Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations Handbook

Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations Handbook

How to document and respond to potential violations of the right to life within the international system for the protection of human rights

By Kate Thompson and Camille Giffard

Handbook links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Essential Reading - Part II: Identifying a Potential Violation - Part III: How to Document Allegations of Unlawful Killings - Part IV: Responding to the Information Collected - Part V: Where can you Seek Further Help? - Appendices
IV. Responding to the Information Collected: section links...
1. Introduction to Possible Courses of Action - 2. What You Should Know About International Reporting Mechanisms and How To Use Them - 3. What You Should Know About International Complaint Procedures and How To Use Them - 4. The Mechanisms and Procedures: United Nations - 5. The Mechanisms and Procedures: Regional - 6. Comparative Evaluation Tables of the International Procedures - Summary of Part IV

PART IV - RESPONDING TO THE INFORMATION COLLECTED

2. WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT INTERNATIONAL REPORTING MECHANISMS AND HOW TO USE THEM

The term "reporting mechanism" is used throughout the text to refer to: 

Any international mechanism which receives and/or seeks out information in order to report or comment on whether states are respecting their obligations under international human rights law. The information it receives can concern both individual and general allegations, but the ultimate objective is to obtain an accurate picture of the general situation and make recommendations.

 

The principal objective of reporting mechanisms is to monitor and assess the extent to which states respect their obligations under international human rights law.

They can:

They cannot:

General practical information relating to each of these functions is considered below. There is a lot of variation in the methods and powers of the different mechanisms, however, and any peculiarities will be noted when the relevant mechanisms are discussed in Part IV, Chapters 4 and 5.

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2.1. What kind of general characteristics should your communication have?

Reporting mechanisms are swamped with information from a multitude of sources, much of which is of dubious quality or lacks the precise detail to be useful. The best way to ensure that your information stands out from the rest is to make sure that it is:

2.1.1. Accessible

You can make your submission accessible by paying attention to the language used and the length of the submission.

Language:

If you wish your communication to receive the best consideration possible, you should do your best to submit your communication in a working language (these will be specified in relation to each organisation in Part IV, Chapters 4 and 5) if possible - this does not mean that you have to translate every supporting document, but it does mean that your covering letter should be in one of these languages, and that it should clearly indicate the content of each of the attached documents. If you cannot do this, you should at least make sure that a short summary is provided in a working language, which indicates the essential elements of the information or complaint. What is essential will depend on the procedure, but as a general rule, you should indicate:

1. Who the communication is addressed to

e.g. Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judical, Arbitrary and Summary Executions or Human Rights Committee

2. Who you are

the name and function of your organisation
e.g. Campaign for Kids, NGO working with street children

3. Which country the allegation relates to

4. The purpose or content of your information and if urgent action is required

e.g. 5 allegations of unlawful killings of human rights activists, indicating pattern of government abuse against its critics. All deaths in suspicious circumstances and in some cases, following reported death threats
or
Violation of Article 6 of ICCPR. Miss B to be deported to country X, where at risk of being killed. Had received 3 death threats from paramilitaries before leaving the country. All were reported to the police and ignored. There is other evidence of paramilitary involvement in killings in country X. Deportation due on ... (date) - URGENT

Length of submissions:

2.1.2. Balanced and Credible

You can make your submission balanced and credible by introducing yourself, being objective and avoiding sensational claims.

Introduce yourself:

If you have not previously introduced yourself to an organisation, you can start by explaining your mandate - you can do this in the communication itself or, even better, you can include a copy of your statutes or an annual report that gives a good indication of your activities. If you are affiliated with an international NGO, you should say so - this will provide an easy way of checking out your credentials. Make sure to explain not only your activities, but also your purpose and objectives. If you are a politically-oriented organisation, say so - this will help to place your information in context and also show that you have nothing to hide. Explain your methods of work - how is your information collected? Is it first-hand information or has it been obtained by word of mouth or from press reports? The aim is to include any information that will help the mechanism to form an accurate impression of your organisation and the quality of your information.

Be objective:

Avoid sensational claims:

2.1.3. Detailed

Making your submission detailed is not about being lengthy - it is about being informative. You should provide sufficient information for an international body to be able to reach its own conclusions about whether an unlawful killing has occurred, while at the same time remaining as concise and brief as possible.

You need to make sure that the detail you include is relevant detail, that is to say, that it helps to support your allegation. Extensive materials in which an allegation is deeply buried and needs to be extracted, makes the international bodies. work more difficult, as do large amounts of general information with little precise detail. Concentrate on including as many details as possible which relate to the allegations themselves, and keep the general material brief, but informative - it needs to be there to set the context, but it should not take over, or be the focus of, the communication.

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2.2. Submitting information to a body engaged in monitoring: what should your communication include?

The content of your communication will vary somewhat according to what you are trying to prove. However, it is possible to give the following guidelines on what to include.

2.2.1. Sending general information to a monitoring body

When sending general information to a reporting mechanism, you should aim to set the context and establish patterns.

Set the context: It is very difficult for any of the mechanisms to get a clear picture of the problems in a country, or to make useful recommendations, if they do not have a good grasp of the context in which these problems are taking place. An objective summary of the general situation in the country is very valuable. This does not mean making a few sweeping statements accusing the state of widespread violations of human rights. It means explaining briefly the conditions present in the country which might affect the state's respect for its obligations to prevent violence. Relevant factors might include:

The objective is to include the facts that you think an outsider might need in order to understand what is going on in the country.

Establish patterns: In contrast to individual allegations, each of which is concerned with the outcome in a specific case, general information should paint an overall picture of the incidents of unlawful killings in a country, or identify a specific aspect of that practice.

In order to establish a pattern, it is not enough to:

Instead you should:

Other apparent patterns, which might be of relevance, could include the activities of a particular military or police authority that result in unlawful killings; a high incidence of deaths of detainees from a particular age, ethnic or social group; or consistent failure to investigate and/or prosecute officials for unlawful killings.

The aim is to show that certain types of killings, or types of victims, are not limited to a few isolated incidents, but occur on a regular basis. When presenting your findings about patterns you have identified, it is best to:

TABLE 3: CHECKLIST FOR SUBMITTING GENERAL INFORMATION TO A REPORTING MECHANISM

CHECKLIST: Submitting general information to a reporting mechanism

Does your submission include:

  • A brief introduction to the objectives and working methods of your organisation?
  • A summary of the context in which the allegations are set, particularly the legal framework?
  • A presentation of any identifiable patterns of violation?
  • As many detailed examples as possible? (see Part III, Chapter 4 for guidelines on the information to include on each individual allegation)
  • Any available supporting documentation?
  • A list of local organisations or persons that can be contacted to seek information about the relevant country?

 

2.2.2. Sending an individual allegation to a monitoring body

If you wish to send information about an individual allegation to a reporting mechanism, you should aim to include the following as a minimum, wherever possible:

While there is a minimum amount of details that should be present, there is really no maximum to the amount of relevant details that can be included. What does relevant mean? Basically, it means anything that helps the international bodies to understand what happened and makes it possible for them to decide if a state is respecting its obligations. As states have obligations to investigate and remedy incidents of unlawful killings, this includes information about what happened afterwards. Details which might be relevant and should be included, if known, include:

TABLE 4: CHECKLIST FOR SUBMITTING AN INDIVIDUAL ALLEGATION TO A REPORTING MECHANISM

CHECKLIST: Submitting an individual allegation to a reporting mechanism

Does your submission include:

  • A brief introduction to the objectives and working methods of your organisation?
  • As many details as possible, but at least:
    • name or other identifying characteristic of victim
    • date and place of incident(s)
    • alleged perpetrator(s)
    • details of incident including references to supporting evidence
    • details of action taken following the incident
    • details of the state's responses
      (See above for an explanation of what these should include)
  • Any available supporting documentation?
  • A clear indication that the case is urgent if you are requesting urgent action?
  • A clear indication of any details which are confidential?

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2.3. Submitting information in the context of the state reporting procedure

2.3.1. How does the state reporting procedure work?

The purpose of the state reporting procedure is to help treaty bodies (this currently applies only to the United Nations treaty committees) to gain a clear picture of the extent to which States Parties are respecting their treaty obligations, by asking states to describe how they are implementing those obligations in practice. States have an obligation to submit reports on a regular basis, although many delay the submission of these reports for many months or years. Once a treaty body has received a state report, it must examine it carefully in order to identify any areas of concern. The report is considered in a formal meeting, which the public may attend. During this meeting, the state whose report is being considered, is given an opportunity to introduce its report, and will normally be asked by the committee to answer further questions raised by the report. Finally, the committee will adopt its conclusions and make recommendations to the state on ways to better implement its obligations.

2.3.2. What can you achieve by submitting information in the context of the state reporting procedure?

The reports received by the treaty bodies are prepared by the states themselves. This does not necessarily mean that they are inaccurate, but it does mean that they represent the official view of a situation. It is important to make sure that when the treaty bodies reach their conclusions and make recommendations, they do so on the basis of information that accurately reflects the situation in a country. Submitting reliable information can help the treaty bodies to:

Consideration of a state report by one of the treaty bodies is a significant event which receives a lot of publicity. Your submission can help to ensure that the conclusions which receive this publicity are reliable and draw attention to the real areas of concern. In addition, if you have used your submission to make constructive suggestions for improvement, they may well influence the committee's recommendations.

2.3.3. What should an NGO report in the context of the state reporting procedure contain?

You should follow the general guidelines set out in Part III for submitting general information to a reporting mechanism. In addition, however, as the state reporting procedure involves an assessment by a treaty body of the extent to which obligations under a particular treaty are being respected, you should be guided by the provisions of that particular treaty, and previous findings in relation to the state, as well as the purpose of the procedure.

When preparing a submission, therefore, you should bear in mind the following:

2.3.4. Practical tips for submitting information in the context of the state reporting procedure

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2.4. Submitting information to a body engaged in fact-finding

Information to a body engaged in fact-finding can be provided either in advance of or during a fact-finding visit. This will affect the focus that your information should have.

2.4.1. Submitting information in advance of a fact-finding visit

In advance of a fact-finding visit, you should provide information that helps the body to plan and prepare for its visit. The overriding consideration must be that fact-finding visits are usually too short to examine every aspect of the situation in a country. This requires those engaged in the planning and preparation for a visit to be selective. Your information should help the fact-finding body to identify the aspects of the situation which are most important, and the activities which it can most usefully pursue during the visit.

Your information should help the body to plan and prepare for its visit by:

2.4.2. Submitting information during a fact-finding visit

During the visit itself, if you have not already provided information to the fact-finding body in advance, you should follow the guidelines suggested previously, as well as the additional considerations below. You yourself need to be very selective at this stage. The fact-finding body will have a very tight schedule and its meetings with NGOs will be relatively short.

The purpose of a fact-finding visit is to collect FACTS. At this stage, assuming the fact-finding body has been able to examine general information in advance of the visit, it is probably most interested in three things:

If you are presenting information in person, you should:

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Handbook links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Essential Reading - Part II: Identifying a Potential Violation - Part III: How to Document Allegations of Unlawful Killings - Part IV: Responding to the Information Collected - Part V: Where can you Seek Further Help? - Appendices
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