Guidelines for Submitting Complaints to the UN
last updated 10 June 2013
Communications or complaints must follow standard rules of procedure to be admissible to a UN enforcement body. The general guidelines below apply to all complaints submitted to the UN. It is advisable, nevertheless, to also become familiar with any specific guidelines promulgated by the UN bodies to which the communication is addressed.
Many of the specific communications requirements can be accessed through the UN website on Communications and Complaints Procedures.
(1) Communications should be in writing and must describe the facts and the right or rights that have been violated. Communications can be posted or faxed to the appropriate office. In some cases, the information may be sent by email. Communications should be submitted in one of the working languages of the Committee conducting the review.
(2) Regardless of the reporting format, the precise address of the body to which the communication is sent should appear at the beginning of the communication.
(3) Generally, only individuals or groups who claim to be victims of human rights violations or who have direct and reliable knowledge of such violations can submit complaints. Non-governmental organizations may submit complaints on behalf of victims with their consent. Some complaint procedures require NGOs to demonstrate direct, reliable evidence of the situation being communicated.
(4) Communication must concern a State that is a party to the optional protocol or a State that has accepted the article of the Convention providing the treaty body competence to consider individual communications. Many States may be party to the Convention, but not party to the relevant optional protocol or article allowing for individual communications.
(5) In general, complaints will not be admissible if they are anonymous. Individuals may request that the Committee not disclose their identity in the final decision, but should be advised of the potential ramifications of submitting a communication. In all cases, communications based solely on second-hand information, such as reports from the mass media, are not admissible.
(6) A communication is inadmissible if it is inconsistent with principles of international human rights law, as contained in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other treaties and conventions. The communication cannot be politically motivated.
(7) The receiving body must have reasonable grounds to believe that a human rights violation has occurred to admit the complaint. In order to make this determination, the body receiving the communication will also consider any replies sent by the government agencies. The complainant will sometimes have the opportunity to submit additional communications about the government response.
(8) A communication will only be considered after domestic remedies have been exhausted. The victim of a human rights violation or the NGO must first address the national legal system to remedy the violation. There is an exception to the rule when it can be convincingly demonstrated that either the procedures available at the national level would be ineffective or that they would extend over an unreasonable length of time.
(9) In general, a communication will not be admitted if it is under investigation or settlement by another UN body. The denial of one UN body to consider a communication does not necessarily foreclose review by another body.