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United Nations: UN Human Rights Bodies

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a specialized office established by the General Assembly in 1993 to supervise and support the UN's wide variety of human rights initiatives.

The OHCHR provides a specialized index to facilitate retrieval of UN human rights documents:

Additionally, the OHCHR provides pages organizing human rights materials by country and issue:

Charter Bodies

Charter bodies are subsidiary organs created by any of the main organs established in the UN Charter (e.g. the General Assembly, Security Council, ECOSOC.) 

The original human rights charter body was the Commission on Human Rights (1946-2006), a subsidiary of ECOSOC that consisted of 53 member states. It monitored and promoted human rights through the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and various special procedure mechanisms, including special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts, and working groups.

The Commission was heavily criticized for including major human rights violators and, in 2006, the UN General Assembly dissolved it and replaced it with the Human Rights Council (2006- present), a subsidiary of the General Assembly that consists of 47 member states. The Human Rights Council has a Human Rights Council Advisory Committee which fills a similar role as the Subcommission.

The OHCHR provides documents and information related to the Charter bodies:

When the General Assembly created the new Human Rights Council, it also institute a process of Universal Periodic Review (2006-present). In this process, every four years states submit reports on their human rights records to the Human Rights Council, which then reviews and comments on the reports. 

All reports and the Human Rights Council's responses to them are posted to the OHCHR website:

Treaty Bodies

Treaty bodies are UN-affiliated bodies created by human rights treaty in order to monitor countries implementation of the treaties. Currently, nine treaty bodies are affiliated with the UN:

  1. Human Rights Committee (CCPR) monitors the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 
  2. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) monitors the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  3. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) monitors the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 
  4. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) monitors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  5. Committee against Torture (CAT) monitors the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
  6. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) monitors the Convention on the Rights of the Child 
  7. Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) monitors the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families 
  8. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) monitors the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 
  9. Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) monitors the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance 

The details of each  treaty body's activities varies depending on the procedures established in the treaty. However, treaty bodies typically produce the following documents:

  • Reports: Treaties generally require countries to submit regular reports to the treaty body. The treaty body will then comment on the reports, noting any issues of concern.
  • General comments: Treaty bodies also issue general comments, noting general issues of concern and providing general advice on complying with the treaty. General comments can be helpful when interpreting whether a specific action would violate the treaty.
  • Jurisprudence: Some but not all treaties allow individuals to bring complaints against a country that has violated a treaty. The treaty bodies can then issue a decision on these complaints.

The OHCHR provides a searchable database of treaty body jurisprudence:

Additionally, OHCHR provides a general search engine for searching all types of treaty body documents:

The treaty body documents search allows searching for documents by title, symbol, treaty body, and document type but does not allow full text searching within the documents themselves. However, the full text of general comments can be searched on the Refworld website maintained by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:

Finally, there are several compilations of treaty body General Comments:

Additional Human Rights Resources

As part of its efforts to improve access to UN human rights materials, the OHCHR recruited human rights scholar Anne Bayefsky to supervise the creation of a more usable database of human rights treaties, published at:
Most of Bayefsky.com's organizational improvements have now been incorporated into the main OHCHR website and most of Bayefsky.com is no longer updated. However, it remains online as an archival source of human rights materials and continues to provide updated information on treaty body jurisprudence.

The OHCHR also provides links to the websites of other UN bodies involved in human rights work: