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Treaty Bodies

The Core International Human Rights Treaties

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 10th of December 1948. While the UDHR established a number of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural right, this declaration was not legally binding. Two decades later, two legally binding instruments, were created: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Together, these three documents form the International Bill of Rights.

In addition the ICCPR and ICESCR, seven other international human rights conventions have been established that expand on the rights set forth in the International Bill of Rights. These conventions focus on thematic issues such as racial discrimination, but also work to ensure that the rights of particularly vulnerable populations such as are protected (women, children, and persons with disabilities). Together these nine international human rights treaties are referred to as the core treaties.

What are the Treaty Bodies?

In order to become a party to a treaty, a state must first ratify the treaty. In doing so, the State party becomes legally required to implement the provisions of that treaty. While ratifying a treaty is an important first step in protecting and fulfilling human rights obligations, the treaties in of themselves would have very little force without a body to monitor state compliance. The Treaty Bodies were created to do just this.

The Treaty Bodies are committees of independent experts who not only monitor state compliance, but also urge states to uphold and implement their international obligations under each treaty that they are a party to. In other words, the Treaty Bodies make sure that the States are doing what they’re meant to. As part of that process, States have to submit periodic reports to the relevant Treaty Body, usually every 3-5 years. Civil society can help Treaty Bodies find out whether States are meeting their duties by submitting ‘shadow reports’ to the committees.

Some of the treaties have separate agreements that States can choose to sign (Optional Protocols) that allow individuals or organizations to bring a case against the State for violating the treaty. Treaty Bodies act as judges in those cases, which are called individual complaints.

The Core International Human Rights Treaties that ILGA focuses on: