Complaint Mechanisms

last updated 28 May 2013
Some UN bodies accept complaints (usually referred to as "communications" or “petitions”) directly from private individuals or from NGOs on behalf of individuals. There are two types of complaint procedures, which serve different purposes:
(1) The individual communications procedure should be used when the victim is seeking redress for a specific human rights violation. The general purpose for submitting this type of complaint is to address individual grievances and advocate on behalf of the victim. The complaint procedure also serves to bring publicity to a specific case. Seven treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and the Committee against Torture (CAT), are empowered by their respective instruments to receive individual communications regarding alleged violations occurring in states that have ratified the appropriate optional protocols or made the necessary declarations. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW) also have individual complaint mechanisms, which as of June 2013, had not yet entered into force. All complaints are first reviewed for admissibility. Specific guidelines for admissibility can be accessed through the UN website on Communications and Complaints Procedures or through the Major UN Enforcement Bodies section of this website. In addition, there are some general guidelines common to all enforcement bodies that may provide useful information for submitting a complaint. Generally, once the treaty body has accepted a complaint for consideration, it submits it to the State party for response. Based on all information made available to it, the treaty body makes its decision or “views.” Unlike judgments under regional systems, such as the European human rights system, the decisions reached by the treaty body in such circumstances are not binding on national governments. UN treaty bodies do, however, continue to monitor state compliance. In certain circumstances, the treaty body may request that the State party take interim measures to protect the victim from irreparable harm. 
The UN provides model forms for individuals wishing to make complaints (ICCPR, CAT, CERD, CEDAW). Complaints to any of the treaty bodies may be directed to:
Petitions and Inquiries Section
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax:+ 41 22 917 9022 (particularly for urgent matters)
(2) The complaint-information procedure functions in a way similar to the reporting mechanisms. The purpose for submitting this type of complaint is to inform the appropriate UN body, such as the Human Rights Council or the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), about broad human rights violations that affect large segments of the population. Advocates or victims cannot ask for a remedy for individual rights violations when using this complaint mechanism. The communication itself is only one piece of information that the UN body considers in making a report.
Complaints may be submitted to the Human Rights Council at:
Complaint Procedure Unit
Human Rights Council Branch
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 90 11
Individual complaints to the CSW may be submitted to:
CSW Communications Procedures
Human Rights Section
UN Women
220 East 42nd St, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10017
United States of America
Complaints to the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women may be submitted to:
Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women
OHCHR-UNOG, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax:+ 41 22 917 9006
The information provided is subject to change. Please check the UN website for updates.