Complaints about human rights violations
Complaining about human rights violations
The ability of individuals to complain about the violation of their rights in an international arena brings real meaning to the rights contained in the human rights treaties.
There are three main procedures for bringing complaints of violations of the provisions of the human rights treaties before the human rights treaty bodies:
There are also procedures for complaints which fall outside of the treaty body system, visit the Reporting violations page for more details.
There are nine core international human rights treaties. Each of these treaties has established a “treaty body” (Committee) of experts to monitor implementation of the treaty provisions by its States parties.
Treaty bodies (CCPR, CERD, CAT, CEDAW, CRPD, CED, CMW, CESCR and CRC) may, under certain conditions, consider individual complaints or communications from individuals. For the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), the individual complaint mechanism has not yet entered into force.
Who can complain?
Anyone can lodge a complaint with a Committee against a State:
- That is party to the treaty in question (through ratification or accession) providing for the rights which have allegedly been violated;
- That accepted the Committee’s competence to examine individual complaints, either through ratification or accession to an Optional Protocol (in the case of ICCPR, CEDAW, CRPD, ICESCR and CRC) or by making a declaration to that effect under a specific article of the Convention (in the case of CERD, CAT, CED and CMW).
Complaints may also be brought by third parties on behalf of individuals, provided they have given their written consent (without requirement as to its specific form). In certain cases, a third party may bring a case without such consent, for example, where a person is in prison without access to the outside world or is a victim of an enforced disappearance.
- Read more about individual communications and how to make a complaint
- Individual complaints form and guidance note
- Fact Sheet on Individual Complaint Procedures under the United Nations Human Rights Treaties
Several of the human rights treaties contain provisions to allow for State parties to complain to the relevant treaty body (Committee) about alleged violations of the treaty by another State party.
Note: In 2018, three inter-state communications were submitted under Article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, first time in its history. More information.
CAT, CMW, CED, ICESCR and CRC: Article 21 CAT, article 74 CMW, article 32 CED, article 10 of the Optional Protocol to ICESCR, and article 12 of the Optional Protocol (on a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child set out a procedure for the relevant Committee itself to consider complaints from one State party which considers that another State party is not giving effect to the provisions of the Convention. This procedure applies only to States parties who have made a declaration accepting the competence of the Committee in this regard.
CERD, CCPR and CRC: Articles 11-13 ICERD, articles 41-43 ICCPR set out a more elaborate procedure for the resolution of disputes between States parties over a State's fulfilment of its obligations under the relevant Convention/Covenant through the establishment of an ad hoc Conciliation Commission. The procedure normally applies to all States parties to ICERD, but applies only to States parties to the ICCPR and CRC which have made a declaration accepting the competence of the relevant Committees in this regard.
Resolution of inter-State disputes concerning interpretation or application of a convention
CERD, CEDAW, CAT, CMW and CED : Article 22 ICERD, article 29 CEDAW, article 30 CAT, article 92 CMW and article 32 CED provide for disputes between States parties concerning interpretation or application of the Convention to be resolved in the first instance by negotiation or, failing that, by arbitration. One of the States involved may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice if the parties fail to agree arbitration terms within six months. States parties may exclude themselves from this procedure by making a declaration at the time of ratification or accession, in which case, in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, they are barred from bringing cases against other States parties.
Upon receipt of reliable information on serious, grave or systematic violations by a State party of the conventions they monitor, the Committee against Torture (article 20 CAT), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (article 8 of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (article 6 Optional Protocol to CRPD), the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (article 33 of CED), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(article 11 of the Optional Protocol to ICESCR) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (article 13 of the Optional Protocol (on a communications procedure) to CRC)may, on their own initiative, initiate inquiries if they have received reliable information containing well-founded indications of serious or systematic violations of the conventions in a State party.
Which States may be subject to inquiries?
Inquiries may only be conducted with respect to States parties that have recognized the competence of the relevant Committee in this regard. States parties may opt out from the inquiry procedure, at the time of signature or ratification or accession (article 28 CAT; article 10 of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW; article 8 of the Optional Protocol to CRPD; article 13(7) of the Optional Protocol (on a communications procedure) to CRC) or anytime (article 11(8) of the Optional Protocol to ICESCR) by making a declaration that they do not recognize the competence of the Committee in question to conduct inquiries. In this regard CED is an exception as the competence to conduct inquiries is not subject to the acceptance by States parties (article 33 ICPPED).
- The procedure may be initiated if the Committee receives reliable information indicating that the rights contained in the Convention it monitors are being systematically violated by the State party.
- The Committee invites the State party to co-operate in the examination of the information by submitting observations.
- The Committee may, on the basis of the State party's observations and other relevant information available to it, decide to designate one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry and report urgently to the Committee. Where warranted and with the consent of the State party concerned, an inquiry may include a visit to its territory.
- The findings of the member(s) are then examined by the Committee and transmitted to the State party together with any comments and recommendations.
- The State party is requested to submit its own observations on the Committee's findings, comments and recommendations within a specific time frame (usually six months) and, where invited by the Committee, to inform it of the measures taken in response to the inquiry.
- The inquiry procedure is confidential and the cooperation of the State party shall be sought at all stages of the proceedings.