The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) is a body set up by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993.  The UNHCHR seeks to encourage the international community and its member states to uphold universally agreed human rights standards.  The main role of the UNHCHR is to alert State governments and the world at large when these standards are either ignored or unfulfilled.  The UNHCHR aims to be a voice for human rights abuse victims. 

How Is the UNHCHR Structured?

The UNHCHR has six treaty-monitoring bodies (committees).  These committees were created by international treaties to monitor the implementation of those treaties, including: 

  • Human Rights Committee – Monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – Monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Committee against Torture – Monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – Monitors implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – Monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child – Monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

What Do these Committees Do?

When a country ratifies an international treaty, it is obligated to implement the provisions of the treaty at the national level.  It must also submit periodic reports to the treaty bodies on the steps it has taken to ensure the provisions of the treaty.  The committees examine these reports, along with information from other sources, in the presence of a delegation from the country.  The committee will then present its concerns and recommendations to the government for further action.  The state must then try to implement those recommendations. 

What Do I Do if I Believe My Rights under an International Human Rights Treaty Have Been Violated?

Four of the treaty bodies have procedures under which individuals may submit complaints to be evaluated.  However, only those individuals under the jurisdiction of a State that has formally accepted these procedures may submit a complaint.  Those states that have formally accepted these procedures may be found at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website.  Before a complaint may be lodged, certain criteria must be fulfilled.  These include: 

  • All domestic remedies must be exhausted (i.e. submitted to local courts).
  • The complaint cannot be anonymous, and must be submitted personally by the alleged victim, an authorized representative, or another person who is justified to act on behalf of the alleged victim.
  • The complaint must be about a violation of a specific right in the treaty under which it is submitted.
  • A complaint cannot be considered if the same matter is being evaluated by another international procedure of investigation or settlement.

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced in the Field of International Law?

The field of international law is, at times, confusing.  A government lawyer experienced with issues of international law may be able to help you decide if you have a case.  If you believe your human rights under an international treaty has been violated, a lawyer can help inform you on whether you even have rights under an international treaty in your country.