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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 2015 and 2016) cumulatively indicate that the UN human rights treaty system registered only 254 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 June 29-July 24, 2015, October 19-November 6, 2015, and March 7-31, 2016), only 166 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:

    2015 - 196 complaints
    2014 - 191 complaints
    2013 - 93 complaints
    2012 - 102 complaints
    2011 - 106 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 – 2.3 billion people.

Current state parties to the ICCPR having the highest number of registered complaints directed against it as of March 2016: Canada (218). The next four states with the highest number of registered complaints are: Belarus (205 – of those 83 are only at the pre-admissable stage), Australia (151), Republic of Korea (131), and Spain (124).

State parties to the ICCPR that have five or fewer complaints ever registered against them: 55 (47.8% of states parties). Examples of these states include: Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, 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 July 27-August 14, 2015, November 9-December 9, 2015, and April 18-May 13, 2016), only 70 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: 1.6 billion people.

State parties to the CAT having the highest number of registered complaints directed against it as of August 15, 2015: 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 58 individual complaints have ever been registered, from 1984 to May 2015.

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.

State parties 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, the number of state parties as of May 2014) 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 July 6-24, 2015, October 26-November 20, 2015, and February 15-March 4, 2016), 0 new complaints were registered under the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CEDAW: 107

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CEDAW: 2.5 billion people.

State 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 state parties (4%) have ever had 5 or more complaints registered against them: Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, and UK.

82.7% (80 of 104, the number of state parties as of March 2015) 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 37 individual complaints have ever been registered, from May 2008 to August 2016.

According to the latest biannual report (covering a session held on August 15-September 2, 2016), 11 new complaints were registered under the CRPD.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CRPD: 91

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

State 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 March 18, 2016. The complaint was filed against Argentina.

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on September 7-18, 2015 and March 7-18, 2016), 0 new complaints were registered under the CED.

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

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CED: 448 million people.

95% of state parties (20 of 21) 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 13 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 May 2016.

According to the latest annual report (covering sessions held on February 23-March 6, 2015, June 1-19, 2015, and September 21-October 9, 2015), 4 new complaints were registered under the ICESCR. According to a more recent statistical survey dated May 2016, 5 additional complaints were registered in the period from October 2015 until May 2016.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the ICESCR: 22

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the ICESCR: 326 million people.

The 13 complaints were registered against Spain (10) and Ecuador (3).

91% of state parties (20 of 22) have had no complaints registered against them, namely: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Central African Republic, 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, only 1 individual complaint has ever been reported as having been registered from April 14, 2014 (when the complaint mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the CRC came into force) until January 29, 2016. The complaint was filed against Spain.

According to the latest biennial report (covering sessions held on May 26–June 13, 2014; September 1-19, 2014, January 12-30, 2015; May 18–June 5, 2015; September 14–October 2, 2015; and January 11-29, 2016), only 1 new complaint was registered under the CRC.

Number of states permitting complaints that they have violated the CRC: 29 (Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Peru, Portugal, Samoa, Slovakia, Spain, Thailand, Ukraine and Uruguay.)

Number of people living in those states which grant a right to complain of violations of the CRC: 552 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).