The complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council 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). It is based on the former Commission of Human Rights’ 1503 procedure which has been modified to ensure that the procedure is impartial, objective, efficient, victims oriented and conducted in a timely manner.
Two distinct working groups – the Working Group on Communications and the Working Group on Situations – are responsible, respectively, for examining written communications and bringing consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms to the attention of the Council. This complaint procedure is the only universal complaint procedure covering all human rights and all fundamental freedoms in all States Members of the United Nations. This procedure is confidential, with a view to enhance cooperation with the State concerned.
As practice has shown, in substance the complaint procedure is very similar to the former 1503 procedure, and the new features listed below consist of mainly technicalities in the workings of the procedure:
The new procedure retained its confidential nature, with a view to enhancing cooperation with the State concerned. The Council can decide to discontinue reviewing a matter under the confidential procedure and take it up in public consideration.
In order to be admissible under the Human Rights Council complaint procedure, a complaint has to meet the following criteria:
Examples of cases:
A complaint can be brought against any State member of the United Nations.
Any individual, group of individuals or non-governmental organisation can submit a complaint to the complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council.
All the materials provided by the complainant and the State concerned, as well as the proceedings at the various stages, remain confidential and are therefore not made public, unless the Council decides otherwise. This also applies to situations that have been discontinued. Moreover, the complainant can request that their identity not be disclosed to the State concerned. While these rules of confidentiality are binding on the United Nations bodies dealing with the complaint, they do not preclude the complainant from disclosing the fact that the complaint has been submitted under the complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council. However, a complaint should not be anonymous as this is a cause for rejection.
There are four stages in the complaint procedure:
An initial screening is done by the Chairperson of the Working Group on Communications, together with the secretariat. Only complaints that meet the admissibility criteria are transmitted to the State concerned to obtain their views on the allegations of violations contained therein.
SECOND STAGE: THE WORKING GROUP ON COMMUNICATIONS
The Working Group on Communications meets twice a year and decides on the admissibility of a complaint and assesses the merits of the allegations of violations including whether the complaint alone or in combination with other complaints appear to reveal a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
During its sessions, the Working Group on Communications may decide to:
THIRD STAGE: THE WORKING GROUP ON SITUATIONS
The Working Group on Situations (composed of five representatives of Member States of the Human Rights Council appointed by each regional group to serve in their personal capacity) meets twice a year and is required, on the basis of the information and recommendations provided by the Working Group on Communications, to present the Council with a report on consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to make recommendations to the Council on which course of action to take.
During its session, the Working Group on Situations may decide to:
FOURTH STAGE: THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
The Council examines reports of the Working Group on Situations in a confidential manner (unless it decides otherwise) and may take one of the following decisions:
While a complaint need not be presented in a particular format, the use of the complaint form available on the website below is recommended. The complaint should be in writing, legible, preferably typed, and signed.
Communications have to be presented in one of the official United Nations languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). The complaint should provide basic personal information (name, nationality, date of birth, postal address and e-mail address of the complainant) and specify the State against which it is directed. The complainant should notify the secretariat as soon as possible of any subsequent change in address or other contact information. It is essential to set out, in chronological order, all the facts on which the complaint is based. The account must be as complete as possible and contain all the information relevant to the case. The complainant must state why he or she considers that the facts described constitute a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights.
The complainant should also detail the steps he or she has already taken to exhaust the remedies available in the State against which the complaint is directed, in particular the steps taken before the State’s local courts and authorities. The requirement to exhaust domestic remedies means that the complaints must have been brought first to the attention of the relevant national authorities, up to the highest available instance, unless it appears that such remedies would be ineffective or unreasonably prolonged. If some of these remedies are pending or have not yet been exhausted, this should also be indicated, as well as the reasons for it.
Complainants should supply copies (and not originals) of all documents of relevance to their complaints and arguments, especially administrative or judicial decisions on the complaints issued by national authorities. If these documents are not in an official language of the United Nations, a full or summary translation must be submitted.
If the complaint lacks essential information to be processed under the complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council, or the description of facts is unclear, the secretariat of the Human Rights Council will contact the complainant with a request for additional details or resubmission.
The complaint procedure cannot take up the consideration of a case that is already being dealt with by a special procedure, a treaty body or other United Nations or similar regional complaints procedure in the field of human rights.
The Council decided to discontinue reviewing the case under the confidential procedure and take up public consideration of a matter in two instances, concerning Kyrgyzstan in 2006, following its consideration under the 1503 procedure and Eritrea in 2012.
Complaint Procedure UnitHuman Rights Council BranchOffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human RightsUnited Nations Office at GenevaCH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
You can also send your complaint by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or to any country or regional office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
For more information on the complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council, see the
webpage and the FAQs.
OFFICE OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Palais des NationsCH 1211 Geneva 10SwitzerlandT: + 41 (0)22 917 9000F: + 41 (0)22 917 9011www.ohchr.org
3. E/CN.4/1040, E/CN.4/Sub.2/316
Frequently Asked Questions Brochure
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