Continuing evolution of the United Nations treaty bodies system

Authored by: Nadia Bernaz

Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  August  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415620734
eBook ISBN: 9780203481417
Adobe ISBN: 9781135055943


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During its first meeting in June 1947, the drafting committee in charge of working on a bill of rights decided that the task warranted work on two separate documents. One would be a manifesto, a non-binding declaration accessible to laypersons, specifically non-lawyers. The other would be a binding international treaty, building on the rights recognised in the declaration. 1 1

UN Commission on Human Rights, Drafting Committee (1st session) (1947) UN Doc. E/CN 4/AC 1/SR 6, 7.

Thus, shortly after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in December 1948, 2 2

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNGA Res. 217A (III) (10 December 1948) UN Doc. A/810, 71.

the Commission on Human Rights resumed its drafting work. 3 3

Yearbook of the United Nations (1948–1949), 538.

In 1966, after more than fifteen years of debates on the texts both within the Commission and the Third Committee of the General Assembly, the UN General Assembly adopted the twin International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights 4 4

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) 999 UNTS 171.

and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 5 5

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) 993 UNTS 3.

(hereinafter ICCPR and ICESCR). Together with the UDHR, these treaties form the International Bill of Rights. They are commonly said to represent the minimum rights guaranteed to all human beings. One year earlier, in 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (hereinafter Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination or CERD). 6 6

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) 660 UNTS 195.

Against this firm background, the United Nations has subsequently encouraged the protection of more vulnerable groups (women, 7 7

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) 1249 UNTS 13 (CEDAW).

children, 8 8

Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

migrant workers 9 9

International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990) 2220 UNTS 3 (CPRMW).

and persons with disabilities 10 10

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) 2515 UNTS 3 (CRPD).

) and specific rights (the right not to be subjected to torture 11 11

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) 1465 UNTS 85 (Convention against Torture or CAT).

or to enforced disappearance 12 12

International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006) UN Doc A/61/488 (CPPED).

) through the adoption of six distinct UN treaties between 1979 and 2006. Although these treaties do not set up identical procedures, they share a number of key features. For example each of them has a body of experts monitoring their application — the treaty body — and all of them share a common secretariat, 13 13

Until 31 December 2007, CEDAW was serviced by the Division for the Advancement of Women in New York. Since January 2008, it has been serviced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, just like the other bodies.

as well as comparable working methods. Thus, the treaties and their respective monitoring bodies have been described as forming a system, 14 14

Dublin Statement on the Process of Strengthening of the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body System (2009), para 3, available at: , accessed on 15 December 2011. Hereinafter Dublin Statement.

a term discussed in the next section of this chapter.

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