Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Summary of individual cases from 2015

The UN human rights treaty body system continues to receive and decide on individual complaints, one of the core mandates of its responsibilities.

Last year experienced a slight increase in the number of decisions issued, but it is also difficult to measure these types of items because the categories are changing somewhat from year to year. The numbers reported in this article are based on current information available at the UN Office of High Commissioner website, but this information tends to be updated from time to time so it is usually not clear when the final picture has been presented. There may be a few more cases from 2015 that are posted in the future, but it would seem that the total numbers will be very close to the numbers now available.

Total number of decisions/breakdown

There were 163 decisions issued last year, 79 of which concluded that there had been a violation of one or more treaty articles.  This compared to a total of 142 decisions the year before, so about a 15% increase. In addition, in 10 cases reviewed by the Human Rights Committee, the case was dismissed because the state concerned agreed to modify its actions (usually agreement to stop deportation proceedings), which means that these cases also led to a positive outcome for the complainant.  So you could say that in total, 89 of the 163 decisions resulted in a successful outcome for the complainant (a 55% success rate).

Here is a breakdown of these cases by Committee:

No violation
Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
the total of 102 also includes 16 cases that were discontinued,  but 10 of these 16 reached amicable settlement; thus positive outcome for the victim
plus several reprisal complaints being investigated
includes 2 inquiry reports, against Canada and the Philippines


these are the first cases to be decided under this new procedure
plus several urgent actions under the EWUA procedure
this was the first decision under this new procedure
*at least one case has reached an admissibility decision, but is still pending on the merits, so there are no reported decisions yet
*plus at least 61 active cases under the urgent action procedure

Notice that every Committee that has an individual complaint mechanism issued at least one case decision in 2015, except for the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) but they reported they had one pending case which had received a favorable admissibility ruling and which would continue to be reviewed on the merits, so not to be reported publicly yet.  In addition the CED had an active caseload of urgent actions that are being reviewed during this time period (the decisions on these urgent action matters apparently will remain confidential, so it may not be possible to measure them statistically, other than as a bulk number (61 pending cases at present)). 

Another interesting statistic is the number of cases where legal counsel was involved and helped to represent the complainant -- 112 cases involved legal representatives (68.7%).  In the past the number of cases where legal counsel has been involved hovered around 50%, so we will see whether this latest figure is a trend to greater involvement of legal representation, or a one year aberration. 

The above statistics however only represent the traditional individual complaint mechanisms under these human rights treaties. In actuality there are a growing number of additional mechanisms that also function as quasi complaint mechanisms and should be noted in assessing the overall impact and availability of redress mechanisms under the treaty body system.  Many of these non-traditional mechanisms are just getting under way in the system. 


All treaty bodies are now accepting complaints concerning reprisals against persons who provide testimony to the treaty body system. Pursuant to the procedure adopted by the treaty body chairpersons last year, each Committee has appointed a focal point -- a person to receive these complaints.  The Committee will then review and act on the complaint as appropriate. The exact procedure and available remedies remain largely undefined.   Only one Committee so far, CAT, appears to be regularly reporting when it receives a reprisal complaint and how it responds, but it is hoped that other Committees will soon adopt a more transparent procedure as well. 

In 2015, one reprisal letter was issued by CAT, to the government of Bahrain. In 2014, 8 such letters were issued: to Burundi (3 letters), Cyprus, Lebanon, Thailand (2 letters) and Cyprus. 

According to the guidelines adopted by the treaty body chairs last June, 

"The treaty bodies possess a range of means to assist and protect individuals and groups alleging that they have been the object of intimidation or reprisals for seeking to cooperate or cooperating with them. Such responses may be taken by the treaty bodies concerned or in cooperation with others, including States, the Secretary-General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the special procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council, international and regional organizations, resident coordinators and United Nations country."

It appears there will also be an effort at the annual meeting of the treaty body chairs to take stock of how this reprisals mechanism is performing, how many cases are being received, and whether any changes need to be made to improve the procedure's effectiveness. 

CEDAW inquiry reports

As noted above, two of the cases reported by CEDAW in 2015 involved final reports under its special inquiry procedure.  These reports concluded violations of human rights had occurred and recommendations were made. The procedure is an important one but it has moved slowly in most cases; information about the procedure remains confidential until the final report. Several years have gone by where investigations were pending but no final reports issued.  This year (2015) marked the first year since 2005 when new inquiry reports were issued. However, it would appear that several other important investigations are pending and will result in final reports soon.

The Committee has recently taken some steps to regularize the inquiry process and shorten the total time required to conclude an investigation. A special working group now meets each session to take actions on the pending reports.

In its most recent session report (UN Doc CEDAW/C/2016/I/CRP), the Committee reported as follows on pending cases under this procedure:

"The Committee ratified the following decisions taken by the working group on inquiries:

(a) In relation to inquiry 2011/1 concerning Canada, to grant a two-month extension of the time limit to the State party concerned to submit information on follow-up to the Committee’s concluding observations;

(b) In relation to inquiry No. 2011/2, further to a meeting of the designated members with representatives of the Permanent Mission of the State party concerned to discuss the modalities of a visit to its territory, that the designated members should continue to engage with the State party on such modalities;

(c) In relation to submission No. 2011/4, to grant a one-month extension of the time limit to the State party concerned to submit its observations with regard to the information received by the Committee under article 8 of the Optional Protocol;

(d) In relation to submission No. 2012/1, to grant a final extension until 30 April 2016 to the sources of information to provide additional information, failing which the Working Group would proceed based on the information at its disposal;

(e) In relation inquiry No. 2013/1, to defer the decision on whether or not to conduct a visit to the territory of the State party concerned to the fourth session of the Working Group so as to enable the Working Group first to analyse the visit report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, to be released in June 2016;

(f) In relation to inquiry No. 2014/1, to request the designated members to propose new dates for a visit to the territory of the State party concerned in September 2016; and

(g) In relation to submission No. 2014/2, to grant, on an exceptional basis, a one month extension of the time limit to the State party concerned to submit its observations with regard to the information received by the Committee under article 8 of the Optional Protocol."

Several other Committees have similar inquiry procedures in their mandates, but other than occasional reports from CAT, no other cases appear to be pending in these other Committees yet.

CERD emergency warning/urgent action procedure

CERD has an emergency warning/urgent action procedure (EWUA) that applies to all states who have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism (177 states).  Several cases were pending and under continuing attention under this procedure in 2015. No new decisions were issued, but letters were sent responding to submissions and requesting more information in the cases of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Russian Federation and Thailand. In addition, a general statement was issued under this procedure on the migrant crisis. 

CED urgent action procedure 

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) reported in its latest annual report the following information regarding its activities under the urgent action procedure provided for under the Convention:

“13. Since March 2012, date of submission of the first Urgent Action registered by the Committee, 72 petitions for urgent actions under article 30 of the Convention have been received, out of which 61 were registered. Out of the 61 registered, 1 relates to a disappearance occurred in Brazil, 1 in Cambodia, 2 in Colombia, 52 in Mexico and 5 in Iraq. In accordance with article 30, paragraph 3, of the Convention and Rule 62 of its Rules of procedure, the Committee has requested the States parties concerned to take all the necessary measures, including interim measures, to locate and protect the persons concerned in accordance with the Convention and to inform the Committee, within a specified period of time.

14. The Committee also requested the States parties concerned to report to the Committee on the measures adopted within a deadline determined in view of the urgency of the situation. Upon receipt of the information by the States parties, the Committee has transmitted it to the persons submitting the urgent action requests for their comments. The Committee also informed the authors of the measures requested to the States parties and of the recommendations made in the context of the Urgent Action.

15. The two special rapporteurs on Urgent Actions presented the Note of the Secretary- General on Urgent Actions, describing all the actions taken since the 7th session with regard to the 61 registered urgent actions, and to the 11 submissions that could not be registered. The Committee adopted decisions as to the next measures to be taken for each of the registered urgent actions." 

Under the article 30 procedure the Committee is tasked with following through on each case until it is finally resolved and the disappeared person is located. From the numbers indicated it clearly is an important mechanism in the treaty body system, although the confidential nature of the procedure makes it difficult to track statistically. 

Jurisprudence databases

The Office of High Commissioner is now maintaining two different databases that report on these case developments -- the treaty body database which contains all documents from the treaty body system and the jurisprudence database which focusses only on these case decisions and was taken over from the Netherlands SIM Institute two years ago. Unfortunately neither database is kept very current. As of today, the treaty body database lists only 109 of the 163 decisions issued in 2015 and the jurisprudence database lists only 103 of these 163 decisions.  By checking each Committee website and each session sub-website, you can access the full 163 case decisions. The decisions are also eventually available as annexes to the relevant annual reports of the treaty bodies that are filed each fall with the UN General Assembly. 

Analytical report/Human Rights Committee decisions

The Human Rights Committee also offers an analysis of case decisions in association with their annual report. The latest analysis covers the 111th, 112th and 113th sessions (July 2014 to March 2015). 

Pending cases

Two Committees now also offer a table of pending cases, so you can see what types of issues are being considered in the cases yet to be decided.  This practice applies to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is hoped that other committees will also adopt this practice. 

Available complaint mechanisms

It should also be noted that there are now 19 different mechanisms in the treaty body system that can be considered complaint mechanisms of one kind or another. 
  1. Reprisals -- this procedure now applies to all treaty bodies
  2. Individual complaint mechanism of the Human Rights Committee
  3. Individual complaint mechanism of the Committee on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
  4. Inquiry procedure under CEDAW
  5. Individual complaint under CERD
  6. Early warning/urgent action procedure under CERD (EWUA)
  7. Individual complaint under the Convention against Torture (CAT)
  8. Inquiry procedure under CAT
  9. Country visit under OPCAT (while not technically a complaint mechanism, the Subcommittee can hear testimony and receive evidence from victims or NGOs in its country visit procedure)
  10. Individual complaint under CRPD
  11. Inquiry procedure under CRPD
  12. Individual complaint under CED
  13. Urgent action under CED
  14. Inquiry procedure under CED
  15. Systematic, widespread violations under CED (the Committee is authorized to bring serious cases to the attention of the UN General Assembly on an urgent basis under this procedure)
  16. Individual complaint under CESC
  17. Inquiry procedure under CESC
  18. Individual complaint under CRC
  19. Inquiry procedure under CRC
A 20th mechanism, individual complaint under the CMW (migrant workers), has not yet come into effect. It requires 10 ratifications of article 77 to enter into force.

Most of these mechanisms are new within the last 5-10 years.  Very few of them are being utilized yet by human rights victims and their advocates. One would expect more use in the future.


There is much activity going on in the various complaint procedures available in the human rights treaty system. But many of these mechanisms are little used so far.  For many it is also difficult to track developments and measure usage. It is hoped the treaty body system can progressively improve the transparency of these mechanisms and that victims of human rights abuses become more generally aware of them and are able to redress their rights more effectively through use of them. 

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