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The International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR) entered into force on 23 March 1976. It can be useful to victims of breaches of economic, social or cultural rights, such as the right to education, because certain rights in the ICCPR are social or economic in nature, for example, the right to respect for the home. Others have social or economic dimensions, for example, the right to life and the right to non-discrimination. A complaint on the civil and political aspects of a case may help to place pressure on countries to remedy social or economic issues. The ICCPR also protects procedural rights (for example, judicial procedures) that may assist litigants who have been denied fair hearings on ESC rights at the national level.

Click to go to more information on each of the following: 

Committee on Civil and Political Rights  

Relevant Provisions  

Interpretation of the Provisions  

Governments' Reporting Obligations  

Making a Complaint 


International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Committee on Civil and Political Rights

 The Human Rights Committee is entrusted with the oversight of the ICCPR. It is composed of 18 independent experts who are elected on the basis of expertise, not their nationality. The HRC has four main functions:

a) to review the implementation of the rights in the ICCPR by considering periodic reports from States Parties;

b) to issue General Comments that give guidance in the interpretation of the rights;

c) to consider inter-State complaints, i.e., complaints lodged by one State Party against another State Party (there have been none to date); and

d) to consider communications (i.e., complaints) from individuals submitted under the first Optional Protocol procedure.  

The Committee on Civil and Political Rights

 Relevant Provisions 

Article 26
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

This is a comprehensive provision not limited to civil and political rights: discrimination in the provision of education is included in Article 26 - note that the protections against discrimination must be effective.

Article 26 of the ICCPR has been interpreted to cover discrimination beyond civil and political rights. In its General Comment No. 18, the Human Rights Committee states [emphasis added]:
[A]rticle 26 provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination, and that the law shall guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any of the enumerated grounds.

In the view of the Committee, article 26 does not merely duplicate the guarantee already provided for in article 2 [general guarantee against non-discrimination in the exercise of Covenant rights] but provides in itself an autonomous right. It prohibits discrimination in law or in fact in any field regulated and protected by public authorities. Article 26 is therefore concerned with the obligations imposed on States parties in regard to their legislation and the application thereof. 

Article 2.
1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
2. Where not already provided for by existing legislative or other measures, each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take the necessary steps, in accordance with its constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Covenant, to adopt such laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in the present Covenant.
3. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:
(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;
(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;
(c) To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted. 

Article 5
1 . Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant.

Article 6
1. Every human being has the inherent right to life.

Article 24
1. Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor, on the part of his family, society and the State.

Interpretation of the Provisions 

By now, you should have an idea as to whether your government has breached one of the provisions within this treaty.

 It is helpful / necessary though to see what guides the committee uses to interpret the treaty provisions and decide cases if there is not absolute certainty of a breach. There are three key indicators of interpretation. 

Relevant general comments 

General Comments made by the treaty bodies are constructed with the purpose of clarification of how a given treaty provision is to be interpreted. They are a valuable source of guidance in this regard. 

See General Comments

The preamble to a treaty is useful in ascertaining the purpose of the law, and therefore as a guide as to how it might be interpreted.
See the preamble

Governments' Reporting Obligations

Article 40

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to submit reports on the measures they have adopted which give effect to the rights recognized herein and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights:

(a) Within one year of the entry into force of the present Covenant for the States Parties concerned;

(b) Thereafter whenever the Committee so requests.

Making a Complaint 

- It is possible for an individual to take a complaint against a particular State to the Human Rights Committee, but only if the State in question has recognised the competence of the Committee by ratifying Optional Protocol 1 to the ICCPR. Since the Optional Protocol was adopted in 1966, 105 States have done so and hundreds of cases have been decided by the Committee.

In addition to the reporting procedure, article 41 of the Covenant provides for the Committee to consider inter-state complaints. Furthermore, the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant gives the Committee competence to examine individual complaints with regard to alleged violations of the Covenant by States parties to the Protocol.

 - Rulings are not binding, but are fairly persuasive.
The HRC has found violations of ICCPR rights in a significant number of cases through complaints that concern economic, social and cultural issues and is easily the most judicious of the UN committees.
- Inasmuch as the Covenant provides greater protection in some respects than is available under other international instruments, facts that have already been submitted to another international mechanism can be brought before the Committee if broader protections in the Covenant are invoked.
- It has already recognised indirect indiscrimination in its case law

- You should be aware that, given the large number of cases brought under the Optional Protocol, there may be a delay of several years between the initial submission and the Committee’s final decision.
- When the Committee decides that you have been the victim of a violation by the State party of your rights under the Covenant, the State is invited to provide information, within three months, on the steps it has taken to give effect to the Committee’s Views. The basis for this requirement is that the State party, in article 2, paragraph 3, of the Covenant, has guaranteed you (and every other person under the State's jurisdiction) an effective remedy for any violation of your rights. Its response will be transmitted to you for comment. The Committee often indicates what an appropriate remedy would be, for instance payment of compensation or release from detention. In the event of failure by the State party to take appropriate steps, the case is referred to a member of the Committee, the Special Rapporteur on Follow-up of Views, for consideration of further measures to be taken. The Special Rapporteur may, for example, issue specific requests to the State party or meet with its representatives to discuss the action taken.

When considering taking a complaint to one of the UN treaty bodies such as the Human Rights Committee, it is also important to take into account the following:-

- The basic concept is that anyone may bring a complaint alleging a violation of treaty rights to the body of experts set up by the treaty for quasi-judicial adjudication. They are composed of experts elected by States parties to the relevant treaty. They are tasked with monitoring implementation in States parties of the rights set forth in the treaties and with deciding on complaints brought against those States.

- The alleged victim must not be anonymous and must live within the jurisdiction of a state that has:
- ratified the respective treaty;
- recognized the competence of the treaty body to deal with complaints; and
- not made any reservations that precludes the committee from considering that particular case.

- It is not necessary to have a lawyer prepare your case, though legal advice usually improves the quality of the submissions. Be aware, however, that legal aid is not provided under the procedures. You may also bring a claim on behalf of another person, on condition that you obtain his or her written consent. In certain cases, you may bring a case without such consent. For example, where parents bring cases on behalf of young children or guardians on behalf of persons unable to give formal consent.

- In general, there is no formal time limit after the date of the alleged violation for filing a complaint under the relevant treaties. It is usually appropriate, however, to submit your complaint as soon as possible after you have exhausted domestic remedies.

UN treaty body timeline

1. Complainant prepares the ‘complaint’ (also called ‘communication’ or ‘petition’);
2. Complaint is received by the secretary-general of the UN who brings it to the attention of the relevant treaty body;
3. Treaty body registers the complaint;
4. Treaty body examines the complaint and considers:
a) the admissibility of the complaint and (if admissible);
b) the merits of the communication (i.e. whether or not there has been a violation of a treaty article);
5. The State party is required to respond to the complaint;
6. The complainant has an opportunity to reply to the State’s response.

After hearing from both parties (or after having given the State a reasonable time to respond), the treaty body issues its ‘views’ (also called an ‘opinion’ or  ‘decision’) to both the complainant and the relevant State. Where the committee finds a violation, the views will request the state to provide redress for the victim. Often this will be in the form of asking the state to change the law so that a similar violation cannot occur in future, and to provide limited compensation to the victim. Decisions of international committees/courts are final – there is no appeals process. 

This process often takes 2-3 years.

For more detailed information about rules for making a complaint to the Human Rights Committee, the procedure for the determination of the complaint and other resources, follow the link to the excellent Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
Legal Practitioners Dossier released by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) at p.179

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As of October 2010: Signatories 72, Parties 166.

To see the status of ratifications, as well as declarations and reservations, click here.