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3. Opportunities for You to Engage

3.10 Providing input to general comments

This section provides information on how to input into the process of developing a general comment or general recommendation - and how to influence its contents.

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

Providing input to general comments

Providing input into general comments is a useful way for human rights defenders to contribute to the formulation of policy and jurisprudence based on their own context, work and practice.

You can either assist members of a Treaty Body by making submissions in regard a proposed general comment or you can make suggestions to develop a new general comments on topics of your interest and relevant to the core human rights treaties.

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

Who can submit information?

Anyone can provide input to a general comment – individuals or organisations. There is no requirement that organisations need to have ECOSOC status.

You can find out about calls to input into and other information about general comments and recommendations through regular OHCHR channels (newsletter, notifications, social media, etc.)

Top Tips

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Providing input to a general comment

  • Suggest specific language for the content of the general comment, and why such language should be included. It is advisable to use language from authoritative sources, or based on practice.
  • Inputs to general comments should be based on norms and evidence - avoid focusing on specific country situations.
  • Use legal arguments and make references to other binding norms and standards internationally and regionally, including Treaty Body jurisprudence, relevant findings and recommendations from Special Procedures, and resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council and regional mechanisms.
    • Ensure you integrate a gender perspective where relevant (i.e., mention whether there are any differences between women/men with regard to the enjoyment of specific human rights, include disaggregated data, etc.)
  • Try and keep your submissions concise and focused. If your submission is longer than five pages you should include the summary which focuses on specific suggestions for the content of the general comment.
  • Collective or joint NGO submissions are often more likely to be taken up by the Treaty Bodies.
  • Although most Treaty Bodies working languages also include French and Spanish, you are encouraged to make your submission in English (or at least provide a summary in English). You can confirm the working languages of a Treaty Body by checking the official bios of the Treaty Body member, found on the relevant webpages of the Treaty Bodies.

Be sure to also:

  • reference all information correctly, with hyperlinks when possible
  • be clear and precise, accurate and objective
  • provide examples/evidence where relevant

And don't forget to provide your contact details in your submission (name, organisation, email address, phone number)!

Where and when to submit?

You can make your submission to a proposed general comment either in written form, or verbally during the days of general discussion (see below).

Written submissions should be sent directly to the Secretariat of the relevant Treaty Body and only in electronic form in Word (so that translations can be made of your submission). Contact details of the Treaty Body Secretariats can be found on each individual Treaty Body webpage.

Examples of NGO input to draft general comments:

Suggesting a new topic for a general comment

  • When pushing a Treaty Body to adopt a new general comment on a particular issue:
  • You can check the upcoming topics for general comments envisaged by a particular Treaty Body on their respective webpage.
  • Treaty Bodies generally discuss potential new general comments every year or every other year. You may decide to suggest topics for upcoming general comments to the Treaty Bodies.
  • Keep in mind that general comments focus on broad thematic human rights issues, and not on particular countries.
  • You can either speak directly to an individual Treaty Body member and/or make written submissions to a Treaty Body through its Secretariat at the OHCHR. Personal contacts through INGOs can also be very effective. See ISHR Academy: NGO coalitions and coordination with other actors
  • Also bear in mind that most Treaty Bodies have limited capacity, and can handle only one general comment at a time, which means that you may be waiting for some time before the Committee considers your suggestion. The adoption of a general comment can take between one to three years.

Days of General Discussion

NGOs may influence the substantive work of the Treaty Bodies either through providing input into the need for, or on the content of, a general comment, or by drawing the attention of Treaty Body members to issues of concern through a thematic discussion.

Some Treaty Bodies convene ‘days of general discussion’ to examine a particular theme or issue of concern. Such public sessions are open to external participants such as UN organisations, State delegations, NGOs, and experts. These sessions may also be used to discuss drafts of general comments, and this is a good opportunity for you to present suggestions on the content of general comments and get a chance to interact face to face with the Treaty Body authors of the general comments.

  • CESCR has held a series of days of general discussion since 1992, many of which have resulted in general comments.
  • CERD regularly holds ‘thematic discussions’ – meetings where all concerned stakeholders including NGOs can express their views on an issue related to racial discrimination and the ICERD.
  • CED holds similar discussions on aspects of enforced disappearance.
  • CRC in 2018 held a day of general discussion on protecting and empowering children as human rights defenders. For the first time, all working group discussions were between adults, children and youth.

Examples of submissions to push for the development of general comments:

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

Learn more

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