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Human Rights @ Harvard Law

Areas Of Focus

UN Treaty Bodies

The UN Treaty Bodies are the institutions set up pursuant to the International Bill of Rights and the other “core” international human rights treaties to monitor states’ compliance with their human rights obligations. Their number has increased over time, from two in the 1970s to ten today. Their importance also increased in the 1990s as the end of the Cold War enabled treaty bodies to adopt more effective working methods for evaluating and declaring human rights violations. The multiplicity of treaty bodies, however, has now raised coordination issues coordination and questions about limited resources during a period of financial austerity.

The treaty bodies are composed of independent human rights experts from various countries of the world. After two decades of teaching and scholarship on international human rights issues, Professor Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program, was elected in 2011 as a member of the Human Rights Committee, the body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR guarantees a range of human rights such as the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from arbitrary detention, fair trial, privacy, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, rights to political participation, and equality.

A treaty body’s activities may include examining states on their human rights records on the basis of a periodic report, resolving individual complaints brought by victims of human rights violations, and issuing general comments that expound the meaning of the particular human rights treaty. In his role as Committee member, Neuman joined the three sessions in Geneva each year, and made contributions such as the writing of opinions, including concurring or dissenting ones. HLS students aided him in this work as research assistants. Neuman also served as Rapporteur for the Committee on its General Comment No. 35 on Article 9 of the Covenant, which protects liberty and security of person. His tenure on the Committee ended in 2014.

At the Law School, Neuman continues to explore the content of particular human rights, including rights related to nationality and migration, and the interaction among national, regional, and global systems for the protection of human rights. Work as a treaty body member has further focused his research interest on the relationships of treaty bodies with each other and with the wider UN system, and on their procedural methods and their remedial strategies. Neuman teaches a seminar at HLS on human rights issues arising in the treaty body system.

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