The United Nations Human Rights Mechanism: What It Means For Human Rights
- John Mark Mangana
Intern, Human Rights Advocacy Programme
of democratic space within the wider Commonwealth has in the recent
past given much impetus to the entrenchment of the human rights
debate within several specific Commonwealth countries. Resulting
partly from this process is arguably a citizenry that is increasingly
aware of its rights and that thirsts for greater exposure to human
rights related activities.
The level of Government as well as private sector involvement in political and civic, as well as economic, social and cultural spheres of people lives shows evidence of this. However, on the negative side, what about the multiple cases of human rights violations involving governments and various players within the private sector?
Countries involved in cases of human rights violation are members of the United Nations (UN), and as such, are bound by the UN Charter. The UN in its Charter reaffirms respect for human rights based on the dignity and worth of the human person and commitment to social progress of all people and Articles 1 and 55 and express commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. Specifically, Article 55(c) indicates that, “the UN will promote universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.
Consequently, the UN has developed machinery to protect and promote human rights. Through this machinery, human rights are said to have become more than just moral guidelines and have been included in international law.
In addition, this machinery offers ways to respond to human rights violations all over the world. Such human rights activities are pursued either by bodies created under the authority of the UN Charter, which are referred to as Charter-based bodies or by bodies established under various human rights treaties, also referred to as Treaty-based bodies1. In addition, several specialised agencies of the UN have important human rights functions, for example, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Treaty based system is commonly used channel by individuals who believe their rights under the treaty have been violated. The process of contacting the various treaty bodies is relatively simple and as many examples exist from across the Commonwealth.
of the seven treaty bodies consider individual petitions. These
The Human Rights
Committee associated with associated with the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
on Elimination of Racial Discrimination associated with the
International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of
on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women associated
with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against
Against Torture associated with the Convention against Torture
on the Protection of Migrant Workers associated with the Convention
on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families.
In simple terms, independent individuals can bring cases of human rights violation to the relevant treaty bodies. However, the state in question must have both ratified the treaty, and accepted its associated individual complaint mechanism.
complaints procedure involves receipt of communication by the
relevant treaty body. The treaty body registers the complain and
subsequently examines its compliance with the admissibility criteria.
If admissible, the treaty body will proceed to consider its merits.
The rules and
procedure for each treaty body governed the admissibility of the
complaints and are available in the Office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights website: www.ohchr.org. Most
importantly, the author of the communication must be personally
affected by the alleged violation. It is important to note that
third-party submissions are not accepted except under special
circumstances outlined in the treaty body sites.
merits of each case involves proving the facts beyond any doubt.
This may require copies of arrest warrants, court judgements,
affidavits, medical reports, outlining specific dates, etc. In
cases where all or most of the information is in the hands of
the accused state party, non-cooperation with the committee by
the state in question will lead to a reversal of the burden of
complaints procedures have been used across the Commonwealth,
available jurisprudence indicates a rather scattered and limited
usage of the same. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are among
the developed Commonwealth countries that have had cases against
them taken to the various treaty bodies. But, this is by no means
an indictment on their human rights record. On the contrary, it
may be a reflection of their progressive human rights stand -
as well as other factors such as community understanding of the
treaties and associated committees.
There are far
fewer cases from the category of developing Commonwealth countries.
The government of Sri Lanka had a case registered against it in
the year 2004, as did governments of Zambia, Namibia, Sierra Leone
and Cameroon, with Jamaica notoriously appearing several times
in the Human Rights
Each of the advocacy
avenues associated with the UN; present varying advantages as
well as disadvantages. When on one hand it sets an important precedent
in getting human rights issues noticed, on the other hand the
lack of legal mandate which would force a government to follow
the recommendations prescribed restricts its effectiveness.
United Nations Human Rights Mechanism: Targeting NGO Advocacy
National Workshop on United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms:
Targeting NGO Advocacy was organised by the Commonwealth
Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in collaboration with Law
and Society Trust (LST) at Jamia Hamdard University in New
Delhi from 23-25 November 2004.
objectives of the workshop were to place before the participants
information about how to more effectively engage in human
rights advocacy towards the United Nations, focusing on
training participants on how the United Nations human
rights mechanisms operate and gauge the options available
to civil society for engaging with these mechanisms.
workshop was structured around two kinds of sessions: educating
and training participants in the basics of how to use human
rights treaty mechanisms and introducing them to the key
conventions; and procedures; and presentations by resource
persons with experience in using these mechanisms, with
a view to sketching out basic guidelines and practical tips
when using the mechanisms.
workshop brought together close to 30 participants from
the Indian states of National Capital Territory of Delhi,
Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,
Gujarat, Orissa and Maharashtra.