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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. Over the past year, the reports from the UN human rights treaty bodies published in 2012 indicate that the UN human rights treaty system registered only 159 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 largest number of states recognizing a right of complaint do so under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 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.

During the 2011 calendar year, only 106 new cases were registered under the ICCPR. According to the annual reports of the UN Human Rights Committee (2012, 2011), the number of complaints of human rights violations registered under the ICCPR were:

    2011 - 106 complaints
    2010 - 96 complaints
    2009 - 68 complaints
    2008 - 112 complaints
    2007 - 206 complaints
    2006 - 96 complaints
    2005 - 106 complaints
    2004 - 100 complaints
    2003 - 88 complaints

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the ICCPR – 2.1 billion

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the ICCPR: 114

Current states party to the ICCPR having the highest number of registered complaints directed against it: Canada (165). The next four states with the highest number of registered complaints are: Australia (133), Belarus (129 – of those 81 are only at the pre-admissable stage), Republic of Korea (126), and Spain (119).

States parties to the ICCPR that have five or fewer complaints ever registered against them: 60 (53% 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: Benin, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, El Salvador, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Lesotho, Malawi, Niger, Somalia and Uganda.

Under the complaint mechanism of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), 65 state parties grant a right to complain of violations, representing 1.5 billion people. According to the latest annual report (covering a year ending 1 June 2012), only 44 new complaints were registered. As of July 2012, the states parties having the highest number of registered complaints directed against them were: 1. Switzerland (135); 2. Sweden (111); 3. Canada (82). 80% of states parties (52 of 65) have had five or fewer complaints ever registered against them, countries that include: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Russian Federation and Venezuela. 52% of states parties (34 of 65) have never had a complaint registered against them, countries which include: Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, Guatemala, Paraguay and Togo.

In the case of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), only 49 individual complaints have ever been registered, from 1984 to March 2012, despite the fact that 1.3 billion people in 54 states have been granted the right to lodge complaints under the individual complaint mechanism. According to the latest annual report, only 1 new complaint was registered in the first six months of 2012. Only 2 states parties (3.7%) have ever had 4 or more complaints registered against them: Denmark (21) and Australia (8). 77.8% (35 out of 45) state parties have never had a complaint registered against them, countries which include: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Venezuela.

From the time that the optional complaint mechanism under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) entered into force on 22 December 2000 and March 2012, the Committee registered,(updated with latest annual report) a total of only 35 individual complaints. According to the latest annual report, 8 new complaints were registered from February 2011 to February 2012 inclusive. There are 104 state parties, with a combined population of 2.3 billion people. Canada and the Netherlands are the states with the most complaints registered against them(4 each). 82.7% (86 of 104) of state parties have had no complaints registered against them, which include: Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Libya, Mali, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Venezuela.

Since the optional complaint mechanism under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) entered into force on 3 May 2008, until 20 April 2012, there have been 3 complaints registered (all in 2011), despite the fact that there are 76 state parties, with a combined population of 1.8 billion. State parties that have granted the right to complain include countries such as: Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Morocco, Niger, Paraguay, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Yemen.

The newest right of individual complaint to come into effect is under the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED), which entered into force on 23 December 2010. There are currently 15 states that have granted the right of individual complaints under the treaty , with a combined population of 338 million: Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Ecuador, France, Germany, Mali, Montenegro, Netherlands, Serbia, Spain and Uruguay. By 30 March 2012, no complaints had been registered under the CED.

The optional individual complaint mechanism for the ICESCR opened for signature on 10 December 2008. It will have taken four and a half years to come into force (5 May 2013), and has only ten ratifications (Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Uruguay).

There is also an individual right of complaint which is not yet in force under the Migrant Workers' Convention (CMW).Only three of the ten States required to bring the individual complaint mechanism into force under the CMW have made the necessary declaration (Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay), despite the fact that the Convention was first opened for signature on 18 December 1990 (and the Convention itself entered into force on 1 July 2003).