Complaint Procedure

The Human Rights Council, in its resolution 5/1 of June 2007, included in its Institution-building package the establishment of a new complaint procedure “to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances.”

According to the OHCHR, “The complaint procedure addresses communications submitted by individuals, groups, or non-governmental organizations that claim to be victims of human rights violations or that have direct, reliable knowledge of such violations. . . .A complaint can be submitted against any country irrespective of whether the country has ratified any particular treaty or made reservations under a particular instrument.”

The procedure is confidential and “is based on the former Commission of Human Rights’ 1503 procedure which has been modified to ensure that the procedure is impartial, objective, efficient, victims oriented and conducted in a timely manner.”

A complaint has to be in writing and submitted in one of the six UN official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). “A communication related to a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms is admissible, provided that:

  • It is not manifestly politically motivated and its object is consistent with the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other applicable instruments in the field of human rights law;
  • It gives a factual description of the alleged violations, including the rights which are alleged to be violated;
  • Its language is not abusive. However, such a communication may be considered if it meets the other criteria for admissibility after deletion of the abusive language;
  • It is submitted by a person or a group of persons claiming to be the victims of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, or by any person or group of persons, including nongovernmental organizations, acting in good faith in accordance with the principles of human rights, not resorting to politically motivated stands contrary to the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and claiming to have direct and reliable knowledge of the violations concerned. Nonetheless, reliably attested communications shall not be inadmissible solely because the knowledge of the individual authors is second-hand, provided that they are accompanied by clear evidence;
  • It is not exclusively based on reports disseminated by mass media;
  • It does not refer to a case that appears to reveal a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights already being dealt with by a special procedure, a treaty body or other United Nations or similar regional complaints procedure in the field of human rights; and
  • Domestic remedies have been exhausted, unless it appears that such remedies would be ineffective or unreasonably prolonged.”

With respect to this latter point, “if the State concerned claims that all available domestic remedies have not been exhausted, the State may be requested by the Working Group to give details on the effective remedies available to the alleged victims in the particular circumstances of the case.”

A complaint has to pass three stages: the Working Group (WG) on Communication, the WG on Situations and the Human Rights Council (HRC). The WG on Communications is composed of five independent experts who are elected from among the Advisory Committee’s members. This group examines the admissibility of a communication before transmitting it to the state concerned. Once it has received the state’s comments, it decides on the admissibility of the case and assesses its merits. In doing so, it also considers whether the communication – alone or in combination with other communications – reveals a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. If so, the WG on Communications passes the case on to the WG on Situations.

The WG on Situations is composed of five representatives of member States of the Council. According to the information it has received from the WG on Communications, it decides whether to dismiss the case or to pass it on to the Council, the latter in the form of a report containing consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights as well as recommendations on action to be taken by the Council.

The Council may then decide on any of the following actions: to keep the situation under review and request further information from the concerned state, to appoint a highly qualified independent expert to monitor the situation and report back to the Council, to request the OHCHR to provide technical cooperation to the concerned state, to take up public consideration of the situation or to discontinue considering it.”

National human rights institutions, established and operating under the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles), in particular in regard to quasi-judicial competence, may serve as effective means of addressing individual human rights violations.