Submitting complaints/information to the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance


What are communications?

As all United Nations special procedures mandate-holders, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is mandated to take action on cases of allegations of human rights violations. Based on the information received from various relevant and credible sources, the Special Rapporteur intervenes in sending letters – known as “communications” – to Governments and others, such as intergovernmental organisations, businesses, military or security companies.

In these communications, the Special Rapporteur present the allegations and request clarifications on them. Where necessary, the expert requests that the concerned authorities take action to prevent or stop the violation, investigate it, bring to justice those responsible and make sure that remedies are available to the victim(s) or their families. The Special Rapporteur also recalls the applicable human rights provisions in these letters. 

Since 2004, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance has sent 195 communications, mainly to Governments.

Various types of communications can be sent by the Special Rapporteur: 

Urgent appeals

Urgent appeals are used to communicate information on human rights violations that are time-sensitive as  they may involve the loss of life, life threatening situations or imminent or ongoing damages of a very grave nature to victims that cannot be addressed in a timely manner.

Allegation Letters

Allegation letters are sent with regards to human rights violations that already occurred and in situations where urgent appeals do not apply.

Other Letters

Other letters are sent where the Special Rapporteur has concerns relating to bills, legislation, policies, regulations, court decisions or patterns of violations that do not comply with international human rights law and standards

Many allegations received by the Special Rapporteur cover several human rights issues. The overwhelming majority of communications are therefore sent jointly with other Special Procedures mandates.

What is the purpose of communications?

The purpose of communications is for the Special Rapporteur to:

  • draw the attention of Governments and others on alleged human rights violations;
  • ask that the violations are prevented, stopped, investigated, or that remedial action is taken;
  • report to the Human Rights Council on communications sent and replies received, therefore raising public awareness on individual and group cases as well as on legislative and policies developments she has addressed in a given period.

Who can submit information to the Special Rapporteur?

The Special Rapporteur considers information from a variety of sources. Any individual, group of people, civil-society organization, inter-governmental entity, or national human rights body claiming to be victim of violations or to report violations can submit allegations to the Special Rapporteur.

What issues can the Special Rapporteur cover in communications?

Communications sent by the Special Rapporteur may concern all contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on grounds of race, colour, descent or national and ethnic origin. In many cases victims suffer multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination based on other related grounds such as sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, property, birth or other status.

The Special Rapporteur can address allegations of past, ongoing or potential violations of human rights of one or more individuals; of a group; or a community. Communications may concern all victims included in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Based on the information received, most communications that were sent by the mandate of Special Rapporteur on racism relate to persons of African descent, migrants and non-nationals, indigenous peoples, and persons belonging to minorities, including Roma.

The Special Rapporteur can also address allegations regarding the non-compliance of a bill, a law, a decree, a court decision, a policy and/or a practice with international human rights law and standards.

Examples of issues that can be raised in communications include:

  • Racist and xenophobic speech or violence;
  • Systemic discrimination (de facto and de jure) against certain groups, communities etc.
  • Racial/ethnic profiling and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials;
  • Racial discrimination in the administration of justice;
  • Racial discrimination with regards to economic and social rights;
  • Discriminatory bills and laws e.g. in the context of counter-terrorism and immigration;
  • Anti-Semitism and the glorification of Nazism;
  • Failures to collect data disaggregated by ethnicity and other characteristics.

What happens after a submission is sent to the Special Rapporteur?

1. The Special Rapporteur determines whether the information submitted falls within the scope of her mandate. If yes, the Special Rapporteur decides whether she will take action on a submission. This decision is made based on various criteria, including: the reliability of the source and the credibility of information received, the details provided, and the criteria set out in the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures. It is not required that the concerned State has ratified an international or regional human rights treaty, or that the alleged victim has exhausted domestic remedies.

2. If the information has been submitted through the online form or by e-mail, an automatic acknowledgement is sent to the person who made the submission that the submission has been received. This does not mean that experts have taken action on the submission.

3. The Special Rapporteur’s staff may be in contact with the source to obtain additional information or clarifications if needed, as well as the explicit consent of the alleged victim(s) and/or her relatives they agree to an action from the Special Rapporteur.

4. The Special Rapporteur sends a communication to the Government of the State where the alleged violation is happening or has occurred. In some cases, a press release might be issue if she believes that the general public opinion should be alerted. The Government is informed of the future issuance of a press release in the communication.

5. The Special Rapporteur sends a communication to the Government of the State where the alleged violation is happening or has occurred. In some cases, a press release might be issue if she believes that the general public opinion should be alerted. The Government is informed of the future issuance of a press release in the communication.

6. According to the code of conduct, Governments are given 60 days to provide a response to allegation letters. In general Governments may take several months to respond to a communication.

7. During the whole process, the information remains confidential and the source will not be notified if action has been taken on a case. Communications sent by the Special Rapporteur are published in the “Communications Report”. This report is issued three times per year and presented to each regular session of the Human Rights Council (March, June and September of each year). It compiles the communications sent by all the Special Procedures as well as the responses received from Governments within a given period.

How much time does the process take?

The Special Rapporteur and her support staff at the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) try to react as quickly as possible to allegations, with special attention given to the most serious and urgent cases. Cases may be taken up within 24 hours of their submission. However, it may take longer particularly when additional information is required from the source.

Follow-up on communications

In some cases, the Special Rapporteur may follow-up with the concerned state, via direct contact with its representation at the United Nations in Geneva or by sending a follow up communication if new developments come to her attention. Resource limitations make it impossible for the Special Rapporteur to follow-up on every case.

The complaints procedure of the Special Procedures is not a quasi-judicial procedure, and the Special Rapporteur does not have power to enforce her views or recommendations. However, the Special Rapporteur’s status as an expert nominated by the Human Rights Council gives her assessment considerable importance and authority.

Once communications are published in the Communications Report, civil society organizations may follow-up on communications and expert pressure on Governments and use them in their advocacy work.

Guidelines for submissions

Detailed but concise information should be provided, and only key substantiating information should be enclosed. Submissions should not be based solely on media reports. Submissions that contain abusive language or that are obviously politically motivated will not be considered.

Confidentiality

The identity of persons and organizations that send information to the Special Rapporteur are always kept confidential.

 It is important to note that communications sent by the Special Rapporteur would include the name(s) of the alleged victim(s). Exceptions can only be made if it is clear from the submission that the inclusion of names raises concerns relating to the security of the alleged victim(s) or her/his relatives.

Communications sent by the Special Rapporteur remain confidential until their publication in the next "Communications Report". The report includes the name(s) of the alleged victim(s). It is essential to note that names of alleged victims under 18 years of age or alleged victims of sexual violence will not be published. In addition, the report will not mention the victim(s) by name if it is clear from the submission that concerns relating to the security of the alleged victim(s) or her/his relatives exist.

Consent

The Special Rapporteur can only take action with the explicit consent of the alleged victims and/or of their families or representatives.
Therefore, it is extremely important that submissions sent to the Special Rapporteur clearly indicate whether the alleged victims (or their families or representatives) DO or DO NOT consent that:
(1) the names of the victims are disclosed in the communications sent by the Special Rapporteur; and
(2) the names of the victims are published in the Communications Report to the Human rights Council.

Language

Submissions can be made in English, French, or Spanish.

How to submit information to the Special Rapporteur

We encourage you to send submissions to the Special Rapporteur via an online questionnaire found on the UN Human Rights website: https://spsubmission.ohchr.org/

Alternatively, you can send submissions via e-mail to urgent-action@ohchr.org or racism@ohchr.org

If this is not possible, you can send submissions via fax (+41 22 917 90 06) or mail to:

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10,
Switzerland 

Follow-up on submissions

The Special Rapporteur’s support staff at OHCHR will acknowledge the receipt of a submission if requested. However, due to the number of submissions received and the initial confidentiality of communications, it is not yet possible to provide updates on the status of submissions. Therefore, it is encouraged to regularly check the Communications Reports.

You can contact the Special Rapporteur’s support team at any time for further discussion. We encourage you to provide updates on new developments relating to cases you have submitted to the Special Rapporteur.


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Contact the Special Rapporteur

Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 9006
Email: racism@ohchr.org

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