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The United Nations Programme (UNP)

I. Programme’s approach

While the European Strategic Litigation Programme follows a global approach, based on systemic human rights violations committed by States Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Programme intends to follow an individual approach, based on individual human rights violations committed worldwide.

Through its United Nations Programme, the HRL Foundation will provide its legal expertise to victims that would like to make use of the human rights reporting mechanisms of the United Nations (UN) system.

The United Nations Programme will therefore address human rights violations committed by any State in the world (whether it has ratified the ECHR or not) but it will probably focus its intervention on human rights violations committed by States that are not parties to the ECHR.

II. Method of work

Here is the method of work that will be followed by the HRL Foundation in the implementation of this programme.

Identification of victims. The HRL Foundation intends to provide its expertise to victims that are:

  1. Particularly vulnerable (g. children, women, human rights defenders, migrants and asylum seekers, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities);
  2. And/or in a situation of extreme distress (g. victims of enforced disappearance, individuals arbitrarily detained, tortured, facing the death penalty or risking being extrajudicially, summarily or arbitrarily executed).

The HRL Foundation will proactively look for victims entering in one or both of these categories. In addition, we hope that victims may get directly in touch with the Foundation in the future.

Contact with the victims and/or their family members

    1. 1. The Foundation’s first contact with the victim, and/or his/her family, will be of particular importance to:

The United Nations Programme will therefore address human rights violations committed by any State in the world (whether it has ratified the ECHR or not) but it will probably focus its intervention on human rights violations committed by States that are not parties to the ECHR.

  • On the one hand, explain what the victim and his/family can reasonably expect from the submission of a communication to the competent organ of the UN and from the Foundation’s intervention;
  • On the second hand, obtain a first factual description of the situation.
    1. 2. Once the victim or his/her family has expressed its consent to the HRL Foundation’s intervention, the Foundation intends to be in frequent contact with them. This will indeed be essential to:
  • On the one hand, give the victim or the family clear explanations about the procedure that can be launched to the UN in their particular case, and answer to any questions they may have;
  • On the second hand, obtain the most detailed information and a factual description of the alleged human rights violations suffered by the victim.

Contact with NGOs.

The HRL Foundation also intends to get in touch with different NGOs in order to obtain additional information on the alleged human rights violations to substantiate the claim that will be made to the UN.

Exploration of the available UN mechanisms in each specific situation and intervention before the competent organ. With the consent of the victims or their family members, the HRL Foundation will:

  1. Send individual communications to the relevant Human Rights Treaty Bodies;
  2. Submit communications to the relevant Special Procedures.

III. Individual Communications to the relevant Human Rights Treaty Bodies

Although the main competence of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies is to receive State reports relating to the implementation of the international human rights treaties they monitor and to adopt Concluding Observations based on the information contained therein, another significant competence assumed by these Expert Bodies is to receive individual communications from victims of violations of the said treaties.

The HRL Foundation precisely intends to provide its expertise and give its assistance to the victims of human rights violations in the preparation of their individual communications to the following Human Rights Treaty Bodies:

  • The Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • The Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
  • The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • 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)

Although complaint mechanisms are designed to be accessible to the layperson, the Foundation notices that it is difficult for individuals, with no knowledge of international human rights law in general, nor of the core human rights treaties in particular, to prepare such communications in a proper manner.

This is why, with the consent of the individuals in need of assistance in the preparation of their communication, the HRL Foundation will, among others:

  1. First and foremost, advise them to opt for another mechanism (such as a communication to Special Procedures) when, for example, all effective available domestic remedies have not been exhausted or when the State concerned has not ratified the appropriate treaties or has not expressly recognized the relevant treaty bodies’ competence to consider complaints from individuals;
  1. Select the appropriate Committee and make sure that all admissibility conditions are met before going any further;
  1. Verify that the State concerned has not made a substantive reservation to the treaty in question or a procedural reservation to the complaint mechanism;
  1. Help identifying all information relevant to the case (the Foundation indeed believes that capital information is sometimes left out because the individual concerned simply does not have the knowledge to notice that something, which may seem a detail to him/her, is actually important);
  1. Help detailing the steps taken to exhaust the remedies available in the State Party against which the complaint is directed;

  1. Identify the provisions of the treaty in question which have been violated in each particular case, link the law to the facts, and provide a clear reasoning in this regard;
  1. Help identifying which remedies the victim concerned would like to obtain from the State concerned if the human rights treaty body concludes that there is indeed a violation of the human rights of the victim;
  1. Request interim measures whenever necessary to prevent irreparable harm to the victim (such as the execution of a death sentence or the deportation to a place where the victim risks being subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and explain in detail the reasons why the adoption of such measure is necessary.

Although the Human Rights Treaty Bodies do not deliver binding judgments and cannot coerce States into implementing their recommendations, their opinions entail significant political weight and persuasive impact within the UN diplomatic apparatus and beyond. In addition, the views and decisions adopted by these Treaty Bodies, on the basis of individual communications, constitute a valuable tool used by several human rights actors around the world to prompt the States concerned into implementing the recommendations contained in those decisions.

IV. Communications to the relevant Special Procedures

Special Procedures are independent human rights experts (either individuals, known as “Special Rapporteurs” or “Independent Experts”, or Working Groups, generally composed of five members) mandated to report and advise on various human rights issues, either from a country specific perspective or from a thematic perspective. In addition to undertaking country visits and submitting annual reports to the Human Rights Council, Special Procedures also act on individual cases by sending communications to States, in the form either of letters of allegations or urgent appeals, aimed at bringing alleged violations or abuses to their attention.

According to the Manual of Operation of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, §46, “letters of allegation are used to communicate information about violations that are alleged to have already occurred and in situations where urgent appeals do not apply”.

According to the Manual of Operation of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, §43, “urgent appeals are used to communicate information in cases where the alleged violations are time-sensitive in terms of involving loss of life, life-threatening situations or either imminent or on-going damage of a very grave nature to victims that cannot be addressed in a timely manner by the procedure under letters of allegation”.

Contrary to individual communications submitted to Human Rights Treaty Bodies, communications sent to Special Procedures are admissible even if the alleged victim has not exhausted the domestic remedies or if the State concerned has not ratified the appropriate human rights instrument. Communications to Special Procedures represent therefore a useful tool when it is not possible to act before any of the Human Rights Treaty Body.

The HRL Foundation precisely intends to make use of this “last resort mechanism” for victims that have no other choice but to put political pressure on the State that is violating their rights. With the consent of the individual concerned, the Foundation will therefore give its assistance in the preparation of communications to the relevant mandate-holders, i.e. the Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights of the State concerned, and the relevant thematic mandate-holder(s), such as:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
  • The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  • The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to education
  • The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
  • The Special Rapporteur on minority issues
  • The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Although Special Procedures highly depend on the willingness of States to co-operate with them and although they may only exercise powers of a persuasive nature, the HRL Foundation believes they constitute an important mechanism to raise public awareness. In addition, although States’ lack of cooperation represents a significant issue, it is also worth remembering that governments sometimes take steps to address the allegations received and to prevent or halt human rights violations. In some instances, Special Procedures have even saved lives, through the issuance of urgent appeals.