Human Rights Committee: State Reporting Procedure

Applies to/Se aplica a

State practice
State law
Individual cases
For Urgent Action
Only under 18-s

Summary

The Human Rights Committee (hereinafter referred to as HR Committee or Committee) is a treaty-based mechanism which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (see: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm) by State Parties. This is done through the examination of regular reports from States Parties (for States Parties see http://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&c...) The report is examined through a six-hour (periodic reports) or nine-hour (initial reports) dialogue between the Committee and representatives of the State. During the dialogue Committee members may raise any civil or political rights issues, including rights not addressed in the State report. After the dialogue, the Committee produces Concluding Observations, which outline recommendations, and comment on the State's practice and legislation.

1. Likely results from use of the mechanism

During the examination of the State's report, members of the Committee may also raise issues related to conscientious objection to military service. If the Committee comes to the conclusion that the State's practice does not comply with the ICCPR, it will outline this in its Concluding Observations in the form of concerns and recommendations. When the State reappears in front of the Committee, the Committee will be highly likely to ask the State about improvements it has made.
In some cases, the issue of conscientious objection to military service may also be chosen for the Committee's follow-up procedure.
The Concluding Observations may also be included in the compilation of UN information prepared for the Universal Periodic Review.

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

The mechanism applies to those States who have ratified or acceded to the ICCPR. The status of ratifications is available at http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&c....

3. Who can submit information?

Anyone – including NGOs without ECOSOC consultative status, and individuals.

4. When to submit information?

Information for the List of Issues

The List of Issues is a document prepared by the Committee on the basis of the State report and information from other sources which aims to highlight the Committee's major issues of concerns for the review. The List of Issues is sent to the State several months before the dialogue so that the State can prepare responses. These responses form the starting point for the dialogue between the Committee and the State. It is therefore important to submit information before the drafting of the List of Issues to ensure that the issue of conscientious objection to military service is included in the List of Issues and so addressed throughout the review process.

The List of Issues is drafted by the Country Report Task Force (CRTF) with the support of the OHCHR at least two months before the session at which it is scheduled to be adopted.
For deadlines please visit: http://www.ccprcentre.org/next-session.

Submissions sent after the adoption of the List of Issues may be taken into account during the dialogue.

Information for standard reporting:

After the adoption of the List of Issues it is still worth submitting information for the examination of the State report. This should make reference to the List of Issues, if conscientious objection to military service is included. If the State has provided written replies to the List of Issues reference can also be made to these. However, the State is not obliged to provide its written replies in advance, so the NGOs should not wait for the State replies before preparing their submissions.
If the List of Issues does not include conscientious objection to military service, NGOs should prepare a short report explaining the issues with a view to getting them appropriately addressed during the dialogue with the State. Information should be submitted no later than two weeks before the start of the session at which the State report will be examined.

In their reports NGOs should highlight errors and omissions in the information provided by the State. The State reports are public and accessible online at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/sessions.htm. If not you might have to request it from your Ministry of Foreign Affairs or, if that is not possible, from the UN Human Rights Committee secretariat. Due to a backlog of State reports there is usually a delay of about a year between the submission of the State report and the start of the Committee's consideration.
Once the State report is available, check online when the report is likely to be considered: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/sessions.htm or http://www.ccprcentre.org/next-session.

Information for reporting under the Optional Reporting Procedure

In October 2009, the Human Rights Committee introduced a new Optional Reporting Procedure (also called LOIPR procedure), based on a List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR). A five year pilot period started in November 2010.
The Optional Reporting Procedure is optional, as the name applies. A State can continue to submit a full periodic report, or the Committee can request a full report “when it deems that particular circumstances warrant a full report, including when a fundamental change in the State party’s political and legal approach affecting Covenant rights has occurred; in such a case a full article-by-article report may be required”.

The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights will publish a list of those States that report under the LOIPR procedure, where possible, at least nine months prior to the session during which the LOIPR is to be adopted by the Committee. This gives NGOs the opportunity to submit their information prior to the adoption of the List of Issues Prior to Reporting.

5. Any special advice for making a submission to this mechanism?

Structure of the Report

The following information applies to reports dealing only with conscientious objection to military service. If you are preparing a longer report covering multiple issues please consult the Centre for Civil and Political Rights' Guidelines for NGOs on Engagement with the Human Rights Committee (http://www.ccprcentre.org/en/ngo-guidelines).

Introduction

The introduction should include a presentation of the NGO (including the contact details) submitting the report and relevant information about the general context, such as historical context, specific situations (e.g. armed conflict or socio-economic context), without repeating information provided in the State report.

Substantive part

The information provided in the report should be directly linked to an analysis of the implementation of the Covenant, with clear indications of which articles are being breached, in what way, and the consequences that this implies. It may be useful to refer to already established interpretations of what constitutes a breach of the Covenant e.g. General Comment 22.
Also review and analyse how far the national laws, policies and other measures in the State Party comply with the ICCPR. Specific attention should be focused on gaps between the national laws and their implementation.
NGO written submissions should be objective and it is therefore advisable to acknowledge any progress, such as the positive measures taken by the State to implement the Covenant. It can be useful for NGO reports to illustrate the NGOs findings with cases that show concretely how the authorities fail to implement the ICCPR. Case law should be updated with the latest judicial process and other relevant information such as dates and sources. NGOs should be sure that the credibility of the information cannot be called into question.
It is worth reminding the Committee of its previous Concluding Observations where relevant.

Conclusions and recommendations

At the end of your submission, include a list of suggested questions about domestic legislation or practice that you would like the Committee to put to the government.
Many NGOs include recommendations in their reports, which they like the Committee to make in the Concluding Observations. Recommendations should be concrete, realistic and action oriented. Recommendations could also be made with regard to the role of NGOs in the implementation of the Concluding Observations.
However, others, such as War Resisters' International, do not include recommendations, and focus on criticising violations of the ICCPR.

Reference to the State report and the previous Concluding Observations

NGOs should indicate whether their information corroborates, supplements, or contradicts the information provided in the State report. If the State has not addressed the issue at all this should also be noted.

The Concluding Observations adopted by the Human Rights Committee after the examination of the previous State report should also be taken into account by NGOs when they start to draft their reports as one of the Committee's objectives is to monitor how far their previous recommendations have been implemented. It is extremely important to assess if any progress has been made by the authorities with regard to the previous Concluding Observations. When NGOs consider that no improvement has been made with regard to the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee, it should be clearly stated.
It may also be very useful to consult the summary records of the discussions that took place during the consideration of the previous report by the Committee as well as the written replies or comments (if any) provided by the State in response to the previous recommendations of the Committee. Both are available on the OHCHR web site as well as on the CCPR Centre website: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/followup-procedure.htm.

Consider putting out a press release saying that you have made the submission and send copies to anyone you think should see it. This might include other parts of the UN human rights machinery.

Confidentiality

Usually, NGO information submitted to the Human Rights Committee is made public and posted on the OHCHR website, if the NGO agrees to this. This means that the reports are also available to the State Parties. This should be kept in mind especially for NGOs coming from countries where civil society cannot work freely and is harassed by the authorities.
Although it is possible to state that information shall not be posted to the OHCHR website the Human Rights Committee cannot however withhold the information after a State request.
If you are concerned about confidentiality, please contact the CCPR Centre for advice.

Language

NGO reports should be submitted in one or more of the Human Rights Committee's working languages: English, French and Spanish. If the entire report cannot be translated NGOs should consider preparing a short executive summary in all three languages.
Naturally all information submitted should be as concise as possible.

Lobbying during the session

Everybody is allowed to attend the Committee sessions as observers. Before attending however you have to apply to the Secretariat for accreditation.
Attendance at the session at which the State report is reviewed by the Committee is very important as it allows NGOs to react to the information provided by the State representatives. If necessary NGOs should be ready to provide informal feedback to the Committee members when assertions made by State representatives seem to be irrelevant or inaccurate. Although NGOs are not allowed to take the floor in the plenary session, Committee members can be approached and lobbied during break in the meeting, at the end of the meeting or before the meeting starts the following day. NGOs should not hesitate to suggest additional questions or clarifications that the Committee could ask the State representatives. There are also two opportunities for NGOs to meet the Committee members and present their concerns:

Formal NGO briefings

NGOs have the opportunity to address the Committee on issues and subjects of concern related to countries being reviewed during the formal NGO briefings, typically lasting 30 minutes per country, and taking place on the same day or the day before the review of the country's report. These briefings are chaired by the Committee's President and are closed, which means that only Committee members and the NGOs are allowed to attend and participate. The meeting is conducted in the Committee's working languages (English, French and Spanish). Interpretation between these languages is provided.
The President invites each NGO to deliver a brief statement (statement should take no more than two or three minutes to read slowly) and afterwards time is allocated for Committee members to ask questions and NGOs to reply.
If a national NGO is not in a position to take part in the NGO briefing the CCPR Centre (http://www.ccprcentre.org/) can address the Human Rights Committee on its behalf.

Informal NGO Briefings

The Centre for Civil and Political Rights also organises informal briefings with the Committee. These informal meetings are usually scheduled over lunchtime and last up to 90 minutes. They are not held in the Committee room and no interpretation is provided. Although not all Committee members attend these meetings, they are a unique opportunity for NGOs to raise their concerns and to respond to the Committee members' questions. Usually there is one briefing on each State reviewed.
The Centre for Civil and Political Rights coordinates the informal briefings and assists NGOs with the practical arrangements. NGOs wishing to take part should contact the Centre before the session.

6. Special rules of procedure or advice for making a submission?

No

7. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

Due to a backlog of State reports there is usually a delay of about a year between the submission of the State report and the start of the Committee’s consideration. The Committee will prepare by reading the report and any other material available to it on the country in question, for example from special rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council, or NGOs.
The Committee, with the support of the Secretariat, will draft the List of Issues and adopt it during one of their sessions. The List of Issues is sent to the State so that they can prepare replies.
The State is then examined in a public meeting during one of the Committee's sessions. The examination begins with an opening presentation by the State Party’s delegation, including responses to the List of Issues. The Committee members then put questions to the representatives, seeking to clarify or deepen their understanding of issues concerning the implementation and enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR in the State Party. This often includes questions that have not been fully answered in the responses to the List of Issues.
Usually the Committee takes two half day meetings (of three hours) to consider a periodic State report and three meetings (of three hours) to consider an initial report. At the end of the session, the Committee will produce Concluding Observations outlining recommendations and comments on the State's practice and legislation.

A) Raising awareness about the Concluding Observations

One of the key areas for NGOs is engaging national interest to ensure that the Concluding Observations are widely disseminated, discussed, and implemented. Issuing press releases as soon as the Concluding Observations are available is the first step to ensure that the national media are aware of the recommendations of the Committee. Press releases should also integrate the findings and the concerns of the NGOs.

NGOs may also organise press conferences at the national level or take advantage of their presence at the United Nations Offices to meet press and agencies' correspondents based in New
York or Geneva.

Although it is the duty of the State to translate the Concluding Observations into national languages and make them available to the public this is often not done. It is therefore an important task for NGOs to make sure the Concluding Observations (or the relevant parts) are translated into national languages, minority languages) and accessible to all interested parties.

B) Lobbying for the implementation of the Concluding Observations

The implementation of the Concluding Observations is the ultimate objective of the NGOs. However this is probably the most challenging aspect of the follow-up process as the result depends on the willingness of the State authorities to cooperate and be actively involved in implementation.
NGOs and civil society can nevertheless play a role in this matter, particularly in lobbying the authorities to ensure that concrete steps are taken toward the implementation of the Concluding Observations.
Round tables or special events on the implementation of the Concluding Observations could be very useful to engage the State's authorities in dialogue, Parliamentarians and the bodies or ministries responsible for implementing and monitoring human rights should be targeted in particular.

C) Reporting back to the Human Rights Committee

The Human Rights Committee has a follow-up procedure in which it asks the State to report on the implementation of selected Concluding Observations one year after the review. However, to date the Committee has only once included conscientious objection to military service in the issues selected for this procedure.
At the time of the next review of the State the NGOs should report on the progress made in implementing the Concluding Observations.

8. History of the use of the mechanism

Most issues relating to conscientious objection will come up in front of the Human Rights Committee as opposed to any other treaty body.
The UN Human Rights Reporting Handbook provides guidance to States for raising the issue in their report to the Human Rights Committee. Under article 18 States are asked to discuss the status and position of conscientious objectors and to provide statistical information regarding the number of persons who have applied for conscientious objector status and the number who were actually recognised as such. They are also asked to give the reasons used to justify conscientious objection and the rights and duties of conscientious objectors as compared to those who serve in the regular military service.

Contact Details: 
NGO information should be sent by post to: Secretary of the Human Rights Committee Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies Division Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights UNOG-OHCHR, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland An electronic copy should be sent to: Secretary of the Human Rights Committee email: ccpr@ohchr.org. NGOs have to send their documents electronically to the Secretariat of the Human Rights Committee as well as providing 25 hard copies that will be distributed to the Experts. If needed, the CCPR Centre will provide support to the NGOs in the transmission of the documents to the Secretariat.
Further Reading: 

Interpretations

Title Date
General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the ICCPR 13/07/1993

General Comment 22 emphasises the broad scope of the freedom of thought, and clarifies that article 18 protects all form of religion, including the right not to profess any religion or belief.
However, manifestation of religion or beliefs may be limited on the grounds of the protection of others (also article 20: prohibition of propaganda for war, hatred or discrimination).
No restrictions on other grounds may be imposed “even if they would be allowed as restrictions to other rights protected in the Covenant, such as national security”. (reiterated in General Comment 29)
(…) while the ICCPR does not explicitly refer to the right to conscientious objection, that right can be derived from article 18 “inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief” (para. 11).

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
General Comment 32 on Article 34 of the ICCPR 23/08/2007

General Comment 34 on article 14 (right to equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial) also deals with conscientious objection, specifically noting that the principle of “ne bis in idem” (paragraph 7 of article 14) prohibits the repeated punishment of conscientious objectors for a refusal to perform military service.

Repeated punishment Recognised
General Comment 29 on Article 4 of the ICCPR 24/07/2001

General Comment 29 on article 4 (states of emergency) clarifies that no derogation from Article 18 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) is allowed during a state of emergency (paragraph 7).
Even in times of most serious public emergencies, States that interfere with the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief must justify their actions by referring to the requirements specified in article 18, paragraph 3.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Concluding Observations
Title Date
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Turkey 01/11/2012

23. The Committee is concerned that conscientious objection to military service has not been recognized by the State party. The Committee regrets that conscientious objectors or persons supporting conscientious objection are still at risk of being sentenced to imprisonment and that, as they maintain their refusal to undertake military service, they are practically deprived of some of their civil and political rights such as freedom of movement and right to vote.. (arts. 12, 18 and 25)

The State party should adopt legislation recognizing and regulating conscientious objection to military service, so as to provide the option of alternative service, without the choice of that option entailing punitive or discriminatory effects and, in the meantime, suspend all proceedings against conscientious objectors and suspend all sentences already imposed.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Concluding Observations: Turkmenistan 29/03/2012

16. The Committee is concerned that the Conscription and Military Service Act, as amended on 25 September 2010, does not recognize a person’s right to exercise conscientious objection to military service and does not provide for any alternative military service. The Committee regrets that due to this law, a number of persons belonging to the Jehovah’s Witness have been repeatedly prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to perform compulsory military service (art. 18).

The State party should take all necessary measures to review its legislation with a view to providing for alternative military service. The State party should also ensure that the law clearly stipulates that individuals have the right to conscientious objection to military service. Furthermore, the State party should halt all prosecutions of individuals who refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience and release those individuals who are currently serving prison sentences.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Mongolia 01/05/2011

23. The Committee is concerned about the absence of an alternative civil service that would enable conscientious objectors to military service to exercise their rights in accordance with the provisions of the Covenant. The Committee is also concerned about the exemption fee that can be paid in lieu of doing military service, and the discrimination that may result therefrom (arts. 18 and 26 of the Covenant).

The State party should put in place an alternative to military service, which is accessible to all conscientious objectors and neither punitive nor discriminatory in nature, cost and/or duration.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Israel 2010 28/07/2010

19. The Committee notes that certain exemptions from obligatory military service have been granted on the grounds of conscientious objection. It is concerned at the independence of the “Committee for Granting Exemptions from Defence Service for Reasons of Conscience”, which is composed, with the exception of one civilian, of officials of the armed forces. It notes that persons, whose conscientious objection was not accepted by the Committee, may be repeatedly imprisoned for their refusal to serve in the armed forces (arts. 14 and 18).

The “Committee for Granting Exemptions from Defence Service for Reasons of Conscience” should be made fully independent, persons submitting applications on the grounds of conscientious objections should be heard and have the right to appeal the Committee’s decision. Repeated imprisonment for refusal to serve in the armed forces may constitute a violation of the principle of ne bis in idem, and should therefore be ceased.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Estonia 27/07/2010

14. The Committee is concerned that few applications for alternative to military service have been approved during the last few years (11 of 64 in 2007, 14 of 68 in 2008, 32 of 53 in 2009). It is also concerned about the lack of clear grounds for accepting or rejecting an application for alternative to military service (art. 18, 26).

The State party should clarify the grounds under which applications to alternative to military service are accepted or rejected and take relevant measures to ensure that the right of conscientious objection is upheld.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Russian Federation 29/10/2009

23. While welcoming the reduction by half, in 2008, of the prescribed length of civilian service for conscientious objectors from 42 months to 21 months, the Committee notes with concern that it is still 1.75 times longer than military service, and that the State party maintains the position that the discrimination suffered by conscientious objectors is due to such alternative service being a “preferential treatment” (para. 151, CCPR/C/RUS/6). The Committee notes with regret that the conditions of service for alternative service are punitive in nature, including the requirement to perform such services outside places of permanent residence, the receipt of low salaries, which are below the subsistence level for those who are assigned to work in social organisations, and the restrictions in freedom of movement for the persons concerned. The Committee is also concerned that the assessment of applications, carried out by a draft panel for such service, is under the control of the Ministry of Defence. (arts. 18, 19, 21, 22 and 25)

The State party should recognize fully the right to conscientious objection, and ensure that the length and the nature of this alternative to military service does not have a punitive character. The State party should also consider placing the assessment of applications for conscientious objector status entirely under the control of civilian authorities.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Azerbaijan 02/08/2009

14. The Committee remains concerned that no legal provision regulates the status of conscientious objectors to military service (art. 18).

The Committee recommends that a law exempting conscientious objectors from compulsory military service and providing for alternative civil service of equivalent length be adopted at an early date in compliance with article 18 of the Covenant and the Committee's General Comment No. 22.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Chile 18/05/2007

13. The Committee notes the State party’s intention to adopt a law recognizing the right of conscientious objection to military service, but continues to be concerned that this right has still not been recognized (article 18 of the Covenant).

The State party should expedite the adoption of legislation recognizing the right of conscientious objection to military service, ensuring that conscientious objectors are not subject to discrimination or punishment and recognizing that conscientious objection can occur at any time, even when a person’s military service has already begun.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Ukraine 28/11/2006

12. While the State party has announced plans to convert its armed forces to an all-volunteer basis, the right to conscientious objection against mandatory military service should be fully respected. Conscientious objection has been accepted only for religious reasons, and only for certain religions.

The State party should extend the right of conscientious objection against mandatory military service to persons who hold non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience, as well as beliefs grounded in all religions.

Discrimination Recognised
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Korea, South 28/11/2006

17. The Committee is concerned that: (a) under the Military Service Act of 2003 the penalty for refusal of active military service is imprisonment for a maximum of three years and that there is no legislative limit on the number of times they may be recalled and subjected to fresh penalties; (b) those who have not satisfied military service requirements are excluded from employment in government or public organisations and that (c) convicted conscientious objectors bear the stigma of a criminal record (art.18).

The State party should take all necessary measures to recognize the right of conscientious objectors to be exempted from military service. It is encouraged to bring legislation into line with article 18 of the Covenant. In this regard, the Committee draws the attention of the State party to the paragraph 11 of its general comment No. 22 (1993) on article 18 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion).

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