The purpose of Shadow Reports (also referred to as ‘parallel reports’ or ‘alternative reports’) is to supplement, or "shadow", the report of the government of a particular nation either to the Treaty Body Committees or to the UPR as “additional information”. In addition to the government report, the Treaty Bodies may receive information on a country’s human rights situation from other sources, including non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, other intergovernmental organizations, academic institutions and the press.
In the light of all the information available, the specific Committee examines the report together with government representatives. Based on this dialogue, the Committee publishes its concerns and recommendations, often referred to as “Concluding Observations”.
The CERD, CESCR and HRC have started to examine the situation in states whose reports are seriously overdue. In these cases, where there is no state report to guide the Committee, NGO information is even more important and provides an ‘unofficial’ evaluation of the country situation. NGOs should look into such questions as: are there any gaps in the official report; are there misrepresentations; are the assumptions, analysis and emphasis correct?
NGOs can submit information to the Committees on their own or as part of a coalition of NGOs. The latter can be more effective as Committee members are more likely to read one coordinated NGO report than many reports from different NGOs; further, several NGOs speaking with one voice adds strength to the arguments being presented, and avoids duplication of work.
Such critique can be directed at either the entire report from the government – this would often be the result of a collective and coordinated undertaking by many civil society organisations – or at just one specific right or article. Shadow Reports can give emphasis to the prevalence and magnitude of the critical issues which the government has downplayed or failed to highlight. The Committee reads all reports sent and uses it for validation during the sessions with the respective governments.
Here are some example shadow reports from the topic of women/girls:
Shadow reports submitted to CEDAW (by country), hosted by International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW)
Amnesty International submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), on Vanuatu 2009
Amnesty International USA
Women UN report network
Shadow report for CEDAW 2007
Report on women’s human rights in the United States under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Shadow Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for the Slovak Republic
Shadow reports on the Stop violence against women website