Interpreting international human rights standards: Treaty body general comments as a chisel or hammer?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Human rights treaties are standard-setting yet these standards are open-textured and evolutionary; therefore interpretative tools must be engaged in order to flesh out the true extent of states’ obligations, particularly as these obligations evolve to reflect rights in the modern world. The human rights treaty bodies embedded in each of the UN human rights treaties are comprised of experts in the field specific to each treaty and represent a unique feature of the core treaties in that they are the primary interpreters of the treaties at the international level. Human rights treaty bodies have contributed a great deal to the development of measurable international human rights obligations. Through the functions confirmed by their respective treaties, treaty bodies have a range of options by way of which they can inform States Parties about the evolving nature of human rights protection. From issuing general comments, to appraising states’ periodic reports or reaching final views on individual communications – what will be referred to collectively throughout this chapter as ‘jurisprudence’ – there is no lack of soft law to be found. Though many states often ignore treaty body jurisprudence, there is unmistakeable evidence that it is creeping into the domestic realm by virtue of increasing reference to this jurisprudence in domestic court opinions and policy debates. The persisting question is whether the use of treaty body jurisprudence at the domestic level refines or distorts the development of universal human rights standards.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTracing the Role of Soft Law in Human Rights
EditorsStephanie Lagoutte, Thomas Gammeltoft Hansen, John Cerone
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780198791409, 0198791402
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016

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  • LCIS Workshop

    Kasey McCall-Smith (Lecturer)

    19 Dec 2016

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesPublic Engagement – Public lecture/debate/seminar

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