resource portal for environmental human rights defenders

The promotion and protection of universal human rights is one of the three pillars of the work of the United Nations. By definition therefore, the UN has a responsibility to support the work of EHRDs, and to help protect them from harm.  
 
Broadly-speaking, there are two main parts of the UN’s human rights machinery that are particularly accessible to, and in a strong position to help, EHRDs: namely the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures mechanism; and the UN human rights Treaty Bodies. 

Photo Credit: sanjitbakshi UN flag at the Calgary War Museums. License: CC BY 2.0

 
Special Procedures

 

UN Special Procedures is the collective name for independent human rights experts mandated by the Human Rights Council to address either country-specific human rights violations, or to promote certain thematic human rights concerns. 

 

The UN Special Procedures mechanism is a system of over fifty ‘Special Rapporteurs’ (though some take the form of ‘Working Groups’ or ‘Independent Experts’). These are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to fulfil a particular mandate (e.g. to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly, or the right to water and sanitation).

There are different types of Special Procedures mandates, including Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups. Notwithstanding their different names, they work in broadly similar ways: they undertake country missions to work with national stakeholders (including human rights defenders) to strengthen the enjoyment of human rights; they receive and act on petitions / communications / complaints from individual victims of human rights violations (or their representatives); and they report to the Human Rights Council (and sometimes the UN General Assembly) on their work, presenting their conclusions and recommendations. 

As one aspect of fulfilling their mandate, most Special Procedures receive petitions from the victims of human rights violations, or their representatives, analyse the allegations made, and then communicate with the concerned government to request information on the allegations made and, eventually, to secure remedy and redress. Individuals do not have to ‘exhaust domestic remedy’ (i.e. seek and fail to obtain justice at national level) before petitioning the Special Procedures system.

Detailed information about the Special Procedures communications system can be accessed here.

 

The Special Procedures mechanism has recently developed and introduced a single online petition/communication platform, greatly facilitating access to the UN’s human rights protection system.

 

EHRDs wishing to submit petitions or complaints about alleged human rights violations and to seek help, are advised to submit information through this centralised platform:

Alternatively, submissions can be made via email to: urgent-action@ohchr.org

 

When using the Special Procedures petitions platform or when submitting information by email, EHRDs should make clear to which Special Procedure(s) is should the information be submitted. Below, you will find a list of some of the Special Procedures that can help you. 

EHRDs may track progress with their petition/communication by referring to the Special Procedures communications reports, which can be accessed here.

 

For petitions/communications addressed and/or dealt with by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, progress can be tracked here.

 

Regarding petitions / communications / complaints, any EHRD from any country in the world has the right to contact Special Procedures mandate-holders, without exception (for example, it is not necessary for an EHRD’s country of residence to have signed and ratified a particular human rights treaty). 

 

On the issue of protecting the rights, and promoting the work, of EHRDs, the Special Procedures mandates of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, are particularly relevant. In some instances, for example where there is an alleged violation of the rights of indigenous persons, other mandates (e.g. the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples) will also be in a position to provide support. 

 

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders 

 

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights defenders works to examine and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders, works with governments to improve how human rights defenders are treated, and recommends effective strategies to protect human rights defenders. 

 

For help, advice, or support, EHRDs can contact the Special Rapporteur by email at:

 

defenders@ohchr.org 

 

or by fax at +41 (0) 22 917 90 06 

 

EHRDs can also communicate with the Special Rapporteur in writing at:

 

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, 

Mr Michel Forst 

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson 

United Nations Office at Geneva 

CH 1211 Geneva 10 

Switzerland

 

For more information on the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, you can visit his website

 

To submit formal petitions to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, alleging violations of human rights, please click here.

 

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment 

 

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment works to study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, works on identifying and promoting good practices relating to human rights and environmental protection, and promotes the realisation of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

 

For help, advice or support, EHRDs can contact the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment by email at:

 

srenvironment@ohchr.org 

 

or by telephone at +41(0) 22 917 9113, or at +41(0) 22 917 9008

 

EHRDs can also communicate with the Special Rapporteur in writing at: 

 

Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson 

United Nations Office at Geneva 

CH 1211 Geneva 10 

Switzerland

 

For more information on the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, you can visit his website

 

To submit formal petitions to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and the environment, alleging violations of human rights, please click here.

 

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples 

 

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples works to protect the rights of indigenous people by examining means of overcoming obstacles to the full protection of indigenous peoples, exchanging information and communications with governments and indigenous peoples, and making recommendations on ways to prevent and remedy violations of rights of the indigenous peoples. 

 

To report an alleged human rights violation involving EHRDs and indigenous peoples’ rights, EHRDs can send an email to: 

 

indigenous@ohchr.org 

 

Petitioners should include, in the subject line, ‘Communication regarding [country or indigenous people,’ and should include the proper information in their submission. 

 

Alternatively, EHRDs can communicate with the Special Rapporteur by fax at +41 22 917 92 32, or by mail at:   

 

Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson 

United Nations Office at Geneva 

CH 1211 Geneva 10 

Switzerland

 

For more information on the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, you can visit her website.

 

Other Special Procedures mandates

 

Depending on the situation and the nature of the alleged violation(s), other Special Procedures mandates may also be in a position to assist. They include, inter alia:     

 

 

 
United Nations Treaty Bodies

 

UN human rights Treaty Bodies are the bodies under the international human rights covenants/conventions (i.e. international treaties) to monitor the implementation of those treaties and to review allegations of violations (from individuals) of the rights contained in those treaties. 

 

For EHRDs to be able to submit individual complaints / petitions to a given Treaty Body, the EHRD’s home State must be Party to the relevant Treaty. In other words, for an EHRD from Honduras, for example, to submit an individual complaint / petition to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Honduras must by Party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and accepted the communications procedure under that Convention (or ratified the relevant Optional Protocol on communications). 

 

To know if your home State is Party to a given convention, click here

 

Possible relevant Treaty Bodies for EHRDs include: 

 

The UN Treaty Bodies (there are currently nine in existence) are committees of experts established to monitor State compliance with the international human rights conventions (e.g. the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture). Like Special Procedures, most of them, as part of their work, receive and scrutinise petitions from individuals and, where those petitions are deemed admissible and the State where the alleged victim resides is Party to the convention in question), communicate with the relevant government to seek remedy and redress. The victims of alleged human rights violations, or their representatives, must have sought and exhausted domestic remedy before petitioning the Treaty Body system.

 

To submit a complaint to these Treaty Bodies, you can submit the complaint

 

by email at:  petitions@ohchr.org

 

by fax at +41 22 917 90 22 (for urgent matters), or in writing to: 

 

Petitions and Inquiries Section

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 

United Nations Office at Geneva 

1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

 

Please make sure the complaint includes the proper information