What are they?
Treaty bodies, as their name suggests, are set up under individual treaties. This makes them different from other UN bodies (called 'charter bodies') that are established under the UN Charter (eg, the Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council).
Treaty bodies are committees of independent experts responsible for monitoring how 'State parties' (ie those States that have signed and ratified the relevant treaty, or are 'a party to') implement the treaty. When a State ratifies a treaty, it assumes a legal obligation to incorporate it, including the bits about human rights, into its national law.
As there are nine human rights treaties, there are nine treaty bodies, one of which is the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Since children have all human rights, all other treaties and their respective bodies apply equally to children, and some have specific articles that relate to children. The treaty bodies include:
The Human Rights Committee monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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 Rights of the Child (CRC) monitors the implementation of the Convention on Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols (one on children in armed conflict; one on the sale of children and child porngraphy; and one setting up a complaints mechanism).
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) monitors the 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 the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The Committee Against Torture (CAT) monitors the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol focusing on persons deprived of their liberty.
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 the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) monitors the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
What do they do?
Their job is enforce a human rights treaty and monitor its implementation by States. This means they have a huge role to play when it comes to how effective the UN is at promoting and protecting human rights.
There are a number of ways treaty bodies promote and protect human rights, and the main ones are described below.
Examine State parties adherence to the treaty
When each treaty body is in session (you can find out when these are in our events calendar) they review a number of States for observance of the treaty and how it has been implemented into national law.
State parties are required to submit periodic reports that treaty bodies make concluding observations on, which include comments on how well the treaty has been implemented (or not) as well as recommendations for the State to improve implementation.
This is a good opportunity for NGOs because they can submit alternative reports to what the State has produced. In collaboration with Child Rights Connect, CRIN posts all NGO submissions to the Committee on Rights of the Child in the library section of our website. Child Rights Connect gives advice and helps NGOs get involved with the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and submit these alternative reports.
These are important because they clarify or give concrete details of what an issue or article in a treaty means and how it should be applied. It is the responsibility of each Committee to write these, but at times, Committees may call upon the expertise of civil society, academics, or others to help in drafting general comments. There is no formal process for this as it is done on an ad hoc basis. Opportunities to participate and deadlines tend to be publicly advertised and we will announce these where relevant on our library section of our website, or you can subscribe to our CRINmail to be kept up to date.
Days of General Discussion
These are thematic discussions where the treaty body examines a particular human rights issue. The body then usually issues recommendations or conclusions. NGOs can play an important role here as they are often invited to make written contributions in advance of a meeting, and take part in the meeting itself. In partnership with Child Rights Connect, we post all NGO submissions to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in the library section of our website.
Treaty bodies can help stop human rights violations and give redress. All the above treaty bodies have the ability to hear individual complaints.
The UN Human Rights Office maintains an online database, http://juris.ohchr.org, that contains all case law issued by the treaty bodies. Users can submit comments on the database as part of efforts to improve it.
CRIN has developed the CRC complaints mechanism toolkit for children’s rights campaigners on how to take a case to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and have done an analysis of existing complaints mechanisms under other treaties and how they can be used to enforce children’s rights.