Reporting Violations

People whose rights have been violated sometimes - not always - have the right to make a complaint.
In some cases, the particular international human rights treaty itself gives the right to complaint. An example is the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
In others, the UN has created a separate 'Protocol.' An example is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The UN has released a 'model form of communication' for making this complaint. (A 'communication' is another word for making a complaint to a UN committee).
Someone who wants to complain does not have to use the form, though it is rather useful. The form asks the questions that the committee has to have the answers to, before it decides to accept it. The form does help people think of and write down all the facts.
The person must communicate in writing. The person must make a complaint against a government, not an individual. That can include, of course, a government agency or employee.
The committee does not ever hold trials, or 'hearings.' People cannot get into a witness box and tell their story, or cross examine witnesses, or send lawyers along, or make technical legal submissions.
The complaint, or communication, will not get past first base unless, on the face of it, the written documentation raises an issue of human rights.
The committee will not even write to the government complained about, unless it is apparent that it is a complaint about human rights, so it is important to be very clear about the facts.
The committee can - but does not need to - ask the person to give extra information before it writes to the government.
Nor will the person get far unless they have, and they say they have, exhausted all domestic remedies. In other words the person must have tried to get a remedy - if, that is, there are any - in the country they are complaining about. This may include suing someone, or asking the police to prosecute them, or lodging appeals, making complaints to statutory bodies or commissions and seeking reviews by Ministers.
The written communication must raise a prima facie case that a breach of a human right has occurred. It must name the breach and link it to a treaty. It must be made by the alleged victim or by someone who has the right to act on their behalf.
The Committee will never entertain anonymous communications. It will not permit a communication that it considers to be an abuse of the right to communicate, or accept any communication that is being investigated under another procedure.
Once the complaint has been accepted, the committee communicates with the government concerned, (sometimes without revealing the identity of the complainant).
The government is obliged to give a written explanation of the matter. There may be an exchange of information between the parties and the committee. Each is entitled to comment on extra information provided by the other.
The committee then meets in private and decides what finding to make.
The Committee gives both parties a copy of its recommendations, and a summary is included in its annual report.
The most important effect of a communication, if it results in a Committee finding that there has been a breach of a human right in a treaty that a country has signed, is political. The finding is unenforceable, but it has considerable moral authority. It always gets publicity. Countries who have signed human rights treaties can be sensitive to an authoritative finding that a breach has occurred that they have failed to remedy.
It may force the government to find the legislative power, and the funds, and the will, to act to remedy the problem.
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