Interpretation of human rights by UN-treaty bodies (completed)

The project attempts to verify whether there is a special approach to human rights interpretation based on the special nature of human rights provisions and tries to provide an overview over the current law on human rights interpretation.

The project analyses the methods of interpretation as applied by selected UN-treaty bodies, in particular by the Human Rights Committee (CCPR), the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Committee on Torture (CAT). Central point of comparison is the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on interpretation, as it is frequently referred to by applicants to the UN-bodies.

About the project

This is a Post-doc project which forms part of the overall project ‘Should States Ratify Human Rights Conventions’, headed by Geir Ulfstein and Andreas Føllesdal. It focuses on the interpretation of human rights provisions by those UN - human rights bodies which have an individual complaint system, so that their views posess a quasi-judicial character.

Key research questions include:

  1. what are the methods of human rights interpretation applied by the UN treaty bodies?
  2. do these methods differ, if at all, from the general methods of treaty interpretation applied at the level of general international law?
  3. are there differences in interpretation in the views on individual communications and in the General Comments issued by the treaty bodies?
  4. are the methods employed by the treaty bodies comparable to those developed, for example, by the European Court of Human rights?


The concrete, short-term objective of the project is to contribute a chapter to the book ‘UN Human Rights Treaty Monitoring: Law and Legitimacy’, edited by Geir Ulfstein and Helen Keller. It is envisaged to publish journal articles which touch upon further aspects of human rights interpretation; with the long-term objective to further qualify within the Norwegian university system.


The ultimate research outcome is to shed light on the aspect of treaty interpretation in the UN. Though the interpretation of the human rights provisions by the European Court of Human Rights has found great interest among international scholars, the issue of interpretation by UN-treaty bodies has been barely touched upon. Hence, it is a worthwhile endeavour to investigate whether there is a uniform approach to interpretation at UN-level, whether it matches the general rules on treaty interpretation in international law and whether this approach is comparable to the approach adopted, for example, by the European Court of Human Rights. Ultimately, the research can prove whether there exists a ‘universal’ approach to human rights interpretation.


Project period ‘Should States Ratify?’: 2009-2010, Post-Doc Project running 2010-2012


Faculty of Law, University of Oslo, Norwegian Research Council

Published Apr. 12, 2010 2:07 PM - Last modified Aug. 5, 2013 11:16 AM