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Guiding principles on general comments

The guiding principles on formulating comments, an amalgamation of the procedure and practice that has developed since 1981, indicate that they should be directed to states parties, promote cooperation between states parties, summarize the experience the treaty body has gained reviewing the states parties’ periodic reports, and focus the attention of the states parties on matters that would improve implementation of the treaty obligations.25 They are intended to provide ‘significant normative guidance’ on aspects of implementation of the treaty.26 Furthermore, the subjects should be limited to those involving implementation of obligations related to periodic reports, guarantee of the treaty rights, article specific questions, or suggestions relating to cooperation between states parties.27 General comments are most often expository in style and the language typically reflects the expertise of the treaty body in dealing with the treaty obligations under its supervision.28 In maintaining a formula, albeit a vague one, it is intended that states will more readily accept comments adhering to the guidelines.

The lack of a clear definition of ‘general comment/recommendation’ in the treaties coupled with the vague guidelines has resulted in diverse subject matters ranging from implementation of CERD Article 629 (access to effective remedy) to the practice of reservations to the ICCPR[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] and CEDAW[7] [8] [9] What is important to reiterate is that the treaty bodies are carrying out their duties under the treaty texts. The issue of transmitting comments, as with many aspects in the human rights regime, was left undefined intentionally so that practices could develop as the human rights movement spread. However, it is now clear that the practice is firmly established and accepted by the majority of states parties.32

  • [1] Alston (2001): 876. 26 Keller and Grover (2012): 124.
  • [2] 27 Alston (2001): 876.
  • [3] 28 See e.g.: Rodley (2003): 888—9, discussing the HRC’s general comment on ICCPR Art. 7.
  • [4] 29 CERD Committee, General Recommendation No. 26: Article 6 of the Convention, UN Doc.
  • [5] A/5 5/18, annex V (2000).
  • [6] HRC, General Comment No. 24: Issues Relating to Reservations Made upon Ratification orAccession to the Covenant or the Optional Protocols Thereto, or in Relation to Declarations underArticle 41 of the Covenant, UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev. 1/Add.6, 4 Nov. 1994.
  • [7] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No 4: Reservations, UN Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9, vol. 2 (2008).
  • [8] G. Ulfstein, ‘Law-Making by Human Rights Treaty Bodies’, in International Law-Making: Essaysin Honour of Jan Klabbers, ed. R. Liivoja and J. Petman (London: Routledge, 2014): 249—58 at 252.
  • [9] Keller and Grover (2012): 118.
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