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2. Treaty Bodies: Going Deeper

2.3 Third-party interventions (individual communications)

Another way you can input into specific cases or communications before a Treaty Body, is through a third-party intervention. Third-party interventions with Treaty Bodies are similar to amicus curiae interventions accepted by courts and other judicial mechanisms.

What are they?

Once individual communications or complaints have been registered by a Treaty Body, the Treaty Body may accept submissions or interventions from third parties in relation to the case under review. Third parties can be NGOs, human rights defenders, lawyers, academic institutions, or corporations. Some Treaty Bodies also accept third-party interventions made by other States.

Which Treaty Bodies accept third-party interventions?

CCPR, CESCR, CRC, and CRPD have dedicated policies with respect to third-party interventions. CEDAW’s policy is mentioned in the Committee’s working methods on individual communications (§18).

Why are third-party interventions useful/advantageous?

A third-party intervention offers an opportunity to provide additional information on specific legal aspects of a communication or case already under review. A third-party intervention typically explains or expands an argument or legal reasoning within a case, and can influence the Treaty Body’s decisions in relation to individual complaints. Third-party interventions can be relevant for NGOs and human rights defenders when cases of interest are under review by the Committees.

What are potential challenges?

Although filing third-party interventions is a way to influence cases being reviewed by Treaty Bodies, few NGOs and human rights defenders engage in this as there is lack of transparency by Treaty Bodies with respect to the individual communications that have been registered and are being reviewed.

Unless you have been directly contacted by the victim or are representing them, it’s difficult to get information about cases. However, in recent years there has been some improvement as some Treaty Bodies now publish a list of cases which are pending review.

Lists of cases registered (or table of pending cases) by Treaty Bodies are available on their respective web pages (under the heading ‘Complaints Procedure’).

See for example, the table of pending cases before the CESCR.

How can you engage?

Human rights defenders can submit third-party interventions when the substantial issue of an individual communication that is under review is of interest to them.

Submissions should follow the relevant guidelines on third-party interventions of the Treaty Body. The guidelines offer useful information on drafting and filing your submission, including:

  • What to include (content)
  • What to include (personal / contact information)
  • Length and format
  • In what language you can file
  • Whether consent or authorisation of the petitioner of the case under review is required
  • Whether prior authorisation of the Treaty Body is required before submission
  • Where to file

Guidelines for third-party interventions have been published by:

  • CCPR (available in English, French, Spanish and Russian)
  • CESCR (in English)
  • CEDAW see rules of procedure § 18 (in English)
  • CRC (in English)
  • CRPD see rules of procedure §72.3 (in English)

Steps to file a third-party intervention

  • Identify current cases under review by the Treaty Bodies which could be of interest to you (see above).

  • If there is a specific case which is of interest and for which you would like to submit a third-party intervention, check the Treaty Body’s guidelines on third-party interventions, if any, for reference when developing your submission. (See above or below under Useful Resources)

  • Once completed, you may submit your third-party intervention addressed to the relevant Treaty Body through the OHCHR Secretariat at petitions@OHCHR.org

What can you expect after you make your submission?

  • Once you file your third-party intervention, if all requirements are met, the Treaty Body may request comments on your submission from both parties to the communication.

  • Once the Treaty Body adopts a decision or view on the original communication, its decision is made public. The decision may include both a summary of your intervention, as well as the relevant comments from the parties in regard to the submission.

  • The Treaty Body will not make your third-party intervention public (it may only include a summary of your submission in its decision). You may decide to make your submission public if you wish, however, in some cases the OHCHR may request you not to disclose the contents of your submission while the communication is pending before the Treaty Body.

To explore what you can do to follow up on your third-party intervention, see also ISHR Academy: Following up with Treaty Bodies

Top Tips

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Submitting a third-party intervention to a Treaty Body

  • Your intervention should be legally sound and well argued, so it is recommended that you obtain legal expertise when drafting your submission.

  • It is recommended to reach out to (speak to or via email) the members of the Treaty Body who are in charge of individual communications or complaints. Names and contact details of such individuals can be obtained from the international NGOs who have a direct relationship with the Treaty Body or from the Treaty Body session reports. It’s not easy to find!

  • Remember that you will be required to obtain the consent of the petitioner of the original individual communication before you submit your third-party intervention. Check the guidelines for third party interventions published by the relevant Treaty Body, if any, or check with the OHCHR Secretariat at petitions@OHCHR.org


Examples of third-party interventions:

Defender Story

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Spain and Morocco - Deportation of an unaccompanied minor

D.D. fled his home in Mali at the age of 14 because of the armed conflict in his country. Alone in Morocco and searching for a way to survive, he managed to cross the Spanish border where he was immediately handcuffed, escorted back across the border, and delivered to the Moroccan forces. The Spanish guards did not identify D.D. and denied him an opportunity to explain his age and circumstances and claim protection as an unaccompanied minor.

D.D. submitted a complaint against Spain to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), challenging his unlawful return to Morocco. Several NGOs, including the International Commission of Jurists, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, the AIRE Centre, and the Dutch Council for Refugees, submitted a third-party intervention to the Committee, analysing the legal principles and jurisprudence related to the obligations of States Parties.

In 2019, the CRC adopted its decision on the case, which included a summary of the third-party intervention, and found a violation of the rights of the victim.

More information:

In the next sections you will learn more about country visits and inter-state complaints, two lesser utilised mandates of the Treaty Bodies.

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