This section provides information on how you submit an individual communication to a Treaty Body.
It follows from the last section on Individual communications – Why are they useful?
The communications or complaints procedure of the Treaty Bodies is a useful tool for human rights defenders to bring to attention specific cases of human rights violations.
Who can submit a communication?
A number of persons can submit an individual communication to a Treaty Body. This includes: the victim, their representative, or an NGO or legal representative on behalf of the victim.
There is no requirement that organisations have ECOSOC status (or be registered with the UN).
For those representing victims, you must have authorisation or the consent of the victim to submit the communication or complaint on their behalf. However, exceptions to this rule may be made if you can provide a convincing argument as to why obtaining the authorisation of the victim to submit the complaint was not possible.
Anonymous communications or complaints cannot be submitted (though you can request that the OHCHR keep your personal information confidential).
Criteria for admissibility
In order to submit an individual communication, you will need to meet certain criteria for admissibility.
Communications will be considered by a Treaty Body if they meet the following general conditions:
⚠ Remember! Specific admissibility criteria vary across the 10 Treaty Bodies. Once you meet the general admissibility criteria, it is important to check the specific procedure under each of the individual Treaty Bodies to ensure you meet the admissibility criteria for communications of the particular Treaty Body concerned.
Also remember! You should consult with the relevant treaty itself for specific applicable criteria.
You can find out if your State has ratified a particular Treaty through the OHCHR UN Treaty Body Database. Find your country and see the ratification status for your State, as well as status of acceptance of individual complaints procedures and inquiry procedures.
Where a State has recognised the competence of the Treaty Body to consider individual communications, the Treaty Body can consider complaints from any individual claiming a violation of their rights, or from any third party on behalf of an individual who has either given their written consent or who is incapable of doing so. In some cases, complaints can also be submitted on behalf of groups of individuals (for example to the CESCR, CERD, CEDAW, CRPD or CRC) whose rights have been violated.
Keep in mind that for the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) the individual complaints mechanism has not yet entered into force.
What information should you include?
Several Treaty Bodies have provided a ‘model complaint questionnaire’ on their respective web pages in order to guide petitioners on what information should be included in an individual communication or complaint.
Generally, an individual communication or complaint should include the following information:
Model complaint forms and guidelines are available for the following Treaty Bodies:
Communications to Treaty Bodies cannot be anonymous; the identity of the victims and the petitioner must be included and these are usually communicated to the State party. However, if you are concerned about potential reprisals, the victim or petitioner may request that their identity not be publicly disclosed, and the Committee will use acronyms to designate the victim in public documents.
You can use the text from general comments to draft your individual communications or complaints to Treaty Bodies, as well as your submissions to periodic reviews.
It is advisable to get legal advice prior to submitting an individual communication to a Treaty Body, as it is a quasi-judicial process and legal expertise is useful.
NGOs have an important role to play at the national level in providing assistance to victims who wish to submit a complaint to the Treaty Bodies, or even by submitting the complaint on behalf of the victim. This is of particular importance if the complainant does not have access to legal counsel and NGOs have legal expertise or specialised knowledge of the international human rights system.
Individual communications should be submitted in one of the official UN languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian or Spanish. The OHCHR may request petitioners to submit documents or summaries in English.
⚠ Remember! To submit the individual communication as soon as possible!
Where should you send the communication?
For individual communications or complaints to the CERD, CCPR, CAT, CESCR, CEDAW, CRC, CPRD, or CED, you should direct your correspondence to email@example.com.
What can you expect after making your submission?
The following steps are taken by a Treaty Body after an individual communication is submitted.
To view the table of the Treaty Bodies Procedure for Consideration of Individual Communications, click here
Hearings between parties: Petitioners may also request hearings with the Treaty Body in connection with a case. There are a few precedents of Treaty Bodies undertaking oral hearings of the parties (for example, CAT and CCPR). The CCPR recently adopted specific guidelines on hearings in relation to communications under review. The State party and the petitioner are expected to engage in the hearings. Hearings take place only if both parties accept the invitation, and can be in person or via video conferencing.
Treaty Bodies have procedures to follow up on their decisions. Part of this follow up process involves the adoption of grades which reflects the level of State compliance with Treaty Body decisions. The Treaty Body’s assessment of State compliance with its decisions can be found in its follow up reports, as well as in its annual reports – which are available on the webpages of the respective Treaty Body. See ISHR Academy: Follow-up – What do Treaty Bodies do?
See the next sections on how you can engage in other actions of the Treaty Bodies, including general comments, inquiries, as well as early warnings and urgent actions.