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Communications

Several special procedures mechanisms intervene directly with Governments on specific allegations of violations of human rights that come within their mandates. The intervention can relate to a human rights violation that has already occurred, is ongoing, or which has a high risk of occurring. The process, in general, involves sending a letter to the concerned State requesting information and comments on the allegation and, where necessary, asking that preventive or investigatory action be taken. Communications may deal with individual cases, general trends and patterns of human rights violations occurring in a particular country, cases affecting a particular group or community, or the content of draft or existing legislation considered to be not fully compatible with international human rights standards. Occasionally communications are also sent to intergovernmental organisations or Non-State actors to ensure that there are no protection gaps.

The decision to intervene is at the discretion of the special procedure mandate holder and will depend on the various criteria established by him or her, as well as the criteria laid out in the Code of Conduct. The criteria will generally relate to: the reliability of the source and the credibility of information received; the details provided; and the scope of the mandate. However, it must be emphasized that the criteria and the procedure involved in responding to an individual complaint vary, so it is necessary to submit a communication in accordance with the specific requirements established by each special procedure. Communications can be sent by mandate holders irrespective of whether an alleged victim has exhausted all domestic remedies.

Documents

I. How to submit information

In order for a complaint to be assessed, the following information is needed:

  • Identification of the alleged victim(s);
  • Identification of the alleged perpetrators of the violation (if known);
    Please provide substantiated information on all the actors involved, including non-state actors if relevant.
  • Identification of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication (this information will be kept confidential);
  • Date, place and detailed description of the circumstances of the incident(s) or violation.
    The information submitted can refer to violations that are said to have already occurred, that are ongoing or about to occur.

Other details pertaining to the specific alleged violation may be required by the relevant thematic mandates (e.g. past and present places of detention of the victim; medical certificates issued to the victim; identification of witnesses to the alleged violation; legal remedies or other measures taken to seek redress, etc.).

For communications relating to legislation, a copy of the text of the (draft) law should be submitted preferably translated into English, French or Spanish. Please provide information why the legal provisions or the application of the law is allegedly incompatible with international human rights standards.

Communications that contain abusive language or that are obviously politically motivated are not considered. Communications should describe the facts of the incident and the relevant details referred to above clearly and concisely. Communications should not be based solely on media reports.

Protection of victims and sources

It should be noted that neither special procedure mandate holders nor the United Nations have the means to ensure the safety of persons on whose behalf they may intervene.

Communications sent and State replies received remain confidential until they are published in communications reports submitted to each regular session of the Human Rights Council (in March, June and September). However, in appropriate situations, including those of grave concern a special procedure mandate-holder may issue a press statement or public statement earlier.

The names of alleged victims are usually included in the communication sent to the State to enable the competent authorities to investigate the alleged violation or take appropriate preventive action. These names are also published in the public communications reports, except if privacy or protection concerns require keeping the identity of the concerned victim(s) confidential. Persons making submission should clearly indicate whether the name of the alleged victim(s) or other details should not be published.

The identity of the source of information is always kept confidential and neither included in the communication sent to the Government, nor in the public communications report.

Questionnaires

To facilitate the consideration of reported violations, questionnaires relating to several mandates are available to persons wishing to report cases of alleged violations. It should, however, be noted that communications are considered even when they are not submitted in the form of a questionnaire.

For specific information concerning the individual communication procedures of each special procedure mandate please consult the individual webpages of thematic mandates or country mandates.

Submissions should be in English, French or Spanish to ensure a timely consideration of allegations.

After consulting the requirements established by each mandate for the submission of allegations, information can be submitted by fax to +41 22 917 90 06, by e-mail to urgent-action@ohchr.org, or by postal mail to:

OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

Please specify which special procedure the information is addressed to in the subject line of the e-mail or fax, or on the cover of the envelope.  

Follow-up information

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to provide updates on new developments relating to a case they have brought to the attention of special procedures by sending such information to urgent-action@ohchr.org and to the mandate(s) to which they have addressed their submission. Such updates could relate to the following events: The release of a concerned individual from detention, a new court judgment or a measure taken by the concerned authorities to improve the situation.

Communications reports

Special procedures submit on a regular basis communications reports to the Human Rights Council containing summaries of the concerns raised over the last reporting period. Since September 2011 the text of all communications sent and the replies received can be accessed through these periodic reports. Some mandates have continued to publish on an annual basis their observations on replies received.

Other complaint procedures

Several other complaint mechanisms have been established as part of the international human rights system. For more information please visit the page on Complaints procedures of Human Rights Treaty Bodies and the page on the Complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council.