COMMUNICATIONS PROCEDURE: Also ‘complaints procedure’ – it is an international procedure that allows individuals, groups or their representatives who claim that their rights have been violated by a State that is party to an international human rights CONVENTION to bring a complaint or communication before the relevant ‘TREATY BODY’ or COMMITTEE, provided that the State has recognised the competence of the Committee to receive such complaints. It is a QUASI-JUDICIAL mechanism: the decisions of the Committee on the complaints it receives are not legally binding on the State concerned.

COMPLAINANT: Also ‘plaintiff’ – the person or party bringing a case, for example a child who has had his/her rights breached.


CONVENTION: Also called TREATY or COVENANT, it is an agreement signed between states. It is legally binding on the states that are parties to the convention (STATES PARTIES) and defines their mutual duties and obligations. In the case of human rights conventions, STATES PARTIES accept obligations about the manner they treat all individuals under their jurisdiction. Once a convention is adopted by the UN General Assembly, MEMBER STATES of the United Nations can ratify the convention, committing to comply with the international obligations it provides. When a state ratifies a convention, the articles of that convention become part of its domestic legal obligations. UN mechanisms are put in place to monitor States’ implementation of the standards set forth in a convention.

CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (CRC, adopted 1989; entered into force 1990): Convention setting forth a full spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights for children. The USA and Somalia are the only countries which have failed to ratify. The Convention is also the only international human rights treaty that expressly gives non-governmental organisations (NGOs) a role in monitoring its implementation (under Article 45a).

ENTRY INTO FORCE (OF A TREATY): Entry into force of a treaty is the moment in time when a treaty becomes legally binding on the parties to the treaty. The provisions of the treaty determine the moment of its entry into force. This may be a date specified in the treaty or a date on which a specified number of ratifications, approvals, acceptances or accessions have been deposited with the depositary. The date when a treaty deposited with the Secretary-General enters into force is determined in accordance with the treaty provisions.

ENTRY INTO FORCE (FOR A STATE): A treaty that has already entered into force may enter into force in a manner specified in it for a State or international organization that expresses its consent to be bound by it after its entry into force.

EXHAUSTION OF DOMESTIC REMEDIES: It is a principle of international law that States shall be given the opportunity to remedy human rights violations before an international body can be seized of the matter. A complainant shall therefore seek a remedy before national courts and get a final decision before submitting a complaint to a COMMUNICATIONS PROCEDURE – except if s/he can demonstrate that national remedies are ineffective or unduly prolonged.

MEMBER STATES: Countries that are members of the United Nations or other relevant inter-governmental body.

OMBUDSMAN or OMBUDSPERSON: An ombudsman is an official, usually appointed by the government, parliament or other institutions such as the European Union, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens. In some jurisdictions, the Ombudsman is referred to, at least officially, as the ‘Parliamentary Commissioner’ (e.g., the West Australian state Ombudsman). As well as for a government, an ombudsman may work for a corporation, a newspaper, an NGO, or even for the general public. In the case of children, such roles may be referred to as both ‘Children’s Ombudsman’ or ‘Children’s Commissioner’.

OPTIONAL PROTOCOL (OP): An optional protocol to a treaty is a multilateral agreement that States parties can ratify or accede to, intended to further a specific purpose of the treaty or to assist in the implementation of its provisions.

QUASI-JUDICIAL: Having to do with powers that are to some extent judicial, for example human rights commissions may have quasi-judicial powers.

RATIFICATION, RATIFY: Ratification, acceptance and approval all refer to the act undertaken on the international plane, whereby a State establishes its consent to be bound by a treaty. Most multilateral treaties expressly provide for States to express their consent to be bound by signature subject to ratification, acceptance or approval.

RULES OF PROCEDURE: The formal rules adopted by a treaty body to govern the way in which it undertakes its business. Each committee is empowered by the relevant treaty to adopt its own rules of procedure. The rules of procedure usually cover such matters as election of officers and procedures for adopting decisions especially where no consensus can be reached. Rules of procedures are related to, but distinct from, working methods.

STATE PARTY: A State party to a treaty is a State that has expressed its consent to be bound by that treaty by an act of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession etc., where that treaty has entered into force for that particular State. This means that the State is bound by the treaty under international law.


TREATY BODY: A Committee of independent experts formally established through the principal (or ‘core’) international human rights treaties to monitor States Parties’ compliance with the treaties. Eight Treaty bodies have been set up for the core UN human rights treaties to monitor states parties’ efforts to implement their provisions.