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1. Understanding the Treaty Bodies

1.11 The Role of OHCHR

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) assists the work of all Committees, effectively acting as a secretariat for each of the Treaty Bodies.

Each Treaty Body receives direct support by teams of staff within the Human Rights Treaty Division of the OHCHR in Geneva. If you plan to engage with a particular Treaty Body, it is useful to know who is the head of the Secretariat for that Treaty Body within the Division, as they can provide useful information.

The OHCHR Human Rights Treaty Body Division provides the Treaty Body with support in several areas, such as legal expertise, research, and analytical assistance. They help to conduct research for reports, process and draft individual communications, and issue press releases. They also provide assistance in organising the logistics and agenda of any meeting of the Treaty Bodies.

The OHCHR also produces summaries of individual communications. These are not available to the public. Summaries of civil society inputs to periodic reviews are no longer systematically produced, so it is advisable for NGOs submitting long reports to also submit short summaries of their inputs.

The OHCHR team’s resources are limited. For example, the OHCHR Petitions and Urgent Action Section which deals with individual communications and requests for urgent actions has less than 20 staff for the eight Treaty Bodies which accept communications. This has contributed to a backlog of over 1500 individual complaints pending review, with an annual capacity to review only 250 individual communications.

The OHCHR is a useful resource when you engage with the Treaty Bodies. Each Treaty Body has its own webpage on the website of the OHCHR with important information. See the Treaty Bodies Table for details, contact information and web links for each of the Treaty Bodies.

For regular updates on Treaty Body sessions, including calls and deadlines for submission of information, you can sign up to the OHCHR Civil Society Weekly Update which includes the OHCHR Treaty Bodies Weekly Update.

You can also follow the OHCHR on social media.


Now it's time to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the Treaty Bodies, in the next section.

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