U.N. Human Rights Procedures and the Role of Citizens of Non-Member States


Rene Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

27 Jul 2017 – The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states clearly:

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. 

Article 2 states:

“Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

However, in practice, it is difficult for a person who is considered as “stateless” or a citizen of a Non-Member State to be able to use the human rights procedures put into place by the United Nations, especially what are considered complaint procedures.  Information concerning the implementation of a human rights treaty can be supplied to the members of what are called “Treaty Bodies” – a committee of experts who study national reports on the implementation of a specific treaty and who make recommendations for improvements.  There are eight such treaty bodies such as the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee Against Torture, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Another avenue is the “Special Procedures” established by the Commission on Human Rights and continued by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations such as Myanmar or thematic mandates such as discrimination based on religion or belief.  There are also Working Groups, usually composed of five members who collect information, in part through interviews, concerning a country situation such as the Working Group on Sudan or another on Syria.  The Working Group is disbanded once its report is made public while the thematic reporters such as those on torture continue because there is always new information coming in on the issue.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status with the U.N. and active in the meetings of the Human Rights Council play an important role in these complaint procedures both in giving advice on the procedures to victims or in presenting the information themselves.  There is close cooperation between members of the U.N. secretariat working on human rights and the representatives of NGOs.

However, there are specific difficulties of access to U.N. complaint procedures if one is not a citizen of a Member State. Today in the world, there are a good number of people considered as “Stateless”. There are a number of reasons that one may be considered stateless, such as children born to foreign residents of a country – a common cause in Africa – or people who are refused citizenship such as many Kurds in Syria until citizenship was granted in 2012 for political reasons due to the armed conflict, or people whose citizenship has been revoked for political reasons.

The possibility for action of citizens of Non-Member States is complex.  In 2014, a referendum of people in Eastern Ukraine voted to create the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.  For the central government of Ukraine, these two are nor republics but “occupied territories”.  There are also the Republics of Abkazia and South Ossetia, once part of Georgia, Transnistria once part of Moldova.  Some would add Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh torn between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  All these Republics are the result of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the failure of the governments of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to develop adequate constitutional structures of con-federalism which take into consideration cultural, ethnic and economic realities.

The breakup of the Yugoslav Federation has led to the creation of the Republic of Kosovo, proclaimed in 2008.  Kosovo is not a member of the U.N.  Currently, there are a number of other entities which have claimed independence within the context of an ongoing armed conflict such as Somaliland within the unstable context of Somalia or the  Kurdish Autonomous Area in Iraq where a referendum on its status is proposed for September.

There is the special case of Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC).  The break with the Mainland came in 1948  with both the People’s Republic and the ROC claiming to be the legitimate representative of the Chinese people.  In 1972, the U.N. General Assembly recognized the People’s Republic as the representative of China, and thus, the ROC, although a stable State, is not a U.N. Member.  Most of the governments in the U.N. have a “one China” policy and only recognize the People’s Republic.

As a result, there is a double issue: the implementation of human rights standards within Taiwan, and the protection of the human rights of Taiwanese living and working abroad, increasingly on the Mainland itself.

To deal with the development of human rights within Taiwan, the ROC parliament ratified the two major human rights covenants: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and made their provisions into domestic law.  In keeping with the pattern of the treaty bodies which examine the national practice concerning the Covenants, an ad hoc committee of experts drawn from people who had experience within the U.N. human rights structures, met in Taipei in 2013 and made a full study of implementation including extensive discussions with the representatives of NGOs.  The ad hoc committee made detailed recommendations.  This pattern was again carried out in 2017 including a discussion on how the earlier recommendations have been implemented.

The possible use of U.N. human rights procedures for the defense of Taiwanese living abroad is still an open question.  When there are diplomatic relations between States, the consular services of each State can provide assistance to its nationals in case of arrest, mistreatment or other difficulties.  When there is no diplomatic recognition, as is the case for most of the Non-Member States in the U.N., such protection does not exist.

Although NGO representatives have been able to draw attention to the rights of citizens of Non-Member States or of stateless individuals, the impact of NGO appeals is limited since there are no government delegates to reply or to set out the government position.

Human rights are the rights of individuals, all part of the human family.  There needs to be ways of increasing protection for the stateless and citizens of Non-Member States.


René Wadlow is a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force on the Middle East, president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens, and editor of Transnational Perspectives. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 31 Jul 2017.

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