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3. Opportunities for You to Engage

3.8 Submitting an individual communication

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?

Submitting an individual communication

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:

    • The State must be a party to the treaty in question (i.e., it must have ratified the treaty), and
    • The State must recognise the competence of the Treaty Body to consider individual communications, in order words, it must have agreed to be bound by the individual communications procedure – either by:
      • ratifying a separate optional protocol to the treaty (for submission to CESCR, CCPR, CEDAW, CRC, CRPD) or
      • making a declaration (for submission to CERD, CAT, CED).

In addition:

  • You must have exhausted all domestic remedies (i.e., you should have attempted to pursue the complaint through the domestic legal system). There are some exceptions to this rule, for example, if you can prove that pursuing domestic remedies would be unduly prolonged or ineffective in the specific case.
  • The complaint cannot be pending consideration by any other international or regional settlement mechanism. Some Treaty Bodies further specify that the complaint must not have already been considered by an international mechanism.
  • If the State party has declared a reservation to the particular article of the relevant treaty applicable to the case, then a complaint alleging violation of that particular article will not be admissible.
  • Some Treaty Bodies stipulate a formal time limit within which submission of complaints must be made.
  • The complaint should not constitute an abuse of the complaints procedure, that is, it should not be frivolous or otherwise be an inappropriate use of the procedure.
  • Some Treaty Bodies state that the complaint must not be ‘manifestly ill-founded’, meaning that it must be sufficiently substantiated.
  • The incident that is the subject of the complaint must have occurred after the entry into force of the relevant treaty with regard to the concerned State party. However, if the incident occurred prior to the entry into force of the treaty but its effects have continued to be felt after the date of entry, then a complaint may be submitted on this basis.

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.

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Admissibility criteria for individual communications

  • 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:

  • Facts of the case describing the basis of the complaint
  • Basic personal information about the victim
  • Proof of consent of the victim, if the petitioner or person making the submission is a third party
  • Steps taken to exhaust domestic remedies in the concerned country
  • Steps taken to submit the complaint to any other international body
  • Reasons why the victim considers that their rights have been violated, with specific references to the articles of the treaty which have allegedly been violated
  • All documents relevant to substantiation of the complaint (with relevant translations if in non-UN language or if the OHCHR requests)

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Submitting an individual communication to a Treaty Body

Model complaint forms and guidelines are available for the following Treaty Bodies:


  • CRC

  • 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 petitions@ohchr.org.

What can you expect after making your submission?

The following steps are taken by a Treaty Body after an individual communication is submitted.

Procedure for consideration of individual communications

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.

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