Guidance to students and other country researchers collecting documentation for the online database 2020+


Welcome to impact database 2020+!


Your assignment

We thank all students and other researchers who have agreed to collect primary documents showing the impact of the UN human rights treaty system in a particular country, to be used on 'impact databse 2020+'. The goal is to make it easy for everyone in the world to track and help  improve the impact of the UN human rights treaty system.

We do hope that you will find this to be a worthwhile experience and an opportunity to learn more about a largely unknown aspect of human rights, and to contribute towards a project that will have long-term positive implications for human rights worldwide.

Could we ask you as a first step to make sure you have read the description of  the treaty system impact study as a whole, which you can find here. As you will see, we are essentially interested to collect the primary documents showing first-hand to what extent the treaty system has made or makes a difference on the country-level in as many parts of the world as possible.

If you need more information on the treaty system, it is available on the UN website. This is where you will find information on the treaties themselves, as well as the outputs of the treaty bodies.

The names of the countries that we currently cover for the impact database 2020+ and of those responsible for each country can be found here. Your name will be added as the person currently responsible, and once you have submitted the documents that you have found, your name will be retained on the website as one of the valued contributors to the study in respect of the documentation on that particular country.

To summarise your assignment: We are asking you to collect and send us primary or first-hand documents that show the impact (or lack thereof) of the treaty system (the treaties themselves or the outputs of the treaty monitoring bodies) in the country that you are covering. We are asking you to send us only what we call ‘country documents’ – that is, official and other documents produced in the country, which are not already available on the United Nations system.

We will now explain the assignment in more detail.

A document  shows evidence of impact if it appears from the document itself that the treaty system has made a difference in the country in question. This would be the case, for example,

  • where a particular treaty is mentioned by name in the preamble of a law of that country (in which case we will want a copy of that law); or
  • the documents setting out  the history of a particular law (including the constitution) which show that the treaty had a role when the law was drafted (we will then want a copy of the relevant parts of those documents); or
  • the views of a treaty body have been cited in a decision of a court in the country (in which case we will want to see the relevant parts of that decision to see whether it was e.g. merely cited by the court in passing, or relied upon for substance), etc.

We are also interested in understanding why specific treaties have been (or have not been) ratified; procedures such as individual complaints (not) accepted; etc.
The ‘treaty system’ is comprised of two elements:

  • the UN human rights treaties themselves (there are nine such treaties; one example is the Convention on the Rights of the Child); as well as
  • the outputs of the treaty monitoring bodies (also called the treaty bodies, such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women).

We are thus  interested in the impact of the treaties themselves as well as that of the output of the treaty bodies.
The outputs of the treaty bodies include for example

  • the ‘views’ (similar to judgments) that they publish after consideration of individual communications against a state party to a particular treaty;
  • the ‘concluding observations’ that treaty bodies adopt once they have completed a country review of a particular state, based inter on a reports submitted by the state and others; and
  • the ‘general comments’ or other similar documents in which a treaty bodies sets out their view on the obligations of states under the different treaties.

Please note: For the purposes of this study we  are interested only in the impact of the UN human rights treaty system, as described above; we are NOT covering the impact of the other UN human rights mechanisms, such as the Universal Peer Review or the Special Procedures. However, in dealing with a particular country, these other mechanisms often refer to the compliance (or lack thereof) of the state with obligations imposed by the treaty system, and as such it may be a useful source of information on what to look for in your country.

Also: We are NOT asking you to send us documents that are already available on the UN website, such as the reports submitted by the state or NGOs to the treaty bodies, or the concluding observations of the treaty bodies in respect of the country. We already have access to those documents. We are only asking you to send us the country documents that are not already available on the UN system.

At the same time, as explained below, we do encourage you look for your own purposes at the treaty system documents that are already available on the UN website. These documents often provide good leads to the relevant country documentation that we want you to find in your country. In fact, in many instances this will be the best starting point for our country researchers. (As soon as the algorithm that we are developing to identify these 'UN documents' is operational, we will forward you the relevant information, but please do not rely on this for the time being.)

The areas of potential impact of the treaty system in the country that we are interested in relates to the work of the following institutions:

The legislature (e.g. Acts; Bills; subordinate legislation; extracts from debates in the legislature, for example in Hansards, etc. This also includes information showing the impact of the treaty system on the drafting of the  constitution or constitutional amendments.)

The executive (e.g. government policies; ministerial report;, significant comments by politicians, etc.)

The judiciary (court decisions; court guidelines; heads of argument, etc.)

Other state institutions  (e.g. relevant national human rights institution reports; ombudsman reports; commissions of inquiry, etc. In countries with National Mechanisms for Reporting, Impact and Follow up, it will be important to track their work as well.) 

We are also looking for any documents showing why treaties were ratified or not ratified by the state, or procedures (such as individual communications) accepted.

We are also interested in documents reflecting governmental reaction or inaction to the views or concluding observations of the treaty bodies (e.g. proof that someone in detention was released; that an investigation into possible human rights violations was initiated; or that a problematic law or policy was changed, etc., if this was done because the state was requested to do so by a treaty body).

Documents such as those mentioned above are often to be found in the official publications of the state, which in many cases are available online. If not, please find the hard copies and capture them electronically.

If primary documents cannot be found, secondary sources showing impact will also be welcome. Publications by academics & researchers or the  media that deal with the impact of the treaty system in the country are also welcome.

We are also looking for documents published by NGOs, if it shows evidence of  impact in the country, or shows that these bodies themselves have used the treaty system in their work in respect of the country in question. 

We do not expect you to be able to locate and send us all the relevant country documents on your particular country, there are likely to be many thousands  of these documents for most countries. We are interested in documents which cover the situation since the start of the treaty system, though if you have to choose, focus on the more recent years. You are merely expected to find as many documents as you can within the time you have available for this assignment. Someone else will take over after you and look for more documents. At the same time, we are keen to keep in touch with former researchers, in the hope that you will continue to send us documentation as you came across it.


Where do I start? Methodology/toolkit


We suggest you start by looking at the information in respect of the different treaties as they relate to your country on the UN website provided above. Make sure you know which treaties have been adhered to by your country, and which procedures your country has adopted (e.g. has it adopted the individual communications procedure in respect of the treaties that provide for such a procedure?). Then look a the latest reporting cycles for each of the different treaties that the country has adhered to, and in particular 'the list of issues (prior to reporting),' the 'state report', and the 'concluding observations'. Then look at the other paralle reports  that were submitted (e.g. by NGOs). For the treaties for which  this is available on the website, look at the 'follow-up reports'. While doing this, keep record of country documents that you think may be relevant. Also look at the 'views' of the treaty bodies on individual communications, where appropriate.

The next step is to look for these documents in the offical records of your country and to capture them digitally. If you have time, go back and look at earlier reporting cycles and go throught the process again.

Once you have found the documents to which there is a lead in the UN system, the real fun starts. Start looking for country documents for which you did not find a link in the UN system. First of all look for the record of the adoption of the constitution - does it show that the teaty system had an influence? Or is there perhaps a reference in the constitution itself? Then look for other legislation showing impact, judial decisions, etc., following the list of potential areas of impact provided above.

Once you have done the above, please follow the steps set out below on how to submit it to us.


Submission of country documents


All documents should be sent to us in electronic format. The URLs for documents that are available online must be provided.
When you send your documents to us, please provide an index of all documents submitted, per treaty, and which explains why you are sending each document to us (how does it show impact?). As far as possible please follow the sequence of the list of sources of these documents as set out above, e.g. documents from the legislature first, executive second, etc.
Please send the documents in English, if possible. If the documents are not available in English, you are not required to translate the whole document, but please provide a translation of the relevant section.

Optional essay

Country researchers are also invited, if they so wish, to provide us with a short essay setting out their findings on the impact of the treaty system in the country in question.

Requirements to be a country researcher

Country researchers should have at least a foundational understanding of the UN human rights system. They must understand the language in which official documents are published in the country and have personal experience with the country they are researching.

Intellectual property

The nature of the project dictates that students or their home institutions will not retain copyright in their research.

Thank you very much and please do not hesitate to contact us should you get stuck or want to discuss something!

Christof Heyns 22 April 2020