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3. Opportunities for You to Engage

3.13 Early warnings and urgent actions - Why are they useful?

You can engage with Treaty Bodies in all areas of their work – periodic reviews, individual communications, general comments, inquiries, early warnings and urgent actions, and following up with Treaty Bodies.

This and the next section focus on:

Early warnings and urgent actions

Early warnings and urgent actions by Treaty Bodies can prevent the further deterioration of a human rights situation in a country.

All of this can be used (and shaped!) by you in your advocacy.

Below you will find questions to help you consider why Treaty Body early warnings and urgent actions might be useful in your advocacy, followed by some examples of how other human rights defenders have used these tools.

For more information on what they are, see ISHR Academy: Early warnings and urgent actions – What can Treaty Bodies do?

Reflection Questions

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  • They offer the opportunity to:
    • Prevent the further deterioration of the human rights situation in your country (urgent actions)
    • Prevent the occurrence of a human rights violation (for example in the case of a CERD early warning)
    • Use a relatively quick tool to prevent or address a human rights violation
    • Raise awareness of a human rights issue at the international level
    • Increase understanding by Treaty Bodies regarding a specific issue or case
    • Locating disappeared individuals or prompt governments to quickly address situations that could negatively impact certain vulnerable groups (CED)
    • Build relationships with Treaty Bodies for future action
  • Visibility of and access to these procedures is quite low.
  • Most Treaty Bodies do not have the mandate for early warnings and urgent actions. Only CERD and CRPD have established an early warning procedure that aims to prevent critical human rights issues from escalating, and CERD, CRPD and CED have a mandate for an urgent action procedure. However, at the time of writing (March 2020) CRPD has not yet used either procedure, so in effect only two Treaty Bodies have actively used these tools, the majority of which are urgent actions. However, CCPR and CAT have also undertaken urgent special reviews in cases of significant and widespread human rights violations.
  • Government responses to CERD early warnings and urgent actions are not made public or transmitted to petitioners.
  • Submitting information to Treaty Bodies for urgent actions could lead to reprisals by your government. See ISHR Academy: Security
  • Remember:
    • An urgent action by itself is unlikely to completely remedy a situation, so ideally it should be considered together with other UN tools you can use. Some follow-up work with your government may also be necessary.
    • For example, your request to, or recommendations of, a Committee under an early warning or urgent action procedure can be used in your input to your country’s periodic review process. See ISHR Academy: Periodic Reviews
  • You may also consider the relevance and opportunity to use the Special Procedures for your urgent action requests, for example, if there is a mandate holder that covers your issue or your country.
  • The Treaty Bodies generally undertake very limited or no public outreach in relation to their decisions, so if you request and/or if you obtain an urgent action from a Treaty Body, you may wish to reflect on how much publicity you would like to raise about your issue. Through the national media, or by using social media, you can raise awareness of the issue, by publicising your request for urgent action or the decision of the Treaty Body.

Examples of using early warnings and urgent actions:

Defender Story

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French Guiana – Early warning to protect rights of indigenous communities

Indigenous communities in French Guiana were opposed to a large gold mining project on their land, called ‘Montagne d’or’. With support from ISHR, they submitted a complaint to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). As a consequence, the Committee issued an ‘early warning’ asking France to obtain the free and informed consent of the indigenous communities affected by the mining project or suspend the project. A few weeks after the UN Committee issued its warning, the French authorities withdrew their support for the mining project, amounting to a huge victory for the affected indigenous communities and the environment.


More information:

Continue to the next section for tips on how to request an early warning or urgent action.

Learn more

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