UN: The 1503 Procedure

UNITED NATIONS, 3 Sep 2012

Satoshi Ashikaga – TRANSCEND Media Service

1. Introduction:

1.1. The Purpose of This Article:

Among various human rights violation complaint procedures within the UN system, the 1503 Procedure is especially unique. This article briefly explores its uniqueness by focusing on several main aspects of this procedure. It was prepared primarily for those who are not familiar with international human rights law, the UN human rights complaint procedures or relevant issues.

1.2. The Development of the 1503 Procedure:

The United Nations has engaged in improving human rights situations in the world since its foundation in 1945 by, for instance, creating various human rights bodies and preparing international human rights instruments. One of the main bodies of the UN on human rights, among others, was the Commission on Human Rights (that was replaced with the Human Rights Council in 2006) that developed, over the years, various procedures on communication concerning human rights violations. One of them, developed in 1970, is known as the “1503 Procedures.” The name of this procedure stemmed from the resolution number (1503/XLVIII of 27 May 1970) of the Commission on Human Rights of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in that year, which created this procedure. The procedure became operation in 1972. This human rights complaint procedure is the oldest procedure among any other human rights complaint procedures.

The 1503 Procedure has been revised twice since its operation. In 2000, the Commission on the Human Rights significantly revised the procedure to enhance its efficiency in accordance with the resolution 2000/3, passed by ECOSOC. Further, in 2006, ECOSOC, entrusted by the General Assembly, established the Working Group to formulate concrete recommendations on the issue of reviewing and when necessary, improving and rationalizing all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities of the former Commission on Human Rights, including the 1503 Procedure. The Working Group, in June 2007, submitted the final proposal in facilitating the complaint procedure, to the President of ECOSOC.  Accordingly, the Human Rights Council adopted a new complaint procedure, an improved version of the 1503 Procedure, to more effectively address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances in a timely manner. (For the summary of the discussions, see the following UN documents: A/HRC/3/CRP.3, A/HRC/4/CRP.6 and A/HRC/5/CRP.6.)  Therefore, this article discusses the 2007 version of the 1503 Procedure although the significant part of the 2007 version of the Procedure remains the same as the 2000 version.

2. The Purpose and General Remarks:

2.1. The Purpose of the 1503 Procedure:

The purpose of the 1503 Procedure is to monitor overall tendencies, not individual cases, of human rights situations in any country by examining confidential information, given by complainants, on gross violations of human rights in that country in order to identify patterns of violations. Because its purpose is to monitor tendencies as such, the purpose of this procedure is not to deal with a particular individual/personal case.

2.2. Three Main Criteria:

Any complaint intended to be submitted under the 1503 Procedure should be met with the criteria of this procedure, as follows:

1) Gross Violations:

“Gross violations of human rights” mean very serious violations, including torture, unlawful killings (extrajudicial executions), arbitrary or summary executions, enforced disappearances, etc.

2) Consistent Pattern:

The complaint should refer to a “consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights.” It is generally considered that as few as six or seven similar cases of allegations are sufficient to prove the existence of such a consistent pattern.

3) Reliability Attested Violations:

The relevant allegations of gross violations of human rights should be “supported by credible evidence.”

2.3. Relevant Requirements:

In addition to the above mentioned criteria, the complaint should satisfy the following conditions:

1) The complaint should be consistent with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights norms.

2) The complaint should be submitted by a person or a group of persons claiming to be the victim of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms or by any person or group of persons, including NGOs acting in good faith in accordance with the principles of human rights.

3) The complainant should not be anonymous. He or she should identify himself or herself upon its submission in writing.

4) The complaint should not contain abusive language.

5) The complaint should be the expression of a genuine objection to the pertinent human rights violations.

6) The complaint should not be politically motivated or manifestly unfounded or contained insulting references to the State.

7) The complaint should not exclusively be based on the report of mass media.

8) The domestic remedies have been exhausted, unless it appears that such remedies would be ineffective or unreasonably prolonged.

9) The same complaint should not be submitted to other international human rights mechanism. If it is submitted to other international human rights mechanism, the relevant State can protest to it.

10) The complaint should be addressed to the UN Office for High Commissioner for Human Rights or to its staff.

3. The Implementation Body:

3. 1. The Implementation Body:

The “UN Human Rights Council” is primarily responsible for the implementation of the 1503 Procedure. In this regard, the Human Rights Council performs the following duties: 1) to organize the closed session, 2) to nominate the members of the Working Group on Situations (WGS) and 3) to nominate the members of the Advisory Committee that designates the members of the Working Group on Communications (WGC).   Note that the Advisory Committee is the main subsidiary organ of the Human Rights Council and its main tasks include providing the Human Rights Council with expert advice.  The Advisory Committee is composed of 18 members, geographically selected as follows: 5 from Africa; 5 from Asia; 3 from Latin American and Caribbean areas; 2 from Eastern Europe; and 3 from Western European and other areas.

3.2. Members of the Human Rights Council:

The UN Human Rights Council is composed of 47 members, representing from each of their countries; 13 from Africa, 13 from Asia, 8 from Latin America and Caribbean, 6 from Eastern Europe, and 7 from Western Europe and others. They are elected by the General Assembly. They meet in closed session under the 1503 Procedure to examine human rights situations of relevant states whose representatives also attend the session. States under this examination are not allowed to be members of the Human Rights Council to attend this session.

3.3. Two Main Working Groups: There are two main working groups, examining the communications and bringing to the attention of the Human Rights Council consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  These two working groups are the “Working Group on Communications” (WGC) and the “Working Group on Situations” (WGS). 

3.4. Working Group on Communications (WGC):

The Working Group on Communications (WGC) is assigned by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee from among its members. The period of the mandate is three years (mandate renewable once). The WGC consists of five independent and highly qualified experts and is geographically representative of the five regional groups. The UN Human Rights Council nominates all five highly qualified independent members of the WGC; each from one of the five regions –  Africa; Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; Eastern Europe; and Western Europe and others. The WGC meets twice a year and assesses the admissibility and the merits of a communication, including whether the communication alone or in combination with other communications, appears to reveal a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. All admissible communications and recommendations thereon are transmitted to the Working Group on Situations (WGS).  (See also the paragraphs 6.4. – 6.6. of this article.)

3.5. Working Group on Situations (WGS): The Working Group on Situations (WGS) comprises five members appointed by the regional groups from among the States member of the Human Rights Council. The mandate period is one year (mandate renewable once). The WGS meets twice a year and examines the communications transferred to it by the Working Group on Communications, including the replies of States thereon, as well as the situations which the Human Rights Council is already seized of under the complaint procedure. The WGS, on the basis of the information and recommendations provided by the WGC, presents the Human Rights Council with a report on consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and makes recommendations to the Human Rights Council on the course of action to take. (See also the paragraphs 6.7. – 6.9. of this article.)

4. Three Main Features of the 1503 Procedure:

4.1. Three Features:

The 1503 Procedure has three main features as follows:

1) This procedure examines human rights situations in a country/State.

2) The subjects under this procedure include any country in the world.

3) The complaints under this procedure are confidential until the final stages of the examination.

The following paragraphs 4.2. – 4.4.  provide a succinct elaboration of these three main features.

4.2. Human Rights Situations in a Country/State:

As mentioned in the paragraph 2.1., this procedure examines human rights situations in a country/State, not about an individual case. This feature aims to identify a pattern of gross human rights violations in any country/State. This also means that the 1503 Procedure is not effective to address a particular individual case for its remedies or its improvement.

4.3. Any Country/State under the 1503 Procedure:

Unlike the procedures under other relevant human rights treaties, the 1503 Procedure addresses human rights situations in any countries in the world. This means that States that are not State parties of any human rights treaties could also be the subjects of the examination under the 1503 Procedure, not only those States that are State parties of any human rights treaties.

4.4. Confidentiality:

The complaint under the 1503 Procedure is confidential until the final stage of its examination as mentioned above. The confidential feature of the 1503 Procedure functions in two ways as follows:

1) The confidentiality of this 1503 Procedure keeps other human rights mechanisms away from this procedure. That is, the same complaint, if examined by the UN under the 1503 Procedure, will not be examined by other human rights complaint mechanisms. (See also 9) of the paragraph 2.3. of this article.)

2) Once the complaint is admitted, nothing about the complaint is announced until the final stage of this procedure. Therefore, even the complainant is not allowed to know about the on-going process the examination of his/her complaint until the final stage.

5. Effectiveness and Ineffectiveness of the 1503 Procedure:

5.1. Effectiveness:

The 1503 Procedure is effective for the following purposes:

1) To raise awareness of gross violations of human rights in a certain country.

2) To make suggestions in seeking improvements to the situations of gross violations of human rights.

5.2. Ineffectiveness:

The 1503 Procedure is ineffective for the following purposes:

1) To seek and/or to receive a remedy for an individual.

2) To receive any feedback or the result about the complainant’s claim.

6.  After the Submission of the Complaint:

6.1. A complainant submits a complaint to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Council Branch-Complaint Procedure Unit in Geneva. The complaint should be submitted in written form, by postal mail, fax, or e-mail.

6.2. Upon receipt of the complaint, the UN Human Rights Council Branch-Complaint Procedure Unit Staff members of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva (hereafter written the “UN Staff members”) consider whether the complaint could be admissible. (For the three main criteria and relevant requirements for the admission of the complaint, see the paragraph 2.2. of this article.)  If the UN Staff members consider that the complaint might be admissible, the complaint will be transmitted to the relevant State. The complainant should not be anonymous, as mentioned above, upon submission of the complaint to the UN Human Rights Council Branch-Complaint Procedure Unit in Geneva (hereafter written the “UN Geneva”). In other words, the complainant should identify himself or herself in the written complaint. However, if the complainant expresses that he or she does not wish to be revealed his or her identity, his or her identity will not be revealed when the complaint will be sent to the relevant State. If the UN Staff members consider that the complaint does not satisfy the conditions of the admission, the complaint will be screened out.

6.3. If the relevant State receives the complaint from the UN Geneva under the 1503 Procedure, the State is given a twelve weeks of period to provide its view whether this complaint should be examined by the UN.

6.4. The same complaint is also transmitted to the WGC.

6.5.   The WGC, that meets twice a year, examines all the complaints, whether a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested human rights violations are found, under the 1503 Procedure and the views on these complaints sent by the relevant Governments.

6.6. If the WGC discovers a “consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested human rights violations” in the complaint, this complaint will be transmitted to the WGS.

6.7. The WGS, that meets twice a year, examines the country situations that referred by the WGC.

6.8. If the WGS determines that there is evidence on serious human rights violations in the pertinent country, the WGS will prepare a report on consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to be submitted to the Human Rights Council.  That report contains recommendations to the Human Rights Council on the course of action to take.

6.9.  The UN Human Rights Council, then, holds closed sessions to examine the country situations that referred by the WGS. The Human Rights Council, at the end of the session, can decide to take actions to address the pertinent situation in the State.

7. Information on the Submission of the Complaint:

7.1. Modes of Complaints:

Complaints may be sent by postal mail, fax or e-mail. (See also the paragraph 6.1. of this article.)

7.2. Postal Address for Written Complaints:

Written complaints should be sent to:

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights Council Branch-Complaint Procedure Unit
OHCHR- Palais Wilson, United Nations Office at Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: ++41 22 917 92 20. (For general inquiries)
Fax: (41 22) 917 90 11
E-mail: CP@ohchr.org
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Acknowledgement: By using this opportunity, the author expresses his sincere gratitude to the staff members of Algoritam, who have constantly been offering him essential reading/research materials. Satoshi Ashikaga works as a manager, editor, researcher, lecturer and project coordinator and is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Sep 2012.

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