving state party reports issued by the treaty bodies (also known as country reports) and related documentation, including submissions by state parties and NGOs.  Recent state party reports also are available for download from treaty body websites.  (Click here for links.)

Individual Complaints, State-to-State Complaints & Inquiries

Each of the core human rights treaties, or an optional protocol thereto, authorizes the corresponding treaty body to consider complaints about violations of human rights protected by the treaty in question.  The include individual complaints ("communications") brought by (or on behalf of) individual persons against state parties.  Some, but not all, of the core treaties allow state parties to initiate complaints against other state parties (state-to-state complaints).  Some also permit treaty bodies to launch broader inquiries into systematic human rights violations on their own initiative.

Eight of the nine individual complaint mechanisms under the core human rights treaties are operational.  The mechanism under the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers has not yet entered into force.  Note that a state party must acknowledged the competence of the treaty body to hear individual complaints by submitting a declaration to that effect or by ratifying the optional protocol that created the complaint mechanism.  In the absent of such an acknowledgment, no individual complaints may be filed against the state party.

Treaty Body Jurisprudence (JURIS) Database
Use this searchable database to retrieve decisions on admissibility and on the merits issued by all treaty bodies authorized to consider individual complaints against state parties.  For greater precision, use the Advanced Search form, which allows you to limit searches by date, by country, by treaty body (committee), by treaty article, by issue, and by type of decision.