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Instruments for individual human rights complaints

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 signalled the beginning of a progressive deepening of the global human rights regime. Through a sequence of human rights conventions at the global and regional scale, is has become ever more clear, which human rights apply to all human beings - and which need to be cast with even more care for vulnerable groups such as children or persons with disabilitities.

At the same time, the UN as well as regional organizations have established concrete procedures for individuals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights defenders to claim human rights in cases where they have been violated. In general, the procedures are similar: They may only be invoked in cases where national means of legal remedy have been exploited, they may not be anonymous, they must present sound factual information etc.

UN Treaty bodies

The UN have elaborated and adopted 9 core human rights conventions between 1966 and 2006. All conventions that are already in force are accompanied by treaty bodies that oversee the implementation of the provisions of these conventions. Therefore, the classical instruments to claim human rights are complaints to these treaty bodies - open to the inhabitants of all states that have ratified the respective optional protocols.

UN Human Rights Council procedures

Besides the treaty body procedures, the UN Human Rights Council has established the procedure 1503, open to all UN member states. In addition, many of the Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations offer options to claim specific human rights.

Other UN procedures

UNESCO has established in 1978 a very special procedure for all human rights violations related to its mandate. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has mechanisms in place open to national organizations for human rights violations ralted to its conventions. ECOSOC has a procedure in place for women's rights violations.

Other multilateral organizations

The African Union has established a special complaints procedure for its member states; similar mechanisms are offered by several African regional organizations.

The European Union has adopted several guidelines (on Human Rights Defenders, on the Death Penalty and on Torture) that make human rights complaints from third countries possible.

The OECD has established the system of National Contact Points that also allow human rights complaints.

The International Criminal Court, last but certainly not least, is a court of last instance for the most severe crimes of concern to the international community. Countries must join the Court, such that it may rule in case of complaints.

Last change: 11.07.11 - 10:05