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

4. THE MECHANISMS AND PROCEDURES: UNITED NATIONS

4.1. Introduction to the United Nations system

The United Nations human rights mechanisms are all based at, and run from, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at the UN Office in Geneva. There are two general points of which you should be aware if you wish to submit information to the UN mechanisms. One relates to languages, the other to distribution.

Languages: The UN has six official languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic), but only three working languages (English, French and Spanish) and, in practice, the most widely understood languages within the OHCHR are English and French. The OHCHR, like many international organisations, has very limited resources. See Part IV, Chapter 2.1.1. for suggestions concerning the language of submission of your communication in such circumstances.

It is worth knowing, also, that the UN has complicated rules about the translation of official documents, which mean that, in general, a report will not be made public until it has been translated into all the official languages. This can sometimes create lengthy delays, and is often the reason for the failure of a document to appear in advance of the Commission on Human Rights sessions.

Distribution: If you want your communication to be sent to more than one procedure at the OHCHR, the most reliable approach is to send one copy to each, yourself. There are two reasons for this: 1) like any large organisation, it can sometimes happen that information is not passed on from one procedure to another within the OHCHR, and 2) you will usually need to emphasise different points for the different procedures.

If you do not have the resources to send more than one copy, you should mark very clearly who you wish to receive the information, in order to guarantee that it is distributed to all of the procedures you have chosen. This will be particularly relevant where you want the information to be sent to several Special Rapporteurs (see Part IV, Chapter 4.2.1.2.1.). Some organisations that submit information to the OHCHR on a regular basis, have prepared a standard form listing all the available procedures, and mark the ones which they would like to contact in any particular case.

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4.2. Reporting mechanisms within the United Nations system

4.2.1. The United Nations Non-Treaty Procedures

The two principal bodies responsible for questions relating to human rights within the UN system are the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. One of the ways in which they carry out their tasks is to create and supervise subsidiary procedures which assist them by carrying out studies, drafting and engaging in monitoring. Such subsidiary procedures usually report to the Commission or Sub-Commission on their activities. The procedures which follow below are of this type, created by the Commission on Human Rights, and dependent on it and the Sub-Commission, for the purpose of any enforcement.

The Commission and Sub-Commission are both bodies which are especially suited to lobbying (see Part V, Chapter 2.8.). In both cases, individual members or Member States can have a significant impact on the matters considered during their sessions, and lobbying can influence the issues which they are willing to support. This is a very effective way of drawing attention to human rights violations in a country. Only NGOs with consultative status have direct access to the Commission and Sub-Commission, but some of those are willing to assist other NGOs to attend sessions. See Appendix II for details of Geneva-based NGOs who may provide assistance.

TABLE 5: BASIC FACTS: UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The UN Commission on Human Rights

Origin:

How was it created?

By two 1946 resolutions of the UN Economic and Social Council.

When did it become operational?

1947

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

The diplomatic representatives of 53 States.

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

State representatives

Purpose:

General objective

To consider questions relating to human rights, both in relation to Member States and from a general perspective, and to adopt measures with a view to improving the situation of human rights across the world.

 

TABLE 6: BASIC FACTS: UN SUB-COMMISSION ON THE PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (formerly known as the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities)

Origin:

How was it created?

By a 1947 UN Commission on Human Rights resolution under the authority of the Economic and Social Council.

When did it become operational?

1947

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

26

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

Independent experts elected in respect of specific states.

Purpose:

General objective

To undertake studies, make recommendations and draft standards relating to human rights, for the purpose of referring them to the Commission on Human Rights for further consideration and possible adoption.

 

4.2.1.1. The revised 1503 Procedure

4.2.1.1.1. HOW DOES THE REVISED 1503 PROCEDURE WORK?

The 1503 Procedure took its name from the number of the Commission on Human Rights resolution which created it. In 2000 it was revised following a review by the Commission. Its purpose is to examine complaints of gross violations of human rights in a country in order, to identify patterns of violation. It is not the responsibility of a special body, but is implemented instead by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights. The most notable characteristic of the procedure is that it is confidential and those who submit information are not informed of the outcome.

TABLE 7: BASIC CHRONOLOGY OF: REVISED 1503 PROCEDURE

BASIC CHRONOLOGY OF: Revised 1503 Procedure

A communication is received by May.

[arrow]

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IF ELIGIBLE for consideration (e.g. not being considered under a public procedure of the Commission on Human Rights), the complaint is transmitted to the Government in question which is asked to comment.

IF MANIFESTLY ILL-FOUNDED (frivolous, anonymous, politically motivated or without detail) - the complaint is screened out by the Secretariat with the approval of the Chair of the Working Group on Communications and goes no further.

[arrow]

 

August/Sept: Examination of complaints and replies received by Governments by a five-member Working Group of the Sub-Commission (WG on Communications). Communications which "appear to reveal a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights" and which are admissible are transmitted for examination by the Working Group of the Commission (WG on Situations).

[arrow]If the communication is not transmitted to the Working Group on Situations the matter can alternatively be dropped or kept pending until the following year.

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February: Consideration of the complaints and replies by a Working Group of the Commission on Human Rights (WG on Situations) prior to the Commission session. Its task is to determine whether or not to refer particular situations to the Commission and normally to produce recommendations to the Commission on a course of action.

[arrow]If the situation is not referred to the Commission the matter can alternatively be dropped or kept pending until the following year.

[arrow]

 

March/April: During its session, the Commission on Human Rights considers the situations referred to it in two rounds of private meetings, (one for debate and the other for "taking action" or voting). Representatives of the concerned governments are invited to be present for consideration of their "situation".

 

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The countries discussed are publicly named, as are those who have been "dropped". This means that, by process of elimination, there is public notice of those states kept under consideration. The Commission may also decide to make a situation public which then becomes the subject of open discussion in the Commission.

 

 

TABLE 8: BASIC FACTS: REVISED 1503 PROCEDURE

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The Revised 1503 Procedure

Origin:

How was it created?

By a 1970 resolution of the UN Economic and Social Council. (Revised by resolution of the Commission of Human Rights in 2000.)

When did it become operational?

1972

Composition:

The revised 1503 Procedure is implemented by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Purpose:

General objective

Confidential examination of complaints of gross violations of human rights in a country in order to identify patterns of violations.

Functions

  • Monitoring

 

4.2.1.1.2. WHAT CAN YOU ACHIEVE BY SUBMITTING INFORMATION TO THE REVISED 1503 PROCEDURE?

The effectiveness of the revised 1503 Procedure is clearly handicapped by its confidential nature. However, the practice, which the Commission on Human Rights has developed, of announcing the names of the states under consideration, and indicating the ones that have been dropped from consideration, goes some way towards improving this. It means, at least, that the fact that a state is under consideration becomes public knowledge.

Even within the constraints of the confidential procedure, a state can be made to account for and respond to allegations. As an incidental result of the procedure, the mere transmission of a complaint to a government may motivate it to investigate and rectify the situation complained of, or may prompt it to suspend or terminate a practice, in order to avoid drawing attention to itself and discourage referral of the complaint to the Commission. For those complaints and replies that make their way past the Sub-Commission, the Commission identifies issues of concern during its consideration of 'situations', and might ask the states in question to make improvements. It might request answers to specific questions. The Commission has the power to initiate a study or to set up an ad-hoc investigatory body with the express consent of the government concerned but, over the years, it has developed its own ways of dealing with serious cases by appointing an independent expert who carries out field missions and submits a confidential report to the Commission at its next session.

In exceptionally serious cases, the Commission on Human Rights may choose to transfer the situation to a public procedure. This may include the appointment of a Special Rapporteur. (see Part IV, Chapter 4.2.1.2.)

The revised 1503 Procedure can be used to:

It is not suitable if you wish to:

4.2.1.1.3. WHAT SHOULD A COMMUNICATION TO THE REVISED 1503 PROCEDURE CONTAIN?

A communication to the revised 1503 Procedure must:

A communication to the revised 1503 Procedure must not:

The revised 1503 Procedure is designed to identify and follow up on "situations which appear to reveal a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights".

This means that the following considerations should be taken into account when preparing a communication under 1503:

When setting out your account of each allegation, you should follow the guidelines set out in Part IV, Chapter 2.2.2., for the content of a standard communication as much as possible, but in addition, you should:

4.2.1.1.4. SPECIFIC TIPS

The name of the author of the communication will be deleted for transmission to the government unless the author has no objection to his or her name being divulged. The confidentiality of the procedure means that no case under consideration is ever made public.

As the procedure is confidential, you will not receive any feedback about the content of your submission or of any action taken. You will, however, receive an acknowledgement that the submission has been dealt with under the procedure.

Complaints will not be accepted if they concern a state:

  • Which is being considered under a public procedure of the Commission on Human Rights.
  • Which has accepted the right of individual petition under the ICCPR, the CAT, the CERD or CEDAW, and the complaint relates to an individual violation of a right, which is protected under one of those instruments.
Complaints will be accepted if they concern a state:
  • Which has accepted the right of individual petition under the ICCPR, the CAT, or the CERD, but the complaint relates to general information about the state rather than an individual complaint.

 

4.2.1.2. The Special Procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights

The special procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights are set up to monitor either specific subject-areas on a world-wide scale, or particular countries in relation to the full range of human rights. They are most commonly known as special rapporteurs or working groups, but other names include independent experts and special representatives. They are created by resolution in response to situations which are considered to be of sufficient concern to require an in-depth study. The procedures report publicly to the Commission on Human Rights each year, and some also report to the UN General Assembly.

Each procedure has its own slightly different working methods, but they are appointed in the same way. The basic considerations are the same with respect to preparing a communication, and all of the general principles discussed above, in relation to writing to UN mechanisms, also apply. The one you are most likely to wish to use in the context of allegations of unlawful killings is the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions who will, therefore, be used as the basic example. It is important to remember, however, that s/he is only one of a number of special procedures to which such allegations may be sent.

4.2.1.2.1. THEMATIC RAPPORTEURS AND WORKING GROUPS

All thematic procedures should be approached in a similar way to that described below in relation to the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. The important point to remember is that the different thematic mechanisms are not mutually exclusive, and may make either joint or separate interventions in connection with the same allegation.

In general, where your allegation concerns treatment which appears to amount to an unlawful killing you should send it to the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, but where the facts reveal other possible human rights abuses as well, you should also try to send it to all other relevant special procedures, or to indicate on your letter to which special procedures you would like it distributed. Action by more than one Rapporteur or working group will often carry more weight and is likely to influence a state even more than where only one procedure expresses concern.

An example of an allegation, which could be distributed to more than one procedure, would be the violent arrest and detention of a female journalist by state officials on account of her being a human rights activist. She is raped and dies in custody. Depending on the degree of detail available and the particular circumstances, this could potentially motivate action by the Special Rapporteurs on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Torture, Violence Against Women and Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Expression, as well as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

It is also possible that a case on which the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions decides s/he cannot take action is one that another special procedure can, in fact, pursue. It is important not to focus exclusively on one procedure where others may also be competent. As the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions must decide each case on its own facts, it is difficult to predict with certainty if s/he will be able to take action in a particular case - it is, therefore, better to maximise the chance that the allegation will be followed up by making sure that it reaches any procedure which may be competent to do so, rather than limiting the communication to one mechanism.

As the thematic procedures are dependent on the Commission on Human Rights for their mandates, it is possible for a particular Special Rapporteur or Working Group to be discontinued or a new one created from one year to the next. The table on the following page sets out the relevant thematic procedures in existence at the time of writing, along with any particular points of note.

TABLE 9: RELEVANT THEMATIC PROCEDURES OF THE UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Thematic Procedure:

Comments:

WG on arbitrary detention

You must explain why you think the detention is arbitrary. The WG interprets this as meaning detention which 1) does not have a legal basis; 2) is a response to the exercise of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression (e.g. the arrest of a journalist for the exercise of his profession); or 3) is rendered arbitrary because due process guarantees are not observed (e.g. if someone is not brought promptly before a judge). It is not enough to consider that the detention is "unfair". The WG will not normally examine a case once the individual has been released, unless it concerns a question of principle.

WG on enforced or involuntary disappearances

The WG acts only in clearly identified individual cases. If the person or organisation submitting the information is not a relative but is acting directly or indirectly upon the family's request, she or he is required to maintain contact with the family at all times as any replies received are for the information of the relatives only. You should indicate if you wish your communication to be confidential.

SR on torture

The SR examines allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading acts and investigates legislative and administrative measures taken by countries to prevent torture and to remedy its consequences whenever it occurs. Also s/he focuses on the ill-treatment of particular groups especially children and women. The SR also responds to credible and reliable information of individual cases that comes before her/him. S/he receives requests for urgent action, which s/he brings to the attention of the governments concerned in order to protect individuals who are at risk torture. S/he also conducts fact-finding visits. You should indicate if you wish the name of the victim to be confidential.

SR on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

The SR's areas of interest include: persons exercising/promoting the exercise of the right, including professionals in the field of information; political opposition parties and trade union activists; the media (print and broadcast), including any threats to their independence; publishers and performers in other media; human rights defenders; obstacles to women's right to be heard; obstacles to access to information. You should indicate if you wish your communication to be confidential.

SR on the independence of judges and lawyers

Information can be received about judges, lawyers and court officials. The SR is essentially concerned with safeguards and the proper functioning of the justice system.

SR on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions

See below

SR on human rights defenders

This is a relatively new mandate which aims to receive, examine and respond to information on the situation and rights of those acting to promote human rights; to establish co-operation and conduct dialogue with governments and to recommend strategies to better protect human rights defenders. All reliable information can be brought to the SR's attention and those submitting allegations are encouraged to provide information regarding their own human rights work. You should indicate if you wish the name of the victim to be confidential.

SR on violence against women

The SR examines cases of violence against women on account of their gender - your communication must indicate why you believe that the woman involved was targeted because of her gender. A special feature of this mandate is that it looks at violence not only by state officials, but also where it is condoned by the state in the community and within the family. With respect to general information, you should note that the SR is particularly interested in examples of good practice, which can be used as a basis for recommendations in other states. Communications are confidential.

Other relevant thematic procedures are: SR on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; SRSG on children in armed conflict; SRSG on internally displaced persons; SR on the human rights of migrants; SR on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; SR on the question of religious intolerance.

KEY: SR = Special Rapporteur; SRSG = Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General; WG = Working Group

4.2.1.2.2. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTRA-JUDICIAL, SUMMARY OR ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS

TABLE 10: BASIC FACTS: UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTRA-JUDICIAL, SUMMARY OR ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

Origin:

How was it created?

By a Resolution of Economic and Social Council 1982

When did it become operational?

1982

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

1

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

Independent expert.

Purpose:

General objective

To monitor and report on the occurrence and extent of summary and arbitrary executions. Expanded to include extra-judicial killings in 1992

Functions

  • Monitoring
  • Fact-finding

 

4.2.1.2.2.1. HOW DOES THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTRA-JUDICIAL, SUMMARY OR ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS WORK?

The job of the Special Rapporteur is to present to the Commission on Human Rights an accurate and comprehensive report as possible about the nature and extent of the practice of extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary killings throughout the world. In order to do this, s/he relies on information received from a variety of sources, including NGOs, individuals, intergovernmental institutions and governments themselves. These contain specific allegations of alleged unlawful killings and/or death threats and/or general information about issues related to the implementation of right to life. On the basis of this information s/he:

To give some idea of the breadth of the Special Rapporteur's mandate and the types of allegations you can submit to this mechanism we provide below, a list of the violations of the right to life upon which the Special Rapporteur takes action:

Dialogue:

The Special Rapporteur's dialogue with a government can begin in one of two ways. If s/he believes that allegations s/he has received are credible, s/he will either transmit an urgent appeal or raise the allegation in a standard communication.

The urgent appeal procedure is designed to respond urgently to information reporting that an individual may be at imminent risk of being killed. This includes cases of death threats or death sentences in contravention of limitations on the use of capital punishment. The appeal aims to prevent loss of life and this procedure can be used regardless of whether domestic remedies have been exhausted. Such appeals are non-accusatory in nature. The government is requested to ensure effective protection of those under threat or at risk of execution and urges full, independent and impartial investigation and adoption of all measures to prevent further violations of the right to life. S/he adopts no position as to whether or not the fear of death is justified.

Standard communications are transmitted to governments periodically and contain allegations concerning individual cases (individual allegations) in the form of case summaries. They request progress reports on the investigation of these cases and any prosecutions or reparations that have resulted.

Allegations concerning general trends are also communicated. Patterns and special factors contributing to the occurrence of unlawful killings in a country (general allegations), e.g. impunity or legislation which contravenes international standards, are reported to states with requests for adoption of measures to prevent recurrence.

These communications are transmitted to the government against which the allegations have been made, in order to give that government an opportunity to comment on them. Many of these remain unanswered. Depending on the response received from the government, the Special Rapporteur may inquire further or make recommendations. All communications sent and received throughout the year are referred to in an annual report, along with further recommendations and general comments as appropriate, including recommendations about measures, which should be taken in order to prevent violations of the right to life.

Fact-finding:

The Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions also carries out fact-finding visits to obtain first-hand information. S/he does not have a right to visit any country of his/her choice, but must first obtain an invitation from the Government to carry out a visit. During the visit, the Special Rapporteur meets with victims, witnesses and relatives of victims, Government officials, NGO and IGO representatives. His/her objective is to obtain an understanding of the situation on the ground in order to formulate appropriate and useful recommendations. Following the visit, s/he produces a report in which s/he presents the conclusions s/he has reached about the scope of the problem in that country, and makes recommendations about any measures which could be taken to improve the situation.

4.2.1.2.2.2. WHAT CAN YOU ACHIEVE BY SUBMITTING INFORMATION TO THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTRA-JUDICIAL, SUMMARY OR ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS?

The power of the Special Rapporteur lies with the Commission on Human Rights, and the public nature of the procedure. His/her conclusions are not legally binding and s/he has no enforcement powers. Nonetheless, few states are immune to public condemnation, and the publicity of such findings creates pressure for states to co-operate by introducing reforms or otherwise implementing recommendations.

If you are seeking action in relation to a general situation, s/he can be used to:

If you are seeking action in relation to an individual case, s/he can be used to:

S/he cannot:

4.2.1.2.2.3. WHAT SHOULD A COMMUNICATION TO THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTRA-JUDICIAL, SUMMARY OR ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS CONTAIN?

If you are trying to demonstrate a pattern of violations then the more cases you can collect to support your the allegation the better, as they show that the practices you have identified are not merely isolated incidents, but are serious and widespread.

4.2.1.2.2.4. SPECIFIC TIPS

In order for the Special Rapporteur to take action in an individual case and communicate the case to the Government then s/he ideally needs the identity of the victim and as much detail as possible. Cases of unidentified persons can be presented but only where the identity is not known to the source of the information but the allegation is still substantial and credible.

However if the case is presented to the Special Rapporteur only to illustrate the general situation in a country then the identity of the victim is not strictly necessary. These cases are generally obtained on field missions when the SR takes confidential testimony from witnesses and victims and uses the information, in his/her reports, to illustrate patterns of abuses or geographical concentrations of problems. Remember that these unidentified cases cannot be communicated individually.

The source of the cases is not reported to anyone but it helps the Special Rapporteur to know the source as it enables him/her to assess the credibility and reliability of an allegation. In addition where the Special Rapporteur receives information from the government or questions are raised about the allegation s/he will ideally go back to the source to verify the answers or to obtain further information.

You will not receive any acknowledgement of receipt of your submission. As the mandate is very busy it does not have time to engage in a dialogue with the source of the information. This is why it is so important to provide as much detail as possible. If your allegations are transmitted to the government, any reply received from the government will normally be sent to you in order to give you an opportunity to comment on its content. All cases, which are transmitted to governments, are summarised in the Special Rapporteur's annual report to the Commission on Human Rights, so this will also tell you if any action was taken on the basis of your allegations.

4.2.1.2.3. COUNTRY RAPPORTEURS

In addition to thematic rapporteurs and working groups, the Commission on Human Rights also appoints country-specific rapporteurs (or independent experts or special representatives) whose task is to report on the full range of human rights, including violations of the right to life, in the specific country for which they are responsible. In general, such rapporteurs will be appointed in relation to countries that have particularly serious human rights situations, including those caused by war or internal conflict. The singling out of a country for such scrutiny is inevitably a politically sensitive matter, however, and there must be sufficient agreement among states at the Commission on Human Rights for a country-specific rapporteur to be created.

Like the thematic rapporteurs, the objective of country-specific rapporteurs is to paint an accurate picture of a situation, but instead of it being a world-wide portrait of a specific phenomenon, it should be a far more comprehensive report on the human rights situation in a single country. Allegations of unlawful killings are of major relevance to such a rapporteur, who needs to be able to report on the phenomenon in the context of his or her country report. Where a special rapporteur exists for the country about which you wish to submit an allegation, therefore, he or she should be included on the list of procedures to which the allegation should be circulated. So, for example, if the killing of the female human rights activist, mentioned previously, took place in a country for which there is a special rapporteur, e.g. Myanmar or Equatorial Guinea or Iran, s/he should also receive the information.

At the time of writing, country-specific mandates existed in relation to:

TABLE 11: COUNTRY RAPPORTEURS (2001)

  • Afghanistan (SR)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRCHR)
  • Burundi (SR)
  • Cambodia (SRSG)
  • Cyprus (SG)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (SR)
  • East Timor (SG)
  • Equatorial Guinea (SRCHR)
  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (see Bosnia)
  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo) (SG)
  • Haiti (IE)
  • Iran, Islamic Republic of (SRCHR)
  • Iraq (SR)
  • Myanmar (SR)
  • Occupied Arab Territories (SG, SR, & Special Committee)
  • Somalia (IE)
  • Sudan (SR)

KEY: SG = Secretary General, SR = Special Rapporteur; SRSG = Special Representative of the Secretary General; SRCHR = Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights; IE = Independent Expert

4.2.2. The United Nations Treaty Bodies

The United Nations treaty bodies were created to supervise the implementation by States Parties of their obligations under a number of UN human rights treaties. The principal committees to which allegations of unlawful killings may be made are the following:

The most relevant for the purpose of these kinds of cases is the HRC, which is a well-established body dealing with a range of human rights including violations of the right to life. However, the other committees are very important where allegations concern certain identifiable categories of persons, namely children, women and racial groups.

The working methods of each of these bodies are very similar. All have the power to examine and comment on state reports, and most are also able to receive individual complaints, or else are in the process of developing such a procedure.

4.2.2.1. Human Rights Committee

TABLE 12: BASIC FACTS: HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The Human Rights Committee

Origin:

How was it created?

By the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political

Rights

When did it become operational?

1976

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

18

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

Independent experts

Purpose:

General objective

To supervise the implementation by states of their obligations under this treaty

Functions

  • Examination of state reports (Article 40, ICCPR)
  • Inter-State complaints (Article 41, ICCPR) (has never been used)
  • Individual complaints (optional) (Optional Protocol to the ICCPR) (see Part IV, Chapter 4.3.2.)

 

4.2.2.1.1. HOW DOES THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE WORK?

The Committee is responsible for making sure that States Parties respect their obligations to respect and to ensure to all individuals the rights contained in the ICCPR, including the right to life (Article 6). It does this in two ways:

See Part IV, Chapter 2.3. for a description of how the state reporting procedure works, suggestions as to what can be achieved in the context of the state reporting procedure, and what a communication should contain.

4.2.2.1.2. SPECIFIC TIPS

4.2.2.2. Other Committees

TABLE 13: BASIC FACTS: COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The Committee on the Rights of the Child

Origin:

How was it created?

By the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

When did it become operational?

1991

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

10

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

Independent experts

Purpose:

General objective

To supervise the implementation by States Parties of their obligations under the CRC

Functions

  • Examination of state reports (Article 44, CRC) Discussions are currently ongoing regarding the possibility of adopting a protocol to the CRC which would allow individual complaints

 

TABLE 14: BASIC FACTS : COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

Origin:

How was it created?

By the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

When did it become operational?

1981

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

23

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

Independent experts

Purpose:

General objective

To supervise the implementation by States Parties of their obligations under the CEDAW

Functions

  • Examination of state reports (Article 18, CEDAW)
  • Individual complaints (optional) (Optional Protocol to the CEDAW came into force on 22/12/200) (see Part IV, Chapter 4.3.3.)
  • Fact-finding through confidential inquiry procedure for gross and systematic abuses (Article 8 CEDAW)

 

TABLE 15: BASIC FACTS: COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Origin:

How was it created?

By the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

When did it become operational?

1969

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

18

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

Independent experts

Purpose:

General objective

To supervise the implementation by States Parties of their obligations under the CERD

Functions

  • Examination of state reports (Article 9, CERD)
  • Inter-State complaints (Article 11, CERD) (never used)
  • Individual complaints (optional) (Article 14, CERD) (see Part IV, Chapter 4.3.2.)

 

TABLE 16: BASIC FACTS: COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE

BASIC FACTS ABOUT: The Committee Against Torture

Origin:

How was it created?

By the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture

When did it become operational?

1988

Composition:

How many persons is it composed of?

10

Are these persons independent experts or state representatives?

Independent experts

Purpose:

General objective

To ensure that states respect their obligations under this treaty to prevent and punish torture

Functions

  • Examination of state reports (Article 19, UNCAT)
  • Fact-finding through confidential inquiry procedure (Article 20, UNCAT)
  • Inter-State complaints (Article 21, UNCAT)
  • Individual complaints (optional) (Article 22, UNCAT) (see Part IV, Chapter 4.3.4.)

 

Of these four committees, all currently function principally through the state reporting procedure. The CAT, CERD and CEDAW operate individual complaint procedures (see Part IV, Chapter 4.3.3.), and it is possible that the CRC will do so in the future.

You should refer to Part IV, Chapter 2.3., for a description of how the state reporting procedure works, suggestions as to what can be achieved through such a procedure and guidelines on how to prepare a submission in the context of this procedure.

In addition, CAT and CEDAW operate a confidential inquiry procedure in cases of systematic abuses of the obligations in those Conventions. These can be instigated when "reliable information" of such abuses is received. Clearly the vast majority of sources of this type of information will be NGOs. If a state agrees then the inquiry can involve a fact-finding visit to a country during which it is useful for the Committee to meet with NGO representatives. The Committees will reach a conclusion about whether a systematic abuse is taking place and make recommendations which are transmitted to the state who is invited to respond. Such procedures have negative implications for a state, as they will only be initiated in very serious cases. Their use creates immense pressure for the state to act to rectify the situation and prevent further abuses.

4.2.2.2.1. SPECIFIC TIPS

4.3. Complaint procedures within the United Nations system

TABLE 17: BASIC CHRONOLOGY OF: INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURES - HRC, CERD, CEDAW & CAT

BASIC CHRONOLOGY OF: Individual Complaint Procedures - HRC, CERD, CEDAW & CAT

Receipt of your communication

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The Committee or a rapporteur who is a member of the Committee decides if it should be transmitted to the government (Additional information may be requested)

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The communication is transmitted to the government for comments. It is given:

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EITHER 2 months to provide observations on admissibility (CERD - 3 months)

OR 6 months to comment on admissibility and merits (CERD - 3 months)

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The government's comments are sent to the complainant who is given:

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EITHER 4 weeks to respond to comments on admissibility

OR 6 weeks to comment on admissibility and merits

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Committee adopts a decision on admissibility

 

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Government has 6 months to comment on the merits

 

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Government's comments transmitted to the complainant, who has 6 weeks to comment on them

 

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Committee considers all the information before it and adopts its view on the case, (establishing whether or not there has been a violation and suggesting specific remedies or measures which should be taken by the state)

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These are sent to the complainant and the State Party, who will be invited to inform the Committee of the steps taken to comply with the view (HRC - state response required within 90 days; CEDAW - state required to respond within 6 months)

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A summary of the case is published in the Committee's annual report

 

4.3.1. Human Rights Committee

See Part IV, Chapter 4.2.2.1. for 'Basic Facts: The Human Rights Committee'.

The basic chronology for the individual complaint procedure of the Human Rights Committee is as above. See Part IV, Chapter 4.3.

See Part IV, Chapter 3.2. for the kind of complaints which can be examined.

4.3.1.1. What are the admissibility requirements?

A communication will be declared inadmissible if:

TABLE 18: PRACTICALITIES OF USING INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO THE ICCPR

PRACTICALITIES OF USING THE INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Who can bring a case under this procedure?

Individuals claiming to be victims of a violation of the ICCPR. Communications are accepted from close family, or from an authorised representative (There must be a letter of authorisation from the victim or his or her family). An explanation should be given where victims do not take action themselves.

Is there a time limit for bringing an application?

No, but where there is no justification for a long delay, this may lead the Committee to declare the case inadmissible.

Can you bring a case under this procedure if you have already brought one under another procedure concerning the same set of facts?

Yes, but only if the State Party concerned has not made a reservation in this respect.

Do you need legal representation?

No

Is financial assistance available?

No

Are amicus briefs accepted?

No

Who will know about the communication?

The State Party will always be informed of the identity of the complainant, in order for it to reply to the allegations, but the Committee will not make the applicant's name public if asked not to do so. The complainant and the State Party concerned are entitled to publish information concerning the procedure, unless there is a request from the complainant or State Party for confidentiality.

What measures, if any, can the mechanism take to assist it in reaching a decision?

The whole procedure is based on written pleadings from the parties - there is no possibility of other measures.

How long does the procedure take?

Normally between two and five years, although this may be reduced to one year in urgent cases.

Are provisional or urgent measures available?

Yes, but it is quite rare for the Committee to exercise this option.

 

4.3.1.2. Specific tips

4.3.2. CERD

See Part IV, Chapter 4.2.2.2. for 'Basic Facts: The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination'.

The basic chronology for the individual complaint procedure of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is very similar to that for the HRC and CAT. See Part IV, Chapter 4.3.1.

See Part IV, Chapter 3.2. for the kind of complaints which can be examined.

4.3.2.1. What are the admissibility requirements?

A communication will be declared inadmissible if:

4.3.2.2. Specific tips

TABLE 19: PRACTICALITIES OF USING INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: CERD

PRACTICALITIES OF USING THE INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Who can bring a case under this procedure?

An individual claiming to be a victim of a violation of the rights in the CERD. The communication should generally be submitted by the victim him/herself or by a family member or designated representative, but may exceptionally be accepted from a third party on behalf of the alleged victim where the latter cannot act in person and the third party can justify taking action.

Is there a time limit for bringing an application?

Within six months of the exhaustion of domestic remedies except in verifiable exceptional circumstances.

Can you bring a case under this procedure if you have already brought one under another procedure concerning the same set of facts?

Yes

Do you need legal representation?

No

Is financial assistance available?

No

Are amicus briefs accepted?

Not provided for but not excluded

Who will know about the communication?

The identity of the individual is not revealed without his or her express consent.

What measures, if any, can the mechanism take to assist it in reaching a decision? e.g. fact-finding hearings; on-site visits; written pleadings; oral hearings; other.

Written pleadings; oral hearings; request for relevant documentation from UN bodies and specialised agencies.

Are provisional or urgent measures available?

Yes

 

4.3.3. CEDAW

See Part IV, Chapter 4.2.2.2. for 'Basic Facts: The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women'. As the individual complaint procedures is still very new, details of how it will function in practice have yet to emerge. The rules of procedure adopted by CEDAW suggest that the basic chronology for the individual complaint procedure will be similar to that of the HRC, CAT and CERD. See Part IV, Chapter 4.3.1. See Part IV, Chapter 3.2. for the kind of complaints which can be examined.

4.3.3.1. What are the admissibility requirements?

A communication will be declared inadmissible if:

4.3.3.2. Specific tips

TABLE 20: PRACTICALITIES OF USING INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: CEDAW

PRACTICALITIES OF USING THE INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

Who can bring a case under this procedure?

An individual or groups of individuals claiming to be a victim of any of the rights in CEDAW. Communications submitted on behalf of such people, but proof of their consent must be provided, unless the author can justify acting without their consent.

Is there a time limit for bringing an application?

There is no formal time limit but it should normally be brought within a reasonable time (about six months) of the exhaustion of domestic remedies. In all cases, the alleged violation must have occurred after the entry into force of the State Party's declaration accepting the procedure.

Can you bring a case under this procedure if you have already brought one under another procedure concerning the same set of facts?

No

Do you need legal representation?

No

Is financial assistance available?

No

Are amicus briefs accepted?

These are not specifically provided for but not excluded.

Who will know about the communication?

The author of the communication and his or her representative, the Committee and its Secretariat, and the State Party. A request may be made to keep the names of victims or authors of communications confidential.

How long does the procedure take?

It is likely to take about two years, but this will become clearer once practice develops.

What measures, if any, can the mechanism take to assist it in reaching a decision? e.g. fact-finding hearings; on-site visits; written pleadings; oral hearings; other.

Written pleadings; relevant documentation from organisations within the UN system and other bodies.

Are provisional or urgent measures available?

Yes. The Committee may transmit a request for a state to take interim measures to avoid irreparable damage to victims.

 

4.3.4. CAT

If you are considering sending information to CAT you could refer to The Torture Reporting Handbook by Camille Giffard that provides detailed guidance on the Committee's work (see Appendix II).

See Part IV, Chapter 4.2.2.2. for 'Basic Facts: The Committee Against Torture'.

The basic chronology for the individual complaint procedure of the Committee Against Torture is similar to that for the HRC and CERD. See Part IV, Chapter 4.3.

See Part IV, Chapter 3.2. for the kind of complaints which can be examined.

TABLE 21: PRACTICALITIES OF USING INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: CAT

PRACTICALITIES OF USING THE INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINT PROCEDURE: UN Convention Against Torture

Who can bring a case under this procedure?

Any individual who claims to be a victim of a violation of the Convention, his or her relatives, a designated representative, or others where the victim is unable to make the submission in person and the author of the communication can justify taking action on the victim's behalf.

Is there a time limit for bringing an application?

No, but the alleged violation must have occurred after the State Party's declaration accepting the procedure has come into force.

Can you bring a case under this procedure if you have already brought one under another procedure concerning the same set of facts?

No

Do you need legal representation?

No

Is financial assistance available?

No

Are amicus briefs accepted?

Not provided for but not excluded.

Who will know about the communication?

The author of the communication and his or her representative, the Committee and its Secretariat, and the State Party. The identity of the author is only made public if the Committee finds that a violation has occurred, and may remain confidential at the request of the author even in such cases.

How long does the procedure take?

Normally about one year, though can be longer.

What measures, if any, can the mechanism take to assist it in reaching a decision? e.g. fact-finding hearings; on-site visits; written pleadings; oral hearings; other.

Written pleadings; oral hearings.

Are provisional or urgent measures available?

Yes

 

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