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  • The United Nations Human Rights Committee Case Law 1977-2008: A Handbook
  • Dr. Johannes van Aggelen (bio)
Jakob Th. Möller & Alfred de Zayas, The United Nations Human Rights Committee Case Law 1977-2008: A Handbook (N.P. Engel Publishers 2009) 604 pages, ISBN 9783883571447.

This is not yet another book about the Human Rights Committee. This is the most authentic book available, written by insiders who were there from the start—Justice Jakob Th. Möller (Iceland), former Chief of the Communications Branch at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and his successor in this function, Alfred de Zayas (US), who was also Secretary of the Committee. Whereas other excellent books like those of Sarah Joseph and Manfred Nowak give us good commentary on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)1 and its mechanisms, the Möller and de Zayas book is unique in that it gives the reader the feeling of being there. It is thorough, user-friendly, and indispensable for practitioners and students.

In seven chapters and six appendices the authors of this monumental handbook give the reader a perceptive history of how the Committee started its work, how the rules of procedure were elaborated and repeatedly amended, how the Secretariat functions, how the criteria of admissibility have been interpreted and reinterpreted, how the holdings on the merits have evolved over three decades, how the working groups operate, and how the mandates of Special Rapporteur on New Communications and Special Rapporteur on Follow-up (not envisaged in the ICCPR or in the Optional Protocol) were created. [End Page 237]

This lucid and well-organized book reflects all the significant jurisprudence through 2008. Actually, the authors go beyond 2008 to include the Committee's ninety-fifth session in March/April 2009 and include the ground-breaking "Views" in Poma v. Peru (adopted in New York on 27 March 2009), which recognize the right of indigenous communities to protection of their economic activities under Article 27 of the ICCPR (minorities rights) and in particular their right to water.2 The book is also up-to-date with regard to the Committee's membership. Appendix VI lists all members of the Committee since 1977, including the five new members who took their oath in March 2009.3

The Human Rights Committee should not be confused with the defunct Commission on Human Rights or with its successor the Human Rights Council, resolution-based organs of ECOSOC and the General Assembly respectively. The Committee is a specialized treaty-body that monitors compliance of the 162 states parties to the ICCPR. The Committee has eighteen members nominated by states parties to the ICCPR and elected at regular meetings of the states parties. The principal functions of the Committee are to consider state party reports (following which the Committee adopts "concluding observations"), interpret the provisions of the Covenant by issuing and updating "general comments," and examining petitions from individuals pursuant to the procedure established under the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant, which has 112 states parties.

The book focuses primarily on the Optional Protocol jurisprudence and ably incorporates the Committee's pronouncements in the concluding observations and in the general comments. Chapter 1 is devoted to the Committee's jurisdiction and activities, providing an accurate picture of the Committee's caseload, the duration of the procedure, and the current status of communications (Appendix IV also provides the status of cases through the end of the Committee's ninety-fourth session). Chapter 2 analyzes the Committee's methods of work, urgent action ("interim measures of protection"), issues of confidentiality, the joinder and severance of communications (the terminus technicus used to refer to complaints or petitions), evidence and burden of proof, withdrawal of committee members from consideration of cases, and matters of state responsibility, etc. Chapter 3 is probably the most important chapter for practitioners, as it elucidates the pitfalls in the admissibility procedure; it lucidly explains what the Committee understands under the concept of "victim," preclusion ratione loci, ratione temporis, ratione materiae, the competence of the Committee vis à vis national law and decisions, the impact of reservations by states parties, the level of substantiation of...