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Reporting Violations

If you are a victim of human rights abuse or have credible evidence that someone else is a victim, you can turn to the UN for help

How can the UN help?

If you wish to report a complaint, you can do so with: the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council (independent human rights experts), the human rights Treaty Bodies (committees of independent experts); or the Human Rights Council

What can you do?

  1. Explore the information in the table below for an overview of the three main human rights bodies to which you can turn for help.
  2. To compare your options in more detail, see this comparison table.
  3. Take action by following the steps for making a complaint identified for each option.

For information on reporting grave or systematic violation (inquiries), see here. For information on inter-State complaints, see here.

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Special Procedures mechanisms can intervene directly with States and non-state actors, including businesses and inter- governmental organizations, on alleged human rights violations that come within their mandates by means of exchange of letters.

Any of the following that claim to be victims of the alleged violations or claim to have credible information on those allegations:

  • Individuals
  • Groups of individuals or communities
  • Civil society organizations
  • National human rights bodies

Each expert will decide whether she/he will take action on a given submission, on the basis of the information received and the scope of her/his mandate.

This decision depends also on criteria laid down in the Code of Conduct for the experts. There is no need to have first exhausted all domestic remedies.

  • Any Member State of the United Nations (without need that they have ratified specific human rights treaties)
  • Inter-governmental organizations
  • Non-state actors, including businesses

Any aspect of human rights covered by the Special Procedures mandates.

  • Letters sent to Governments by Special Procedures mandate-holders remain confidential for a maximum of 60 days.
  • Letters sent to Governments on draft legislation and policies remain confidential for a maximum of two working days.
  • You can complain about violations which have not happened yet, but have a high risk of occurring.
  • You can complain about draft legislation, policy or practice considered not to be fully compatible with international human rights norms and standards.
  • The procedure is very agile:
    • you do not need to have exhausted domestic remedies;
    • the State you complain about does not have to have ratified a specific human rights treaty; and
    • the procedure can be used in parallel with other international and regional complaint procedures.
  • The outcome is transparent: the letters sent and replies received are all made publicly available once the confidentiality period is over.

When received, the information is screened and directed to the relevant Special Procedures mandate holders. The experts will examine the information received to determine whether to take the case up.

If one or more experts decides to take up the specific case, you will not be notified. The letter addressing the case becomes public on the public communications site and in one of the three reports submitted to the Human Rights Council each year.

The Special Procedures strive to act as quickly as possible. Attention is given to the most serious and urgent cases. Cases may be taken up within 24 hours of their submission. However, it may take longer, particularly when sufficient information is not available in the submission.

Use the online submission tool (recommended) OR submit complaint via e- mail or by postal mail (OHCHR-UNOG, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland).

Learn more: Special Procedures Communications main page

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A human rights treaty is an international agreement that, if officially accepted by a State, imposes binding obligations on that State to protect, promote and fulfil rights and freedoms contained in the treaty.

Once certain conditions are met, victims of human rights violations can lodge a complaint with a Committee of the Treaty Bodies against a State alleging a violation of treaty rights.

Individuals or groups of individuals can complain alleging a violation of their rights or the rights of others contained in the human rights treaties, after exhausting domestic remedies.

Individuals may submit urgent requests that a disappeared person is sought and found to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

Individuals or groups of individuals bringing complaints must first have exhausted all domestic remedies, and the State must have recognised the competency of the Committee.

Urgent actions under the Committee of Enforced Disappearances do not require exhaustion of domestic remedies.

Any State that:

  • is party to the treaty recognising the rights which have allegedly been violated; and which
  • has accepted the Committee’s competence to examine complaints, urgent action requests under the Committee on Enforced Disappearances

A violation of any of the rights protected by the treaty under which you are complaining. See core international treaties.

The complaints procedures are confidential. However, 

  • when an individual communication procedure is finalised, the “views” – or decisions – of the Committee are published.
  • reports on follow-up to views are public.
  • reports on urgent actions under the Committee on Enforced Disappearances are also public.

The individual complaints procedures:

  • are quasi-judicial, based on legally binding international treaties;
  • are able to request interim measures to prevent irreparable harm to victims, and protection measures to protect authors, or make complaints against reprisals;
  • result in public decisions including case-specific remedies (together with general remedies);
  • include a follow up procedure;
  • involve building of jurisprudence on the interpretation of treaties: States receive authoritative guidance on where more action is required to strengthen the protection of human rights.

Urgent actions under the Committee on Enforced Disappearances:

  • can be triggered in 24 hours and do not require exhaustion of domestic remedies
  • allow the possibility of requesting interim measures to protect family members or relatives of disappeared persons, or evidence for the location of the disappeared person

If the admissibility conditions are met, your complaint will be registered and transmitted to the State party for observations on admissibility and merits.

The State is requested to submit its observations within a set timeframe. Once the State replies to the complaint, the complainant is offered an opportunity to comment.

When comments are received from both parties, the case is ready for a decision by the relevant Committee.

Around two to three years on average, depending on the Treaty Body. Interim measures are issued immediately, however, within 48 hours.

Read the Guidance, and use the Model Complaint Form to be submitted by email

Learn more: Treaty bodies communications page

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The complaint procedure of the Human Rights Council addresses consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances.

Any of the following that claim to be victims of human rights violations or that have direct, reliable knowledge of such violations:

  • Individuals
  • Groups of individuals or communities
  • Non-governmental organizations

There are various eligibility criteria. For example, you must have exhausted all domestic remedies.

Any consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights.

The complaints procedure is confidential.

  • The only universal complaint procedure addressing all human rights and all fundamental freedoms in all United Nations Member States.
  • Complaints can be submitted against any country irrespective of whether the country has ratified any particular treaty or made reservations under a particular instrument.
  • Confidentiality of the procedure enhances State cooperation.
  • The Human Rights Council is the highest level of the UN human rights machinery.

If the complaint meets the admissibility criteria, it is transmitted to the State concerned. It is also examined by working groups which decide if the complaint should be transmitted to the Human Rights Council for review and potential action.

The complainant is kept informed of the process throughout.

Given the high volume of complaints received, it may take weeks or months before the complaint is addressed. The complainant and concerned States are kept informed of the process as it evolves.

Learn more: HRC Complaints Procedure main page

Complaints help us stand up against human rights abuses

Filing a human rights complaint begins a process in which allegations of human rights violations are appropriately addressed by the relevant mechanism. Through these processes, individuals, communities, organizations and States all have the ability to ask that violations are prevented, stopped, investigated, or that remedial action is taken.

Taking action

By making a complaint on an alleged human rights violation, you are taking steps to ensure Governments and other duty bearers, such as businesses and intergovernmental organizations, are held accountable and that concrete action is taken against this and

Bringing perpetrators to account

You are ensuring a process is put in place to investigate violations, punish those responsible and provide remedies to victims.

Giving meaning to human rights

When individual cases are adjudicated, and applied to a real-life situation, international norms that may otherwise seem abstract are put into practical effect.