Using a human rights based approach
A parallel report is an assessment of the progress a State has made in implementing a relevant human rights treaty. Parallel reports provide an alternative narrative to the official information that the state presents. If you’re preparing a report for the pre-session meeting, it will focus on issues that you are asking the relevant Committee to examine during the review process. If you’re preparing a report for the main session, it will focus on the list of issues that the Committee has selected.
Gathering data for parallel reports includes a number of steps, such as deciding how to gather the data (e.g. using focus group discussions, surveys, video/photos); developing research tools (e.g. questionnaires or other tools you need); collecting the data; analyzing the information gathered; and, subsequently, presenting the methodology, data, and analysis in a report. There are a number of resources to help you through these steps, and you can also seek support from other members of the Network.
The following section contains some practical tips and information specific to parallel reports and an overview of why and how to gather data through a human rights approach.
Using a human rights based approach
As described above, parallel reports aim to create visibility of, and amplify certain experiences and also inform recommendations that advance human rights for all. As such, the process of gathering data must also be grounded in human rights. Too often data used for decision-making does not reflect the perspectives and priorities of the communities most affected by those decisions, particularly more marginalized ones. Using a human-rights based approach can help correct imbalances in power with respect to data collection, analysis and use, with a view to enabling the participation of affected communities; increase data accuracy and, therefore, policy success; center policymaking processes around people’s lived experiences and perspectives; protect the security and privacy of rights-holders; and improve accountability. This section addresses key principles for a human rights-based approach to data:
A. Ensuring that communities are at the center of the process
A key consideration related to gathering data on economic, social and cultural rights is that “who” gathers the data and “how” is just as important as “what” data is collected. To ensure that data reflects the perspectives of grassroots communities and helps to advance their visions of justice, people from affected communities need to be at the center of the data collection process. Communities must set the agenda about what data should be collected, how it should be analyzed and used, and what role they might be playing in gathering it. Ultimately, it is about who sets the agenda, rather than (only) about who carries it out. Communities must be seen as legitimate voices and the main experts on the issues that affect them disproportionately, such as inequality, poverty and injustice. Data gathering is ‘led’ by communities when they are able to inform research questions, gather their own data, make sense of it collectively and use it to support their visions of social justice.
B. Ensuring that data is representative and reflects intersectional identities
In everyday life, people’s experiences and their enjoyment of basic rights are shaped by their gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, health status, age, religion, class, among other aspects of their identities. Women, as well as people from other marginalized communities, frequently experience multiple and intersecting forms of oppression and discrimination based on these different components – both biological and socially constructed – of their identities. For instance, HIV positive women have different concerns related to their right to health than other women, as well as other HIV positive people, given that they are both women and HIV positive. These different and overlapping identities and characteristics should be captured during data collection and analysis by using an intersectional approach. Intersectionality is a vital too to advance substantive equality because it “helps to understand how different sets of identities impact on access to rights and opportunities” (AWID, 2004). This is key to ensuring that data is representative and, therefore, that any decisions based on the data and analysis address specific human rights issues faced by groups who are experiencing direct and indirect discrimination and are disproportionately impacted by a certain issue. Ways to incorporate an intersectional approach include the following:
1. When planning the scope of the research, involve groups and individuals with different identities in the design of the methodology so that data is collected about issues that actually matter to them. This means, for instance, identifying the questions/concerns relevant to different identities/social groups, such as young women, elderly women, black/ indigenous women, trans women, etc.
2. The process of gathering data should be sensitive to the needs of different groups. For example, the time and place of data collection, literacy levels, language barriers, among other factors will all have an impact on who can participate in the data collection process and, therefore, what the data will say. Also, researchers and people involved in data collection should be aware of their own biases and identities and how they might shape the type of data they collect.
3. Analysis of the data should include disaggregation according to different aspects of identity/social groups. Disaggregation is when data is broken down so it is specific to a particular group or characteristic. Disaggregated data can provide evidence of socio-economic inequalities because it enables comparison between groups. Therefore, disaggregated data can provide evidence of discriminatory practices. However, it is important to ensure that categories of disaggregation take account of a person’s or group’s right to self-identify.
C. Addressing issues related to security and privacy, including selfidentification
Risk assessments should be conducted prior to gathering data and should involve groups or individuals who may be directly or indirectly affected by the data. Communities and individuals involved should be in a position to give informed consent regarding crucial aspects of the process, such as the purpose of data collection, what data will be collected and what data should not be collected, how data will be used, who else will have access to the data (whether privately or publicly), and the amount of time the data will be saved. Informed consent does not refer only to written consent, but also involves a more thorough and in-depth discussion with community members around how their lives might be impacted. For instance, parallel reports are publicly available and can be accessed by States and third parties, which may put communities or individuals at risk. Security should be considered and assessed holistically, to include physical and digital security, as well as mental well-being. Civil society groups developing parallel reports should recognize that communities have the ultimate decision-making power and agency on what data can be collected or if data can be collected at all.
 This section is adapted from the collective position on ESCR and data developed by the Monitoring Working Group of ESCR-Net: https://www.escr-net.org/monitoring .
Another useful reference on this issue is OHCHR’s Guidance Note on A human rights-based approach to data’ 2018, available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/HRIndicators/GuidanceNoteonApproachtoData.pd
Tips for developing your parallel report
Preparing a parallel report is primarily about putting forward an alternative narrative or story to the one that the State is presenting in its official communications. The report should be a way to amplify people’s voices and perspectives about their experiences. The report should tie people’s experiences and perspectives to specific rights and provisions of the treaty.
1. The report should be grounded in the lived experiences of people with whom you interact via your work. It should contain data or evidence that tell the story of the effect and impact an issue has on people (see section above). It is particularly powerful if data based on lived experiences is compared and contrasted with official data available on the same issue.
2. Stories and experiences should be tied to specific provisions and rights contained in the treaty. It may be best to organize information per article or section of the treaty. If you need guidance on specific provisions and articles of the treaty, refer to existing General Comments. It may also be useful to look at past concluding observations issued by the Committee you are reporting to or those of other treaty bodies.
3. Review the State’s report to assess the content in relation to the information you have in order to build an alternative narrative.
4. Be concise. it may be helpful to prioritize a few specific issues upon which the Committee should focus its attention, and to include an executive summary that contains language that the Committee can draw on in its concluding observations.
5. Provide clear and concrete suggestions or recommendations regarding what the government should do to better respect, protect and fulfill the rights set forth in the treaty. These should be as concrete and specific as possible.
6. Parallel reports are an invaluable opportunity for civil society to highlight gaps in official data. States have a duty to gather data on the steps taken and progress made in fulfilling human rights for everyone. This obligation requires states to set up data gathering systems producing timely, reliable and high-quality data disaggregated by income group, age, sex, gender, race, ethnic origin, migratory status, disability, geographic location and socio-economic circumstances. UNTBs often recommend that States fill gaps in the type of data they need to make available. Although gaps persist, the review process remains a key space to call for more comprehensive human rights data.
7. It is advisable to submit the report collectively or jointly on behalf of a group of civil society organizations as a means to create more legitimacy and help you gain more traction in engaging with UN treaty bodies.
 General Comments provide guidance to governments as to the intent, meaning, and content of the Covenant and emphasize specific issues that States should address in their reporting. See: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/TBGeneralComments.aspx
 Research conducted by the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (Argentina) and the Right to Education Initiative (UK) found that despite UNTBs consistently ask States to collect disaggregated human rights data, there are serious gaps in data collection and disaggregation, and a lack of appropriate mechanisms for collecting data systematically and on a regular basis. The research was conducted in 2016-17 and looked at the concluding observations issued by six different UNTBs in relation to 64 countries in Latin America and Europe In 2016-17 from 2006 to 2016.
 For an example of a submission highlighting gaps in official data, see ACIJ’s analysis of the official report of the state of Argentina to the Committee on the Rights of Child in May 2018 (Spanish only): https://drive.google.com/file/d/14zI-Ysto2xHoip4aDU-L0GPHZI9TgR0h/view
What kind of data to include?
As outlined at the beginning of this guide, States have a number of general obligations in relation to all economic, social and cultural rights (Art.2 of the ICESCR). While it is not compulsory to undertake a thorough assessment on the implementation of these obligations, it may be helpful to keep them in mind when writing your parallel report. You can also reach out to ESCR-Net members who may have specific expertise on these kinds of analysis. In addition, you should consider the following:
Qualitative and quantitative data
In general, it is good practice to combine qualitative and quantitative data on a certain issue. Quantitative data is useful to give a sense of the scale of an issue (e.g. number of people affected), while qualitative data can explain why a certain issue is happening. Often, civil society groups find it easier to use secondary quantitative data (data coming from other sources) and to collect qualitative data through interviews, focus group discussions, etc. This approach works well for parallel reporting, as Committee members often already have access to secondary, quantitative data, particularly official data produced by States and UN agencies. Therefore, they are more interested in reading first-hand information about how a specific issue affects people in real life. Nevertheless, including official (government) data can, in some cases, help to make the report seem more credible for government officials and could, therefore, be beneficial for national-level advocacy. Using indicators to measure States’ fulfillment of their obligations: Indicators are measures that give a sense of progress towards a goal, the extent or how much something has been achieved or changed. In general, it is good practice to include different types of indicators:
- Structural indicators: measure a State’s commitment to meeting their obligations, both in terms of results and conduct (as outlined above). These indicators could include ratification of treaties, national legal frameworks, etc.
- Process indicators: measure the efforts undertaken to realize a specific right, e.g. budget allocation, programmes and policies developed.
- Outcome indicators: measure the actual enjoyment of a right for all citizens. Indicators can also be quantitative or qualitative, and it is generally good practice to combine both. Quantitative indicators can give the idea of the scale of an issue (e.g. access to water), whether a right has been progressively met over the course of time, or the proportion of budget allocated towards a certain right etc. Qualitative indicators instead can give a more nuanced understanding of what is happening and how it is impacting specific groups.
--> You can use already existing indicators – as long as they speak directly to human rights standards – as well as generate your own indicators, which can be more meaningful to your context. For instance, the Organization of American States (OAS) has developed a list of ESCR indicators that States should use to report on ESCR under the Protocol of San Salvador.
--> Ideally, you should involve communities in setting their own indicators. See here for an example.
 The document “Progress Indicators for Measuring Rights Under the Protocol of San Salvador”, prepared by the Working Group to Examine the National Reports Envisioned in the Protocol of San Salvador, establishes useful parameters related to the production of information on ESCR. Such guidance can be used to push States to produce and ensure access to information that enables adequate supervision and monitoring of compliance with the obligations established by various human rights instruments: http://www.oas.org/en/sedi/pub/progress_indicators.pdf
In this guide
- What is UN Treaty Body reporting?
- What are states obligations regarding economic, social and cultural rights?
- Why engage in parallel reporting?
- Choosing the relevant Treaty Body
- How the reporting process works
- Engaging with treaty bodies before, during and after the review cycle
- Follow-up procedures
- Using a human rights-based approach to data collection
- Tips for developing your parallel report
- What kinds data to include?
You can offer and seek support from ESCR-Net members on parallel reporting, before, during and after the review cycle.
Read about how ESCR-Net members have used parallel reporting in their work