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2. Treaty Bodies: Going Deeper

2.4 Country visits

This section focuses on another lesser utilised output of the Treaty Bodies: Country visits

Country visits can be undertaken by Treaty Bodies in very limited circumstances, and are useful to go in-depth and investigate a specific human rights issue or situation. When Treaty Bodies visit a country, they draw attention to human rights violations, to individual cases, to problems in laws and policies. They also make recommendations on what the government can do to improve the situation.

Which Treaty Bodies conduct country visits?

The Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) is the only Treaty Body that is mandated to undertake country visits, including visits to places of detention. See section below for more information on SPT country visits.

Other Treaty Bodies, or Treaty Body members, may undertake country visits in very limited circumstances, for example:

  • as part of their mandate to conduct inquiries (CCPR, CEDAW, CRC and CMW) See ISHR Academy: Inquiries - What do Treaty Bodies do?

  • as part of a periodic review of a State (CCPR) See ISHR Academy: Periodic review - What do Treaty Bodies do?

  • by invitation. Treaty Body members may undertake national visits at the invitation of States or non-state actors. For example, Treaty Body members may be invited to public events by NGOs or academic institutions related to substantial provisions or implementation of relevant treaties.

Why are country visits useful/advantageous?

  • A country visit offers the opportunity to:
    • Increase international and national visibility of certain human rights issues
    • Let victims and human rights defenders speak for themselves and engage directly with Treaty Bodies
    • Brings various stakeholders together, including the State, civil society and Treaty Body experts and fosters mutual understanding of respective challenges
    • Increase understanding by Treaty Body experts regarding a specific issue or case
    • Build relationships with Treaty Bodies for future action

What are potential challenges?

  • Not all Treaty Bodies or their members will undertake country visits.
  • Treaty Bodies often do not have sufficient financial resources to conduct country visits, and you will likely need to find funds to cover the costs of a country visit.
  • Treaty Body members are not paid. Similar to Special Procedures, they only receive per diems during their sessions, and thus most Committee members have other employment which implies restrictions on their availability.
  • The State may not be amenable to receiving a visit from a Treaty Body. In many cases, such as in the context of an inquiry, the consent of the State is required in order for a Committee to visit a country.
  • Participating in Treaty Body country visits could lead to reprisals by your governments. For example, national visits by the SPT in the past have led to reprisals against individuals who met with the SPT during the visit. On at least three occasions, the SPT decided to suspend its visit because of reprisals against interviewees, in line with its dedicated policy on reprisals. See ISHR Academy: Security

How can you engage?

You can invite members of a Treaty Body to visit your country, directly engage with Treaty Body members during the country visits, and use the information from the country visit in your future advocacy work.

Steps to engage in a country visit

Before the visit…

  • You can request a country visit by one or more Treaty Body members. To do this, you should reach out to the individual Treaty Body members directly by email, if you already have an established connection with them, or through the TB-Net member that works with the particular Treaty Body.

  • You will likely need to find funds to cover the costs of a visit by Treaty Body members to your country

  • If you have funding, you may wish to consider whether to invite Special Procedures to your country, rather than Treaty Bodies. See ISHR Academy: Country visits – What do Special Procedures do?

  • If inviting a Treaty Body member to your country for an event, you will need to ensure that the event is directly relevant to their mandate.

  • Keep in mind also that some Treaty Bodies have restrictions on undertaking country visits. Most Treaty Body members may only participate in national level activities (outside of inquiries), as individuals as they are limited in their capacity to speak or act on behalf of the entire Committee.

  • Some Treaty Bodies have restrictions on the number of country visits that their members can undertake, so you should have a discussion with individual Treaty Body members prior to inviting them for a national visit for more information.

During the country visit…

  • You can meet with and directly engage with Treaty Body members when they visit your country to provide them with information that is relevant to their mandate. This includes providing information on specific cases of human rights violations and enquiring about potential international remedies.

What can you expect after a country visit?

For most Treaty Bodies, country visits are not mandated activities, which means that there is typically no formal outcome for country visits (except for the SPT) - the outcome will depend on the details of each individual visit. In some cases, a press briefing may be organised, though Treaty Body members rarely deliver a formal statement in relation to a country visit given that these are not envisaged in the regular mandate of the Committee and/or they are undertaken ‘in their individual capacity’.

You can encourage Treaty Body members to share the information gathered from their country visit during the Treaty Body session (periodic review) of the concerned State, or through blogs, online articles or video testimonies, which you can help to produce.

To explore what you can do to follow up on a Treaty Body country visit, see also ISHR Academy: Following up with Treaty Bodies

Top Tips

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Engaging in a country visit

  • Remember! Consent of the concerned State may be required for Treaty Body members to conduct country visits.

  • Typically a country visit is conducted by one or two members of a Treaty Body. An in-country visit by the whole Treaty Body is rare, and has only been done in 2020 when the CRC undertook a visit to the Pacific region which included reviews of three Pacific island States. See example below.

  • Country visits are unlikely to completely change a situation and must be considered as one of many tools you can use in your advocacy.

  • Finding information about a country visit is not easy, and is primarily done through direct contacts at both international (TB members or OHCHR, TB-Net members) or at national level (through civil society organisers of the visit).

Examples of country visits:

Members of the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) have undertaken country visits as follow up to States’ periodic reviews with support from the CCPR Centre (a member of the INGO coalition TB-Net). These visits include meetings with high-level national authorities, national human rights institutions, civil society, in-country development partners, and journalists to discuss follow-up. After these visits, Human Rights Committee members have shared their views through blogs and videos.

  • Vietnam (2019 review): CCPR Centre organized a follow-up country visit of a Committee expert following the review of the State by the CCPR. See the video

  • Laos (2018 review) article by member of the CCPR who visited the country post review

  • Thailand (2017 review): CCPR Centre organised a follow-up country visit of a member of the CCPR in 2018 with the aim of:

    • continuing constructive dialogue with relevant State agencies and identify effective steps forward
    • building capacity of key stakeholders in implementing Committee’s recommendations
    • assisting utilization of Committee’s follow-up procedure by State and civil society actors For this purpose, meetings were held with various stakeholders, including State actors, civil society as well as OHCHR country team. The visit and related events were organised with support of the Embassies of Australia and Canada in Thailand.
  • Jamaica (2018 review)

  • Ghana (2016 review) video

  • UK (2015) report: The Vice-Chairperson of the CRC was invited to Scotland to meet with children ahead of the UK’s periodic review

  • The CMW has been invited to undertake a visit to Azerbaijan.

SPT country visits

SPT country visits are undertaken to only those States that have ratified the OPCAT.

You can check the SPT schedule of country visits for the upcoming year to see if there are planned visits to your country.

Although selection of countries to visit is based on a set of objective criteria (for example, visits are done on rotation), you may still request or encourage the SPT to undertake a visit to your country if it has ratified OPCAT.

For details on SPT country visits, see the OHCHR webpage and the practical guide for NGOs engaging with the process of SPT country visits (IRCT).

The outcome of a country visit by the SPT is a detailed report of the Subcommittee which includes factual information on its findings during the visits, including to places of detention, as well as recommendations to the State party.

According to OPCAT provisions, SPT visit reports may only be published if the State party agrees to do so. You can lobby relevant decision makers to make sure that the State will allow for the SPT visit report to be made public.

Example of using SPT country visits:

Defender Story

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Mexico – Using Right to Information laws to make public an SPT country visit report

In Mexico, after a visit by members of the SPT in 2008 and the release of the report in 2009, human rights defenders working for persons in detention used a federal law on access to information to successfully compel the Mexican government to publish the SPT visit report.

In the report, NGOs successfully drew the attention of the SPT to a number of detention facilities that were not recognised by the government in the list of existing detention facilities submitted to the SPT. This enabled the SPT to visit and report on the situation in these detention facilities despite the lack of government recognition of their existence.

In-country periodic review

Recognising the usefulness and value of country visits by Treaty Bodies, as part of the Treaty Body strengthening process there have been numerous public calls to increase the number of country visits by Treaty Bodies.

In response, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) held its 84th session in Samoa in March 2020, where it conducted the first ever in-country periodic reviews of several Pacific states, including the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Tuvalu. This was considered to be a positive development in bringing the Treaty Bodies ‘closer to the ground’, yet it is unclear whether such in-country reviews will be replicated by other Treaty Bodies.

In the next section you will learn more about inter-state complaints, another lesser utilised mandate of the Treaty Bodies.

Learn more

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