How to follow-up to treaty body concluding observations

Treaty body recommendations are an important tool. Their authority is based on the fact that the mandate of the treaty bodies to review states compliance with the specific treaty provisions is in itself enshrined in the treaty, which as a whole is legally binding for states that have ratified it.

NGOs and others can play an important role in holding governments to account for the implementation of their obligations under both the treaties and the recommendations made by treaty bodies.

What are concluding observations?

The treaty bodies issue their recommendations, known as "concluding observations" at the end of each session and usually follow this format:

  • a short section identifying positive factors regarding the implementation of the treaty
  • factors impeding implementation of the treaty
  • matters of concern
  • recommendations

In terms of quantity and quality, the concluding observations can vary between treaty bodies – or even within the same treaty body on different countries. Factors that affect the quality of the concluding observations include the level of detailed information received from the state party, from NGOs and others (e.g. UN agencies) as well as the competence of the treaty body members.

Disseminate treaty body concluding observations to other NGOs, civil society and the general public

The work of the treaty bodies can be overshadowed by other activities undertaken by the UN, and many NGOs, in particular national ones, are not aware of their work. Often, the process by which a government prepares its report to a treaty body does not always give rise to much interest at the national level.

NGOs can play a role in disseminating the concluding observations to their partners and other NGOs. Even though states are requested to do this by the treaty bodies, they do not necessarily publicize either their report or the concluding observations.

It is sometimes possible to form NGO coalitions around treaty body work, as this can be a particularly effective way to pool resources, skills and expertise, and apply maximum pressure on the government.

National media can play an important role throughout the process of consideration of a report by treaty bodies. NGOs can alert their media contacts to concluding observations from the treaty body meeting and encourage them to write an article/broadcast an item which reflects these, depending on how you think you can best raise awareness.

If your plan is to influence e.g. legislators, politicians or the judiciary, think about which media they are most likely to watch, read or listen to. If you want to raise awareness among the general public, it might be that different newspapers or radio stations could be the best conduit for your message.

If you cannot secure media interest in writing an article/broadcasting an item, consider writing a letter to the editor(s) or joining radio phone-ins or organizing events which will attract media attention (e.g. petitions or using local/national celebrities).

Parliamentarians also have a key role to play in the treaty body process by raising questions with the government about the preparation of a state party report (to encourage broad national consultations) and to check the state of implementation once the concluding observations are available. This can be a means of regularly encouraging the state to put into practice the recommendations of the treaty bodies.

Treaty bodies' follow up procedure

All treaty bodies require states parties to provide information on implementation of concluding observations and some have developed formal mechanisms to look at the steps taken by governments to implement their recommendations. (At this time, only the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) do not request states to provide follow up information).

Other treaty bodies – such as the Human Rights Committee (HRCommittee) and the Committee against Torture (CAT) - issue time-bound recommendations, giving the state a deadline by which it must report back on the implementation of particular recommendations – usually within a year of the adoption of the Committee's recommendations.

A treaty body member is also designated as rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations and reports regularly to the treaty body on the degree of responses from governments on their implementation of the treaty body's recommendations. States responses are posted on the treaty body's webpage.

NGOs can provide information on status of implementation of recommendations to the relevant treaty body secretariat to ensure the Committee's follow up procedure is informed by alternative information. NGO input is also posted on the treaty body's webpage.

Following up with the government

It is important to follow up with your government to build on the recommendations of the treaty bodies and to maintain pressure. This can be done by:

  • sending letters to your head of state and/or the ministry responsible for presenting the report to the treaty body, or
  • requesting meetings with relevant government officials.

When writing to or meeting with the government, you can:

  • Refer to the recommendations from the treaty body meeting, in particular those in which your NGOs have a special interest.
  • Ask the government how it will incorporate the recommendations in its activities. Try to be specific about finding out how the government will proceed – by asking, for example, if it will incorporate the recommendations into its on-going plans; how it will decide on time-frames; how it will prioritize; whether it will consult with NGOs; whether it plans to make such consultation an on-going dialogue; what money is being ear-marked for implementation; and who in the government will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the recommendations?
  • Ask the government how it plans to disseminate the findings of the treaty body in relevant languages (if appropriate), within the relevant government bodies and to the general public, as is required by the treaty bodies.
  • Try to engage as many other interested parties at an early stage so that they can also ask questions. These parties might include your member of parliament, professional associations (e.g. bar associations, trade unions) or representatives of national institutions.

Technical assistance

The treaty bodies are becoming more aware of the importance of recommending technical assistance, sometimes specifying that this should be provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or by a UN agency. Such recommendations are often fairly broad in nature, e.g. calling for technical assistance in the area of judicial reform.

Technical assistance programmes are subject to a government's express request, but NGOs can play an important role in ensuring that such programmes are set up and take into account the recommendations of treaty bodies and NGOs, particularly at the time when assessment missions are being undertaken by technical assistance staff.

Technical assistance projects from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva runs various technical assistance projects, some of which stem directly from recommendations of treaty monitoring bodies. The OHCHR also organizes regional workshops on the implementation of treaty bodies' recommendations.

Information about current activities is available from the OHCHR website. You can contact the OHCHR through this website to find out what projects are planned and whether they reflect the recommendations of the treaty bodies

Technical assistance projects run by UN agencies

Given the complexity of the UN system, the work of treaty monitoring bodies is not necessarily known by all representatives of the UN. However, the UN as an organization has stated its commitment to integrating human rights across the board. NGOs and others can draw treaty body recommendations to the attention of representatives of UN agencies working in a particular country and ask what possibilities exist for reflecting the recommendations in their work.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) coordinates all UN activities in a country. The UNDP website contains country-specific information about what the UNDP is doing and how to contact UNDP in your country. Other agencies include the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), both of which have specific programmes on human rights.

How you can help