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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

How can you shed more light on these rights and related issues? You might have:

On-the-ground information from the work you do:

First-hand accounts about rights being denied, including voices of:

- victims whose rights have been violated

- advocates who work with victims

- witnesses to rights violations

  • Reports your organization has written

  • Other specialized knowledge

  • Other information you think the treaty monitoring body should know about why your work is important or how rights can be better protected and promoted.

6. Set Goals

What are your goals for the upcoming review? Think about what you want the committee members or delegates to say on your behalf, about the issues you care about. In these contexts:

  • Experts ask the government’s delegation questions.

  • Experts make recommendations to the government under review about how it should better protect and promote human rights, and how it should monitor and assess human rights conditions.

7. Make and Implement Work Plan

  • How can you use your information to help achieve your goals? Gather the information.

  • Keep track of the sources of information.

  • Think about how you can ensure that the information you gather is credible, relevant, and up-to-date.

  • Include steps to use the report as an organizing opportunity in your community after you submit it such as planning a local hearing.

Optional: Develop a communications plan for raising awareness about your issues and the opportunity offered by the UN review.

Optional: Document additional information.[5] Consider:

  • Interviews

  • Observations

  • Media monitoring

  • Submitting written questions to authorities and gathering responses

8. Write Report

Set up a report-writing team to take the information from Steps 3, 4, and 7 and draft a brief report. Incorporate your questions and recommendations (Step 6), revising them in light of what you learned in Step 7. Do not use “abusive” language.

9. Finalize and Submit Report

Submit your final report to the Committee by the deadline.

  • If you must submit hard copies, leave time for the international mail to arrive.

  • Optional: Before you finalize your report: Ask key stakeholders or other relevant people to review and comment on the draft report.

Ask any allies to “sign on” to your report.

10. Advocate for your issue

You can use your report in the context of the upcoming review, and as a valuable tool for promoting social justice in the longer term. There are many ways to get the word out:

  • Engage in education and outreach within your organization, to the public, and to the media.

  • Develop and implement additional strategies to use your report to promote justice for your community over the longer term.

  • Optional: Implement a communications plan.

  • Optional: Engage in additional advocacy: advocacy with the experts doing the review.

  • Follow-up outreach when the in-person review happens and final documents from the review are released.

  • Lobbying the government (federal, state, local) to implement any relevant recommendations.

  • Monitoring implementation for the next review.

What are the challenges?

  • Coordinating and making a cohesive national shadow report is a big task for a lot of groups.

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

  • A key challenge is its credibility, especially in the process of data collection.

What are the advantages of the Shadow Report?

  • It provides a good opportunity to review and analyse all the evidence collected over a certain period. If you are working in a coalition, this process can reveal trends and a bigger picture.

  • It provides information on what has been done since the last report was submitted by the State party (i.e has the State party.

  • It enables civil society organizations, particularly NGOs to present another side of the story to a committee than the one presented by the State Party.

  • It ensures that the State is held to account for its obligations under human rights treaties.

  • It provides an international forum to civil society organizations where they can raise their concerns.

  • It gives opportunities to NGOs to get together and take stock of the situation; coordinate with each other and advocate for changes at the national level. Thus, this process presents a good opportunity to work in coalition with other organizations.

  • Collaborating with large NGOs can add an international dimension and foster the legitimacy of the report. Collaborating with local NGOs can strengthen on-the-ground work related to the issue.

  • These reports create an invaluable record of human rights violations from the perspective of the vulnerable populations.

  • The report can be used at the national level to raise awareness and be utilized as a tool for education about certain issues and ways to address them. The report can also be shared with the media to build public awareness and resonance with the issue.



[1] The human rights treaties constitute a universal human rights legal system which applies to all human beings. The eight core human rights treaties are: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and its optional protocols; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966); International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965); Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and its optional protocol (1999); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (1984); Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and its optional protocols (2000); International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990); and the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).

[2] The human rights treaty bodies ensure the implementation of these treaties. They are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties. They are created in accordance with the provisions of the treaty that they monitor.

[3] The steps described here are based on the 10 steps to writing a shadow report:

[4] The Universal Periodic Review is conducted by the Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council is composed of 47 elected member States of the United Nations. It is mandated to conduct Periodic Reviews (UPRs) of all member States. According to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1, the goals of the UPR include promoting “universality, interdependence, indivisibility, and interrelatedness of all human rights.” The review includes three documents: a State prepared report; a compilation of the State’s recent treaty body reviews; and a compilation of information from NGOs, NHRIs, and other “relevant stakeholders."


10 steps in writing a shadow report:

About the Author:

Sohini Paul has worked in the development sector for more than two decades – during this time she focussed primarily on the issues of strengthening institutions of local self-government in India, capacity building of civil society, governance and advocacy, and land rights. She has also worked extensively on the right to information in India and in the South Asian countries. Currently, she works with the Civil Society Academy -in the roles of facilitating, course coordinating, mentoring, and networking. She is based in New Delhi, India.


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