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).

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.

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.

Concluding Observations
Title Date
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Russian Federation 26/07/1995

21. The Committee is concerned that conscientious objection to military service, although recognized under article 59 of the Constitution, is not a practical option under Russian law and takes note in this regard of the draft law on alternative service before the Federal Assembly. It expresses its concern at the possibility that such alternative service may be made punitive, either in nature or in length of service. The Committee is also seriously concerned at the allegations of widespread cruelty and ill-treatment of young conscript-soldiers.
(...)
39. The Committee urges that stringent measures be adopted to ensure an immediate end to mistreatment and abuse of army recruits by their officers and fellow soldiers. It further recommends that every effort be made to ensure that reasonable alternatives to military service be made available that are not punitive in nature or in length of service. It urges that all charges brought against conscientious objectors to military service be dropped.

Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Libyan Arab Jamahiriya 23/11/1994

13. Another area of concern is that of freedom of religion. The severe punishments for heresy (which are said not to have been used) and the restrictions on the right to change religion appear to be inconsistent with article 18 of the Covenant. The lack of provision for conscientious objection to military service is another concern.

Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Tajikistan 23/07/2013

21. The Committee reiterates its previous concern (CCPR/CO/84/TJK, para 20) about the State party’s lack of recognition of the right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service, and at the absence of alternatives to military service (art. 18).

The State party should take necessary measures to ensure that the law recognizes the right of individuals to exercise conscientious objection to compulsory military service, and establish, if it so wishes, non-punitive alternatives to military service.religious beliefs grounded in conscience) justifying the objection, and should neither be punitive nor discriminatory in nature or duration by comparison with military service.

Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Finland 23/07/2013

14. While welcoming the legislative changes allowing for non-military services applications during mobilizations and serious disturbances and the fact that total objectors can be exempted from unconditional imprisonment, the Committee reiterates its concerns that the length of non-military service is almost twice the duration of the period of service for the rank and file and that the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses has not been extended to other groups of conscientious objectors (art. 18).

The State party should fully acknowledge the right to conscientious objection and ensure that the length and the nature of the alternative to service do not have a punitive character. The State party should also extend the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses to other groups of conscientious objectors.

Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Ukraine 23/07/2013

19. While taking note of the State party’s plans towards an all-volunteer army as of 2017, the Committee notes that the provisions of the Law on Military Service which permit conscription remain in force, as does the Law on Alternative (Non-Military) Service, and that according to the statistics provided by the State party several hundred young men have performed such service in recent years (CCPR/C/UKR/Q7/Add.1). The Committee therefore expresses its concern that no measures appear to have been taken to 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 (art. 18).

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation (CCPR/C/UKR/CO/6, para. 12) and stresses that alternative service arrangements should be accessible to all conscientious objectors without discrimination as to the nature of the beliefs (religious or non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience) justifying the objection, and should neither be punitive nor discriminatory in nature or duration by comparison with military service.

Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Israel 2014 28/10/2014

23. The Committee remains concerned (CCPR/C/ISR/CO/3, para. 19) at the proceedings before the special Committee in charge of recommending to the competent authorities to grant or reject an individual’s application for exemption from compulsory military service for reasons of conscience and at its lack of independence given that its membership comprises only one civilian member and all the rest serve as officials of the armed forces. The Committee reiterates its concern that individuals whose conscientious objection applications are rejected may be repeatedly imprisoned for their refusal to serve in the armed forces (arts. 14 and 18).

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation that the special Committee making recommendation to the competent authorities on conscientious objection applications is made fully independent, and proceedings before it include hearings and provide for a right to appeal against negative decisions. The State party should also refrain from repeated imprisonment for refusal to serve in the armed forces that may constitute a violation of the principle of ne bis in idem.

Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Austria 06/11/2015

* Adopted by the Committee at its 115th session (19 October–6 November 2015).
Freedom of conscience and religious belief

33. The Committee notes that the length of the civilian alternative service to military service for conscientious objectors is longer than military service and may be punitively long if not based on reasonable and objective grounds (arts. 18 and 26).

32. The State party is encouraged to ensure that the length of service alternative to military service required for conscientious objectors is not punitive in nature.

Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the Republic of Korea 06/11/2015

* Adopted by the Committee at its 115th session (19 October–6 November 2015)

C. Principal matters of concern and recommendations

Views under the Optional Protocol

6. The Committee remains concerned about the absence of a specific mechanism to implement the Committee’s Views under the Optional Protocol In particular, the Committee notes with concern that the State party has, except in one case, failed to implement the Committee’s Views, notably the numerous cases concerning conscientious objection (art. 2).

7. The State party should establish mechanisms and appropriate procedures to give full effect to the Committee’s Views so as to guarantee effective remedies in all cases of violations against the Covenant It should also fully implement the Views the Committee has issued so far.

...

Conscientious Objection to military service

44. The Committee is concerned that in the absence of a civilian alternative to military service, conscientious objectors to military service continue to be subjected to criminal punishment. It also notes with concern that personal information of conscientious objectors may be disclosed online (art.18).

45. The State party should:

(a) Immediately release all conscientious objectors condemned to a prison sentence for exercising their right to be exempted from military service;

(b) Ensure that the criminal records of conscientious objectors are expunged, that they are provided with adequate compensation and that their information is not publicly disclosed; and

(c) Ensure the legal recognition of conscientious objection to military service, and provide conscientious objectors with the possibility to perform an alternative service of civilian nature.

...

59. In accordance with rule 71, paragraph 5, of the Committee’s rules of procedure, the State party should provide, within one year, relevant information on its implementation of the Committee’s recommendations made in paragraphs 15 (Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity), 45 (Conscientious objection) and 53 (Freedom of peaceful assembly),  above.

Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Greece 03/12/2005

37. The Committee reiterates its previous concerns about: (a) the length of alternative service for conscientious objectors, which is much longer than military service (see CCPR/CO/8 3/ GRC, para. 15); (b) the composition of the Special Committee and its reported lack of independence and impartiality, especially when hearings are held without all members present; (c) reports indicating discrimination on the basis of different grounds of objection to service; and (d) repeated punishment of conscientious objectors, in violation of the principle of ne bis in idem (arts. 14 and 18).

38. The State party should take measures to review its legislation with a view to recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service, encompassing an alternative to military service that is accessible to all conscientious objectors and not punitive or discriminatory in terms of its nature, cost or duration. The State party should also avoid repetitive punishment in violation of the ne bis in idem principle and consider placing the assessment of applications for conscientious objector status under the full control of civilian authorities.

Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Greece 03/12/2015

Conscientious objection to compulsory military service

37. The Committee reiterates its previous concerns about: (a) the length of alternative service for conscientious objectors, which is much longer than military service (see CCPR/CO/8 3/ GRC, para. 15); (b) the composition of the Special Committee and its reported lack of independence and impartiality, especially when hearings are held without all members present; (c) reports indicating discrimination on the basis of different grounds of objection to service; and (d) repeated punishment of conscientious objectors, in violation of the principle of ne bis in idem (arts. 14 and 18).

38. The State party should take measures to review its legislation with a view to recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service, encompassing an alternative to military service that is accessible to all conscientious objectors and not punitive or discriminatory in terms of its nature, cost or duration. The State party should also avoid repetitive punishment in violation of the ne bis in idem principle and consider placing the assessment of applications for conscientious objector status under the full control of civilian authorities.

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