Countries that have ratified the Countries that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are subject to review by the UN Human Rights Committee every five years. At these reviews, the Committee considers the extent to which a country is complying with its obligations under the ICCPR, and makes recommendations as to what further steps a country should take to improve its implementation of the ICCPR. To see which countries are signatories to the ICCPR click here.
Unsurprisingly, governments tend to put a positive spin on their reports. To ensure it gets a more balanced assessment of the human rights situation in countries, the Human Rights Committee welcomes “shadow” reports from civil society which enable it to form a more accurate assessment of the extent to which a country is implementing the rights set out in the ICCPR.
The provision of shadow reports is vital to the Human Rights Committee achieving a complete understanding of the real human rights situation in particular countries and can influence whether it includes a recommendation in its Concluding Observations that a government take steps to better protect the rights of LGBTI people.
The powerful impact of shadow reports is evident in the fact that in the review of Togo in 2011, the Human Rights Committee recommended the repeal of laws criminalising homosexuality. In the same year, Seychelles was reviewed and no such recommendation was made. The only point of distinction between these two countries was that a shadow report addressing LGBTI rights was submitted in relation to Togo, and there was no such report for Seychelles. Shadow reports can therefore be the difference between whether the UN recommends that a state improve the protection of LGBTI rights, or is completely silent on the issue.
Concluding Observations from the Human Rights Committee are a powerful tool to use in efforts to bring about reform. Local activists can use them to hold their governments to account, and the international community can use them to name and shame offending governments and to demonstrate that the world is watching. Finally, when a country comes up for review again in five years time, if it hasn’t implemented the Committee’s earlier recommendations, it will be asked to explain why not, and what steps it intends taking to rectify this.
Similar processes underpin the reviews relating to CESCR and CEDAW, which we also submit shadow reports to. The processes for the Universal Periodic Review to UN Human Rights Council are different but still allow for the sbmission of a shadow report as part of the process.