Education Guide The Opposition

Human Rights Accountability Mechanisms

There are various forums that human rights advocates can turn to in support of their campaigns. Human rights accountability mechanisms are based on international laws that are not enforceable. However, the process of naming and shaming can affect the practices and policies of governments. International recognition that abuses have or are still taking place may be used by advocates in publicising these at both international and domestic levels. And shining international light on such abuses can generate support and empower those who campaign against them.

Some of the accountability mechanisms available through the standards and norms 
for business have been addressed previously. The international human rights framework provides other avenues to lodge complaints.


The UN Human Rights Council has instituted the Universal Periodic Review. This is the mechanism through which all members of the United Nations have to report every four years on the performance of each member of the United Nations. The basis of the review is the UN Charter, the obligations of government under the various human rights mechanisms, and the commitments governments have made during previous reviews.

There are a number of opportunities for civil society to have an input into the reviews.  The Human Rights Council urges civil society to provide complementary information on the performance of the government. All members of the Human Rights Council are entitled to participate in all the reviews and ask questions and follow up on commitments of the government under review. Civil society can provide information on their concerns  to members of the Human Rights Council, requesting them to raise relevant questions. The answers and commitments made by a government under review can be used to further publicise the issues.


Under the articles of each of the human rights Covenants and Conventions, governments who have become parties to these treaties have the obligation to report periodically on their performance in implementing the obligations under the relevant treaty. To oversee this process each treaty calls for the establishment of committees of independent experts who conduct reviews of the periodic reviews. These are commonly known as the Treaty Bodies.

The Committees base their reviews of the governments’ periodic reports on information compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. They also encourage information from other sources such as international human rights organisations.  Most importantly, they seek information from civil society organisations from the country under review. These alternative sources of information – also called “shadow” or “alternative” reports – are key to completing record. The Committees finally produce Concluding Observations which contain recommendations to the governments on meeting their obligations in areas of concern. These Concluding Observations can in turn be used by human rights advocates in their domestic and international campaigns.

The abuses that occurred at Paga Hill would be of interest and concern to the Committee on Human Rights and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 


From time to time, the UN Human Rights Council appoints independent experts to investigate human rights on either specific themes or on individual countries. These are called ‘Special Procedures’. These individuals are not staff members of the UN, but serve in a personal capacity and are supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. They serve at considerable sacrifice to themselves and since the Office of the High Commissioner is badly underfunded are almost always overworked.

The Special Procedures conduct country visits at the invitation of governments. It is 
most often at the suggestion of the Special Procedures that they are willing to conduct a country visit that the invitation is issued by a government. Most important for human rights advocates, the Special Procedures can issue letters and urgent appeals to governments when there are allegations of human rights in their country. Special Procedures also produce thematic and country reports and welcome input from individuals and civil society. 

The Opposition filmmaker Hollie Fifer and Joe Moses met with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context in Geneva to brief her on the events at Paga Hill.