Using Shadow Reports for Advocacy

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Using Shadow Reports for Advocacy

Thank you for joining Jovana Vukovic of the Regional Centre for Minorities, and the New Tactics online community for an online dialogue on 'Using Shadow Reports for Advocacy' from August 26 to September 1, 2009. This online dialogue is a space for practitioners and scholars to share experiences, challenges, successes, resources and tool for the effective use of shadow reports to expose the reality of the human rights situation in their countries.

The Regional Centre for Minorities (RCM) is a Belgrade based non-governmental, non-partisan, non-profit organization that operates throughout the Western Balkans. RCM was established in 2006 with the support of the Swedish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. RCM strives to advance and protect minority rights through combating all forms of discrimination, exclusion and marginalization, and through promoting full participation of minorities in all spheres of society.

Shadow reports (often called 'alternative reports') are submitted to treaty monitoring bodies at the United Nations and other international institutions as an alternative to a government's official report regarding the human rights situation in its respective country. 

Our featured resource practitioners, leading the dialogue, include:

  • Lisa Myers, member of NGO group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Switzerland
  • Paul Mageean, Director of Studies of the Graduate School for Professional Legal Education, University of Ulster, UK (Author of New Tactics Tactical Notebook, International Monitoring Bodies)
  • Nicholas Opiyo, human rights advocate, Uganda
  • Tara Collins, board member of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, and as of September, Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge Fellow in Childhood Research, School of Social Justice, University College Dublin, Ireland
  • Yves Niyiragira, fellow and co-editor for the AU Monitor Initiative at Fahamu, Kenya
  • Audrey, Wei San and Yasmin of IWRAW (International Women's Rights Action Watch) Asia Pacific
  • Mufuliat Fijabi, of BAOBAB for Women's Human Right, Nigeria
  • Gerard Horton, of the Defence for Children International - Palestine Section

Treaties on which these featured practitioners focus their work:

  • Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM)
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • UN Convention against Torture (CAT)
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Summary of the Dialogue

The New Tactics online dialogue “Using Shadow Reports for Advocacy” explored the various tactics in using shadow reports for supporting democracy and promoting government accountability in human rights. In the beginning of the dialogue, participants defined what constitutes a shadow/alternative report and identified the pros and cons of its use. After establishing a common understanding of shadow reports, the participants transitioned into discussing some of the deeper topics and challenges: issues of credibility, effective process of writing a report, using reports for advocacy, and addressing non-state actor torture by shadow reports.

Shadow reports are a method through which NGOs can supplement or provide an alternative point of view to governmental reports that states are required to submit under international treaties. In the beginning of this dialogue, the distinction was made between the shadow report and alternative report. “Alternative report” refers to a report that is submitted to the particular committee before the official governmental report has been made available. A “Shadow report” is then a report that has been published after or in response to the governmental report. For the purposes of this summary, the term “shadow report” will be used, but we acknowledge that some of the participating organizations have worked on alternative reports in the past. Shadow reports are a unique tool through which NGOs can present opinions of civil society on government action and present it to the United Nations’ Committees. One of the participants has described the role of civil society as the “monitor of monitors,” that illuminates what the government has done with respect to what it claims to have achieved.

In this section, participants have identified strengths and weaknesses of creating shadow reports:


  • Opportunity to review evidence on a topic and your own work over the past four years – possibility to reveal the “big picture.”
  • The process provides you with an international forum where you can raise your concerns; it is an opportunity for advocacy in an international legal environment.
  • It enables civil society - NGOs and others - to present another side of the story to the committee than the one presented by the State Party.
  • The shadow report can be used in other advocacy work, and with a little editing can be turned into an annual report for the NGO.
  • The resulting Concluding Observations issued by the committee can be very useful in subsequent advocacy work.
  • The process presents a good opportunity to work in coalition with other organizations.


  • Creating a shadow report is very labor intensive and requires a lot of resources.

In this initial portion of the dialogue, participants have shared powerful examples of how producing a shadow report has had an impact on the Concluding Observations and subsequently on state party behavior. Here are a few examples:

When discussing the process of creating a shadow report, four main areas have been discussed:

  1. Credibility and accountability
  2. How to effectively create a report?
  3. Shadow reports and advocacy
  4. Challenges in shadow reports: Non-state actors and non-recognized territories

Credibility and Accountability

As shadow reports aim to present an alternative view to that presented by the State Party, one of the primary challenges is its credibility. The dialogue raised the issue whether cooperation between the organization and the government can jeopardize the credibility of the report. Some of the recommendations included: possible re-wording of goals in order to be more effective with the state party, and communicating with former NGO workers that are now in government but be careful as to not to compromise their position. Furthermore, organizations ought to maintain transparency with civil society by creating awareness, for example by creating round table discussions such as the one in Albania. A crucial issue in maintaining credibility is the process of data collection. The dialogue emphasized the need for accuracy. Potential forms of reasonable proof included: the use of sworn affidavits, victims' testimonies, reference recent reports, and court cases. It is advised to  identify potential causes of why victims hesitate to provide sworn affidavits (e.g., fear of retaliation), and mention them in the report.

While investing time and resources into collaborating with other organizations can contribute greatly to the report. Collaborating with larger NGOs can add an international dimension and foster legitimacy of the report, collaborating with local NGOs has the potential to strengthen the on-the-ground work related to the issue, as well as continue building awareness in civil society. BAOBAB, an organization in Nigeria, shared their story of how writing a shadow report in a colaition helped advance women's human rights.


  • How to apply for observer status with the UN? You can look at the UN handbook here

The effort invested into shadow reports will pay off more, if it is a part of a long-term strategy. Shadow reports can be utilized as tools for education in civil society, ways to provide the media with a tangible document, as resources in collaboration with other organizations that work on similar goals - as shown by this example by Fahamu in Kenya.

Challenges in Shadow Reports: Non-State Actors and Non-Recognized Territories

Non-State Actor Torture: During the dialogue, the issue of Non-State Actor Torture (NSAT) has been given significant attention, for there is a lack of legal means to address NSAT, and it can be more difficult to present such shadow reports to the Committee. The Canadian example shows that shadow reports can break new ground and provide a case study for those who work on issues that are not well addressed by international law.

Non-Recognized Terriories: Another challenge comes with trying to write a report about a territory that is not officially recognized by the UN, and the applicability of certain human rights norms may not be legally recognized in those territories. DCI - Palestine shared their experience in one of their posts.


--Deciding how to use shadow report: what is the goal?
  • What are ‘shadow reports’?  Is there a difference between ‘shadow reports’ and ‘alternative reports’? How was the decision made to use shadow reports? How does this tactic fit into your overall strategy?
  • What is the goal of your use of shadow reports? For example, to engage the media, to attract international attention and pressure, to strengthen collaboration among human rights NGOs, etc.
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of creating and using shadow reports for advocacy?
  • What must be assessed before implementing this activity? What resources are required? What are the risks?
Using Shadow Reports

In 2008, Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine) was part of a coalition of 14 Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs collected together under the banner 'United Against Torture'. The coalition was an EU funded three year project (2006-2008) designed to combat the use of torture in Israel and Palestine. In the final year of the project, the coalition submitted a shadow report to the UN Committee Against Torture. Since that time, DCI-Palestine has submitted two further shadow reports:

  • To the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (July 2009)
  • To the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) (July 2009)

What are shadow reports?

A  'shadow report' and an  'alternative report' are one and the same thing. A state that has ratified a UN human rights treaty or convention, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention Against Torture (CAT) or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), amongst others, is typically obliged to submit a report to the treaty monitoring body charged with reviewing compliance with that particular treaty (i.e. the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee in the case of the ICCPR). This first report is called the Initial Report. After submitting an Initial Report, each State Party is required to submit Period Reports to the relevant committee, typically every four years, although some states are late in their submissions.

State Periodic Reports are published on the webpage of the relevant committee and relevant actors, such as NGOs, can respond by submitting their own report, known as a Shadow Report or an Alternative Report. At a later stage, the relevant treaty monitoring committee, which is usually made up of around 10 or more experts in the area, will reveiw each country that has submitted a Periodic Report for compliance with the relevant treaty and then will publish Concluding Observations, pointing out both the good and the bad, and making recommendations. The committees use the shadow reports to help inform them during this review process.

Why submit a shadow report?

There are a number of reasons, here are just some:

  • It is a good opportunity to review and analyse all the evidence collected over the past four years. If you are working in a coalition, this process can reveal trends and a bigger picture.
  • The process provides you with an international forum where you can raise your concerns.
  • It enables NGOs and others to present another side of the story to the committee than the one presented by the State Party.
  • The shadow report can be used in other advocacy work, and with a little editing can be turned into an annual report for the NGO.
  • The resulting Concluding Observations issued by the committee can be very useful in subsequent advocacy work.
  • In some cases, the whole process can help to bring about change in the behaviour of the State Party - sometimes!

DCI-Palestine's recent shadow reports are online at:

Reasons for submiting Shadow reports

Shadow reporting has certainly been a very useful tool in bringing States to compliance with international, regional and human rights instruments. This has become even more so in a world so interlinked and interconnected where policies of another state has a bearing on its relationship with another or other states. In Uganda, the use of shadow reports has provided NGO and human rights practionners a plane on which to engage the State. Sadly, States like Uganda do tend give particular attention to human rights issues only if it puts it in bad light with the international community. This is becasue the governemnt depends heavily on the international community for funding of its budget. On a positive note this provides human rights practioners with a tool for effecting change. Therefore the purpose of submiting shadow reporting include inter alia; 1. To ensure that the state is held to account on its obigation uner human rights treaties; obligations to which the state voluntarily undertook to meet. 2. To help the human rights bodies (treaty montioring bodies) with concrete informationon which to make recommendations. Most times governments tend to paint a rossy picture because the treaty monitroing bodies have not aidea what is obtainnig in a partivular country. So in a sense, shadow reports provides a check of sorts of the veracity of the Official reports of the state. I will share with you all, our country experience with the UN CAT in the course of this dialogue.

Nicholas opiyo Arttorney, Uganda Member of the Coalition Aganist Torture (Uganda) Police Accountability Project of HURINET (Uganda) Consulting Associate, Human Rights Akijul (Uganda) Email:,

Using shadow reports

Dear Gerard,

Thank you for your insight. My comment or rather question is on the concluding observations issued by the relevant committees. I would like to ask if you could share with us a case study of where concluding observations have had an impact in the change of behaviour of a state party. I believe that such an example could help us in our advocacy.

My experience is that when non governmental organisations (whether national or international) submit their shadow reports,  the first reaction we get in most cases governments react very angrily accusing those organisations of being behind the interest of some powers (the West).  Another point is that the process of changing their (states) behaviour really takes ages. Colleagues in the team who are engaged in some advocacy work do know how hard it is.

Best regards,

Yves Niyiragira

Using shadow reports

Dear Yves,

The governments throughtout the Balkans perceive shadow reports as bad-mouthing of their own countries, and for sure they are not happy about it. But, since all the countries of the region aspire toward membership in European Union and that means a lot of reforms, some of those that have been presented in shadow reports are actually taken into consideration. 

When it comes to Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities all governments in the region will eventually have to pay attention to the recommendations laid down by the Council of Europe. However, this has to do with specific political situation in which countires of the Western Balkans are.

I think you raised a very interesting question: why submitting shadow reports is often perceived by many governments as the internationalization of internal problems that is undermining country's sovereignity? Or have human rights issues have been abused by the West in order to influence weaker countries?

Best regards,


Using Shadow Reports

Paul Mageean, Director of Studies of the Graduate School for Professional Legal Education, University of Ulster, UK (Author of New Tactics Tactical Notebook, International Monitoring Bodies)

Yves and Gerard sorry for jumping into this conversation but I do think that in Northern IReland the policy and practice of the British government changed as a result of the concluding observations of most particularly UNCAT but also the Human Rights Committee.  The details of this can be found in my New Tactics notebook and there is a link to it on this site.  I know of course with this being an example from the West, that conditions are very different but I still think it is a useful example, especially because the British government, like all governments did not enjoy criticism at an international level. 

It is of course though always difficult to determine the exact cause and effect and we also in the mid-90s had the beginning of the peace process in our jurisdiction which clearly contributed to an improvement in the security and human rights situation.  However, I think our case is one that can be used to illustrate how this tactic can actually work. 

Using Shadow Reports

Dear Paul,

I have read Tactical Notebook on International Monitoring Bodies with great interest. I believe that many things from your experience can be applied worldwide. I especially appreciate the chapter on transferability and lessons learned. But do you think that situation in the West differs in regard to the general attitude that governments tend to have toward NGOs (more listening and responsive) and how that is affecting the fact that government is considering and applying policy and practice changes due to these reports?

Many thanks,


Using shadow reports as leverage toward government action

Paul Mageean, Director of Studies of the Graduate School for Professional Legal Education, University of Ulster, UK (Author of New Tactics Tactical Notebook, International Monitoring Bodies)

Dear Jovana,

To some extent of course you are right and I am always cautious about selling our experience in NI as transferable to other jurisdictions mainly because I used to find it very frustrating when NGO colleagues from around the world tried to tell us how to operate!  However, I think that there are echoes in our experience which are useful.  It is important to stress that while now the relationship of government to NGOs in NI is generally good, this was not the case during the conflict.  In fact one of the reasons why we began to use the shadow reporting tactic was because we were getting nowhere working on these issues in the domestic environment.  Government agencies would not meet us and to a large extent we were branded as being sympathetic to terrorism which was of course was dangerous in itself.  I think in retrospect that it was partly the credibility we gained from using this tactic that began to persuade the government that they had to engage with us. 

I do think however, that one of the main differences between our situation and that elsewhere is that the UK government was intensely conscious of its standing internationally and did not like media coverage of the UN criticising its own human rights record.  This coverage had an impact on government behaviour.



Government attitudes towards NGOs and shadow reports

Jovana Vukovic of the Regional Centre for Minorities, Serbia

Dear Paul,

Many thanks for your response. I believe that the relationship between civil society and government, and therefore the attitude that government take towards those who submits shadow reports, differs greatly in various political environment. During the Milosevic regime, almost all civil society in Serbia was labelled traitors and unpatriotic, and particiapting in shadow report writing would be nothing but betrayal of your country. However, after toppling down Milosevic, the new governments tend to be more responsive towards civil society and to pay attention what is written in shadow reports.

Best regards,


Impact of Concluding Observations - Case Study

Gerard Horton, of the Defence for Children International - Palestine Section

Dear Yves,

 On 14 May 2009, CAT published its Concluding Observations in relation to Israel. One of the issues we raised in our shadow report, and in our oral presentation before the Committee was that Palestinian children as young as 12 were being tried alongside adults in military courts. In its Concluding Observations the Committee recommended that a 'youth court be established as a matter of priority.'

On 29 July 2009, the Israeli military commander in the West Bank issued a new order - Military Order 1644 - which purports to establish a juvenile military court in the West Bank(see our press statement at: Now, this sounds positive, but there are two things to note:

  1. Many people have been criticising the Israeli military courts and their treatment of children for years, so I can't tell you that our work and the Committee's Concluding Observations made the difference. However, I think each bit of pressure coming from different sources has a cumulative effect that can make a difference. Certainly the timing was interesting.
  2. As you can see from the press release, the 'juvenile court' is not as good as it sounds and the fundamental shortcomings in the system that leads to ill-treatment and torture remain. That said, it is an acknowledgement by the authorities that such a court is necessary, and as we all know, change can take along time.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt when drafting shadow reports is the importance of drafting your recommendations with absolute precision. If the recommendation is too broad or vague, then the subsequent Concluding Observations will probably be of little value to you. For example, there was no point in us asking for the authorities to cease the practice of ill-treating children during arrest, transfer and interrogation. What we have been asking for is:

  • That a lawyer of choice and family member be present during interrogation.
  • That all interrogations be video recorded.
  • Military Order 132 be amended to raise the age of majority from 16 to 18.

CAT took up these recommendations, among others, in its Concluding Observations enabling DCI now to be able to say: 'The UN says ........' rather than 'DCI says ........" - This obviously carries much more weight.

In terms of seeing an impact

In terms of seeing an impact on state behaviour, in our experience, this is true of NGOs that have adopted creative strategies in using the Concluding Observations to strengthen the work and lobbying that they are already doing at the national level. Some examples, gathered from women activists who were a part of our “From Global to Local” programme, include (quoting IWRAW Asia Pacific’s Global to Local training kit):

  • The Women’s Political Resource Center in Georgia was able to use the Georgian government’s review by the CEDAW Committee to get the President to issue a decree on "Measures for Strengthening the Protection of Women's Rights in Georgia".  This decree catalyzed a discussion about instituting quotas to increase the number of women in parliament.
  • At the 18th CEDAW Session, the government of Zimbabwe was praised by the Committee for repealing the Legal Age of Majority Act 1982 which denied women the legal adult status. Upon their return home, however, the government announced that they would reinstate the Act. Drawing on their experiences at the UN, the four Zimbabwean women activists who had participated in the From Global to Local project and observed their government's review by the CEDAW Committee were able to widely publicise the contradiction in State action. The government subsequently withdrew its intention to reinstate this discriminatory Act.
  • A recommendation for a specific law in South Africa to prohibit discrimination was made women’s rights activist at the CEDAW review in 1998. This was echoed by the CEDAW Committee in its Concluding Comments. In September 2000, the South African government passed a law called the Promotion of Equality and the Prohibition of Unfair Discrimination Act. This Act has a section on gender discrimination.
  • In Nepal, the Nepali NGOs who attended the CEDAW session, used the Concluding Comments as an opening to engage their government in a dialogue. They also used the Concluding Comments to further legitimise their claim for changes in discriminatory laws. After mobilising mass support on the need for reforms, in 2002, the NGOs success was reflected in the eleventh amendment to the country code which brought to an end more than twenty discriminatory provisions in the law. Significant among these were the discriminatory provisions in inheritance laws, adoption, divorce, criminal laws including laws on abortion etc. While many other factors played a role in the reform process, the CEDAW Concluding Comments played an important role as a catalyst for change. When NGOs advocate for legal reform using the Convention, they are bringing in international standards and contributing to legal development in the area of women’s rights at the national level.
  • In Sri Lanka, after the 26th CEDAW Session, Sri Lankan NGOs had a consultation with the Government on every paragraph of the Concluding Comments. They requested their government to discuss their plan for implementing the recommendations of the Committee and offered their expertise and resources in pursuing the plan of action. Another consultation will be scheduled to measure the progress being made. This GO-NGO dialogue is important as it shows a conscious effort to pursue the Committee’s recommendations as well as the building of a GO-NGO constituency on CEDAW’s Concluding Comments.
  • Using media coverage to popularise their struggle and by arguing for the implementation of the CEDAW Committees recommendations in the Concluding Comments for Japan, the Women Workers Network in Japan were able to successfully obtain a judgment that Japanese executive and management practices discriminated against women in terms of wage and other promotional issues in the Sumitomo Electric Wage Discrimination case. These discriminatory practices were common in Japanese working life despite the fact of Constitutional protection against discrimination as well as specific legislation on equal opportunities. Thus the WWN’s efforts set a legal precedent on the concepts of anti-discrimination and equality laws as applied to women’s rights in employment, which is to be informed by the international norms including those of CEDAW.
Using shadow reports

Dear Gerard,

Thank you for your insight. My comment or rather question is on the
concluding observations issued by the relevant committees. I would like
to ask if you could share with us a case study of where concluding
observations have had an impact in the change of behaviour of a state
party. I believe that such an example could help us in our advocacy.

My experience is that when non governmental organisations (whether
national or international) submit their shadow reports,  the first
reaction we get in most cases governments react very angrily accusing
those organisations of being behind the interest of some powers (the
West).  Another point is that the process of changing their (states)
behaviour really takes ages. Colleagues in the team who are engaged in
some advocacy work do know how hard it is.

Best regards,

Yves Niyiragira

Arguments against accusations of pro-Western bias

niyves wrote:
My experience is that when non governmental organisations (whether
national or international) submit their shadow reports,  the first
reaction we get in most cases governments react very angrily accusing
those organisations of being behind the interest of some powers (the


This has been the experience of IWRAW Asia Pacific and the organisations we work as well! In terms of the CEDAW Convention, these are the arguments we usually marshall against such accusations:

Firstly, the State has ratified the treaty voluntarily. They have therefore voluntarily taken on the obligations set out in the CEDAW Convention. As part of that obligation, they have submitted to being reviewed by the CEDAW Committee at the CEDAW session. It is in their interest to have a CEDAW review that is open and well rounded, i.e. with the participation of NGOs and other stakeholders. 

Secondly, UN human rights treaties are certainly not ‘western’. Treaties are adopted through a very long process of consultation between member states of the United Nations. Most of these member states would not call themselves ‘western’. When the CEDAW Convention was being drafted, contributors to the text of the Convention included the Philippines, Iran, China, Rwanda, Ecuador, Kenya, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Benin, Cuba, India, Egypt and Syria. The then-USSR contributed one version of the preamble.

Thirdly, the CEDAW Convention has been ratified by 186 of the 192 UN members, which means more than 90% of the UN has recognised the human rights of women. Only 6 States have not ratified the CEDAW Convention, one of which is the United States.

Why submit a shadow report

Dear Gerard,

I wanted to add just a short comment on how a shadow report can be used in other advocacy work. Fahamu is part of a coalition called SOAWR (Solidarity for African Women's Rights) that seeks the ratification and the implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women. It is a coalition of more than 30 civil society and non governmental organisations.

Though most of the coalition members do not have the expertise and other resources to prepare shadow reports, we use publications of other organisations as a basis for our work. Based on the findings of the report, we are able to decide where (countries ) to put more or countries to target so that they can ratify and implement/domesticate the protocol.


Yves Niyiragira

Shadow reports to be used by international NGOs for advocacy

Thanks for your comment, Yves. The work of this coalition, Solidarity for African Women's Rights (SOAWR), is a very interesting strategy to advocate for the ratification / implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women. It is interesting to think about this kind of collaboration with regards to shadow reports. Now only is it important to strategize and plan for collaboration with NGOs (domestic or international) to create the shadow report, but it is also important to consider all the possibilities of collaboration after the report is written and submitted.  SOAWR is a great example of how human rights organizations (or a coalition of many NGOs) can utilize partner organizations' shadow reports and other monitoring publications to advance their issue.  I like this example because it illustrates that it is possible (and important) to collaborate with different allies at different times in your work.  Each partner may have a different end-goal, but working together on a specific project, if planned properly, can be benficial to all parties for their short-term goals! 

Are there other examples out there of coalitions using a collection of shadow reports to advocate for their issue?

Thanks so much for this great discussion, everyone!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Why submit a shadow report

Dear Yves,

You have mentioned that you use findings (presented in publications) to prepare shadow reports . We also feel that many organizations that do not plan to put shadow report writing on their agenda can contribute significantly to the process. I was curios do you just use the publications or perhaps discuss further with them how will you use these findings and how that will influence their future activities? Have you been thinking on organizing a workshop on just one article/or few  of a convention that falls into their agenda and can be useful for shadow reports, so they familiarize with the whole process?

We discovered that minority organizations that otherwise are not interested in process of submitting shadow reports are eager to learn more on specific articles of CEDAW dealing with women's political particiaption, as that can be convenient for them to address the issue of minority women's political participation (since documents dealing mith minority rights are gender neutral). They are not interesting to be included in the process of submitting shadow reprots, but knowledge of this articles and criteria how to assess the state of affairs in their own countries can be vey useful for them to better focus on the problem.



Why submit a shadow report

Dear All,

Thank you very much for all your responses and links to my questions.

Just to comment on Jovana's question above; SOAWR ( has many members including Oxfam BG that have any enough resources (personnel, time, expertise, finances,...) to preapare reports. One of the important things of working in a coalition is to merge our efforts and avoid duplicating initiatives. We discuss with them how to best use their publications ( and have inputs before publications). Also we close work with UNIFEM and CEDAW (their Divisin of Advancement of Women (DAW) encourages NGO's participation). For example, during the upcoming CEDAW 30th anniversary to be held on 18 November 2009 in Banjul, The Gambia SOAWR with many other ONGs will be present. It will be an opportunity to measure and evaluate the impact of our advocacy on the lives of African women.

Best regards,


Experiences of using reports in non-recognized territories

My name is Yuching Lin and I organize Taiwan's NGO CEDAW Report Writing Group. We are writing Taiwan's first NGO CEDAW report with the theme on violence against women and face the question of how to use it 'effectively' without the international leverage or mechanism. I've learned a lot from previous posts and would like to bring out the question: if anyone had the experience of using shadow/alternative report in the context of non-recognized territorries. How do you use your report internationally and demostically?

Regrdless of so-called 'one China' policy, in reality Taiwaneses elect a democratic government, which has its own sizable share of human rights, women's rights and child rights violation. From 2002-2007, Women's organizations pushed the goverment to adopt CEDAW, hoping that an international women's rights bill  will set gender equality at the center of policies. However, it turned out that Taiwan faces a strange international situation in which the CEDAW convention ratified by the Taiwanese government can't be deposited with the UN because it's not recognized as a 'state'. This means that Taiwanese women would not enjoy any chances of international monitoring mechanism or leverage through the system.

Currently, we are planning to present and discuss our reoprt findings in as many regional and international gatherings as possible. We will also distribute the report among contacts we can assemble. Domesticaly, a press conference and a major conference are scheduled to present the report to the public.  We are also trying to arrange meetigs with high-raking officials to present the findings.  I am wondering if there're any other strategies that can use this report to its full extent. Any suggestions and comments are welcomed.


Reports in non-recognized territories

Dear Yuching Lin,

Welcome to the New Tactics dialogue and thank you so much for raising this very important point. There are a number of non-recognized territories and this status certainly does impact how you may be able to use "shadow reports" with greatest effectiveness.

There are certainly unique characteristics of each non-recongized territory that may provide other kinds of leverage points with state bodies that have power to implement or create the changes that you want to see put in place.

As you state, the "Taiwanese elect a democratic goverment" and the government may therefore be particularly sensitive to national, regional and international press that highlight the problems and violations that your report is bringing to light.

In thinking about your question, I've thought about a number of different "angles" you could explore to see how your context and experience might best leverage the ideas below or spark new ideas.

1. Engaging the media to highlight the issues, concerns and recommendations from your report to raise public awareness and leverage such publicity for creating governmental changes. You may want to look at these tactical notebooks to see some ideas of how others developed their media campaigns:

International Monitoring Bodies:
Powerful tools for leveraging local change from Northern Ireland - Paul
Mageean, the author of this tactical notebook has been a contributor in
this dialogue

Engaging the Media: Building support for minimum wage reform from South Korea

2. Engaging victims: You may want to consider if victims who provided testimony or affidavits for your report would be interested and willing to engage with you to share their stories publicly. Though I want to highlight a caution here - if you proceed with such an option, be sure that victims are fully informed of potential repercussions of sharing their stories publicly (individual, family and community/social impacts); and that you have in place support systems for victims and their families to deal with issues regarding their trauma, potential of re-traumatization, and other impacts of publicly sharing their stories. An excellent example of an organization that worked to raise public awareness, highlight abuses suffered by women/girls, and promote national legislation comes from BAOBAB in Nigeria.

A Mock Tribunal to Advance Change, from Nigeria -  Mufuliat Fijabi, the author of the tactical notebook contributed to this dialogue as well. (Note the NGO collaboration that provided for victim support before, during and after the mock tribunal process.)

3. Engaging government bodies and offices to partner with your organization and other NGOs to address the problems and issues your report is raising. One tool for tracking such commitments and changes is budgets.

Using Government Budgets as a Monitoring Tool, from the IDASA Children's Budget Unit in South Africa 

Another example of engaging government bodies to address women's issues comes from Women for Women's Human Rights - New Ways (WWHR). They creatively utilized their research on women's issues to develop a human rights curriculum and then engaged the government social services department to provide the curriculum training to social workers running already established government community centers.

The Human Rights Education Program for Women in Turkey

These may provide you some ideas for how to utilize the information from your NGO CEDAW report and promote the recommendations that you've developed in order to reach your long term goals. These potential ideas arise from different starting points. I hope that it provides you with an opportunity to explore these and other ideas. 

I hope that you will continue to share your questions and ideas so that others will be able to benefit from your experiences too!   

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Dear Nancy, Thank you for

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Yes, all the strategies you mentioned are in the plan and implemented at every opportunity in the process. We will keep doing that and hopefully get a chance to share our results with friends through platforms like this one in the future.

I would like to commend on New Tactics for organizing this on-line dialogue. Because of the unresognized status, there're very few resources avaialable to us at the begining of  preparing this report. We collect most of know-how information from websites, mailing lists and forums like this one. Thank to fellow women's orgs in Hong Kong for sharing their hands-on experiences and translation. Hence, I can't stress more the importance of sharing and making know-how information available to the most grassroots organizations. Language is obviously another point. 

Regardless, we will keep going and would be happy to use all opportunities to share our experiences.

Yuching Lin, Garden of Hope Foundation in Taiwan

Strengths and weaknesses of creating and using shadow reports

I think the benefits of using shadow reports far outweigh any drawbacks. Here are just some of the strengths and weaknesses.


  • It focuses your advocacy within an international legal framework.
  • A UN committee may take up your recommendations in its Concluding Observations, which can be useful in further advocacy.
  • Publicity
  • You can adapt the shadow report into another format, such as an annual report. This, in effect, gives you two reports for the effort of one.
  • The process forces you to review and analyse all the material you have collected over the last four years. This can highlight further strengths and weaknesses in your work.
  • The process presents a good opportunity to work in coalition with other organisations.


  • Perhaps not a weakness, but preparing a good shadow report is labour intensive.


Here are examples of where shadow reports have been adapted into a more reader friendly annual report format, and where a UN committee's Concluding Observations were used in other advocacy:

Goal(s) of a shadow reports

In most cases, members of the civil society and non governmental organisations do not submit shadow reports to get attention or cooperate among themselves, but they do it to show the real picture of the matters in hand.   Using a small example, In July 2007, the African Union (AU) summit dorected its executive council to submit a report of five years that the AU was in existence. They highlighted achievements of the continental organisation during that period, but as an inhouse work the report failed to give the views of ordinary Africans citizens.

In January 2008, Fahamu and some other members of the African civil society issued a parallel report, which was called "Peoples' audit of the African Union". This peoples' voice helped to explain the need of two sides of a same story given by different parties with different interests.

Governments usually like to show how they have tried to comply with the international treaties and conventions (avoiding contegious points). The civil society comes in to show the public the "lies" included in official reports of governments. And as others have said, it creates a basis for advocacy.

Yves Niyiragira

Goal of shadow report

Lisa Myers, Coordinator of NGO group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Switzerland

There are lots of reasons to create and use a shadow report. It provides information on what has been done since the last report was submitted (i.e. has the State party followed up the previous concluding observations). It also provides a periodic analysis of the issues covered by the convention and it is an opportunity for NGOs to get together and take stock of the situation. It also provides a different perspective to the State party one. Even if the latter is self-critical, it is hard for it to know how its programmes, laws and policies are affecting the individuals covered by the convention. In the case of the CRC, the Committee has come to expect shadow reports prepared by a coaltion of NGOs. They use the reports both for their concluding observations and questions to the State party.

It is also a report that can be used at national level to raise awareness about certain issues and look at ways to address them. In quite a few cases, NGOs have used it to introduce the treaty to other NGOs so that they start having more of a rights-based approach in their work. In quite a few cases, NGOs have found it particularly helpful as a way to coordinate their work and advocate for changes at national level.

What are ‘shadow reports’?
  • What are ‘shadow
    reports’?  Is there a difference between ‘shadow reports’ and
    ‘alternative reports’?

Pacific an international organisation based in Malaysia that works for the
realisation the human rights of women using the framework of the CEDAW
Convention since 1993.In particular, IWRAW Asia Pacific works through the “From
Global to Local” programme to facilitate women’s participation in the CEDAW
review of their States. The aim of the programme is to facilitate the bringing
of women’s realities at the local level to inform international processes, so
that international standards that are useful and reflective of national issues
can be used and brought back home by women’s groups.

reports are written by NGOs to feed information on the state of implementation
of treaty obligations in a specific country from the perspective of civil
society. In most cases, shadow reports are written by NGO’s with
access to or in direct response to the content of the State report submitted to
the CEDAW Committee.  In that sense,
NGOs are ‘shadowing’ the State report as they are providing an analysis and
critique of the State report. 

In situations where NGOs do not have access to the State
report (e.g. either because their State has not written one or the report is
submitted very late), NGOs can still write alternative reports. An alternative
report would not have an analysis of the State report, but will still have
information on issues critical for women and making recommendations to the
Committee on measures which the State can take to address those concerns. It
should be noted that the Committee has in fact started the practice of
reviewing States even in absence of a State report (as in the case of Dominica
at the 43rd CEDAW session). NGO alternative reports in such
situations are absolutely critical in providing the Committee with contextualised
information that would be useful in the review of the State.

How was
the decision made to use shadow reports? How does this tactic fit into your
overall strategy?

In our
experience working with women’s groups/activists at the national level, the
decision to use shadow reports comes from a recognition that CEDAW (as a legal
instrument and a monitoring and review process) is a way for various women’s
human rights /interest groups to get their agenda for change into the
government agenda. In this sense it is important to see that the CEDAW review
process is about state obligation, and about drawing accountability from the
State. The CEDAW review process is a legitimate space for NGOs to hold their
states accountable to what the State has agreed to implement as part of their
obligations under CEDAW. Shadow reports are the natural response when they have
recognised the relevance of the CEDAW review process, i.e. feeding information
to the international monitoring body to influence state actions at the national

our work with national groups we continue to emphasise that NGOs play a crucial
role in alerting States to their obligations, collaborating with States on
their programmes where NGOs are better placed to forge links with communities
and households, developing alternative models to State models of intervention,
and monitoring State activities and their impact. Importantly, NGOs can serve
as a facilitating link with communities and individuals, and feed information
to and from State institutions to citizens.

become particularly vital centres of advocacy around women's interests and
rights given State resistance to implementing change. This may arise in
different contexts from a combination of factors: the ideology of governing
parties or rulers, the resources that a State has and how it chooses to
distribute them, the people who staff state institutions and their biases and
prejudices, their distance from communities and field realities, the size of
implementing agencies and so on. NGOs offer a viable organisational alternative,
particularly where they may be smaller in size, and located within communities.
NGOs, particularly where staffed or influenced strongly by feminist agendas,
can play a particularly effective role in addressing issues of women's rights
and empowerment at local levels, and feeding insights from the field into
national and international advocacy.

interventions and advocacy in relation to specific processes of the CEDAW
Convention can have several spin-off effects. At the international level, NGO involvement
in the CEDAW Convention reporting process can help to feed important
information to other bodies of the UN and ultimately influence international
processes, policies and programmes. It can also work its influence
domestically, where it helps to bring NGOs together to discuss important
aspects of State action, emphasise collaborative work in expanding ideas and
activism around rights, create greater media awareness, and ensure that state
interventions are being monitored and assessed for effectiveness. NGOs can also
publicise State reports and the Concluding Observations of the CEDAW Committee
to a wider national audience, where States may avoid doing so. At the local
level, discussions around concepts and practice of women's rights can provide a
very sound basis for influencing policy and creating spaces for change.

  • What is the goal of your use of
    shadow reports?

observation is that national level activists are using the shadow report
process as a way to enhance national level processes for women’s rights
advocacy. It becomes a natural strategising point and locus of activity which
draws a strong response from governments (either from the shame factor or the
international limelight it gives to specific government actors). The information
in shadow reports that have been sent to an international body also gain a
certain level of credibility at the local level.

  • For example, to engage the
    media, to attract international attention and pressure, to strengthen
    collaboration among human rights NGOs, etc.

our observation, getting the interest of the (international) media and
opportunity to highlight the local context is one major advantage of the shadow
report and the CEDAW review process. NGOs have also collaborated with the local
media to highlight the State’s performance at the international arena which allows
for stronger scrutiny of State action at the national level. In addition, coordination of efforts in preparation and writing of the shadow report makes
advocacy more effective as it will represent the voices of large numbers of
women. NGOs will have a larger base for advocacy at home after the review.

What are
the strengths and weaknesses of creating and using shadow reports for advocacy?

Again, based on our observation of national level
experience , a good process (i.e. one that is inclusive, consensus building, and
representative of a wide range of issues and groups) is very time and resource
intensive. It takes a lot to coordinate the report. Good evidence-based,
comprehensive , shadow reports should be developed on a research/information
gathering frame that is based on a CEDAW compliant framework – this is an
extremely difficult task especially in most cases we see national groups are
mainly issue based. Coordination and making a cohesive national shadow report
is quite a big task for a lot of groups.

  • What must be assessed before
    implementing this activity? What resources are required? What are the

need to consider how the shadow report process/CEDAW reporting process will be
useful to add value to their current issue/strategies on women's human rights.

need to consider the time and national level priorities (will it diffuse their
national efforts by focusing on international processes if they do not see
clearly how a shadow report can help strengthen their work).

money to fund the process is another issue to note, in terms of which donors to
go to, who will hold the funds, accountability issues in terms of the funds
raised, etc.

resource people to building capacity on CEDAW and on writing shadow/alternative
reports, is very critical.

must be an interest and ability to mobilise larger support for their CEDAW
advocacy with other groups.

IWRAW Asia Pacific
No 80B Jalan Bangsar
Kuala Lumpur
59200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 603- 22822255
Fax: 603 22832552

CEDAW/shadow report training + practices of other treaty bodies

Dear Kristin and all,

There are quite a few NGOs that have the expertise to provide training on CEDAW and shadow report writing. In the Pacific, RRRT does a lot of work with NGOs in the Pacific islands in terms of training and capacity building. CLADEM in Latin America submits reports to CEDAW. KARAT Coalition, which works in the Central Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States has also started conducting trainings on CEDAW and its Optional Protocol in collaboration with IWRAW Asia Pacific. 

IWRAW Asia Pacific's capacity building has particular focus on South and Southeast Asia (and some East Asian countries). However, we are now sharing the learnings and expertise that we developed over the past 15 years with other regions. This mainly depends on the interest and requests that we receive, though our main focus in other regions is to transfer expertise to other regional organisations so that they can take forward CEDAW work in their regions. (See our website for trainings and meetings we conduct -- we are always open to questions: http://www.iwraw-ap.

In terms of how IWRAW Asia Pacific acquired expertise on CEDAW, we started off by building our own knowledge and capacity on using CEDAW. In this process, we put a lot of effort into networking and creating a community of women activists who see the relevance of CEDAW for their national level advocacy and are committed to working with the Convention. At that point, we concentrated on basic training on CEDAW as there was a general lack of awareness by national women's groups on the Convention. After 15 years, we are part of an extensive network of women's groups who are continuously engaged with the CEDAW process and its implementation at the national level. 

Because IWRAW Asia Pacific is a regional/international organisation, our experience in building relationships may be different from a national organisation or even a regional/international organisation with a different mandate. We do not engage directly with issues at the national level but focus on building the capacity of national groups to work on these issues and bring them to the international level to influence standard-setting at that level. IWRAW Asia Pacific is not a membership organisation, therefore we only facilitate the involvement of national women's organisations in international processes.

As to how to begin building relationships and with whom, the strategies that NGOs may want to take up are contextual -- they depend on whether you are working at a regional or national level, the political context, etc. We feel that the necessary starting point is always to understand that the CEDAW review process is only a tool for monitoring the state and holding the state accountable to its obligations under the Convention. This process is part of a broader strategy to mobilise sometimes disparate women's groups together to advocate for women's human rights. 

With regards to your question, Kristin, on the practice of other treaty bodies in reviewing States in the absence of a State report, most human rights treaty bodies have already adopted the practice of examining the State party in the absence of the State party’s report. The procedure is new to CEDAW (it was practiced for the first time at the 43rd CEDAW session, in January 2009). The CEDAW Committee conducted a study of the practices of the other treaty bodies before implementing this. The study can be found here: (Doc No. CEDAW/C/2008/III/4, paras 13 to 23)

On the practice of reviewing States in absence of reports

This is an excerpt from the Overview of the working methods of the Human Rights Committee regarding the practice of reviewing States in the absence of a State Report:

V. Strategies to encourage reporting by States parties

The Committee notes, as appears from its annual reports, that only a small number of States have submitted their reports on time. Most of them have been submitted with delays ranging from a few months to several years and some States parties are still in default, despite repeated reminders by the Committee.

Since reporting by States parties is the fundamental mechanism by which the Committee discharges fully its obligation to monitor the observance of obligations under the Convention, the Committee has adopted special procedures for considering the situation of States parties that have failed to honour their reporting obligations.

When the State party has not presented a report, the Committee may, at its discretion, notify the State party of the date on which the Committee proposes to examine the measures taken by the State party to implement the rights guaranteed under the Covenant. If the State party is represented by a delegation, the Committee will, in presence of the delegation and in public session, proceed with the examination on the date assigned. If the State party is not represented, the Committee may, at its discretion, either decide to proceed to consider the measures taken by the State party to implement the guarantees of the Covenant at the initial date or notify a new date to the State party. In both cases the Committee will prepare provisional concluding observations which will be transmitted to the State party. The Committee will mention, in its Annual Report, that these provisional concluding observations were prepared, but their text will not be published. (8)

Lois A. Herman
Coordinator WUNRN
Women's UN Report Network

What are shadow reports?

Lisa Myers, member of NGO group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Switzerland

For the CRC, NGOs generally prepare alternative reports rather than shadow reports, as they include information on the follow-up to previous recommendations, comments on the State party report and an analysis of the current situation of child rights in the country. They are also generally prepared by national coalitions of NGOs, so they are more representative and comprehensive.

--Creating the shadow report: what is the process?
  • How does the submission process work? To whom do you submit the report? Is there a guide that you use to help you write the report? What is important to include in the report?
  • How do you collect the data to be used for the report? Is it possible to make the data collection a participatory activities to engage civil society in this process? Please share any examples of how you have achieved this.
  • How do you decide whether or not to collaborate with other NGOs on the report?
  • How do you decide whether or not to collaborate with the government? Does this kind of collaboration compromise an NGO’s independence? What are the possible repercussions of working with the governments in their review processes (i.e. being on the government delegation, writing the report, etc)?
  • What challenges do you face in creating shadow reports? What resources (financial, personnel, expertise, etc) are required for these activities? What risks need to be assessed?
collection of data

The process of data collection determines the validity and acceptablitiy of a shadow report. For the data to have any kind of authenticity it must be thoroughly cross check and should involved various parties beyond the organisation submitting the report. Let me share with you the process that i was involved in with the Foundation for Human Rights initiative (FHRI), a human rights NGO in Kampala, Uganda.

The organisation made a decision, way before i joined it, to apply for an obsever status with the UN CAT. This was followed by a deliberatly slow and focussed process of collecting information on the subject of torture. This was done over a period of over a year. During which time, various organisations, media houses and governmnet officials where contacted to provide information. The information provided was crosschecked to ensure authenticity.

Shadow reports are shadow reports as the name clearly states. They are not originating reports themselves but reprts that are premised upon the offical report. A shadow report or alternative report is a shadow of  or an alternative to the ffical report. We then had to not only obtain in time, but also keep a close watch over the process of writing the offical communication. This was a challange as govermment institutions tend to play with thier cards close to their chest. At times it required peronal realtionships to obtian information.

This inlcudes making sure that the copy of the report submitted by the government is the correct copy that you have in your possession (the only blip was when the officals of FHRI showed up to present a sshadow report to the African Comission on Human and People's Rights, they were served wit ha new report by the govenment team - this was a real challange and my collegues who were in the Gambia had to go into some kind of panic mode to be able to cope. Thankfully they did)  But that demonstrates the importance of keeping tab with the government department in charge of traty reporting - in Uganda's case the minisitry of Foreign affairs.

But once the report is collected, it is important to validate them through some kind of workshop. In our case we used a virtual office - online validation. The report was shared with many partners to ensure correctness.

Becasue FHRI is not a nationwide NGO, it had to rely very heavily on other organisations and media houses for information. Additionally, a collaboration with Human Rights Watch. This collaboration gave thereport some kind of international dimension and forced government to look at it a little more seriously. It also helped to bring some expertise int he report in terms of writing style.

This worked very well and the recommendations of the committee such as the Amendment to the Prisons Act were done. Many of the recomendations still remain unimplemented but there us great momentum towards having them dealt with,

Ineed to emphsise though that i do not work for FHRI anymore.

collecting data and coperation with government

Daer Jovana 

Many thanks for your questions.  I did not certainly mean that orgnaisations have to be sneaky and try to 'steal' information from governments as that would be unethical. What i was trying to say was that orgnaisations can develop a working relationship with particular governmwent officials who can, becasue of the good working relationship, often times give information.

Let me use the example of the Uganda Prision Service. There was a time when the prision sevice was not very open to inspection by human nrights organisation. What we did in our case in Uganda, is to refocus our advocacy to include advocacy about the working conditions of the men and women in the prision service. In otherwords we abondoned the attitude that in order to effctively do advocacy, we always needed to bash. We gave credits, publicly where it was due and did not only advocate for the inmates but prison staff also. We did advocacy for thier better housing, pay et al. We also tried to explain, and it was actually true, that most of the cases of torture are as a result of a disoriented and poorly paid prision officals. This tremendously improved the prision servie's attitutdes towards human rights organisations. We are now able at short notice, and sometimes through a pohne call to gain access to prision facilities.

The other thing that we did was to share our findings and concerns first with the prision authorites and give them a chnace to remedy any shortfall. Only when they fail that we take the advocacy to another plane e.g. press or other bodies. In cases where the shortfalls have bee naddressed, we kept the matters awaay for mthe public view. This built confidence and help check any mistrust. It is wqorking very well.

Therefore do not try to be sneaky, if you do, you will be putting to risk the life and work of the one who stole the information for you.

I agree with you on the issue of limitesd resources. It can be a real impedement to cross checking and validating information. We need to develop innovative ways of doing so and that is why i sugested online validation where reports are shared with partners first before publication of submision to the various treaty monitoring bodies. I am sure many orgnisations have access to internet. if they do not, post the report to them and let them provide writen feedback. Putthe report on a bus going to the village and ask the bus driver to drop it off that orgnisations office. This has worked before, it certainly can work elsewhere.

on the third question, i have never seen our government do that, not in any recent past. Infact all you discover is that a report has been sent to a treaty monitoring body, if at all you do. Governments rarely consult CSOs. If they do, at all, participating in it would not make CSOs any less credible. I am sure the government would not include many things that would have been suggested by NGOs. In that case therefore, shadow reporting would help to correct the omission by government. It would be important, i would imagine, to state clearly that the NGO had engaged the state and that what is being presented were things that the state did ot report or where dishonest about.

I hope that answers your question and i als od ohope that you and indeed other member s would find it useful.



collecting data and coperation with government

Many thanks Nicholas for your response.

I didn't really have in mind stealing information, but I was more referring to the 'revolving door' phenomenon that is prevalent in the Balkans. For example, several key people curently working in the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights in Serbia just until a year ago worked in two repsectable watchdog human rights organizations. I find their NGO experience very helpful as the Ministry is more open towards civil society now. I was thinking should we rely on these people at all, share information, etc. and how that reflect on the credibility of our shadow reports.

Or many people who worked in government institutions are joining NGOs now and they take part in writing shadows for FCNM and CEDAW... I was wondering how that affects credibility.

Thanks again for your response.

Best, Jovana

relationship between CSO and government

Tara Collins, board member of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, and as of September, Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge Fellow in Childhood Research, School of Social Justice, University College Dublin, Ireland

Dear Nicholas,

Thanks so much for your valuable insights and contributions thus far to the dialogue, which have been so interesting. 

The question of the relationship between CSOs and government is one that interests me greatly.  When I was doing my doctoral research in and on South Africa, I found it remarkable how many talented individuals moved from their important NGO work to join the government.  It may be a question of money as you suggest but it also may be more than that.

I relate to this question personally because I decided after several years of work with an NGO to join the federal government (before I commenced my doctoral studies in 2000).  I decided that it would be a valuable step, not for financial reasons, but to learn about the government perspective(s) on rights matters.  It would be another step in my education.  When working professionally for an NGO, I used to think of government as the "other", in terms of all our efforts related to advocacy, fundraising, etc.  I have since learned that it is too simplistic a conclusion.  While there are some major differences, many of the people in government are as committed as NGO people.  I was amazed for instance to learn that some of my colleagues at the Human Rights Division at the Cdn. Dept. of Foreign Affairs would work regularly well into the night/early morning (ie 2-3 am) in order to do the best they could for the human rights.  I really appreciated their dedication and commitment to HR. The challenge lies in the relationship between the civil servants and their political masters, ie the elected politicians, who may or may not be support as we are in the advocacy community of human rights.   The Cdn. advocacy community is not thrilled with our current federal government and its lack of appreciation of HR issues and the important role of the HR approach.  There is no doubt that there much work to do!

It is my sense that many people are interested in joining human rights advocacy because they are committed to people.  While politics can affect their efforts and processes, we must work together as best we can.  

In reference to your earlier comment, I find it interesting that your work on shadow reports would begin once you had access to the government report.  It is a current challenge here.  The Cdn. government was supposed to submit its collated third and fourth report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 2009 and has yet to do so.  We at the Cdn. Coalition for the Rights of Children, have decided to move forward nonetheless with our monitoring report because we don't want to lose the momentum of the work to date.  (Although admittedly, it is difficult to make significant progress on the report without dedicated staff to support the effort.)  If the government submits its report before completion of our  report, we will reflect and respond upon its content.  However, the government perspective is not the only one that matters about child rights, particularly since its approach to child rights is to identify a range of programmes as proof of efforts. It does not undertake much analysis to reflect upon the impact of these efforts upon children or their rights.  Consequently, it is really important to explore and detail our perspectives on child rights, not simply respond to the government report. 

We plan to take advantage of the upcoming 20th anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this November will provide the excellent opportunity for progress on the monitoring effort and advocacy related to child rights in Canada and in its efforts internationally.

Shadow Reports that are breaking new ground

Jeanne Sarson, Canada


If I  understand you correctly Tara you are speaking about relationships between CSOs and government which can be either inclusive or exclusive depending on who is the HRs representative one is connecting with. I would agree that this holds true in most situations even between say the coalition and civil society or between members of civil society when one is attempting to faciliate educational presentations for example. 

From my experience in the submission of Linda and my shadow report I would suggest that one needs to also be prepared to be confronted by and be prepared for resistance and/or for shocking comments. Therefore in preparation for such occurances it could be wise to have a brainstorming session to think about such possibilities so one can be prepared.

For example, when Linda and I met with some members of the Canadian delegation in Geneva in October of 2009 the discussion about women reporting that they had endured NSAT as young infants or preschoolers was questioned from the perspective of why would it be necessary to address NSAT that had occurred in the past? Why would it be necessary to have NSAT law as a distinct criminal offence similiar to state torture being a specific criminal offence? We were prepared in that we could state that, for example:

  • The Royal Canadian Mounted website identifies and uses the word torture when speaking of the ordeals suffered by victimized trafficked persons;  
  • That 90% of pedophilic crime scene 'pornography' is made in Canada and other industralized countries, some homemade, some involving infants with umbilical cords still attached, covered with ejaculate, toddlers being orally raped with torture and 'bondage' involved in 20-22% of such criminal material.

Although the government may not act on such information the first time it is presented once they have it it may be another starting point on which to build for the follow-up shadow report and working towards their due diligence accountabilities for example.

I agree with you that a shadow report needs to consider what the government has excluded from its report and not 'simply' respond to their issues identified in their submitted report.

Since you mentioned that the Coalition is taking advantage of the 20th anniversary of the UNs Convention on the Rights of the Child does the Coalition accept information from civil society? If so, where can this be submitted?

Thanks for the discussion.



Monitoring as a collaborative exercise

Tara Collins, board member of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, and as of September, Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge Fellow in Childhood Research, School of Social Justice, University College Dublin, Ireland

Hi Jeanne,

Thanks for your valuable comments.  I agree wholeheartedly that there is much that government as well as the general public do not want to hear about the situation of rights.  It points to the importance of our work and highlights how much still needs to be done. 

One of the things that I like to remind myself and my students is that human rights are for everyone and everywhere.  Human rights pose a challenge for every jurisdiction.  We cannot be complacent about the tasks and efforts involved as you have so poignantly pointed out earlier in the dialogue.

To respond to your inquiry, the Coalition's monitoring efforts is certainly a collaborative exercise.  You can find more information about the Coalition's monitoring efforts at the following website:

Many thanks to you and others for your valuable work.   


Shadow reports that break new ground and collaboration

Jeanne Sarson, Canada

Hi Tara,

Agree wholeheartedly that there is much that governments and civil society do not want to accept about the vast degree of human rights violations that occur especially when these are situated in one's backyard.

As I read the comments there is a theme that seems to play out ... that is, in Canada our socio-cultural eyes turn on to so-called less industralized countries as being the places where rights are so daily and horrifically violated, conversely it seems that the governments in some of these countries turn their eyes to the west to blame the west for wrongfully influencing NGOs or others who submit reports ... and yet when I was in Geneva in 2008 listening to women from many countries the reality is the violation of human rights is universal and this included forms of non-state actor torture which was Linda and my focus! All the more reason, I believe, that shadow reports have to be submitted from all countries so as to impose a reality-check on our species.

Thanks for the suggested link, I will follow-up on this.



Relationship between civil society and government

Dear Tara,

Thank you for your comments on the relationship between the government and members of the civil society. I have a feeling that some people would want to leave the civil society to join the government not only for money, but also for power. For example in Kenya where I live, some individuals who were some of the determined actvists of human rights under the regime of the former president Arap Moi, became "enemies" of the civil society once they joined parliament. It is a situation that is hard to understand.

Members of the civil society (especially in the human right sector) are usually called noise makers by poiticians who accuse them of not doing any tangible things apart from issuing declarations/reports. But, Isupport your veiw that some of the government officials are very friendly and helpful to civil society. For example, Fahamu in collaboration with other partners, have used some friendly members of parliament to lobby their colleagues to support the campaign on the ratification and implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women.

Also in Kenya, after the freedom of information bill failed to pass in parliament of the last ten years, Fahamu and other partners are in the process of identifying other members of parliament who would table the bill as it will be helpful in our campaing for women's rights rights. Asmany women do not have access to information and thus fail to know their rights, It would also help in the campaign of seeking the ratification of Kenya to the women's protocol when a movement of Kenyan women start demanding for it.

Best regards,


Yves Niyiragira

relationship between CSO and government

Lisa Myers, member of NGO group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Switzerland

Dear Tara,I haven't been able to read Nicholas' message, but I wanted to add to your comments.

I regularly work with people from the government missions in Geneva and as you mentioned, there are quite a few who are interested in the issues. Some are there to just defend their government’s policies, but there are quite a few who try and encourage/recommend that their government take more of a human rights approach to things. Some of the people working in these posts have worked for NGOs, but there are others who wanted to work for NGOs but found it hard to get in as there are so few jobs going. They therefore went to work on the issue that interested them but for the government. It obviously depends on the countries, but in some cases they can really push for the respect of human rights from within. It is useful to have people in government who believe in the issues and work hard on them and are not just bureaucrats. As you mentioned, the people working for the governments do not always agree with the new party which is in power, but they can sometimes have room to continue working in the issues if the civil service does not change each time a new government is elected.

There are other cases, where NGOs have entered government and they have not liked the fact that NGOs have continued scrutinising their work. I have met NGOs who have found it hard to work with their former colleagues, as the latter think that now that NGOs are in government, the civil society should be supportive of their work.

I agree that reporting is an ongoing process, not something that should just happen every 5 years. We often recommend that the national coalitions develop indicators and collect data between the government reports. If they have the resources, they can produce an annual report on the state of the country's children and use it for advancing child rights at national level. This will then also facilitate the preparation of their own report. They can then add a commentary on the state party report when it is published. This works especially well if it is an alternative report, as it has different components, not just a response to the government's report.


Applying for obsever status

Dear Kristin,

I put the same question to the AU Commisoner Dupe Atoki this morning in Kampala, she is in the country to help on the intiative to enact a law on torture, and she referred me to the AU website for the process of obtainnig observer status.

What she said, which i think is important to also share, it that it not a requirement to have obsever status to be able to send communications to the AU, i guess it is the same for the other committees as well, but obtainnig an observer status would certainly have many benefits namely; participating in the commission sessions, having access to any niformation at the AU, have direct communication lines with the committee et al.

I must admit i have not yet taken part in any such process. I would be glad to hear what the other practioners have to say.



How to apply for observer status with the UN

Dear Kristin,

According to the UN website, the first time that NGOs took a role in formal UN deliberations was through the Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1946. This relationship with ECOSOC is governed today by ECOSOC resolution 1996/31.

The NGO Branch of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs is the
focal point within the UN Secretariat for NGOs seeking, or in consultative status, with the Economic and
Social Council (ECOSOC). Currently, more than 3000 NGOs have consultative
status with the ECOSOC. The database is available at:

To be eligible for consultative status, an NGO must have been in
existence (officially registered with the appropriate government
authorities as an NGO/non-profit) for at least two years, must have an
established headquarters, a democratically adopted constitution,
authority to speak for its members, a representative structure,
appropriate mechanisms of accountability and democratic and transparent
decision-making processes.
To find out more on how to apply for a consultative status and learn about the process please visit:

Hope this helps.


NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child 



Resources on obtaining consultative status with ECOSOC

Thanks, Shushan - this is very helpful!

After looking at the website you recommended, I noticed that the UN has created a handbook for practitioners (NGOs, CSOs, and others) interested in utilizing treaty monitoring bodies. It is called Working with the United Nations Human Rights Programme: A Handbook for Civil Society and it is available now in English, Arabic, and Russian.  This seems like a pretty comprehensive introduction to treaty monitoring bodies and how to utilize them.

Thanks for sharing!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

NGO observer status

Dear All,

Thank for the your information. After reading the requirements for NGOs to be given an observer status at the UN, I felt I should share a little about observer status at the African Union (AU). There is one big contrast between the two: to be a member of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) of the AU, an ONG or civil society organisation (CSO) has to show proofs, among other things, of getting not less than 50 per cent of its income from contributions of NGO/CSO members (whether they are in Africa or diaspora).

This condition is a big challenge for many NGOs who get funds from international donors. This means that an organisation like Fahamu( though started in 1997 and has a headquarters) cannot get AU observer status! Fahamu and other partners asked some ambassodors at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and most of the answers were: "The reason why there is that condition of having at least 50 per cent of income from within the country was to counter the influence of the West that funds most of the CSOs and NGOs working in Africa". It is somehow ironical, because some countries like Burundi get more than 50 per cent of their budget from the West!!

The only organisations that have so far managed to have obsever statuses at the AU are some farmers unions, trade unions because all their funds come from members contributions.

African CSO and NGO that work around the AU have therefore come up with other initiatives of trying to engage with it such as the creation of the Centre for Citizens' Participation at the AU ( the CCP-AU is not officiallly recognised by theAU, it is becoming more active than the ECOSOCC (

Best regards,


Challenge: Membership requirements for ECOSOCC

Hi Yves,  

Thanks for sharing this challenge that Fahamu is facing in meeting the ECOSOCC requirements for membership. This sounds like an enormous challenge! Especially considering that the states that are members of the AU do not need to fulfill the same requirements as NGOs and CSOs! I found a document online from the AU that includes the requirements for ECOSOCC members. 

It is good to hear that initiatives are underway to work around these AU requirements, such as the creation of the Centre for Citizens' Participation at the AU. I look forward to hearing about what these initiatives learn from their work - what works and what does not. Is there an intiative to change these AU requirements?

Do other practitioners face similar challenges in fulfiling the requirements to obtain observer/membership status at monitoring bodies in their regions? Please share your experiences!


Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Submitting information and attending a session

It is not necessary for an NGO to be accreditated in order to submit a shadow/alternative report to a UN Committee. In the past, NGOs and activists facing threats of violence or persecution from their respective states have submitted anonymous information to the CEDAW Committee -- in our experience, the OHCHR has been quite conscientious about the safety of activists submitting reports, as long as the need for anonymity is made clear.

We advise NGOs who intend to submit reports/attend a session to check with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It issues an NGO information note which guides NGOs on what they need to do to be able to attend the session for CEDAW (see The OHCHR also issues NGO information note for each CEDAW session, which has more specific information depending on where the session is held. This can be found at the page of the particular session. To find it, go to: and click on the relevant CEDAW session. On that page, you will find an NGO information note.

The CEDAW session is essentially an ‘open session’ which means it is open to NGOs and any other stakeholder wishing to observe the review. To attend, NGOs must obtain a ‘grounds pass’ – which allows them access to the grounds of the UN where the session is being held. To obtain a UN grounds pass, NGOs must submit the name of their representative, the name of the NGO, and the dates/duration they will be at the CEDAW session to the OHCHR. This information must be sent to at least one week in advance. Where you pick up the pass depends on where the CEDAW session is held. This information will be provided in the NGO information note.


Collaboration with other NGOs

Gerard Horton, of the Defence for Children International - Palestine Section

As part of a coalition of 14 Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, DCI-Palestine submitted a shadow report to CAT in September 2008. In this instance, working in a coalition made good strategic sense:


  • The coalition did a good deal of advocacy work in Geneva during the Committee's review of Israel's Fourth Periodic Report. The review of Israel is always politically charged. It was very helpful to be able to go into a room and be able to say that the report was produced by both Palestinian and Israeli organisations. In some instances, you could actually see relief on the faces of the audience.
  • Similar to the point above, the coalition did quite alot of lobbying work with the diplomatic missions in Tel-Aviv, including a number of EU briefings. Being part of a coalition in these circumstances was a strength. Further, the process raised the profile of the active members of the coalition which continues to this day.
  • The shadow report required some detailed information about Israeli military orders in the West Bank as well as Israeli domestic legislation. No single organisation had the necessary expertise over all the topics, but the coalition did.


  • Coalitions require work, particularly in this region. A significant amount of time was taken up with reaching consensus and agreement on the particular words used and the way arguments should be put. Different organisations have very strong views about what terminology should be used (e.g. Israeli Defence Force (IDF), Israeli Occupying Force (IOF) or the Israeli army (neutral)).

The benefits reaped from the coalition were definitely worth the extra effort, but is was extremely labour intensive. Some obvious advice is to do a little homework on your proposed partners before entering into a coalition - check to see if your approach, style, positions and terminology are broadly consistent.

The shadow report DCI-Palestine submitted to the HRC in July of this year,  was not done in coalition. This was a tactical decision based on the fact that we did not wish to dilute the focus which was on the right to life and detention and ill-treatment of children in detention for which we did not require additional technical expertise from outside sources.

Collaborations (NGOs/Govt) - Nigeria and the Philippines


Mufuliat Fijabi from BAOBAB shared in this dialogue a great example of how BAOBAB works with 50 organizations to produce a shadow report for the CEDAW .

Ellene Sana [featured resource practitioners from the Using Mobile Phones for Action dialogue) sent a wonderful, quick message to New Tactics regarding this dialogue and their experience of collaborating with both NGOs and Government.  She shared:

Congratulations on the interesting and relevant topics New Tactics cover. I just want to happily inform you that we [Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines- CMA] did engage with the UN Committee on the Migrant Workers Convention during its sessions last november 2008 and also in april-may 2009 when the Philippine government reported. CMA together with its partner organizations submitted an initial report in November and a more comprehensive alternative report to the Committee. We also had a small delegation to Geneva and we supplemented our written report with our oral statement and direct dialogue with members of the Committee.
On Friday, [August 28] we will have a forum-workshop, CMA and Commission on Human Rights co-organized it, to discuss the concluding observations of the Committee. GO [government] and NGO agencies will be the participants.

The reports are available at the UNOHCHR website under the Committee on Migrant Workers. Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines Website:

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

The challenge for developing countries

Dear All,

This is my first contribution to the dialogue and I would like to thank you all for contributing to the discussion. This is a very informative dialogue which I think is very important for all human rights activists, especially in developing countries tohave access to.  I wish there was a way of making such a resource availableto all, as in most cases, smaller NGOs with limited resources do not necessarily have access to internet, or if they have, it is not reliable enoughfor them to be able to fully engage in dialogues like these. I was wondering ifthere is a way that such rich information could still be made accessible to practitioners who do not have internet access at their doorstep.

On the issue ofcollaboration of NGOs in developing shadow reports, surely, one would end upwith a more substantive report if it were an inclusive and more collaborative process between larger and smaller NGOs. In any case, sometimes it is thesmaller NGOs which may come in contact with matters of human rights violationsand be able to provide better evidence regarding issues of non-compliance by aparticular State. however as has already been pointed out above, the challengeof resources is a serious one especially in developing countries. As a result, efforts or the desire to come up with a more inclusive report  nevermaterialize.

Coupled to this is the challenge of lack of proper understanding of the international instruments, which incapacitates NGOs in effectively contributing to the reports. In somedeveloping countries, like Malawi, the human rights regime has not really beenfully developed such that even the courts have not really provided substantive interpretationof the rights obtaining in the Constitution. As such, some people, and evenNGOs, talk of particular rights without necessarily understanding what therights entail. That being the case, even the international human rights regimeis not fully understood by most, hence it is not easy to get substantive shadowreports from such countries.

It appears to me that themain problem hinges on resources to educate masses and practitioners on theinternational framework and understanding of particular rights for them toeffectively  monitor and comment on how their States are doing. 




Challenges for developing countries

Dear Violet,

Welcome to the dialogue and I hope you'll be posting more comments now that you've jumped in to post your first!

You raise very important points. You stated, "I wish there was a way of making such a resource available to all, as in
most cases, smaller NGOs with limited resources do not necessarily have
access to internet, or if they have, it is not reliable enough for them
to be able to fully engage in dialogues like these. I was wondering
if there is a way that such rich information could still be made
accessible to practitioners who do not have internet access at their

This is indeed a challenge for small NGOs as well as the New Tactics project.

We have a wonderful example of how FAHAMU used the New Tactics dialogue on "Using Video for Advocacy" in one of their training programs with grassroots partners.  (Note: Yves Niyiragira, one of the contributors in this dialogue is a fellow and co-editor for the AU Monitor Initiative at Fahamu, Kenya and his colleague, Hakima Abbas a Policy Analyst for the AU Monitor initiative of Fahamu participanted in the New Tactics dialogue on Using Video for Advocacy). New Tactics provided a "printable version" of the dialogue that they could use in their training. 

This is one way that organizations can share the valuable experiences, insights and resources that emerge from the New Tactics dialogues.

New Tactics welcomes organizations to utilize the resources to meet their needs. We would love to hear your suggestions for other ways in which these rich resources could be used and shared more broadly, especially with those who don't have access to the internet and our website.

For others in the dialogue and the New Tactics on-line community - please let us know if you have any ideas!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

IWRAW's 'From Global to Local' approach to collaboration

Hi Jovana and others,

You might be interested in taking a look at IWRAW's approach to engaging NGOs and CSOs in writing shadow reports. IWRAW - Asia Pacific has what they call the From Global to Local: A CEDAW monitoring and implementation programme.

“From Global to Local” is a programme conducted by the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific). This programme is designed to fill the gap between human rights monitoring by the CEDAW Committee at the international level, and grassroots activism of NGOs demanding government accountability at the national level.

This is done by providing an opportunity for local and national non-governmental organisations, especially those focusing on women’s human rights, to engage with and impact the CEDAW review process of States parties to the CEDAW Convention through submission of alternative information (shadow reports) and dialogue with Committee members.

Through the From Global to Local programme, IWRAW Asia Pacific and national NGOs have had a continuous presence at CEDAW Sessions since 1997. As of January 2009, IWRAW Asia Pacific has worked with NGO representatives from 127 countries, making the programme truly global.

IWRAW Asia Pacific’s role as an international NGO in the CEDAW reporting process is unique in that IWRAW Asia Pacific does not submit information or speak on behalf of national groups or issues at the national level, but rather facilitates the presence of NGOs and women at the CEDAW Sessions so that they can speak to Committee members and share information with the Committee themselves. IWRAW Asia Pacific’s mission in conducting the programme has been to help create a legitimate space for national NGOs to directly engage in international processes, then bring the international standards back home to be implemented at the local and national level.

 I would imagine that this approach is resource-intensive, but sounds like something your are trying to implement in Serbia! Let us know what you think of this unique approach!


Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Collection of data

Gerard Horton, of the Defence for Children International - Palestine Section

I thought I would share some experiences from my involvement in drafting shadow reports to CAT and the HRC under the ICCPR from an evidentiary point of view.

In both reports, the allegations we were making were extremely serious, namely that Palestinian children were being routinely ill-treated and in some cases, tortured. My background is as a lawyer, and my training has taught me that such serious allegations must be supported by the evidence - you can't just make these allegations without reasonable proof.

Based on the above, we drafted the reports on the basis that every serious allegation had to be supported by a number of sworn affidavits. Further, each allegation was also referenced to other reports prepared by Israeli, Palestinian and International NGOs supporting the allegations.

So, for example, one of the allegations was that detainees were regularly subjected to position abuse, being handcuffed and shackled to a small chair that was placed on an angle for hours on end, causing extreme pain to the legs, arms and back. This allegation was footnoted to a report prepared by an Israeli NGO that had investigated this violation, and also referenced to a number of sworn affidavits which were contained in an annexure to the report and filed with the Committee.

In the end, our shadow report to CAT was 50 pages long ( with an annexure (Annexure A) containing the evidence which was 81 pages long. For ease of reference, each case was briefly summarised in the index to Annexure A - see

In its Concluding Observations, the Committee dealt with all of DCI's concerns quite possibly because all of the allegations were thoroughly documented in evidence before the Committee.

Collection of data

Dear Gerard and All,

Thank you for sharing this experience on cellecting data. I have a question/concern regarding the collection of data in places that are difficult to reach. My understanding was that members of the civil society analyse official reports submitted by governments to different committees before they can prepare alternative reports .How does one guarantee the authenticity of data when they are collected after a long time and maybe after they have been altered?

For example in the East of the  Democratic Republic of Congo, there have been massive violations of humn rights (especially women and children's). Unitl now, the area is not yet totally safe and some victims are still reluctant to tell their stories either because they think there is nothing to gain after all that happened to them or because they still fear the different fighting groups in the region.Some of the evidence will have obviously disappeared.

This also leads to another scenario where a government delays or refuses to submit its offcial report. What happens in this case? Would an organisation start preparing its report anyway so that the information is kept? Thank you for your response

Best regards,

Yves Niyiragira


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