Institute for International and
Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

The impact of the United Nations human rights treaties at the domestic level

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The Centre for Human Rights and the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, University of Pretoria, have launched an independent academic study to be undertaken in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) over the next two years (2018 and 2019), on the impact of the United Nations human rights treaty system in 20 selected states worldwide. An earlier study conducted on the same basis described the situation in these 20 states as it was on 1 July 1999 ( The new study will cover the same states, 20 years later (as at 1 July 2019).

The 20 researchers who are conducting the study are all based in the countries concerned, each focussing  on the same questions posed by the study leaders: What has been to influence of the UN treaties and the work of the treaty bodies on the constitution of the country in question; on its legislation; on its policies; has it been cited in the courts; is it taught in the universities; is it covered in the newspapers? Also, what is the evidence that the views and the concluding observations of the treaty bodies has been implemented?

The 1999 study provides the most comprehensive and detailed overview of the impact of the treaty system on the domestic level that has been done to date. In terms of its geographical scope, 20 states are covered. It is furthermore unique in that it serves as a baseline from which new developments over time can be investigated. The situation 20 years ago in al those countries can be compared with the situation today. Perhaps the main distinguishing factor is that the research 20 years ago and again now is conducted by researchers on the ground, in the countries in question, based on primary research (they go through the records of the legislation, inteview government officials as well as NGO’s, etc).

During the intervening two decades much has happened. A relatively young system at the end of the last century has come of age, and expanded in many directions. There are now nine major human rights treaties and ten treaty bodies. Many states that had only recently joined the treaty system when the study was done, with little exposure to reporting or complaints, have in the meantime become seasoned participants. Hundreds of State reports have been considered since the first study was done, and have resulted in concluding observations. Likewise, large numbers of individual communications were concluded. New General comments have been drafted. States have joined the system. Treaty bodies have developed new working methods.

There has been a burgeoning literature focusing on the impact of the human rights system during the last couple of years (with a limited number of empirical studies having been conducted). Moreover, the treaty system as a whole is currently the subject of a major process of reform that may result in an overhaul of the way in which it functions. Questions are continuously being asked about the effectiveness of the human rights system as a whole, and whether it or any of its components need to be adjusted. In order to establish whether different parts of the broader system need to be changed, it is important to understand the impact of the treaty system.

This gives renewed relevance to the question as to what we really know about the actual impact of the UN treaties in the very communities they are aimed to affect, on the basis of evidence gathered ‘on the ground’, by people who speak the language and know the system from within.

The 1999 study presents a time capsule of the impact of the treaty system on the domestic level at the turn of the century. The passage of two decades provides a natural opportunity to revisit the impact of the treaty system in the 20 States studied previously, and to use the earlier study as a point of reference from which trends could be identified and recommendations for change could be made. This offers the prospect of a richer understanding of the current state of affairs, but also a foundation from which to anticipate the future of the system.

A call for human rights researchers worldwide to contribute to a global study

call for researchers

What has been the influence to date of the main United Nations human rights treaties, and the work of the committees that monitor compliance by States with these treaties, on the lives of people worldwide? A group of human rights researchers are currently engaged in a comprehensive ‘domestic impact study’ that will address this question in 20 countries. Researchers in other parts of the world are now also encouraged to undertake research on the same issue in their home countries.

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Press Release:



  • The Impact of the United Nations Human Rights Treaties on the Domestic Level
the impact of UNHR treaties system
Edited by Christof Heyns and Frans Viljoen

ISBN: 978-90-41-11719-9

Visit book website


Country Researchers

australia Australia

  • Prof Sarah Joseph
    Director for the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law
    Monash University

  • Dr Adam Fletcher
    RMIT University

brazil Brazil

  • Prof Oscar Vilhena Vieira
    Dean & Professor of Law
    São Paulo Law School of Fundação Getulio Vargas

  • Prof Thiago Amparo
    Professor of Law
    São Paulo Law School of Fundação Getulio Vargas

canada Canada

columbia Colombia

  • Prof Rodrigo Uprimny Yepes
    Formerly director, currently coordinator of Drug Policy Line

czech republic Czech Republic

  • Dr Harald Christian Scheu
    Head of the Department of Public Law and Public Administration
    The CEVRO Institute

  • Dr Jitka Brodská
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic

Egypt Egypt

estonia Estonia

finland Finland

  • Ms Leena Leikas
    Human Rights Centre
  • Dr Merja Pentikäinen
    Expert on corporate responsibility
    Opinio Juris

india India

  • Mr Miloon Kothari
    Independent Human Rights Expert

iran Iran

  • Ms. Matin Talkhabi
    Head of Working Group on Women’s Rights
    University of Tehran
    Ferdowsi Consulting Legal Advisors
    Legal practice

jamaica Jamaica

  • Ms Tracy Robinson
    Senior Lecturer
    University of West Indies

  • Ms Malene Alleyne
    Human Rights Lawyer
    Caribbean Protection Unit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (Washington DC)

japan Japan

  • Prof Matshuda Hiromichi
    Assistant Professor of Law
    International Christian University

  • Prof Yota Negishi
    Assistant Professor of Law
    Seinan Gakuin University

  • Ms Ayako Hatano
    Doctoral Researcher
    University of Tokyo

mexico Mexico

philippines Philippines

  • Arpee Santiago (Atty. Ray Paolo J. Santiago)
    Executive Director
    Human Rights Center (Ateneo De Manila University)
    Secretary General
    Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

romania Romania

  • Dr Ivona Truscan
    Thematic Advisor: Migration and OPCAT Implementation for APT
    Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT)

russia Russia

  • Prof Aslan Abashidze
    Head of the Department of International Law, Law Institute 
    RUDN University
    Member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  • Dr Aleksandra Koneva
    Senior Lecturer, Department of International Law
    People’s Friendship University of Russia

  • Prof Alexander Solntsev
    Deputy Head of the Department of International Law
    RUDN University

Senegal Senegal

  • Dr Ibrahima Kane
    Advocacy Director
    Open Society Foundation

South Africa South Africa

  • Dr Willem Gravett
    Senior Lecturer
    University of Pretoria

  • Mr Foluso Adegalu
    Doctoral Candidate in Law
    University of Pretoria

  • Ms Tessa Mitchell
    Graduate Student
    Geneva Academy

spain Spain

  • Prof Carlos Villán Durán
    Spanish Association for the International Law of Human Rights (AEDIDH)

Zambia Zambia

  • Dr O’Brien Kaaba
    University of Zambia

Affiliate Researchers / Institutions

  • Center for Global Public Law
    Koç University Law School, Istanbul, Turkey

    Prof Basak Çali, Director
  • Human Rights Center
    University of Dayton, Ohio, United States of America

    Prof Shelly Inglis, Executive Director
  • JusGov Research Centre for Justice and Governance
    University of Minho, Braga, Portugal

    Prof A Sofia Pinto Oliviera, Researcher
    Dr Benedita Ferreira da Silva Mac Crorie, Researcher

A meeting of country researchers was held on 28 February and 1March 2019, hosted by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at Palais Wilson and Palais des Nations, Geneva.

To aid human rights scholars in this endeavour, we include a reference to the template according to which the twenty country corespondents in the present study will conduct their research

pdf-icon xsmall Download template

 General information on the treaty system

pdf-icon xsmall Academic platform report on the 2020 review: Optimizing the UN treaty body system
Geneva Academy: Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

For general on-line information:

The following two sources provide an excellent overview of the UN human rights treaty system and might be a good starting point:

pdf-icon xsmall Fact sheet on the UN human rights treaty system

pdf-icon xsmall Handbook for Human Rights Treaty Body Members

The follow-up procedures of the various treaty bodies are an invaluable resource in impact, because one often finds explicit statements by States during those processes on whether they have implemented views of COBs. This is also the case with reference to Individual Communications.

The documents produced by the treaty bodies can be accessed at:

Particularly useful for follow-up to COBs under the ICCPR, and thus also for the question of causality is: 

For an enlightening discussion of the implementation by States of the decisions of the Treaty Bodies (particularly the HRCttee), please see the following article.

Principi, KF “Implementation of Decisions under the UN Treaty Body Complaint Procedures – How Do States Comply? / A Categorized Study Based on 268 Cases of ‘Satisfactory’ Implementation under the Follow-Up Procedure, mainly regarding the UN Human Rights Committee” (2017) 37 Human Rights Law Journal 1.

pdf-icon xsmall View article

In a follow-up article, Kate Fox Principi explores what internal mechanisms exist in States to implement the decisions of the treaty bodies and discusses how the establishment of these mechanisms can assist States to fulfill their good-faith obligations 

Principi, KF “Internal Mechanisms to Implement UN Human Rights Decisions, notably of the UN Human Rights Committee / How Can These Mechanisms Assist States to Fulfil their Good Faith Obligations?” (2017) 37 Human Rights Law Journal 237

pdf-icon xsmall View article

In a new series of policy briefs, the Universal Rights Group takes a closer clook at the global human rights implementation Agenda. The first report of this new series explores the role of multilateral and bilateral development partners in supporting States (in particular developing States) in their implementation of the UN human rights mechanisms:

 Universal Rights Group
Global Human Rights Implementation Agenda
The Role of International Development Partners

For recent reports on the implementation of international human rights decisions published by the Open Society Justice Initiative:

pdf-icon xsmall From Judgment to Justice: Implementing International and Regional Human Rights Decisions (November 2010)

pdf-icon xsmall From Rights to Remedies: Structures and Strategies for Implementing International Human Rights Decisions (June 2013)


Another helpful resource is: OHCHR’s Weekly Update: News and Events in the UN Human Rights Treaty Body System.  It is issued every Monday and covers the proceedings of the previous week. 

The Weekly Update focal point is:
Ms Elena Kountouri Tapiero
Tel: +41 22 917 96 72
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For an interesting point of reference, see Matheus de Carvalho Hernandez’s review of Kathryn Sikkink Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century (2017) [Princeton: Princeton University Press]


Books on the treaty system

Alston, P & Crawford, J (eds) (2000) The future of the UN human rights treaty system [Cambridge University Press]

Alston, P & Goodman, R (2013) International human rights [Oxford University Press]

Alston, P (ed) (2004) The United Nations and human rights: A critical appraisal [Clarendon Press]

De Schutter, O (2014) International human rights law [Cambridge University Press]

Egan, S (2011) The UN human rights treaty system: Law and procedure [Bloomsbury Professional]

Keller, H & Ulfstein, G (2012) UN human rights treaty bodies: Law and legitimacy [Cambridge University Press]

Shelton, D (2013) The Oxford handbook of international human rights law [Oxford University Press]

Weissbrodt, D et al (2009) Selected international human rights instruments and bibliography for research on international human rights law [LexisNexis]

Young, K (2002) The law and process of the UN Human Rights Committee [Transnational Publishers]


Journal articles on the treaty system

Boerefijn, I “Establishing state responsibility for breaching human rights Treaty obligations: Avenues under human rights treaties” (2009) 56(2) Netherlands International Law Review 167

Downs, G & Jones, M “Reputation, compliance, and international law” (2002) 31(1) The Journal of Legal Studies 95

Hathaway, O “Why do countries commit to human right treaties?” (2007) 51(4) Yale Law Journal 588

Kanetake, M “UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies before domestic courts” (2018) 67 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 201

Neumayer, E “Do international human rights treaties improve respect for human rights?” (2005) 49(6) Journal of Conflict Resolution 925

Buergenthal, T “The contemporary significance of international human rights law” (2009) 22(2) Leiden Journal of International Law 217

Krommendijk, J “The domestic effectiveness of international human rights
monitoring in established democracies: The case of the UN Human Rights treaty bodies” (2015) 10(4) The Review of International Organizations 489


University of Pretoria: Opportunity for doctoral studies on the impact of the United Nations human rights treaties on the domestic level

The Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, invites applications from individuals interested in pursuing a doctorate degree in law, specifically on the topic of the impact of the United Nations human rights treaties on the domestic level.

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