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Human Rights Treaty Bodies

Human rights treaty bodies are the embedded international institutions of the UN human rights treaties and the primary monitoring and enforcement mechanisms of the texts’ obligations. All of the treaty bodies review periodic reports and are authorized to issue general comments as they may consider appropriate. Essential to the perceived legal value of the treaty bodies’ jurisprudence is the independent, expert, non-political status of the bodies.

Each of the treaty bodies’ membership election processes is crafted to guarantee that an unbiased authority exercises oversight over the universal human rights treaties. The treaty body election guidelines seek to achieve equitable geographical distribution in addition to representation of different types of civilizations and legal systems among the states parties, which helps ensure that no one region or culture dominates. Essential to the execution of their duties is the requirement that members act in their personal capacities, not as representatives of their governments, despite being nominated by them.

It has been suggested that experts working together in the international context ‘can facilitate the resolution of global policy issues by narrowing the range within which political bargains could be struck’.[1] For example, typical members of the CEDAW Committee have been active in the areas of gender equality and women’s issues and this is reflected by their curriculum vitae. Picciotto observed that ‘delegating specific issues to specialists who would deal with them in a depoliticized fashion ... is a means of implementing policies that have been formulated through political processes ... [and] understood as a response to the problems of governing ever more complex societies’.[2] The treaty bodies exist to ensure specific rights are implemented into a variety of social, cultural, and political jurisdictions. The combination of a highly varied membership and specialists in the field, both mandated by committee election guidelines, provides an essential element of legitimacy to the work of the treaty bodies. Without the treaty bodies supervising implementation, human rights treaties would be in danger of becoming merely aspirational.

  • [1] S. Picciotto, ‘Constitutionalizing Multilevel Governance?’, International Journal of ConstitutionalReview vol. 6 (2008): 457-79 at 459.
  • [2] Picciotto (2008): 457-79 at 459.
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