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3. Opportunities for You to Engage

3.9 General comments – Why are they useful?

You can engage with Treaty Bodies in all areas of their work – periodic reviews, individual communications, general comments, inquiries, early warnings and urgent actions, and by following up on Treaty Body actions.

This and the next section focus on:

General comments

General comments – also called general recommendations - provide authoritative guidance on the interpretation and implementation of a particular treaty and its provisions.

As well as being useful to States as substantive guidance in the preparation of their reports to the Treaty Bodies under the periodic review process, general comments are also useful to human rights defenders in their advocacy work.

Below you will find questions to help you consider why general comments might be useful to your advocacy, followed by some examples of how other human rights defenders have done so.

For more information on what they are, see ISHR Academy: General comments – What can Treaty Bodies do?

Reflection Questions

Reflection question thought bubble
  • General comments offer the opportunity to:
  • Clarify the substantive content of treaty provision
  • Support your advocacy and legal arguments on how a treaty should be implemented by your State
  • Back up your court cases - some domestic courts are open to accepting the substantive interpretation of norms by these quasi-judicial bodie
  • Expand or enhance the interpretation of binding norms and the scope of human rights protection
  • Through inputs by NGOs, help to build or strengthen relationships with Treaty Bodies for future action
  • Generally, submitting information to Treaty Bodies for general comments is not likely to lead to reprisals by your government. But use your best judgement!
    • You can also ask the OHCHR to keep your submission or part of your submission confidential if you feel that making such information public could be harmful to you or others.
  • Treaty Bodies can receive inputs to general comments from several dozen, sometimes hundreds, of contributors. In such cases it can be more difficult to see how your inputs are reflected in the final document adopted by the committees.
  • Remember:
    • You can use general comments to draft individual communications or complaints to Treaty Bodies or a Special Procedure, as well as in your submissions to Treaty Body periodic reviews, as well as in any national legal processes, including judicial proceedings.
    • You can contribute to the formulation of policy and jurisprudence by inputting into the development of general comments based on your own context, work and practice.
    • You may decide to suggest topics for new general comments. If you do so, bear in mind that most (but not all) Treaty Bodies have the capacity to handle only one general comment at a time, which means that you may be waiting for some time before the Committee considers your suggestion.

Examples of general comments:

For more examples of general comments see ISHR Academy: General comments – What do Treaty Bodies do?

Examples of using general comments:

  • An individual communication submitted by ISHR to CAT in the case of four Burundian lawyers who participated in CAT’s 2016 special review of Burundi. The lawyers were disbarred from the Burundi Bar Association, in a clear retaliation for their participation in the review. The individual communication makes reference to CAT’s General Comment No. 3.

For more information on this case

  • In an individual communication to the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in the case of dismissal of two members of the National Human Rights Commission after participating in the Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives, ISHR made reference to General Comment No. 34 on the freedoms of opinion and expression. According to the CCPR in its general comment, freedom of expression includes the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds. This encompasses every form of idea and opinion, including political discourse, commentary on public affairs, and discussion of human rights. ISHR argued that General Comment No. 34 indicates that citizens have a right to communicate freely with human rights mechanisms, including UN human rights mechanisms.

For a list of all general comments and recommendations of a Treaty Body, see the specific webpage for that Treaty Body.

Continue to the next section for tips on how to provide inputs to general comments of Treaty Bodies.

Learn more

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