The Human Rights Committee - Legacy and Promise

in: Gerd Oberleitner (ed.) International Human Rights: Human Rights Institutions, Tribunals and Courts - Legacy and Promise, ISBN 978-981-10-5205-7

17 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2017 Last revised: 18 Mar 2018

Date Written: December 4, 2017


The UN Human Rights Committee, which is recognized for its legal expertise in human rights law, is one of the most prominent institutions for the oversight of international human rights. The Committee was the first universal body with a mandate to examine individual communications. Among the international treaty bodies it continues to receive the highest number of individual petitions. Through the course of its four decades of existence, the Committee has developed a considerable body of jurisprudence affecting the interpretation of human rights by domestic and international institutions, including the International Court of Justice.

The present book chapter introduces readers to the work of this quasi-judicial expert body from the perspective of a former Committee member. It locates the Committee’s institutional place in the overall structure of the human rights system and describes current challenges and developments. The author offers an in-depth assessment of the Committee’s legacy and makes proposals on how the Committee can refine its procedures and methodology. In times of increasing challenges for international human rights, the Committee’s principal task is to defend the integrity of the Covenant, maintain a norm-based dialogue with the States parties and render the Covenant’s interpretation truly universal.In the absence of an international human rights court, the Committee needs to preserve its legacy as a central legal player in universal human rights protection, reinforce the legitimacy of its decisions and exercise its functions in accordance with its mandate as a body composed of legally experienced and independent experts. This process also requires the involvement of other stakeholders and States parties who carry the responsibility for the Committee’s composition, independence and structural capacity. The author reminds States parties of their role as trustees of the universal protection of human rights and calls for an active complementarity approach in line with their erga omnes partes obligations. States parties are required to increase their commitments towards treaty implementation and enforcement both domestically and internationally. The author makes proposals on how to procedurally link the international and the domestic levels and how States can play a more active role in the international enforcement of human rights.

Keywords: universal human rights protection

Suggested Citation

Seibert-Fohr, Anja, The Human Rights Committee - Legacy and Promise (December 4, 2017). in: Gerd Oberleitner (ed.) International Human Rights: Human Rights Institutions, Tribunals and Courts - Legacy and Promise, ISBN 978-981-10-5205-7, Available at SSRN:

Anja Seibert-Fohr (Contact Author)

University of Heidelberg ( email )

Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage 6-10
Heidelberg, 69117

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