PART III - RESPONDING TO THE INFORMATION COLLECTED
2. What you should know
about international reporting mechanisms and how to use them
The term 'reporting mechanism' is used throughout the
text to refer to:
Any international mechanism which receives and/or seeks out information
in order to report or comment on whether states are respecting their
obligations under international human rights law. The information it
receives can concern both individual and general allegations, but the
ultimate objective is to obtain an accurate picture of the general situation
and make recommendations.
The principal objective of reporting mechanisms is to monitor and assess
the extent to which states are respecting their obligations under international
human rights law.
- Receive and gather information from states and third parties in order to
report on the situation in a state (Monitoring)
- Examine and comment on reports produced by the states themselves, and make
recommendations for improvement (Consideration of state reports)
- Carry out fact-finding visits to states (Fact-finding)
- Adopt legally-binding decisions
- Award reparation to individuals
General practical information relating to each of these functions is considered
below. There is a lot of variation in the methods and powers of the different
mechanisms, however, and any peculiarities will be noted when the relevant mechanisms
are discussed in Part III, Chapters 4 and 5.
2.1 What kind of general characteristics should your
Reporting mechanisms are swamped with information from a multitude of sources,
much of which is of dubious quality or lacks the precise detail to be useful.
The best way to ensure that your information stands out from the rest is to
make sure that it is:
You can make your submission accessible by paying attention to the language
used and the length of the submission.
- Most of the international organisations make a distinction between official
languages and working languages. As a rule, although communications
may be made in official languages, most of the staff of the organisation will
be able to function only in the working languages. At the same time, many
of the organisations have very limited resources, which means that translation
is not always a priority, particularly if there is no indication of the value
of the communication.
If you wish your communication to receive the best consideration possible,
you should do your best to submit your communication in a working language
(these will be specified in relation to each organisation in Part
III, Chapters 4 and 5) if possible - this
does not mean that you have to translate every supporting document, but it
does mean that your covering letter should be in one of these languages, and
that it should clearly indicate the content of each of the attached documents.
If you cannot do this, you should at least make sure that a short summary
is provided in a working language which indicates the essential elements of
the information or complaint. What is essential will depend on the procedure,
but as a general rule you should indicate:
1. Who the communication is addressed to
e.g. Special Rapporteur on Torture
e.g. Committee Against Torture
2. Who you are
e.g. NGO working with street children
e.g. NGO working with asylum seekers
3. Which country the allegation is about
4. The purpose or content of your information and if urgent action is required
e.g. 10 allegations of torture of street children, indicating pattern
of abuse against street children by police. Treatment includes severe
beatings, rape and mock executions.
e.g. Violation of Article 3 of CAT. Mrs. Y to be deported to country
X where likely to be tortured. Was severely tortured 8 months ago before
leaving country (including electric shocks and severe beatings resulting
in a fractured skull - medical certificate enclosed) and brother still
in the country recently arrested and questioned about the applicant's
whereabouts. Deportation due on
. (date) - URGENT.
- You should not assume any specialised knowledge on the part of the
staff receiving your submission - it is important that they understand what
you are discussing, and terms which may seem simple to you may not be widely
understood outside of your country. Make sure that you always use simple language
and explain specialised terms. In particular, you should avoid the use of
abbreviations and acronyms unless you explain them.
Length of submissions:
- There is generally no required length for submissions, but you should bear
in mind limited staff resources and time when preparing your communication.
This means not making it any longer than it really needs to be, and if it
exceeds 8 or 10 pages, you should provide a summary of the essential points
so that it is easy for the member of staff to see if it is useful.
2.1.2 Balanced and Credible
You can make your submission balanced and credible by introducing
yourself, being objective and avoiding sensational claims.
- The response you obtain to your submission will depend very much on the
impression given of your organisation, its reliability and your motives in
sending the information. It is far better to address these questions directly
rather than leave them up to the imagination of the staff member reading the
communication. It is important to create a good reputation for yourself and
your organisation so that, over time, you will become a trusted source.
If you have not previously introduced yourself to an organisation, you can
start by explaining your mandate - you can do this in the communication itself
or, even better, you can include a copy of your statutes or of an annual report
that gives a good indication of your activities. If you are affiliated with
an international NGO, you should say so - this will provide an easy way of
checking out your credentials. Make sure to explain not only your activities,
but also your purpose and objectives. If you are a politically-oriented organisation,
say so - this will help to place your information in context and also show
that you have nothing to hide. Explain your methods of work - how is your
information collected? Is it first-hand information or has it been obtained
by word of mouth or from press reports? The aim is to include any information
which will help the mechanism to form an accurate impression of your organisation
and the quality of your information.
- Always make sure that your presentation of the information is balanced.
An objective, balanced view of a situation will make your communication far
more credible, and show that you are interested in presenting the real situation
and not just one perspective. While it is normal for information to appear
somewhat one-sided if it is trying to establish a pattern of violation, it
is important to present it in an objective context. Explain the background
carefully, so that the information cannot be perceived as having been taken
out of context (see Part III, Chapter
2.2.1 for an indication of the kind of details you might include). This
inspires confidence in the material and means that the next time you send
information, it will be recognised as coming from an organisation which has
proved reliable in the past.
Avoid sensational claims:
- Using sensational language or dramatic descriptions is likely to be detrimental
to your submission. The international mechanisms receive many communications
which are full of sensational claims and contain no facts or substance. A
balanced, informative communication supported by examples will stand out from
the rest of the many unsupported allegations and will be received with far
Making your submission detailed is not about being lengthy - it is about
being informative. You should provide sufficient information for an international
body to be able to reach its own conclusions about whether torture or ill-treatment
has occurred, while at the same time remaining concise and as brief as possible.
You need to make sure that the detail you include is relevant detail,
that is to say, that it helps to support your allegation. Extensive materials
in which an allegation is deeply buried and needs to be extracted makes the
international bodies' work more difficult, as do large amounts of general information
with little precise detail. Concentrate on including as many details as possible
which relate to the allegations themselves, and keep the general material brief,
but informative - it needs to be there to set the context, but it should not
take over or be the focus of the communication.
2.2 Submitting information to a body engaged in monitoring:
what should your communication include?
The content of your communication will vary somewhat according to what you
are trying to prove. However, it is possible to give the following guidelines
on what to include.
2.2.1 Sending general information to a monitoring
When sending general information to a reporting mechanism, you should
aim to set the context and establish patterns.
Set the context: It is very difficult for any of the mechanisms
to get a clear picture of the problems in a country or to make useful recommendations
if they do not have a good grasp of the context in which these problems are
taking place. An objective summary of the general situation in the country is
very valuable. This does not mean making a few sweeping statements accusing
the state of widespread violations of human rights. It means explaining briefly
the conditions present in the country which might affect the state's respect
for its obligations to prevent torture. Relevant factors might include:
- Main political groups and their respective standing, including any controversy
about the coming to power of the current Government and principal rivalries
- Any tensions along ethnic, social or religious lines
- The existence of an armed conflict and the parties involved
- The structure and powers of the security forces and military, particularly
if the military are in control
- Relevant traditional beliefs, practices and customs
- The legal framework, in particular any laws granting special powers, e.g.
anti-terrorist laws, and other relevant legislation
The objective is to include the facts which you think an outsider might need
in order to understand what is going on in the country.
Establish patterns: In contrast to individual allegations, each
of which is concerned with the outcome in a specific case, general information
should paint an overall picture of the practice of torture in a country, or
identify a specific aspect of that practice.
In order to establish a pattern, it is not enough to:
- List a few individual cases
- Make unsupported statements about the practice of torture in a country
Instead you should:
- Use as many examples as possible
- Analyse the individual allegations in order to identify patterns.
E.g. if you find that a lot of your allegations are about the use of electric
shocks throughout a country, or about the rape of women taken into custody
in a particular police establishment, you could suggest that the allegations,
taken as a whole, support a pattern - the use of electric shocks as a common
method of torture, or the rape of women in a specific police station.
Other apparent patterns which might be of relevance could include a high
occurrence of torture and other forms of ill-treatment among suspects detained
under a particular law permitting extended incommunicado detention, a high
incidence of torture of detainees from a particular ethnic or social group,
consistent failure to prosecute officials accused of torture, a high rate
of unexplained deaths in custody, or widespread reports of the torture of
women or children.
The point is to show that certain forms of torture, or behaviour facilitating
torture, are not limited to a few isolated incidents, but occur on a regular
When presenting your findings about patterns you have identified, it is best
- First, summarise all of the patterns you have identified
- Next, take each proposition one by one, and explain it in general terms
- After each proposition, provide as many examples as possible to support
Table 3: Checklist For Submitting General Information
To A Reporting Mechanism
|CHECKLIST: Submitting general
information to a reporting mechanism
|Does your submission include:
- A brief introduction to the objectives and working
methods of your organisation?
- A summary of the context in which the allegations
are set, particularly the legal framework?
- A presentation of any identifiable patterns of violation?
- As many detailed examples as possible? (see Part
III, Chapter 2.2.2 for guidelines on the information to include
on each individual allegation)
- Any available supporting documentation?
- A list of local organisations or persons which can
be contacted to seek information about the relevant country?
2.2.2 Sending an individual allegation to a monitoring
If you wish to send information about an individual allegation to a
reporting mechanism, you should aim to include the following as a minimum wherever
- Name of victim: This should include both first and last name unless
it is the local custom to have only one name. The objective is identification
- if the name is very common, other identifying details should be given, such
as address or place of residence, age, sex or profession. Such details are
always valuable and should be given if known. Most of the mechanisms cannot
take action on behalf of an unidentified individual, which normally means
a named individual. The only exception where names might not be required would
be where a clearly identifiable group is involved - e.g. a group of 50 students
arrested after demonstrating outside the mayor's office of City X on
19 November 1999 - but names should always be included if available.
- Date of incident: This should be as precise as possible, and include
both the date of apprehension by the state officials and of any incident(s)
of torture if these are different. Dates are important as they help to understand
the sequence of events. If you know the time of day (exact time, or whether
it took place in the morning or evening) this can also be helpful.
- Place of incident: This should include the name of the town, village
or local district, and the name of the state or region where applicable. Make
sure that you include the place of any incident of torture or other ill-treatment,
which may mean more than one place if there have been several incidents, as
well as the place of arrest if this is different.
- Alleged perpetrator(s): This should include the name and rank of
the perpetrator if known, but at least the branch of the security forces or
military involved, or the police station with which the perpetrator is associated.
It is often possible to identify the group involved by the uniform worn. Remember
that the perpetrator must have a connection with the state - in an area where
apprehensions by plainclothes police or military are known to be common, it
may not be necessary to name the perpetrators, as it will be possible to draw
a strong inference from the surrounding circumstances. See Part
I, Chapter 3.6 for a discussion of what to do if the allegation concerns
- Details of treatment: Avoid using the term 'torture' or
'tortured' without describing the treatment involved. Not every
incident of unpleasant treatment will be serious enough to constitute torture
in legal terms, even though you may feel very strongly about it. The best
approach is to describe the treatment in as much detail as possible. In this
way, the international body will be able to determine for itself if torture
in the legal sense has taken place. Where the torture was physical, the details
should include descriptions of the treatment involved, any instruments
used, the parts of the body to which the treatment was applied, and
any injuries suffered. For example, instead of saying 'Mr. X was
beaten', which could mean just about anything, it is much more informative
to say 'Mr. X was severely beaten in the face and head with a metal bar,
resulting in a fractured skull and a perforated eardrum.' Where the torture
was psychological, you should describe what it consisted of, how the
victim felt while it was going on and subsequently, and provide details
of any way in which the victim's behaviour or mental state has been affected
by the treatment e.g. if he is suffering from nightmares or paranoia.
While there is a minimum amount of detail which should be present, there is
really no maximum to the amount of relevant details which can be included.
What does relevant mean? Basically, it means anything which helps the international
bodies to understand what happened and makes it possible for them to decide
if a state is respecting its obligations. As states have obligations to investigate
and remedy incidents of torture, this includes information about what happened
after the incident. Details which might be relevant and should be included if
- Age, sex and profession of the victim - it is particularly useful to mention
whether the person is male or female, as it can be difficult for someone unfamiliar
with the local language to determine this.
- Identity card number
- Address or place of residence
- Race or ethnic group
- Any injuries or long-term effects suffered
- Was the victim granted access to a lawyer and/or doctor during his detention?
- Did the victim make a complaint about the incident of torture?
- If a complaint was made, what have the state authorities done in response?
Has there been an investigation or prosecution? If there has been a prosecution,
was any penalty imposed?
Table 4: Checklist For Submitting An Individual Allegation
To A Reporting Mechanism
|CHECKLIST: Submitting an
individual allegation to a reporting mechanism
|Does your submission include:
- A brief introduction to the objectives and working
methods of your organisation?
- As many details as possible, but at least:
- name or other identifying characteristic of victim
- date and place of incident(s)
- alleged perpetrator(s)
- details of treatment
(See above for an explanation of what these should include)
- Any available supporting documentation?
- A clear indication that the case is urgent if you
are requesting urgent action?
- A clear indication of any details which are confidential?
2.3 Submitting information in the context of the
state reporting procedure
2.3.1 How does the state reporting procedure work?
The purpose of the state reporting procedure is to help treaty bodies (this
currently applies only to the United Nations treaty committees) to gain a clear
picture of the extent to which States Parties are respecting their treaty obligations,
by asking states to describe how they are implementing those obligations in
practice. States have an obligation to submit reports on a regular basis, although
many delay the submission of these reports for many months or years. Once a
treaty body has received a state report, it must examine it carefully in order
to identify any areas of concern. The report is considered in a formal meeting,
which the public may attend. During this meeting, the state whose report is
being considered is given an opportunity to introduce its report, and will normally
be asked by the committee to answer further questions raised by the report.
Finally, the committee will adopt its conclusions and make recommendations to
the state on ways to better implement its obligations.
2.3.2 What can you achieve by submitting information
in the context of the state reporting procedure?
The reports received by the treaty bodies are prepared by the states themselves.
This does not necessarily mean that they are inaccurate, but it does mean that
they represent the official view of a situation. It is important to make sure
that when the treaty bodies reach their conclusions and make recommendations,
they do so on the basis of information which accurately reflects the situation
in a country. Submitting reliable information can help the treaty bodies to:
- reach accurate conclusions about a country situation
- ask the right questions when examining the state report
- make useful recommendations appropriate to the situation
Consideration of a state report by one of the treaty bodies is a significant
event which receives a lot of publicity. Your submission can help to ensure
that the conclusions which receive this publicity are reliable and draw attention
to the real areas of concern. In addition, if you have used your submission
to make constructive suggestions for improvement, they may well influence the
2.3.3 What should an NGO report in the context of
the state reporting procedure contain?
You should follow the general guidelines set out in Part
III, Chapter 2.2.1, for submitting general information to a reporting mechanism.
In addition, however, as the state reporting procedure involves an assessment
by a treaty body of the extent to which obligations under a particular treaty
are being respected, you should be guided by the provisions of that particular
treaty and previous findings in relation to the state, as well as the purpose
of the procedure.
When preparing a submission, therefore, you should bear in mind the following:
- As the reference point used by the committee in its examination will be
the treaty itself, it makes sense to construct your report around the provisions
of the treaty. Pick out those about which you have information, and explain
how they are being implemented in the country. This ensures that you are addressing
issues which the committee will be most interested in, and it helps you to
identify the points which you should concentrate on. As the state will certainly
provide information about the formal legal situation, what legislation exists,
etc., the big question which you will need to answer will, as a general rule,
be how this legislation actually works in practice.
- If the report being submitted is not the first one submitted by that particular
state, you should also refer to the committee's previous conclusions
on that state in order to help you identify the areas of concern to the committee.
You should comment on the extent to which the committee's recommendations
have been implemented since consideration of the last report.
- If there is time between publication of the state report and its consideration,
it can be helpful to comment on the content of the state report itself, whether
you agree or disagree with it (always give reasons), or whether there is any
additional information which should be brought to the attention of the committee.
This also helps you to focus on the points which will be most useful to the
committee. Make sure that your report is objective and does not concentrate
only on the negative aspects - if what the Government has stated is true,
you should recognise it, and recognise also those measures it may have taken
which have had some success in improving the situation. A balanced approach
will strengthen your credibility, and also allow the committee to see what
measures actually appear to work in practice, which will assist it in making
recommendations in other cases.
- Unless you can do so very briefly, you should not attempt to address each
and every point made by the Government or contained in the treaty, but concentrate
instead on the most important issues. Remember that it is best to be concise
- Try to give as many precise examples and statistics as possible. The idea
is for you to provide the raw information so that the committee is in a position
to reach its own conclusions. This means that you should avoid making unsupported
statements. For example, you should avoid stating that something is ineffective
without giving specific examples of why this is so.
- It helps to set your allegations in context. See Part
III, Chapter 2.2.1, for suggestions on how to describe the general background
in a country.
- Try to suggest some questions which the committee might like to ask when
considering the state report. This can help the committee to identify important
areas of concern which the state report may not have elaborated upon.
- Finally, don't forget to make constructive suggestions for improvement.
You are often in a better position than the committee to get a sense of what
measures might have a positive effect on the general situation, and this insight
can be very useful to the committee. In addition, it helps to show that your
motives are not merely to challenge the Government, but genuinely to seek
to improve the general situation.
2.3.4 Practical tips for submitting information
in the context of the state reporting procedure
- Any State Party to the human rights treaties setting up a state reporting
procedure has a duty to submit these reports - check if your state is a party.
- To find out when your country is expected to submit a report, you should
contact the Secretariat in Geneva or check the website (see Appendix
2) to find out which reports are due to be considered at the next session
of the committee. This is normally decided at the end of the previous session.
- In recent years, the number of states submitting reports has begun to decrease.
If you are aware of serious problems in a country, it is worth alerting the
committees to the facts even where a country has not yet submitted a report.
This should not replace the sending of information close to the time of consideration
of a report, however - the treaty bodies receive so much information that
they can forget about information received a long time previously.
- Once you know that your state report will be considered at the next session,
get started as early as possible so that you have plenty of time to prepare
- The state report should become available to the public six weeks before
the Committee meets - you can contact the Secretariat if you would like a
copy, or check if it has been posted on the website. You should not wait until
the state report becomes available to start preparing your submission, as
you need plenty of time to research and prepare a good report.
- The committees receive a lot of information. Preparing submissions jointly
with other NGOs is a good way of reducing duplication and being more comprehensive.
The committees generally prefer to receive a single well-thought out and comprehensive
submission than a dozen statements repeating the same points and leaving out
- If you have the opportunity to go to Geneva to deliver your submission in
person, you should do so - again, this will help to distinguish it from the
rest of the information received, and it means that you can draw attention
to the most important parts of your submission. It can also help to create
an impression of you and your organisation, hopefully a good one.
2.4 Submitting information to a body engaged in fact-finding
Information to a body engaged in fact-finding can be provided either in advance
of or during a fact-finding visit. This will affect the focus which your information
2.4.1 Submitting information in advance of a fact-finding
In advance of a fact-finding visit, you should provide information which helps
the body to plan and prepare for its visit. The overriding consideration must
be that fact-finding visits are usually too short to examine every aspect of
the situation in a country. This requires those engaged in the planning and
preparation for a visit to be selective. Your information should help the fact-finding
body to identify the aspects of the situation which are most important, and
the activities which it can most usefully pursue during the visit.
Your information should help the body to plan and prepare for its visit by:
- Identifying the areas of concern which need to be examined most closely
- Identifying the areas, towns and specific institutions which should be visited
(those about which a lot of allegations are received and which appear to have
the most serious problems)
- Including as much detail as possible relating to the layout of the institutions
which should be visited and the location of rooms or areas within the institution
where torture most frequently takes place. Sometimes it may even be possible
to construct a plan of the layout or the route to the interrogation rooms
on the basis of information received from victims, particularly where the
same description is given by more than one victim, e.g. They took me there
through a door behind the main reception desk in the police station which
led downstairs - we went down two floors, and turned left down a long corridor.
The room where I was interrogated was the last door on the right at the end
of the corridor.
- Explaining the social and legal context of a country, in particular drawing
attention to any specific laws which appear to contribute to the problem,
e.g. legislation which permits extended incommunicado detention or which places
restrictions on the possibility of prosecuting state officials, or legislation
or case-law permitting the use of confessions obtained through torture as
evidence in court.
- Identifying any state officials or parliamentary representatives with whom
it would be particularly important to meet: either because they have themselves
been linked with involvement in ill-treatment (e.g. a state doctor known to
have issued false medical certificates concealing the presence of injuries
sustained in police custody; a public prosecutor known not to open cases concerning
allegations of ill-treatment against public officials), or because of any
attempts on their part to address problems of ill-treatment (e.g. members
of an independent national human rights commission).
- Providing a list of contacts with which the body might wish to organise
meetings during the visit, e.g. national human rights NGO representatives
(including those engaged in advocacy, reporting and rehabilitation), professional
associations such as medical or lawyers' associations, individual lawyers
familiar with the domestic system or active in the representation of victims,
- Informing the body if you would be able to arrange for it to meet with alleged
victims of torture during the visit.
2.4.2 Submitting information during a fact-finding
During the visit itself, if you have not already provided information to the
fact-finding body in advance, you should follow the guidelines suggested previously
as well as the additional considerations below. You yourself need to be very
selective at this stage. The fact-finding body will have a very tight schedule
and its meetings with NGOs will be relatively short.
The purpose of a fact-finding visit is to collect FACTS. At this stage, assuming
the fact-finding body has been able to examine general information in advance
of the visit, it is probably most interested in three things:
- Concrete examples of what really happens in practice.
- Meeting alleged victims in order to record personal testimony -
it is probably best for this to happen separately to your initial informational
meeting (though this will depend on the schedule of the visit) and to take
place in a location which is not intimidating for the victims. You should
discuss this with the representatives of the fact-finding body if it has not
been arranged in advance. Remember to bring to the meeting photocopies of
any documentation which supports the victims' allegations, such as medical
reports or judicial decisions.
- Obtaining the names and locations of individuals who have very recently
been taken into custody, particularly if they are being or have been
interrogated, and which it may be possible to visit in detention (either at
the place of police custody, or at a remand prison to which they may have
been transferred following interrogation). It would also be useful to identify
individuals who have just been released from custody
and claim to have been recently tortured . Where an individual currently in
custody has a legal representative, it would be useful to provide the contact
details of the representative as well.
If you are presenting information in person, you should:
- Make sure to address the important points first in case you run out of time.
- Listen carefully to any questions you are asked and answer them precisely,
even if this means that you are not able to say everything you have prepared
- the questions you are asked will be the ones which the visiting delegation
most needs answers to.
- Prepare a written submission as well, and bring it with you to the meeting
to back up your presentation - if you run out of time, this should provide
all the necessary information, and it will help the representatives of the
fact-finding body to remember you.
- Bring copies of any documentation which explains who you are and what you
do, e.g. activity report.
- Avoid using the meeting to make political statements - if you do this, you
will run out of time to provide the fact-finding body with the information
it really needs.