The Effectiveness of the Human Rights Committee and the Treaty Body Reform

Der Staat im Recht. Festschrift für Eckart Klein Zum, 70, M. Breuer, A. Epiney, A. Haratsch, S. Schmahl, N. Weiß, eds., Geburtstag, 2013

Hebrew University of Jerusalem Research Paper No. 02-13

23 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2013 Last revised: 31 Mar 2016

See all articles by Yuval Shany

Yuval Shany

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law and Institute of Criminology; Israel Democracy Institute

Date Written: February 24, 2013


A recent report issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights (hereinafter ‘the Pillay Report’), as part of a process designed to strengthen the UN human rights treaty bodies, suggests that the HRC, like the other treaty bodies, suffers from a number of serious chronic problems. In particular, the positive reputation of the HRC (and some of the other treaty bodies) has not translated itself into high levels of compliance with the state-parties’ procedural reporting obligations; nor, perhaps, to a high degree of compliance with the Committee’s substantive recommendations.In addition, the HRC and the other treaty bodies face significant backlogs in their work, and have been forced to reduce the average time allocated to the review of each country report – endangering thereby the quality of their output. The tension between the widely perceived quality of the HRC’s work, on the one hand. and the serious difficulties the Committee encounters in adequately performing its tasks, on the other hand, complicates attempts to assess its overall record of achievement. Put differently, it is difficult to ascertain whether the HRC is, on the whole, an effective body. In any event, whether the HRC is considered more or less effective, one may still discuss the merits or demerits of specific proposals aimed at improving its effectiveness.

This chapter will apply to the study of the HRC the goal-based approach to evaluating the effectiveness of international institutions developed by the present author elsewhere.In Part One, I will briefly present the goal-based approach, and identify within its framework the principal goals of the HRC. In Part Two, I will evaluate the main findings of the Pillay Report in light of the goal-based approach. While I find many of the recommendations found in the Pillay Report conducive to strengthening the effectiveness of the HRC and other treaty bodies, I criticize some recommendations as problematic for: (1) trading breadth (increase in the number of reviewed reports) for depth of review, and therefore producing arguably only limited effectiveness dividends; and (2) accepting as fait accompli some of the most inefficient features of the existing treaty body system (such as the limited-in-time expert meeting sessions). Part Three concludes.

Keywords: human rights committee, effectiveness, treaty bodies, high commissioner for human rights, compliance, state reporting, international human rights

Suggested Citation

Shany, Yuval, The Effectiveness of the Human Rights Committee and the Treaty Body Reform (February 24, 2013). Hebrew University of Jerusalem Research Paper No. 02-13. Available at SSRN:

Yuval Shany (Contact Author)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law and Institute of Criminology ( email )

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Mount Scopus, IL 91905
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Israel Democracy Institute ( email )

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