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1. Understanding the Treaty Bodies

1.7 General comments - What do the Treaty Bodies do?

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

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

General comments

All Treaty Bodies produce general comments - sometimes referred to as general recommendations - which serve as authoritative guides on the interpretation of the particular Treaty that they are monitoring.

General comments can provide substantive guidance on specific provisions of a treaty, or may provide more general guidance, such as what information should be submitted by States on their reports to the Treaty Bodies. General comments also deal with wider, cross-cutting issues, such as the role of national human rights institutions, the rights of persons with disabilities, violence against women, and the rights of minorities.

General comments and recommendations not only assist State parties to implement the treaties, but can also be used by human rights defenders to monitor and advocate for full treaty implementation, thus strengthening the enjoyment of specific rights by rights holders.

General comments may vary in length and complexity, and can sometimes take the form of ‘commentaries’ on particular provisions of a treaty. They may also be revised or replaced as the experience of the Treaty Bodies increase, or as new developments emerge within a particular area. General comments and recommendations may also be produced jointly by more than one Treaty Body.

The process for developing and adopting general comments or recommendations includes three stages: consultation, drafting, and adoption. Treaty Bodies normally choose to incorporate expert advice from various stakeholders, including NGOs, into the drafting of general comments.

General comments and general recommendations of the Treaty Bodies can be found in a database on the OHCHR website, as well as on the individual webpages of the Treaty Bodies.

Which Treaty Bodies can develop general comments?

All Treaty Bodies, except for SPT (Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment), have the mandate to develop general comments or recommendations.

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

Examples of general comments:

For more examples of general comments see ISHR Academy: General comments – Why are they useful?

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

For more information on General Comments, including examples of how human rights defenders use them, you can jump to Chapter 3:

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