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UN 101

Individual Human Rights Complaints Handled by the UN: Few and Very Far Between

Human rights complaints of violations of international human rights law to the UN are minimal. The latest annual reports from each of the UN human rights treaty bodies (from year-long periods most often spread over 2014 and 2015) cumulatively indicate that the UN human rights treaty system registered only 313 new cases. This is despite the fact that 3 billion people live in states which permit formal complaints of rights violations to be made against them. Instead of directing attention to the states with the worst human rights records, most such states are the subject of very few complaints.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The largest number of states recognizing a right of complaint do so under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol. The subject matter covered by the ICCPR is very wide-ranging, including for example, the right to life, to vote, freedom of religion and expression, and non-discrimination on any ground.

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on July 7-25, 2014; October 7-31, 2014; and March 16-April 2, 2015), only 224 new cases were registered under the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.

The annual reports of the UN Human Rights Committee also provide the number of complaints filed by calendar year. The number of complaints of human rights violations registered under the ICCPR in the past five calendar years were:

    2014 - 191 complaints
    2013 - 93 complaints
    2012 - 102 complaints
    2011 - 106 complaints
    2010 - 96 complaints

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the ICCPR: 115

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the ICCPR – 2.2 billion people.

Current states party to the ICCPR having the highest number of registered complaints directed against it as of March 2014: Canada (191). The next four states with the highest number of registered complaints are: Belarus (157 – of those 78 are only at the pre-admissable stage), Australia (145), Republic of Korea (128), and Spain (119).

States parties to the ICCPR that have five or fewer complaints ever registered against them: 59 (51.3% of states parties). Examples of these states include: Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Paraguay, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Zero complaints have been registered under the ICCPR against such states as: Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, El Salvador, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Lesotho, Malawi, Niger, Somalia and Uganda.

Convention Against Torture (CAT)

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on November 3-28, 2014 and April 20-May 15, 2015), only 75 new complaints were registered under the complaint mechanism of the Convention Against Torture.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CAT: 67

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CAT: 1.55 billion people.

States party to the CAT having the highest number of registered complaints directed against it as of August 15, 2015, the states parties having the highest number of registered complaints directed against them were: 1. Switzerland (168); 2. Sweden (135); 3. Canada (124). States parties to the CAT that have five or fewer complaints ever registered against them include Algeria, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Venezuela.

47% (31 of 66, the number of state parties as of August 15, 2015), have never had a complaint registered against them, countries which include: Bolivia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bisseau, and Togo.

The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

In the case of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), only 56 individual complaints have ever been registered, from 1984 to May 2014.

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on August 11-29, 2014 and April 27-May 15, 2015), only 2 new complaints were registered under the complaint mechanism of the CERD.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CERD: 57

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CERD: 1.4 billion people.

States party to the CERD having the highest number of registered complaints directed against it as of May 2014: Denmark (21) and Australia (9). Only 2 states parties (3.6%) have ever had 5 or more complaints registered against them.

The Russian Federation, for instance, had fewer than 5 complaints registered against it. 78% (43 out of 55) state parties have never had a complaint registered against them, countries which include: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Venezuela.

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

In the case of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, only 67 individual complaints have ever been registered, from 2000 to March 2015.

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on June 30-July 18, 2014; October 20-November 7, 2014; and February 16-March 6, 2015), only 5 new complaints were registered under the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CEDAW: 104

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CEDAW: 2.4 billion people.

States parties to the CEDAW having the highest number of registered complaints directed against them as of March 2015: Denmark (16) and Netherlands (8). Only 4 states parties (4%) have ever had 5 or more complaints registered against them: Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, and UK.

82.7% (80 of 104) of state parties have had no complaints registered against them, which include: Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cote d'Ivoire, East Timor/Timor-Leste, Gabon, Guinea-Bisseau, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Libya, Mali, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Venezuela.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

In the case of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, only 26 individual complaints have ever been registered, from May 2008 to April 2015.

According to the latest annual report (covering a session held on March 25-April 17, 2015), only 3 new complaints were registered under the CRPD.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CRPD: 88

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CRPD: 2.1 billion people.

States parties to the CRPD having the highest number of registered complaints directed against them as of May 2014: Australia (10), Hungary (2), Sweden (2).

90% of state parties (73 of 81, the number of state parties as of May 2014) have had no complaints registered against them, including: Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Morocco, Niger, Paraguay, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Yemen.

The Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED)

In the case of the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, only 1 individual complaint has ever been registered from December 2010 until February 13, 2015. The complaint was filed against Argentina.

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on September 15-26, 2014 and February 2-13, 2015), 0 new complaints were registered under the CED.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CED: 19

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CED: 405 million people.

95% of state parties (18 of 19) have had no complaints registered against them.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

In the case of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, only 8 individual complaints have ever been registered from May 5, 2013 (when the complaint mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR came into force) until September 2015.

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on April 28-May 23, 2014 and November 10-28, 2014), 4 new complaints were registered under the ICESCR. According to a more recent statistical survey dated September 2015, 4 additional complaints were registered in the period from November 2014 until September 2015.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the ICESCR: 21

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the ICESCR: 319 million people.

The 8 complaints were registered against Spain (6) and Ecuador (2).

90% of state parties (19 of 21) have had no complaints registered against them, namely: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Finland, France, Gabon, Italy, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Montenegro, Niger, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, and Uruguay.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

In the case of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, no individual complaint has been reported as having been registered. The complaint mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the CRC came into force on April 14, 2014. The latest biennial report covers the sessions: May 29–June 15, 2012; September 17–October 5, 2012, January 14–February 1, 2013; May 27–June 14, 2013; September 16–October 4, 2013; and January 13-31, 2014.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CRC: 24 (Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Ireland, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Peru, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Thailand, and Uruguay.)

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CRC: 439 million people.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW)

There is also an individual right of complaint which is not yet in force under the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICPRAMW). Only four of the ten States required to bring the individual complaint mechanism into force under the ICPRAMW have made the necessary declaration (El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay), despite the fact that the Convention was first opened for signature on December 18, 1990 (and the Convention itself entered into force on July 1, 2003).