How the reporting process works
The reporting process can work in two ways: through the normal procedure or through the simplified procedure. The simplified procedure makes it easier for states to report, however it tends to narrow the scope of the review to a few selected issues (however, the Committees still issue some general observations on the implementation of the Treaty). States can choose to use the simplified procedure after undergoing at least one cycle (three in the case of CESCR) of reporting under the normal procedure.
The normal procedure works as follows:
1. The State submits a report to the relevant treaty body detailing progress towards implementation of the obligations set forth in the treaty.
2. Approximately a year later, civil society groups can submit parallel reports.
3. On the basis of reports received by state and civil society, the Committee decides on a List of Issues (LoIs) and specific questions – the most concerning points raised via parallel reporting – and requests written answers that the State should answer in writing. The LOI is decided by a pre-sessional working group (made up of Committee members) that meets before the actual session of the Committe.
4. Once the State has provided written replies, these are discussed in a constructive dialogue between the State, civil society groups, and the treaty body.
5. Taking into consideration the information submitted by both the State and civil society groups, as well as the constructive dialogue, the treaty body then issues a report with a set of recommendations (concluding observations) outlining what the State must do to respect, protect and fulfill the rights set forth in the treaty.
6. Several treaty bodies (including CEDAW and CESCR) have enacted a follow-up procedure to monitor the implementation of key concluding observations. Under this procedure, States to are requested to submit additional information within a set period of time (24 months in the case of CESCR) on a few key concluding observations which the treaty body deemed more urgent and attainable to achieve within the time frame. Civil society and national human rights institutions can also submit information at this stage.
Under the simplified procedure, instead, States are no longer required to submit a report (step 1 above). Civil society groups can submit a brief report to suggest issues that the Committee should prioritize (step 2 above). The Committee selects a list of issues and key questions for the state see examples of questions that CESCR and CEDAW have asked in the previous sessions (as per step 3 above). The reply of the state to these questions will constitute the main report and will be the basis for discussion during the formal dialogue (step 4 above). Civil society groups can still submit parallel reports that address the issues selected for examination and can participate in the formal dialogue. Steps 5-6 above remain unvaried.
Photo: CTI, UNCTAD Implementation Tool 3/2017
Engaging with treaty bodies before, during and after the review cycle
There are three key stages where civil society groups can provide inputs and engage with treaty bodies:
1. Inform the selection of issues to be examined and questions for the state.
A key role that civil society groups play under the simplified reporting procedure is to provide information to the Committee for selecting issues that should be examined in the review. The selection takes place during pre-sessions held usually a few days apart from the main Committee session. This stage is important because it sets the agenda of what comes later, i.e. on what states will be asked to report about, and consequently the focus of the concluding observations that the Committee will issue. The Committee has a small degree of flexibility to add new issues at a later stage, but generally speaking if an issue is not included in the LOIPR, it is unlikely that it will be examined during the review.
Civil society can submit information ahead of the pre-session and participate at the pre-session (either remotely or in person).
> When submitting information for the list of issues it is important to make a case for why the Committee should focus on these issues (e.g. are they serious human rights violations? Who do they affect and how?). It is not so important to provide a detailed or comprehensive picture of a problem, but rather it is preferable to focus on narratives and lived experiences of people affected by a specific issue (see more below).
Reports for the pre-session should focus on information particularly relevant to the adoption of the LOIs or the LOIPRs and should usually be submitted between 10 and 8 weeks before the beginning of the pre-sessional working group. Each UN Treaty Body webpage includes information on parallel reporting, including word limits. Reports to CESCR should be submitted online and more information is available here.
> Participating in pre-sessions is a great way to engage directly with Committee members. It provides the opportunity to address potential questions that may arise from the written information submitted and ensure that specific issues are included in the LOIs and, therefore, discussed with States. It is also possible to make oral statements in person during the first morning of the pre-sessional working group meeting. Some Committees, such as CESCR, also allow organizations that have submitted a report to deliver a public statement at a public meeting dedicated to partners and/or organize a lunchtime briefing. It is also possible to make oral statements in person during the first morning of the pre-sessional working group meeting.
2. Input to the formal dialogue and inform concluding observations:
Similarly to the pre-session, civil society groups can also provide inputs and participate the constructive dialogue between states and treaty bodies. This is the core stage in the review of states. Committee members discuss with states on the basis of the reports submitted by states and civil society organizations (parallel reports). Following the dialogue, treaty bodies issue recommendations for states (concluding observations) to ensure respect, protection and fulfillment of the rights under the relevant covenant.
Civil society groups can play a key role in providing a narrative alternative to the one of the state, and countering the information provided by the state by submitting a parallel report ahead of the session and participating in session at the formal dialogue. Reports should be transmitted directly to the secretariat of the UN treaty body (for example, email@example.com), between 6 and 3 weeks before the session. Each UN Treaty Body webpage includes information on parallel reporting, including word limits. Reports to CESCR should be submitted through an online platform and more information is available here. The next chapter of this guide will focus on how to develop a parallel report.
Similarly to pre-sessions, civil society groups can participate to the formal dialogue in person or via videoconference. During the formal dialogue it is possible to make oral presentation on issues that are being discussed, particularly to provide an alternative or different view on how these issues affect certain groups. Along the formal dialogue, groups can also arrange lunchtime briefings – these are more informal and can be used brief committee members about a specific issue or country.
Here are some tips for planning participation in pre-sessions or sessions:
- Get in touch with ESCR-Net members based in Geneva who can help you identify key treaty body members, other civil society allies, as well as provide guidance and suggestions on how to participate effectively;
- If you can travel to Geneva, either for the pre-session or session of the treaty body, try to organize a briefing with treaty body members covering your issue. Generally, a group of three or four experts are in charge of specific rights;
- If you cannot travel to Geneva, you may be able to participate via videoconference. To do so, you need to get in touch with the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights (OHCHR) Secretariat who coordinates and support the work of treaty bodies. Please keep in mind that videoconference may not always be possible due to technical challenges; and
- Engage with journalists to encourage coverage of the issue during the session and publish a press release highlighting the concerns and recommendations made by the experts in their concluding observations.
During the parallel reporting process, it can be helpful to think about how affected communities, and others in solidarity with them or in similar situations, might strategically use and build on the treaty body recommendations over time. For example, human rights advocates use concluding observations to lobby for change on a national level, to support strategic litigation, and to educate and mobilize communities around key issues.
Generally speaking, an effective implementation strategy would include the following:
- Develop a collective strategy to monitor the implementation of the recommendations. Working collectively can add pressure on the government to implement the recommendations as well as establish consensus among civil society groups around specific issues. Establishing a collective or alliance of groups can also open up opportunities for directly engaging with the government in the implementation of recommendations.
- Use existing follow-up procedures to hold States accountable for the progress in implementing key observations one to two years after the reporting process (see below).
- Raise awareness of the treaty body system with civil society organizations and encourage them to use the concluding observations and recommendations in their own advocacy.
- Write to, or meet with, state representatives in charge of the issue to discuss the measures they plan to take to respond to the issue. This is more effective in partnership with other organizations.
- Engage with parliamentarians and encourage to them to question the government and relevant governmental bodies.
- Raise awareness in the media by contacting journalists and making them aware of developments.
3. Monitoring and reporting on the implementation of concluding observations through the follow up procedure:
Follow up procedures require states to report back to the Committee within one to two years on the measures taken to give effect to the “follow-up recommendations” that treaty body deemed urgent and attainable in the set period of time. Civil society groups can engage in these processes by submitting their own reports on the progress made by the State in implementing the observations selected for follow-up. This is an important way to maintain pressure on the State, as well as to share concerns and feedback on the steps the State has taken in the first one to two years Civil society groups can engage in these processes by submitting their own reports on the progress made by the State in implementing the observations selected for follow-up. This is an important way to maintain pressure on the State, as well as to share concerns and feedback on the steps the State has taken in the first one to two years. States will also be asked to report on their progress in implementing the observations at the beginning of the following periodic reporting process. Therefore, it is important that the implementation of the observations continues to be monitored after the follow-up procedure through the next reporting cycle.
Follow-up procedures of CESCR and CEDAW: Under its follow-up procedure, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights identifies up to three recommendations in its concluding observations that require urgent action and should be attainable within a period of 24 months. The State party is required to respond to the selected recommendations within 24 months. Its replies will constitute the follow-up report and will be made public on the webpage of the Committee. Civil society and national human rights institutions is are also able to submit relevant information. Once CESCR has all the necessary information, it makes a determination as to whether the State has made sufficient progress
The follow-up procedure utilized by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women requires the State party to provide information within a period of one or two years on steps taken to implement specific observations (‘up to four sub-paragraphs’ among the recommendations issued), which are selected based on the perception that their lack of implementation constitutes a major obstacle for the implementation of the Convention, and their implementation is feasible within the suggested time frame. The Committee has a Rapporteur on follow-up and a Deputy Rapporteur who review and assess the follow-up information.
 For further information on the UN human rights bodies and advocacy, see: OHCHR. 2016. How to Follow Up on United Nations Human Rights Recommendations - A Practical Guide for Civil Society.
 For more information about engaging with CESCR please see https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CESCR/Pages/NGOs.aspx.
 International Women’s Rights Action Watch, NGO Shadow Reporting to CESCR: a procedural guide, available at http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/iwraw/shadow/CESCRNGOguideJune2003.doc
 This section is adapted from Murphy, E., 2019, p. 216-17.
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