Are UN Committee Decisions Binding?

Briefly: Yes.

In detail:

All decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee are binding on the member states. This is clearly explained in three cases:

  1. § 5.3 of the Decision of the UN Human Rights Committee in case Bradshaw v. Barbados, no. 489/1992, [jump]
  2. §§ 5 and 6 of the Concluding Observations no. CCPR/C/LBN/CO/3, [jump to case]
  3. §§ 5 and 6 of the Concluding Observations no. CCPR/C/LTU/CO/4. [jump to case]

These precedents explain that all the decisions of the Committee are not recommendations, they are – binding legal decisions that any state party to the Covenant must comply with. It is not “recommended,” it is not “in good faith,” it is mandatory.

Bradshaw v. Barbados, no. 489/1992

In § 5.3 of the Committee’s decision in Bradshaw v. Barbados (No. 489/1992) it is stated:

“…The State party has nevertheless accepted the legal obligation to make the provisions of the Covenant effective. To this extent, it is an obligation for the State party to adopt appropriate measures to give legal effect to the Views of the Committee as to the interpretation and application of the Covenant in particular cases arising under the Optional Protocol.” 2

Despite this, some Latvian officials say that the UN Committee is not a court, its conclusions are not legally binding on the country, and Latvia should eliminate these shortcomings only of its own free will.

However, as can be seen from the clarifications in the Committee decision in the Bradshaw v. Barbados case, ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol means that the State party has assumed an obligation to comply with the decisions of the UN Committee.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is a United Nations pact based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Republic of Latvia ratified the Covenant in 1992 and its Optional Protocol in 1994. The Optional Protocol provides for a procedure for dealing with reports of violations of the Covenant by member states.

On August 29, the press secretary of the Latvian Foreign Ministry, Diana Eglite, told LETA news agency that, given that the Committee made a decision and informed Latvia about it after the complete dismantling of the monument, it can no longer be implemented. But the decision of the UN Committee, to which Ms. Eglite refers, contains a requirement to ensure the safety of those parts of the monuments that have already been dismantled.

It follows, in particular, that the state must ensure that the column in Victory Park (the central figure of the sculptural ensemble) continues to remain where it fell on August 25 until the Committee makes a final decision on the matter.

The relevant passage of the Committee’s decision sent to the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs states:

“Interim Measures
Under rule 94 of the Committee’s rules of procedure, the State party has also been requested to refrain from dismantling the monuments which are the object of this communication and to ensure the conservation of the pieces of the monuments which have already been dismantled while the communication is under consideration by the Committee…”

Lawyer’s explanation

Professor Stanislovas Tomas of the Sorbonne, an international lawyer of the highest class, commented on the issue of the binding nature of the Committee’s decisions:

“Is the UN Human Rights Committee an institution that issues binding decisions?

Yes. It is obvious. After the precedent of Bradshaw v. Barbados, all questions disappear: whether the decisions of the Committee are binding or not. Yes, they are required. Anyone who says they are less obligatory than this precedent is people who haven’t read a lot… It’s hard to list everything they haven’t read. 3

You understood correctly, Latvia has signed the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it has signed the Optional Protocol and ratified it. If it has signed and ratified, then all decisions of the Committee are binding on it. Everything, on this point. For those who do not understand that these decisions are binding, the UN has made precedents:

  • § 5.3 of the Decision of the UN Human Rights Committee in case Bradshaw v. Barbados, no. 489/1992

as well as the UN Concluding Observations:

  • §§ 5 and 6 of the Concluding Observations no. CCPR/C/LBN/CO/3 (see below),
  • §§ 5 and 6 of the Concluding Observations no. CCPR/C/LTU/CO/4 (see below).

These documents say that if you have signed the contract and ratified it, then it is binding on you. Try taking out a loan, signing a contract with the bank and then saying: ‘It is a recommendation that I pay the bank back.’ It’s exactly the same, only there the person with the bank, and here the state with the UN signs an agreement. If the man can still say: ‘I did not understand what I signed with the bank, because I am a fool,’ then the government… what does it look like if it signed an agreement, and then says: ‘But we didn’t understand what we signed.’ 4

There is such thing in Lithuania and Latvia: the media have taken one point of view – the point of view of the state – and it is presented as if the state is some kind of objective mechanism. The state is a completely biased mechanism, which is why people sue the state. Because it is not objective. That is, the state is the defendant, we blame them, and the press relies only on what officials say, such as D. Eglite.”

The Concluding Observations no. CCPR/C/LBN/CO/3 5

§ 6 of Section C. “Principal matters of concern and recommendations” of Concluding Observation No. CCPR/C/LBN/CO/3, under the heading “Domestic implementation of the Covenant”, reads:

6. The State party should give full effect to the Covenant in its domestic legal order and ensure that domestic laws are interpreted and applied in conformity with its obligations under the Covenant. It should also make further efforts to raise awareness about the Covenant among judges, lawyers, prosecutors and public officials. The Committee also reiterates its recommendation (see CCPR/C/79/Add.78, para. 29) that the State party give consideration to ratifying, or acceding to, the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

The Concluding Observations no. CCPR/C/LTU/CO/4 6

§§ 5 and 6 of Concluding Observations No. CCPR/C/LTU/CO/4 under the heading “Implementation of the Covenant and its Optional Protocol” states:

5. The Committee notes with appreciation that courts have invoked the provisions of the Covenant while reviewing domestic cases. The Committee also notes the State party’s cooperation with the Committee’s follow-up process for its previous concluding observations, but regrets that some of those recommendations have not been implemented. While welcoming the State party’s representation that implementation efforts are ongoing, the Committee is concerned about the lack of procedures in place to implement its Views and at the slow pace of implementation of its Views in communication No. 2155/2012 (Paksas v. Lithuania), adopted in March 2014, regarding the disqualification from political office of the former President. It is also concerned at reports of a Constitutional Court ruling in 2016 and statements by government officials that question the legal value of the Views of the Committee (art. 2).

6. The State party should take all necessary institutional and legislative measures to ensure the full implementation of the rights protected by the Covenant in the domestic legal system and to ensure the full implementation of the concluding observations and Views adopted by the Committee so as to guarantee the right of victims to an effective remedy when there has been a violation of the Covenant, in accordance with article 2 (2) and (3) of the Covenant. It should intensify its efforts to inform and educate the public, lawyers, prosecutors and judges about the Covenant and its Optional Protocol.

It is interesting to note that the UN Committee accepted for consideration a message (complaint) from five individuals, in which the respondent is the State of Latvia. But at the same time, the Latvian media in their publications cite only one point of view – the statements of state officials. The opinion of the plaintiffs is simply ignored, which clearly indicates the bias of the media.