Find the complaint form here.

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In October 2013, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) began a program by which it complained on behalf of individual victims of human rights abuses to the Special Procedures of the United Nations. The Special Procedures are a group of human rights experts that report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. They are based out of Geneva, Switzerland. Each Procedure is responsible for a thematic area of human rights – there is a Special Procedure on torture, a Special Procedure on slavery, and a Special Procedure on human rights defenders, to name a few. The Procedures are divided into two groups. The first and most common are the Special Rapporteurs, themselves single experts supplemented by a team provided by the United Nations Secretariat. The second type of Procedure is known as a Working Group. Working Groups are composed of five regional experts on a subject, and generally have more power and ability than individual Rapporteurs.

The Procedures’ primary power is the ability to receive individual complaints from persons who allege that their human rights have been abused. The Procedures may receive complaints from any Member State of the United Nations, regardless of whether or not the complainant’s country has signed any of the optional reporting treaties supplementing the human rights treaty regime. Upon receiving a complaint, the Procedures submit the complaint to the offending government, seeking explanation regarding the allegations. Over the next several months, Rapporteurs act as an intermediary between the source and the government, asking the source for its response to the government’s reply and vice versa. At the end of the process, the Procedures post their opinion of the allegations in a joint communications report. In addition, the Working Groups may issue official opinions regarding the status of complainants.

Only some of the Procedures are pertinent to ADHRB’s mission. Generally, ADHRB’s complaint program solicits the attention of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The Program and Process

ADHRB uses its complaint program to connect aggrieved victims and their families in their home countries with the Special Procedures in Geneva. We solicit information from the ground, develop and process that information into a formal complaint in the Washington office, and then submit the complaint to the Procedures. We also monitor the status of our complaints by physically engaging with the Procedures during Geneva advocacy trips and by providing additional information to the Procedures upon request.

ADHRB’s complaint process is two-fold and spans multiple continents. First, ADHRB engages with the victim and explains the process of engaging with the Special Procedures. This is an important first step, as ADHRB never submits a complaint without first obtaining the informed consent of the victim or his duly authorized representative. If the victim consents, we can begin soliciting the information necessary for the complaint. Generally, this involves asking the complainant to provide a narrative description of the abuse. However, we may ask specific questions pertinent to specific mandates. ADHRB has generated a form in both English and Arabic to help the contact identify the necessary information.

The information-gathering process can take as little as a few hours or as long as a month. Many of ADHRB’s complaints are more “incident-based,” rather than “complainant-based;” in these complaints, ADHRB often submits complaints on behalf of ten or more victims at a time that were persecuted during the same action. For example, if the Government of Bahrain tortures twelve people in an attempt to force confessions regarding a single criminal act, ADHRB will attempt to identify all twelve persons and obtain their information and the informed consent of their families before submitting the complaint. This process can take time.

Once the information and informed consent has been obtained, ADHRB processes the information into a complaint to the Procedures. Preparation of the complaint involves several processes, including highlighting necessary information and discarding extraneous data. Many Procedures maintain their own forms for the submission of complaints. For those Rapporteurs, processing the complaint involves the completion of those forms. More often, however, the Washington office simply prepares a document similar to a legal declaration that provides the pertinent facts in narrative form. The goal is to provide the information in a succinct and easily usable form, as presenting the information in a lengthy and complex manner limits the amount of complaints upon which the Procedures may act with their little available time. After the complaint is penned, it is emailed to the relevant Procedures, who made decide whether or not to submit it to the government.

Once the Procedures submit the complaint, the process can go in one of two ways. If the government chooses to respond (and not all governments do so), the Procedures will pass the response to ADHRB and ask for a reply. This process repeats itself until either the government stops responding or the Procedures are satisfied that they will not obtain new information, at which point the Procedures issue their opinion. If the government chooses not to respond, the Procedures issue their opinion more quickly. The whole process can take anywhere from six months to a year before the Procedures publish their opinion, with a mean time of 9-10 months.

What You Can Do

Are you or someone you know a victim of a human rights violation in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia? If so, you can fill out the form linked here, and we can process your complaint and bring it before the Special Procedures of the United Nations. You can also contact us at UNComplaints@adhrb.org if you want to better understand the process before deciding whether or not to submit. We are always available to help in whatever way we can.

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الرجاء الضغط هنالقراءة هذه الرسالة باللغة العربي

الرجاء الضغط هنا لرفع شكوى باللغة العربية