Complaints and Urgent Appeals

The Working Group is the only non-treaty-based mechanism whose mandate expressly provides for consideration of individual complaints. This means that its actions are based on the right of petition of individuals anywhere in the world.

The Working Group acts on information submitted to its attention regarding alleged cases of arbitrary detention by sending urgent appeals as well as communications under its regular procedure to concerned Governments, in order to clarify and/or bring their attention to these cases.

These are the two procedures the Working Group follows:

I. Investigation of individual cases

The Working Group acts on information submitted in the communications that are sent to it. These may be submitted by the individuals concerned, their families, their representatives or non-governmental organizations for the protection of human rights, from Governments and inter-governmental organizations regarding alleged cases of arbitrary detention.

These documents should be filled in and submitted (preferably by email):

Email: wgad@ohchr.org

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
United Nations Office at Geneva,
8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneve 10, Switzerland

When the Working Group receives an individual complaint, it transmits the allegation(s) to the Government concerned through diplomatic channels with an invitation to reply to the Working Group within 60 days with its comments and observations on the allegations made. It should respond to the facts presented, any relevant legislation and the progress/outcome of any investigations that may have been initiated.

The Government’s reply to the Working Group is sent to the source for any final comments or observations.

The opinion of the Working Group

In the light of the information collected under this procedure, the Working Group adopts one of the following measures in private session:

  1. If the person has been released, for whatever reason, following the reference of the case to the Working Group the case may be filed; the Group, however, reserves the right to render an opinion, on a case-by-case basis, about whether or not the deprivation of liberty was arbitrary, notwithstanding the release of the person concerned;
  2. If the Group considers that the case is not one of the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, it shall render an opinion to this effect;
  3. If the Group considers that further information is required from the Government or the source, it may keep the case pending until that information is received;
  4. If the Group considers that it is unable to obtain sufficient information on the case, it may file the case provisionally or definitively;
  5. If the Group decides that the arbitrary nature of the deprivation of liberty is established, it shall render an opinion to that effect and make recommendations to the Government.

The opinion is sent to the Government, together with the recommendations. 48 hours after this notification, the opinion is also conveyed to the source for information. Opinions are also published online.

In addition, basic information on the opinions adopted is included in the annual report. The full text of all opinions can be found on the Working Group’s webpage and in the online searchable database of the Working Group. (See Revised Working Methods).

II. Urgent appeals

Along with the other Special Procedures, the Working Group has developed an ‘urgent action’ procedure for time-sensitive cases in which there are sufficiently reliable allegations that a person may be detained arbitrarily and that the continuation of the detention may constitute a serious danger to that person’s health or life. Even when no such threat is alleged to exist, the Working Group might still determine that there are particular circumstances that warrant an urgent action. For more information, see Revised Fact Sheet No 26.

An urgent appeal or a letter of allegation is sent to Government of the State concerned through diplomatic channels, requesting that the Government should take appropriate measures to ensure that the detained person’s right not to be deprived arbitrarily of his or her liberty and to fair proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal as well as the right to life and to physical and mental integrity are respected. Such communications are often sent jointly with other Special Procedures.

In addressing these communications, the Working Group emphasizes that any such urgent appeals based on humanitarian grounds would in no way prejudge the Working Group’s final assessment of whether the deprivation of liberty is arbitrary or not, except in cases where the Working Group has already determined the arbitrary character of such deprivation of liberty.

Communications requesting the Working Group to launch an urgent appeal should be sent to wgad@ohchr.org and urgent-action@ohchr.org.

Requests for urgent appeals can also be made through the online submission tool.