It is the task of each United Nations Committee to receive and examine the reports submitted regularly to them by the States Parties. These reports detail the progress a Member States has made on implementing the instrument that they have undertaken to comply with.
The process for monitoring the reports – the main mission of the treaty bodies – is designed to be a constructive dialogue between the Committee and the state delegation concerned 1 .
The state first submits an initial report, then (approximately every 4 years) submits periodic reports on progress achieved and legislative, judiciary, administrative or other measures taken or modified to give effect to the rights concerned. These reports also detail any obstacles or difficulties Member States have encountered over the previous reporting period.
Process and outcome
- On the basis of the report submitted, the Committee begins by drawing up a preliminary list of issues and questions that is sent to the state concerned. If necessary the state may then send back further information and prepare itself for further discussions with the experts.
- The state is then invited to send a delegation to the Committee’s session during which the report will be examined, so that government representatives can answer directly to the questions put by the Committee, and provide additional information. If a state refuses to send a delegation, some Committees decide to examine the report in the absence of any official representation, while others postpone the examination.
- Other information on the Human Rights situation in the country concerned may be provided to assist the Committees in their examination of state reports. The Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), for instance, regularly bases its examination on data gathered by the International Labour Organisation.
- The examination of the state report culminates in the Committee’s adoption of its concluding observations, or comments. These acknowledge the positive steps taken and identify areas where more needs to be done by the Member State to protect the rights concerned. The aim of the experts’ conclusions is to give the state practical advice and concrete recommendations for improved implementation or adherence to the particular Convention. States are invited to publicize the observations.
The state is obliged to report on progress made in the implementation of the Convention in its next periodic report.
However, in some cases a specific follow-up procedure is applied. 3 Some Committees’ final observations require the State Party to implement certain specific recommendations on matters of particular concern by a given deadline.
The procedure for monitoring state reports by United Nations Committees of experts has proved itself to be of significant effectiveness, owing to:
- The impact that Committees’ criticism can have on states which attach importance to their Human Rights reputation.
- The use that can be made of such criticism by civil society organisations in support of their advocacy activities.
- Useful clarification that concluding observations provide vis-a-vis the content of states’ obligations under the various conventions.
However, in practice the effectiveness of the procedure is undermined by a number of difficulties, linked in particular to:
- The delay with which states submit their reports (ranging from a few months to several years 4 ).
- The delay with which the Committees examine them (15 to 22 months on average).
- The overlapping obligations states’ have to report on (i.e. states often have several reports to submit to different Committees).
- The lack of adequate resources of both states and Committees.
- The poor quality or inaccuracy of some of the state reports, particularly in the absence of NGO reports.
- The lack of pertinence of the experts’ examination, or the absence of any effective follow-up. 5
The Committees in action in relation to corporate-related Human Rights abuses
Committee on the Rights of the child (CRC) – free Trade agreements and the Rights of the child – the case of Ecuador
“The Committee finally recommends the State Party to ensure that free trade agreements do not negatively affect the rights of children, inter alia , in terms of access to affordable medicines, including generic ones. In this regard, the Committee reiterates the recommendations made by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (E/C.12/1/Add.100)” 6 which strongly urged Ecuador “to conduct an assessment of the effect of international trade rules on the right to health for all and to make extensive use of the flexibility clauses permitted in the WTO Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) in order to ensure access to generic medicine and more broadly the enjoyment of the right to health for everyone in Ecuador.” 7
Committee on economic social and culturel Rights (CESCR) – concluding observations on the report submitted by the Russian federation
“24. The Committee expresses its serious concern that the rate of contamination of both domestically produced and imported foodstuffs is high by international standards, and appears to be caused – for domestic production – by the improper use of pesticides and environmental pollution through the improper disposal of heavy metals and oil spills, and – for imported food – by the illegal practices of some food importers. The Committee notes that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that such food does not reach the market.
Committee on the elimination of Racial discrimination (CERD) – concluding observations on the report submitted by Canada
“17. […] the Committee encourages the State Party to take appropriate legislative or administrative measures to prevent acts of transnational corporations registered in Canada which negatively impact on the enjoyment of rights of indigenous peoples in territories outside Canada. In particular, the Committee recommends that the State Party explore ways to hold transnational corporations registered in Canada accountable. The Committee requests the State Party to include in its next periodic report information on the effects of activities of transnational corporations registered in Canada on indigenous peoples abroad and on any measures taken in this regard.” 8
Human Rights commitee - concluding observations on the report submitted by Germany
“16. While welcoming measures taken by the State party to provide remedies against German companies acting abroad allegedly in contravention of relevant Human Rights standards, the Committee is concerned that such remedies may not be sufficient in all cases (art. 2, para. 2).
The State party is encouraged to set out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in its territory and/or its jurisdiction respect Human Rights standards in accordance with the Covenant throughout their operations. It is also encouraged to take appropriate measures to strengthen the remedies provided to protect people who have been victims of activities of such business enterprises operating abroad .” 9
Human Rights commitee – concluding observations on the report submitted by Canada
“16. While appreciating information provided, the Committee is concerned about allegations of Human Rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad, in particular mining corporations and about the inaccessibility to remedies by victims of such violations. The Committee regrets the absence of an effective independent mechanism with powers to investigate complaints alleging abuses by such corporations that adversely affect the enjoyment of the Human Rights of victims, and of a legal framework that would facilitate such complaints (art. 2).
The State party should: a) enhance the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to ensure that all Canadian corporations, in particular mining corporations, under its jurisdiction respect Human Rights standards when operating abroad; b) consider establishing an independent mechanism with powers to investigate Human Rights abuses by such corporations abroad; c) and develop a legal framework that affords legal remedies to people who have been victims of activities of such corporations operating abroad.” 10
CESCR - concluding observations on the report submitted by Austria
“12. The Committee is concerned at the lack of oversight over Austrian companies operating abroad with regard to the negative impact of their activities on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in host countries (art. 2).
The Committee urges the State party to ensure that all economic, social and cultural rights are fully respected and rights holders adequately protected in the context of corporate activities, including by establishing appropriate laws and regulations, together with monitoring, investigation and accountability procedures to set and enforce standards for the performance of corporations, as underlined in the Committee’s statement on the obligations of States parties regarding the corporate sector and economic, social and cultural rights (E/2012/22, annex VI, section A).” 11
CESCR - concluding observations on the report submitted by Belgium
“22. The Committee is concerned by reports that the State party’s policy for promoting agrofuels, in particular its new Agrofuels Act of 17 July 2013, is likely to encourage largescale cultivation of these products in third countries where Belgian firms operate and could lead to negative consequences for local farmers (art. 11).
The Committee recommends that the State party systematically conduct Human Rights impact assessments in order to ensure that projects promoting agrofuels do not have a negative impact on the economic, social and cultural rights of local communities in third countries where Belgian firms working in this field operate.” 12
CESCR - concluding observations on the report submitted by China
“13. The Committee is concerned about the lack of adequate and effective measures adopted by the State party to ensure that Chinese companies, both State-owned and private, respect economic, social and cultural rights, including when operating abroad (art. 2, para. 1).
The Committee recommends that the State party:
- Establish a clear regulatory framework for companies operating in the State party to ensure that their activities promote and do not negatively affect the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural Human Rights;
- Adopt appropriate legislative and administrative measures to ensure the legal liability of companies and their subsidiaries operating in or managed from the State party’s territory regarding violations of economic, social and cultural rights in the context of their projects abroad.” 13
CEDAW - concluding observations on the report submitted by India
(…) The Committee is further concerned with the impact on women, including in Nepal, of infrastructure projects such as the Lakshmanpur dam project, including their displacement, loss of livelihood, housing, and food security as a result of the subsequent floods.
The Committee reaffirms that the State party must ensure that the acts of persons under its effective control do not result in violations of the Convention, including those of national corporations operating extra-territorially, and that its extraterritorial obligations extend to their actions affecting Human Rights, regardless of whether the affected persons are located on its territory, as indicated in the Committee’s General Recommendations number 28 (2010) and 30 (2013). Accordingly it recommends that the State party:
Undertake an immediate review of the impact of the India Housing Project in Sri Lanka and adopt a consultative and gender – sensitive approach in implementing the ongoing and future phases of the project and address the needs and concerns of the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups of women;
Adopt all necessary measures including an impact assessment on the effects of the Lakshmanpur dam project on women in Nepal, and ensure that adequate measures are adopted, including to prevent or remedy their loss livelihood, housing and food security, and provide adequate compensation whenever their rights have been violated.” 14