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Getting Started: From Documentation to Advocacy

The Advocates for Human Rights' Step-By-Step Guide to International Human Rights Mechanisms provides advocates and activists with tools to prepare and submit information to international and regional human rights mechanisms. This Guide focuses on using treaty-based human rights monitoring bodies and the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review process, both of which allow participation by civil society.

The UN and other regional human rights bodies engage in a variety of activities that seek to protect, monitor, and advance human rights worldwide. International human rights mechanisms work to enforce human rights standards, take complaints, monitor and report on human rights violations, directly improve human rights conditions, and create treaties to protect human rights.

International and regional treaties provide the legal framework for international human rights protections. The foundational human rights treaties. the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, impose a wide array of human rights obligations upon states who are party to them. Other treaties address specific issues, such as torture, or particular populations, such as refugees.

Most human rights treaties are enforced through reports filed by states to monitoring bodies. Some treaties allow for individual complaints. In some cases, experts known as special rapporteurs may be appointed to monitor specific issues or countries. Each monitoring mechanism has its own guidelines and timetable. In addition to monitoring by treaty bodies, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviews human rights compliance of all countries through a process known as Universal Periodic Review.

Advocates and activists can provide these international and regional human rights mechanisms with specific, credible reports of human rights violations. Often these reports take the form of "shadow reports" which respond to the report filed by the government being monitored. Nongovernmental organizations can file short submissions to the Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review of countries which highlight issues of concern.

NGOs play a vital role in the human rights monitoring process. NGOs are most effective when they carefully and credibly document human rights violations, frame information in terms of specific treaty provisions, and submit information on time and to the right place.

The Step-by-Step Guide helps NGOs focus their attention on getting information into the hands of international human rights monitors by providing practical information on how to document and analyze human rights violations, how to prepare and file submissions to international mechanisms, and how to create and capitalize on advocacy opportunities arising from using the international human rights system.