Human Rights Council Complaint Procedure
At a glance
The complaint procedure addresses consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, occurring in any part of the world, and under any circumstances (Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007). The procedure is impartial, objective, efficient, victim-oriented and conducted in a timely manner.
Who can submit a complaint?
The complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council is the only universal complaint procedure addressing all human rights and all fundamental freedoms in all United Nations Member States. Any individual, group of individuals, or non-governmental organization can submit a complaint.
Who can you make a complaint against?
A complaint can be submitted against any of the 193 Member States, whether or not the country has ratified any particular treaty or made reservations under a particular instrument.
The procedure is confidential.
The complainant may make a request for confidentiality of some information, but the complaint must not be anonymous. Should complainants request that their identity be kept confidential, it will not be transmitted to the State concerned.
In accordance with paragraph 106 of resolution 5/1, both the author of the communication and the State concerned are informed of the proceedings at each stage.
For more information, please visit the FAQ
To be declared admissible by the Human Rights Council complaint procedure, a complaint must meet several criteria:
- Domestic remedies must have already been exhausted, unless such remedies appear ineffective or unreasonably prolonged;
- It must be in writing in one of the six UN official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish);
- It must contain a description of the relevant facts (including names of alleged victims, dates, location and other evidence), with as much detail as possible;
- It must not be manifestly politically motivated, or based exclusively on reports disseminated by mass media;
- It does not contain abusive or insulting language; and
- The principle of non-duplication applies. This means the complaint must not already be under examination by a special procedure, a treaty body or other United Nations or similar regional complaints procedure in the field of human rights.
Learn more about the requirement of exhausting domestic remedies and about the other admissibility criteria in the Frequently Asked Questions.
How to submit a complaint
If you consider that your complaint meets the above-mentioned criteria, please fill out the online submission form for fastest processing.
Alternatively, you may download the complaint procedure form, complete it and mail it to:
Complaint Procedure Unit – Human Rights Council Branch
OHCHR – Palais Wilson United Nations Office at Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
The Complaint Procedure of the Human Rights Council no longer accepts submission of complaints via email.
What happens after you submit a complaint
Once your complaint has been submitted, it goes through four possible stages.
- Initial screening: The Chairperson of the Working Group on Communications, with the assistance of the Secretariat, undertakes an initial screening of communications according to strict criteria. Only communications that meet the admissibility criteria are transmitted to the State concerned to obtain their views on the allegations of violations contained therein.
- Consideration by the Working Group on Communications: This group meets twice a year to review all complaints submitted under the confidential complaint procedure and all responses submitted by concerned States. During its sessions, the Working Group on Communications may decide to:
- discontinue the consideration of a complaint;
- keep a complaint under review and request the State concerned and/or the complainant to provide further information within a reasonable time; or
- refer any case and recommendations thereon to the Working Group on Situations.
- Consideration by the Working Group on Situations: This group meets twice a year to consider the cases and recommendations referred to it by the Working Group on Communications. It presents the Human Rights Council with a report on consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and makes recommendations to the Council on which course of action to take. During its sessions, the Working Group on Situations may decide to:
- discontinue the consideration of a case;
- keep the case under review for further consideration or additional information; or
- refer the case to the Human Rights Council when it feels that the allegations contained in the communication may reveal consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- Consideration by the Human Rights Council: The Council examines reports of the Working Group on Situations during closed meetings (unless it decides otherwise) as frequently as needed, but at least once a year. It may take one of the following decisions:
- discontinue considering the situation when further consideration or action is not warranted;
- keep the situation under review and request the State concerned to provide further information within a reasonable time frame;
- keep the situation under review and appoint an independent expert to monitor the situation and report back to the Council;
- discontinue reviewing the matter confidentially to take up public consideration of the same; or
- recommend to OHCHR to provide technical cooperation, capacity building assistance or advisory services to the State concerned.
Key figures & achievements
- Up to 15,000 communications are submitted to the complaint procedure each year.
- 90% of complaints are submitted by individuals or groups of persons.
- 10% of complaints are submitted by NGOs.
- The response rate by States under review is 95% to 100%.
The Human Rights Council complaint procedure has led to successful cooperation by States and numerous successful measures around the globe.
Some states have taken measures to redress allegations of consistent patterns of gross human rights violations, in particular by:
- Releasing detainees and political opponents;
- Abolishing the death penalty for juveniles;
- Reducing prison sentences;
- Granting reparations to victims of human rights violations;
- Prohibiting deprivation of nationality to avoid statelessness;
- Aligning policies and legislation with international human rights standards;
- Conducting independent investigations;
- Accepting country visits by special procedure mandate holders and/or United Nations personnel; and
- Accepting and acting upon relevant recommendations resulting from the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.
For more statistics, impacts and achievements, download the complaint procedure information leaflet.
Other complaint mechanisms
If your complaint does not meet all the criteria for submitting a complaint to the Human Rights Council, you may have other options. Please use this comparison table to help you find the best option for submitting a complaint of an alleged human rights violation to the UN.