The Human Rights Committee
• Body of 18 independent experts established to monitor compliance with the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
• Widely accepted promotional mechanism, but involves only information
exchange and the weakest monitoring
• Reviews periodic reports on compliance submitted by parties
• The committee does not formerly judge or evaluate state practices, reports are
discussed in public sessions where the state representatives are questioned in an
environment that is relatively free of posturing; neither excessively deferential nor
merely pro forma (a matter of form).
• Many reports from countries are revealing and thorough but others are farces and
some are not even submitted. Only parties signed to the Covenant must report
• Committee considers individual petitions under the Optional Protocol (CCPR).
Through November 13 , 2001, 1026 communications (complaints) had been
registered concerning 69 countries. Half of these were found to be inadmissible or
discontinued, 377 communications had reached substantive determinations, and
another 206 were still in the system.
• Half other the violations examined have been in two countries; Jamaica and
Uruguay relatively strong procedures apply where they are not most needed;
this is to be expected since participation is voluntary.
The High Commissioner for HR
• Currently, Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (since September 2008)
• Created in 1993, this person has the global reach of the Commission. Deals
directly with governments to seek improved respect for internationally recognized
• Explicit mandate to deal with all governments on all issues
• High Commissioner holds the office with her personal capacity, not as a
representative of the state
3. Political Foundations of the Global Regime
• Regimes are political creations set up to overcome perceived problems arising
from inadequately regulated or insufficient coordinated national action
“Regimes arise when sufficient international “demand” is met by a state or group of
states willing and able to “supply” international norms and decision-making
procedures…” -Robert Keohane (1982, Donnelly pg 135)
• WWII revulsion at the array of HR abuses committed by Nazi Germany lead to
a brief period of enthusiastic international action. Moral and emotional demands
1 ran both wide and deep, and prior to the emergence of the Cold War,
countervailing concerns and interests were largely subordinated.
• Cynics argue UDHR, in post war context, reflected a low cost declaratory regime
and it would still be 30 years before minimal promotion and monitoring
procedures of the Covenants came into effect. Despite this, prior to WWII, even a
declaratory regime was rarely contemplated
• Moving beyond a declaratory regime has proven difficult. A strong global HR
regime simply does not reflect the perceived interests of a state or coalition
willing and able to supply it.
• States typically participate in international regimes only to achieve national
objectives in an environment of perceived international interdependency
• HR are just as real but less tangible than material interests of states. National
policy tends to be made in response to relatively tangible national objectives.
• Sensitive nature of HR practices is seen to threatening to many states. Iraq, North
Korea, Congo, with compliance to int. HR standards would mean the removal of
those in power.
• HR is fundamentally a national, not international issue.
Why have HR Regimes?
• Persistent relevance of moral concerns brought about by gross violations (Pol Pot,
• A weak global HR regime may contribute to improved national practices in
establishing standards and may act as a check for national efforts
• States and citizens are often unwilling to translate moral interdependence into
action, let alone into an international regime with strong decision-making powers,
but they are also unwilling to return to treating national human rights practices as
beyond international scrutiny and evaluation.
• An international regime reflects states’ collective vision of a problem and its
solutions and their willingness to “fund” those solutions. The result is a HR
regime with extensive, comprehensive, and widely accepted norms but extremely
limited decision making powers a strong promotional regime vs a strong
4. Regional HR Regimes
• Council of Europe- Personal, legal, civil, and political rights are guaranteed by the
(European) Convention for the Protection of Human rights and Fundamental
Freedoms (1950) and economic and social rights are in the European Social
• Decision-making procedures of the European regime are of special interests
because of the authoritative powers of the European Court of HR
• Two-tier system. The European Commission of HR is an independent body of
2 experts (one from each state) that reviews “applications (complaints” from
individuals, groups of individuals, NGO’s, and states alleging violations of the
rights guaranteed by the Convention. Non-legally binding decisions but they are
usually accepted by the state. If decision is not accepted by state it may be
referred to the Court for binding enforcement action.
• Decisions have had considerable impact on the laws and practices of a number of
states (detention practices altered in Belgium, Germany, Italy; treatment of aliens
in the Netherlands and Switzerland; Press freedoms in Britain;…)
• Decisions have strong impact partially due to the principle of “evolutionary
interpretation”, where the courts interpret the European Convention under current
regional practices and not the context of when it was drafted raises the bar and
puts pressure on states that lag behind European norms.
• The Council of Europe system also includes a European Committee for Equality
Between Women and Men, a Human Rights Documentation Centre, a Steering
Committee for Human Rights, and more.