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1. Understanding the Treaty Bodies

1.9 Early warnings and urgent actions - What do the Treaty Bodies do?

Although each Treaty Body focuses on a different treaty or convention, the tools or outputs that are available to the Treaty Bodies are basically the same, with some variations.


This section focuses on the following main output of the Treaty Bodies:

Early warnings and urgent actions

Through early warnings and urgent actions, Treaty Bodies can act to prevent the further deterioration of a human rights situation in a country.

Early warnings are used to prevent the occurrence of an imminent or possible violation of the treaty, and are typically adopted prior to the occurrence of a human rights violation.

Urgent actions are used to remedy an urgent human rights situation or violation of the treaty, and are adopted after the violation has occurred.

Which Treaty Bodies can issue early warnings and urgent actions?

Early warningsCERD and CRPD each have a specific mandate and an established early warning procedure that aims to prevent urgent human rights issues from escalating.

Urgent actions - CERD, CRPD and CED each have a specific mandate and an established urgent action procedure.

  • In the case of CERD, the purpose of the urgent action procedure is to respond to issues requiring immediate attention to prevent or limit the scale of serious violations of ICERD.
  • Similarly, for CRPD, early-awareness and urgent action procedures are aimed to prevent existing problems from escalating into full-fledged conflicts or preventing the revival of pre-existing human rights issues. Their purpose is also to consider issues that may require immediate attention to avoid grave violations of the Treaty or to reduce the number or degree of such violations.
  • For CED, an urgent action is a request from the Treaty Body to the State party to immediately take all necessary measures to search and locate a disappeared person and investigate their disappearance.

The CAT and CCPR have on very rare occasions undertaken “special reviews” when violations of treaty provisions are rife and widespread.

At the time of writing (March 2020), CRPD has not yet used either the early warning or urgent action procedure.

See here for a full list of Treaty Bodies and what each can do.

Examples of early warnings and urgent actions:

CAT and CCPR Special Reviews

The CAT and CCPR have on rare occasions undertaken ad hoc, special reviews in cases of urgent and widespread violations of human rights, such as torture, arbitrary detentions, and summary executions, including in Israel (CAT, 1998), Syria (CAT, 2012), and Burundi (CAT, 2016).

Go to the previous sections and the next section to find out more about other tools and outputs of the Treaty Bodies, including: periodic reviews, individual communications, general comments, inquiries, and follow-up activities.

Or for more information on early warnings and urgent actions, including examples of how human rights defenders use them, you can jump to Chapter 3:

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