How to file a complaint at the regional level for a human rights violation?

In most parts of the world, regional mechanisms are available for individuals, NGOs and States to file complaints against a country for a Human Rights violation. While some mechanisms can address general violations, others will focus on specific themes, such as children’s rights or social rights.


Each Commission or Court has its own rules of application and its own functioning, which is why it is important to have all necessary information before filing a complaint. The following descriptions will give you a comprehensive overview of the mechanisms available and guide you in your application procedure.


African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)

The African Commission has a number of tools at the disposal of States, NGOs, and individuals to protect human and peoples' rights, including a communications procedure, friendly settlement of disputes, national and shadow reporting, urgent appeals and special mechanisms. NGOs and individuals can also call upon the Commission to interpret and clarify the Charter, and NGOs can apply for observatory status to attend the Commission’s public sessions. Finally the Commission’s NGO Forum enables NGO to have direct access to the Commission’s information and work for an enhanced participation.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is composed of 11 expert members elected by the African Union Assembly. The Commission’s mandate is to 1) protect human and peoples’ rights, 2) promote human and peoples' rights and 3) interpret the African Charter.

  • Applicability to states: that have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
  • Applicable law: any right stated in the African Charter, the UN Charter and the African Union’s Constitutive Act.
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: Yes.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: No.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: Only Special Procedures.
  • Rapidity of reaction: relatively fast pending State’s appeal.
  • Nature of the result: Recommendations are not legally binding as such. They will be included in the annual reports of the Commission to the attention of the Assembly of Heads of State of the African Union. If the Assembly approves the report containing the recommendations, the latter become legally binding. The Commission can also choose to send the case to the African Court for judiciary judgement.
  • Feedback: through publication of the results.
  • Publicity: Recommendations are made public.
  • Financial aid available: Yes.
  • Provisional measures: In case of emergency.
  • Who can submit a complaint? A State, an individual or an NGO. Written consent is not necessary.
  • Submit your complaint to:
    The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
    PO Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia
    Tel: 220 392962 Fax: 220 390764

African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

The African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is the only organ able to receive individual complaints specifically for children. Individual communications can be submitted, unless the concerned State has expressed reservations concerning this competence.

States provide national reports every three years on the application of the Charter, and NGOs are encouraged to submit shadow reports. A Social Forum on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is also held before every ordinary session to enable Civil Society to participate to the Committee’s work.

Composed of 11 experts elected by the African Union’s Executive Council, the Committee organizes two ordinary sessions per year. Extraordinary sessions can be held upon State or internal request.

  • Applicability to states: that ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
  • Applicable law: any right stated in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: Yes.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: No.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: Only Special Procedures.
  • Rapidity of reaction: a minimum of 6 months in case of admissibility of the request (three months for the Committee’s Working Group analysis and three months for the State’s response). Further investigation and auditions may be required.
  • Nature of the result: Not legally binding. The Assembly of Heads of States and Government of the African Union will be responsible for the implementation of the decision if it validates it.
  • Feedback: No feedback unless further information is needed or the child concerned is asked to be heard. Feedback may come in case of compensation.
  • Publicity: submitted to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. Published if agreed upon by the Assembly and the concerned State.
  • Financial aid available: N/A
  • Provisional measures: N/A
  • Who can submit a complaint? A victim of a violation of the rights enshrined in the ACRWC, an author acting on behalf of a victim, an author acting on behalf of eligible parties, an author acting on behalf of a victim without the victim’s consent, provided the author is able to prove that he, she or it is acting in the supreme interest of the child, a State that is not a party to the ACRWC. A communication from such a State should be in the best interest of the child.
  • Submit your complaint to:
    The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
    Commission of the African Union African Union Headquarters
    Social Affairs Department P.O. Box 3243 W21 K19 Addis Ababa Ethiopia
    Tel. +251-1-551 35 22 Fax +251-1-553 57 16
    Or by email to cissem[at]africa-union.org

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights

Created by the Protocol to the African Charter, the Court is a complementary organ of the Commission to interpret and insure the respect of the African Charter. The Court can receive complaints from both States and the African Commission, while individuals may submit them only if the State in question has accepted this competence.

Composed of 11 judges from Member States, it strengthens the Commission thanks to its judiciary power, and goes further in that it can also judge cases regarding a State’s violation of other Human Rights instruments it has ratified. In addition to its judiciary competence, the Court can be seized for consultations by States or organs of the African Union, as well as by any institution recognised by the African Union.

  • Applicability to states: that have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and made a declaration under article 34 of the Protocol accepting individual complaints.
  • Applicable law: any rights stated in the African Charter as well as its protocols, and any rights stated in Human Rights – related texts the concerned State has ratified.
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: Yes.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: No.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: Only Special Procedures.
  • Rapidity of reaction: under 90 days once the communication has been declared admissible, and pending appeal.
  • Nature of the result: legally binding.
  • Feedback: the Court shall submit feedback to the applicant and respondent in every step of the application procedure.
  • Publicity: Applications and Results are made public.
  • Financial aid available: Yes.
  • Provisional measures: Yes.
  • Who can submit a complaint? The Commission, a State Party before the Commission (either as Applicant or Respondent), a State Party whose citizen is a victim of a human rights violation, an African Intergovernmental Organization, an individual or NGO (in terms of Article 34(6) of the Protocol).
    A State Party with an interest in a case may apply to be allowed to join in, according to Rule 53.
  • Submit your complaint to:
    Registry of the Court
    P.O. Box 6274
    Arusha
    Tanzania
    Fax: +255-732-97 95 03
    Email: registry@african-court.org

Arab Human Rights Committee

Created in 2009, the Arab Human Rights Committee is mandated to control the respect of the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Only 10 members of the Arab League have ratified the Charter, limiting the scope of the Committee. Currently, no individual complaint mechanism is available.

However, the Committee reviews national reports submitted by States every three years, and civil society is encouraged to submit shadow reports. The result of the review is submitted to the Secretariat of the Arab League.

  • Applicability to states: that ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights.
  • Applicable law: any right stated in the Arab Charter on Human Rights.
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: N/A
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: N/A
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: All.
  • Rapidity of reaction: N/A
  • Nature of the result: N/A
  • Feedback: N/A
  • Publicity: N/A
  • Financial aid available: N/A
  • Provisional measures: N/A
  • Who can submit a complaint? There is no complaint mechanism relative to the Arab Human Rights Committee. However, NGO scan submit ‘shadow reports’ to the Committee that will be examined during the State reports.
  • Submit your report to:
    Commission of League of Arab States
    33 14th Street caserne Maadi
    Telephone: 23599670 00202- 23580375 00202
    Fax: 00202 23581346

Commonwealth of Independent States Human Rights Commission

Both the Charter of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the CIS Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms provide for the creation of a regulatory body for Human Rights: the CIS Human Rights Commission.

However, its Statute remains weak and it has never been operational. As such, there is no complaints procedure, despite originally providing for both individual and inter-state disputes.

For the CIS States who are also under the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe, civil society is encouraged to use their mechanisms instead.

  • Applicability to states: States who have signed and ratified the Convention (Russian Federation, Belarus, Tadjikistan, Kyrgyzstan).
  • Applicable law: all rights enshrined in the CIS Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: N/A
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: N/A
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: N/A
  • Rapidity of reaction: N/A
  • Nature of the result: The Commission issues "understandings" or "recommendations" which are not legally binding. There are no provisions made to supervise compliance with these results.
  • Feedback: N/A
  • Publicity: N/A
  • Financial aid available: N/A
  • Provisional measures: N/A
  • Who can submit a complaint? N/A
  • Submit your complaint to: N/A

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court is created by the European Charter on Human Rights and completed by several protocols. The Court, through articles 33 and 34 on the European Charter, can receive complaints from NGOs and individuals within six months of exhausting domestic remedies. Its decisions are legally binding and have had significant impact on jurisprudence and customary laws on Human Rights in Europe.

The Court itself is divided between the Grand Chamber and five sections. Upon receiving a communication, a Committee will assess its admissibility before transferring it to a Chamber within one of the five sections. The Chamber will give its conclusions, which can be appealed. If admissible, the Grand Chamber will then be seized, and its decision is final.

Note: In case of emergency, especially if the six-month delay is close to being exceeded, an introductory letter can be sent to the Court. The rest of the application has to be sent as quickly as possible.
  • Applicability to states: that ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • Applicable law: any rights stated in the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: Yes.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: No.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: Only Special Procedures.
  • Rapidity of reaction: depends on the nature of the violations.
  • Nature of the result: legally binding rulings.
  • Feedback: if additional information is required.
  • Publicity: Yes.
  • Financial aid available: Yes.
  • Provisional measures: Yes.
  • Who can submit a complaint? The victim of a violation or a State. An individual will need to have legal representation from the moment the concerned State is contacted. An Authority Form must be filed. The complaint must be submitted within six months of the last domestic judiciary decision.
  • Submit your complaint to:
    The Registrar, European Court of Human Rights
    Council of Europe
    F-67075 Strasbourg cedex
    Using the Application Form

European Committee of Social Rights

The European Committee of Social Rights lists seven fundamental social rights: the right to proper housing, to decent health, education, work, social and legal protection, freedom of movement, and the right to non-discrimination. The Committee’s mandate is to protect and promote those rights. Its work consists of observing national reports and to send out conclusions and decisions.

The European Committee of Social Rights does not allow individual complaints. A collective complaint mechanism added in 1998 can be used by specific actors if the concerned country has accepted the additional protocol. In case of alleged violations, decisions will be sent to the Committee of Ministers, which will send out a resolution concerning the concerned State.

  • Applicability to states: that both ratified the European Charter on Social Rights and accepted the additional protocol for a collective complaints procedure.
  • Applicable law: any rights mentioned in the European Charter of Social Rights and its protocols that the States have agreed to (pending reservations).
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: Yes.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: No.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: Only Special Procedures.
  • Rapidity of reaction: takes time.
  • Nature of the result:
  • Feedback: to the complaint parties and to the Council of Ministers.
  • Publicity: Yes, once the Council of Ministers has passed a resolution.
  • Financial aid available:
  • Provisional measures:
  • Who can submit a complaint? International NGOs with participatory status to the Council of Europe, representative national organisations of employers and trade unions; and national trade unions (if the State does so allow) can lodge a complaint at any time. In additional to participatory status, the international NGO needs to be competent in the field and be on a list published by the Council of Europe.
  • Submit your complaint to: the Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is the main interlocutor for NGOs and individuals to file complaints against States that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights. According to the gravity of complaints, the Commission has the competence to organise country visits and to give recommendations to Member States. The Commission may also seize the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for consultative advice.

The Commission sends out recommendations to the concerned State to improve its institutions, although decisions are not legally binding. Its work is based on three pillars: individual requests, a control of respect of Human Rights in Member States and thematic oriented work to address specific issues.

  • Applicability to states: All member States of the Organization of American States.
  • Applicable law: any human rights guaranteed in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, and other inter-American Human Rights treaties.
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: Yes.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: Only exceptions made in article 33 of the Charter.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: Only Special Procedures and exceptions made in article 33 of the Charter.
  • Rapidity of reaction: relatively long due to the amount of complaints.
  • Nature of the result: not legally binding.
  • Feedback: Once the complaint is received and whenever additional information is brought to the Commission.
  • Publicity: Yes.
  • Financial aid available: Yes.
  • Provisional measures: Yes.
  • Who can submit a complaint? Any person, group of persons, or organization, on its own or in representation of another, may file a petition alleging a violation of human rights against one or more Member States of the OAS.
  • Submit your complaint to:
    Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
    1889 F Street, N. W.
    Washington, D.C. 20006
    USA
    and/or by fax to the following number: 1-202-458-3992.
    and/or by email at: cidhdenuncias@oas.org
    or through the online registration procedure

Inter-American Court on Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has a complementary role to the Commission. Individuals and NGOs cannot directly file a complaint. However, individuals victim of Human Rights violations for which the Court is competent will be allowed to testify (article 25) if their country has filed a complaint. In some cases, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights can seize the Court for an individual case.

Composed of seven judges, the Court has a judiciary competence as well as a consultative competence. Verdicts are not subject to appeal and are legally binding.

  • Applicability to states: that ratified the Convention and accepted the Court’s contentious jurisdiction.
  • Applicable law: any human rights guaranteed in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, and other inter-American Human Rights treaties.
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies required: Yes.
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other regional mechanisms: Yes (for consultative advice only).
  • Possibility to simultaneously seize other international mechanisms: Only Special Procedures.
  • Rapidity of reaction: relatively fast.
  • Nature of the result: legally binding and not subject to appeal.
  • Feedback: N/A
  • Publicity: Yes.
  • Financial aid available: Yes.
  • Provisional measures: Yes.
  • Who can submit a complaint? A State that has ratified the Convention or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
  • Submit your complaint to: No individual complaint is possible. An individual violation can be examined if the Commission makes the request.