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3. Opportunities for You to Engage

3.12 Engaging in inquiries

This section provides information on how you can request a Treaty Body to initiate an inquiry.

It follows from the last section on Inquiries – Why are they useful?


Engaging in inquiries

The inquiry procedure can be a useful tool of the Treaty Bodies if used strategically by a human rights defender.

You can engage in Treaty Body inquiries in the following ways:

  • Before an inquiry - You can submit reliable information that would enable the Treaty Body to initiate an inquiry.
  • During the inquiry – You can submit a report to the Treaty Body during the inquiry process. In addition, if a Treaty Body undertakes a country visit as part of the inquiry, national NGOs can provide first hand information to the Treaty Bodies.
  • After an inquiry – You can disseminate the findings or report of the inquiry – this can be useful to raise the visibility of the recommendations related to the human rights situation in your country and assist in further advocacy activities. See ISHR Academy: Following up with Treaty Bodies

Who can submit information?

Anyone can submit information to a Treaty Body for consideration to commence an inquiry.

There is no requirement that organisations have ECOSOC status (or be registered with the UN).

Individuals also can submit information to a Treaty Body.

Criteria for admissibility

As mentioned, not all Treaty Bodies are able to conduct inquiries across all States. There are two pre-conditions:

  • The Treaty Body must have the mandate to conduct an inquiry (under the relevant treaty), and
  • The concerned State party must have recognised the competence of the relevant Treaty Body to conduct inquiries, in order words, the State must agree to be bound by the inquiry procedure. This happens upon ratification of the treaty in question, so long as the State:
    • does not opt out of the inquiry procedure at the time of signature or ratification or accession (CAT, CEDAW, CRPD, CRC) or anytime (ICESCR), or
    • does not make a declaration that they do not recognize the competence of the Treaty Body in question to conduct inquiries under that treaty.
    • Note that in regard to CED, the competence to conduct inquiries is not subject to the acceptance by States parties.

Example:

Article 20 of the Convention against Torture mandates the Committee against Torture to conduct confidential inquiries. Of the 169 States who have ratified the Convention against Torture, those that do not recognize the competence of the CAT provided for under article 20 (that is they have opted out of article 20 and do not consent to CAT inquiries) are: Afghanistan, China, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Israel, Fiji, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, the United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam.


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Admissibility criteria for inquiries

  • Six treaty bodies have the mandate to initiate inquiries - this means that the treaty or optional protocol to the treaty includes a provision which specifically provides for an inquiry by the relevant Treaty Body. These are: CESCR (article 11 of the optional protocol to the ICESCR), CEDAW (article 8), CAT (article 20), CRC (article 13 of the optional protocol to the CRC), CRPD (article 6 of the optional protocol to the CRPD), and CED (article 33)

  • You can find out if your State has ratified a particular Treaty through the UN Treaty Body Database. Find your country and see the ratification status for your State, as well as status of acceptance of inquiry and individual complaints procedures.


What information should you include?

Details on what information you should provide to individual Treaty Bodies is available on the web pages of the particular Treaty Body (on the page related to inquiries), where available. Please ensure you consult these, as each Treaty Body has its own particular working methods. See below for links to the relevant webpages.

Submissions can be made in any one of the UN languages: Arabic, Chinese, English French, Russian, Spanish, with a summary in English if possible if the submission is not in English (this to accommodate the majority of Treaty Body members who may not be conversant with the language of the submission).


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Submitting information to a Treaty Body for an inquiry

To request an inquiry:

  • The information you submit must be reliable and it must demonstrate that there are ‘serious, grave or systematic’ violations of treaty provisions within the State.

  • You may also be required to demonstrate that such violations are not occurring in a single or isolated region in a State party but that they are widespread – occurring ‘throughout the territory of the State’.

  • The information should be evidence based.

    • For example: For inquiries under the Convention against Torture, the information should include well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced in the territory of the State party.
  • There is no form, and very limited guidance on what to include in your submission, but it’s a good idea to follow general formats for other requests and submissions to UN human rights mechanisms.

To make submissions in regard to existing inquiries:

  • To find out if a particular Treaty Body is conducting an inquiry on an issue of interest, you can speak directly with Treaty Body members or international NGOs, including members of TB-Net. The OHCHR Secretariat may also be able to help.
  • When contributing to inquiries, it is recommended to work in consortiums or coalitions when possible, as a collective voice carries more weight in regard to your argument or issue .

Remember!

  • A Treaty Body inquiry is a lengthy process – two to four years on average from the time of initiation of an inquiry
  • The inquiry procedure is confidential which means that much of the information related to inquiries, including in some instances the final report, is not made public. The full and detailed outcome report of an inquiry is only made public if the State party consents. If the State does not consent, the Treaty Body may make public lengthy summaries of the report.
  • A Treaty Body undertakes only one inquiry at a time.

For detailed information on the inquiry process and specific working methodologies of individual Treaty Bodies:


Where should information be sent?

Written submissions should be sent to the Secretariat of the relevant Treaty Body (within the OHCHR)


What can you expect after you make your submission?

Very little! Even if you are the initiator of the inquiry process, unless you have insider informants you will not receive much information. The inquiry procedure is confidential, and thus Treaty Bodies share very limited, if any, information during the inquiry process.

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To view the steps of a Treaty Body Inquiry Procedure, click here

To find out what you can do with a Treaty Body inquiry report, see ISHR Academy: Following up with Treaty Bodies.


See the next sections on how you can engage in Treaty Body early warnings and urgent actions.

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