Shadow or alternative reports are usually written by NGO coalitions and presented to the monitoring bodies on international human rights treaties, such as the CEDAW Committee. The reports describe progress (or setbacks) in the fulfillment of rights enshrined in the relevant international treaty. States who have ratified certain treaties (e.g. CEDAW) must submit regular reports on progress towards implementing the treaty. Shadow reports are a civil society critique of the government reports, highlighting issues that may have been neglected or misrepresented in the government reports. In cases where a government fails to submit a report or does not make its report available to NGOs in time for a critique, alternative reports may be submitted (by NGOs) as a key source of information on the issues that are important to the cause.
As part of its CEDAW knowledge resource site, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific offers a 16-page guide on writing CEDAW shadow reports. Key points are summarized and adapted below.
The same steps can be followed when preparing alternative reports to other monitoring bodies, such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the Committee against Torture, which monitors State progress on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Main steps in writing a shadow or alternative report
1. Identify priorities within the provisions of the treaty (e.g. CEDAW) in a joint process involving other interested groups. Try to find allies in relevant public institutions for up-to-date information and tactical tips. If there is sufficient time and resources, write a comprehensive shadow report covering all parts of the relevant treaty. If only a few months’ time can be afforded and there is no dedicated staff for research and report-writing, it is more efficient to focus on a limited number of key issues.
2. Make it a joint effort. A single shadow report supported by a large alliance is more powerful than scattered submissions. However, separate reports may be necessary to address issues that a broad alliance cannot reach consensus on, or that need extra attention, e.g. problems affecting specific groups (e.g. minority rights) or a specific geographic area (e.g. war zones).
3. Gather and analyze information on priority issues. Evaluate the measures the government has taken to address the parts of the treaty (e.g. CEDAW) relevant to the issues – see also guidelines on policy analysis. Collect laws or government policy documents that are in conflict with or fall short of the treaty. Make a note of information that is applicable to other human rights treaties – the same report can be sent to different monitoring bodies or information shared with other groups who work on relevant alternative reports.
For a shadow report, refer to the government’s official report. Ask the government for a copy. Reports that other governments have submitted can also be obtained from the websites of the international monitoring bodies, e.g. the CEDAW Committee.
4. Write the report: Make sure everything in the report is clear, accurate and based on verifiable evidence. The report will be more credible and accurate if it is the product of collective writing involving a range of organizations working on the issues. If the report is signed, endorsed by all those with experience on VAW, the treaty Committee members and government would be compelled to take it into consideration.
Follow the structure of the international treaty being reported on. Provide information on substantive articles only, i.e. those that define the rights - not those that describe treaty-related procedures. Refer to earlier comments or recommendations issued by the monitoring body to the government. In shadow reporting, refer directly to the government’s official report.
Bear in mind:
5. Disseminating the report: There are specific mechanisms for submitting reports to treaty monitoring bodies. E.g. the CEDAW Committee convenes pre-session working groups which set the agenda for dialogue between the Committee and the government reviewed – hence it is important to send in the report, or at least a summary, in time for the pre-session. After that step, the full report should be submitted in time for the formal session, where the government report is presented and reviewed.
Alternative and shadow reports are key sources of information for campaigners on women’s and girls’ rights. The report should be distributed to other NGOs and campaign supporters, used in dialogue with the government and other institutions, and posted on the campaign website and sent to internet libraries such as www.siyanda.org.
Source: adapted from IWRAW Asia Pacific.
See Programming Essentials for a checklist of key elements for promoting national accountability to end VAW (UNIFEM, 2010) available in English, French and Spanish.
More detailed guidance and rich examples are contained in the guide Documenting Women’s Rights Violations for Non-State Actors: Activist Strategies from Muslim Communities by Women Living under Muslim Laws (2006).
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) lists the full texts pertaining to all international human rights instruments and their monitoring bodies on its website.