Shadow Report: An important tool for Advocacy

Shadow reporting is an important tool for non-government organisations (NGOs) supporting various human rights. These reports are written by NGOs to supplement or present alternative information to reports that governments are required to submit under human rights treaty obligations[1] in a specific country from the perspective of civil society. In other words, shadow reports are a unique tool through which NGOs can present opinions of civil society on government action and present them to the UN Committees[2]. This way NGOs “shadow” the State report by providing an analysis and critique of the State report. They are usually published after or in response to the governmental report.

An example: The cover page of a Shadow Report from Kenya

In situations where NGOs do not have access to the State report ( e,g either because the state has not written one or the report is submitted late) NGOs can still write alternative reports. This would not include an analysis of the state report but will still have information on critical issues and provide recommendations to the committees on measures which the state can take to address those concerns. NGO alternative reports in such situations are critical in providing the committees with contextualised information that would be useful in the review of the state report.


Unlike government reports, which often highlight the progress of the state in meeting its human rights obligations while downplaying violations, shadow reports provide treaty body committees with crucial information about problems in implementation and areas of government non-compliance. By submitting a shadow report to a UN treaty body committee, NGOs can highlight issues not raised by their government or point out where the government may be misleading the committee from the real situation. It has been experienced that in response to the shadow reports submitted by NGOs, the committees charged with supervising the government’s compliance with the treaties have issued far reaching orders to governments to uphold human rights. Their words have been taken seriously and there are many examples of governments changing laws, policies, and practices as a result of this process. As such shadow reports can be seen to be a very powerful advocacy tool, especially at the international level.

How do we use the Shadow Report?

These are the 10 key steps:[3]

1. Identify your expertise

  • What issues do you work on?

  • What are the outcomes you advocate for?

  • Who can help conduct the work on this project? What can they do? Bring them on board as soon as you can.

2. Identify allies

  • What other organizations or experts might be interested in collaborating on the report or “signing on” to your report once you’re done?

  • Try to find allies in relevant networks or research institutions for up-to-date information.

  • A single shadow report supported by a large alliance, or a collection of shadow reports submitted by a broader network, is more powerful than scattered submissions.

3. Identify the relevant rights

  • Is the country scheduled for review by a human rights treaty body or for Universal Periodic Review[4]? If so, which treaty or treaties are relevant?

  • What is the connection between the work you do and the rights in the treaty under review?

  • Which articles of the treaty are most relevant?

  • Optional: Has a treaty body said anything to clarify these rights in General Comments?

4. Review the process to date

  • What has happened so far in the review process about these rights?

  • Read the outcome of the last review.

  • Read the government’s latest report.

  • Read the Committee’s list of issues and the government’s response, if any.

  • Optional: Read reports that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have submitted during the review process.

  • Read the documents from the last review by other human rights mechanisms.

  • Are there national, state, and local laws on this issue? What have the courts said?

5. Clarify your Role