Human Rights and the Environment: UN Human Rights Committee (legal memorandum 2003)

Subject: Human Rights & Environment (3)
Date: Fri, 20 Dec 2002 16:36:56 +0000
From: "Lalanath de Silva"

Dear colleagues/friends,

This is the third e-mail in the series concerning Human Rights and the Environment. This e-mail focuses on the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) which has power to review individual complaints against State Parties alleging violation of human rights guaranteed by the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol (1). This e-mail also deals with the UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General on human rights defenders. It seeks to give you information on the procedure, jurisprudence and model forms of these two bodies. In my last e-mail I addressed the issue of when an individual may use the HRC as a forum to vindicate human rights violations resulting from environmental degradation.


The General procedures of the HRC can be seen on the following web page-

Part XVII - Rules 78 to 98 gives details of the procedure to be followed by the HRC in dealing with individual complaints (communications) under the Optional Protocol.

Once a complaint is received the HRC will first decide whether it is "admissible" or not. Rule 90 sets out the matters that the HRC will consider before admitting a complaint. In brief the most important matters are-

a. The complaint is not anonymous. It comes from an individual or group that is subject to the jurisdiction of a State that is a party to the Convention and the Protocol. (See previous e-mail).

b. The compliant must be from the victim of the violation unless the victim is prevented from submitting the same, in which case a representative could submit.

c. The complaint must allege a violation by the State party of a right guaranteed under the Convention and must be substantiated (i.e. supported by evidence).

d. The individual has exhausted all available domestic remedies.

This last element is important to take note of. The victim/complainant must be able to show the HRC that all available domestic (in-country) legal remedies have been sought and exhausted. If not the complaint will not be admitted.

This procedure to decide on admissibility can take between 12-18 months. The State party against whom the complaint is made gets 6 months to respond (if it has not already done so). The HRC then makes a decision on the merits. The HRC can also appoint Special raporteurs to obtain more information and also assess follow-up action to the decisions.

For an overview of the procedure see this web page-

There is also an extremely well written fact sheet (fact sheet No. 7) that details various Human Rights complaint procedures. This serves as an excellent guideline to the procedure. You can access the relevant one dealing with the HRC at-

If you want to see the status of cases from your country and other countries you could do so by visiting-

For instance there have been 6 cases from Sri Lanka. One of these complaints was found to disclose a violation, 3 are at pre-admission stage and 2 have been found to be admissible. Nepal, which is the only other country from South Asia that is a party to the Convention and Protocol, has not registered any complaints yet.

If you would like to read a specific decision from your country or from another country you could access them at the following web page which contains decisions from the HRC and two other UN treaty monitoring bodies-

When you go to this site you can access the decision by clicking the HRC link and paging down using the "next" button.

Remember that sometimes a case from a country may have two or three reported decisions. That is because the decisions are given in English/French and Spanish at the very least. For instance the case that has been decided from Sri Lanka is available in all three languages.

If you are inclined to bring a complaint to the HRC alleging a violation of one or more provisions of the Covenant by a State that has resulted from environmental degradation, then you may wish to take a look at the model complaint forms provided by the UNHCHR (pdf. format) as well "Frontline" (an NGO dedicated to protecting human rights advocates). The forms are at the following two web pages-

Supporting documents must be copies (preferably certified as true copies - do not send originals). Once the complaint is duly made and singed it can be sent by mail or by fax or my e-mail to-

Mail: Petitions Team
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: + 41 22 917 9022 (particularly for urgent matters)



The Human Rights Committee
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland
Tel: + 41 22 917 9000
Fax: +41 22 917 9003


We have in recent times seen a rise in human rights violations targeting human rights defenders (such as colleagues/friends). The UN Commission on Human Rights has established a Special representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders. The Special representative has authority to receive complaints and to enter into a dialogue with the relevant Government. This procedure allows for "pressure" to be brought on a Government where colleagues/friends are targeted for human rights violations.

Guidelines for drafting complaints are at the following web page (bottom of page)-

For these documents in French and Spanish see- Complaints must be sent to-

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
FAX: (41 22) 917 90 06