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A UNESCO human rights tool you might not know about

UNESCO's Committee on Conventions and Recommendations offers a process any individual or group can use to try to get violations of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, addressed by States - but it's relatively unknown. This 5-minute IFEX guide explains how to use it.

This is one in a series of IFEX explainers aimed at strengthening the ability of civil society to engage in global spaces for free expression advocacy. To visit the hub page and see the whole set, click here.

Sudanese journalists pose with chains to protest a decision impeding the publication of
Sudanese journalists pose with chains to protest a decision impeding the publication of "Tayar" newspaper, in Khartoum, 1 March 2016


UNESCO's Committee on Conventions and Recommendations was created in 1978 with the aim of, among other functions, seeking amicable solutions to alleged violations of human rights. How can NGOs use it?

What is it?

Informally known as "Cre" (its acronym "CR", pronounced in French), UNESCO's Committee on Conventions and Recommendations examines communications and complaints about cases relating to the exercise of human rights – specifically those that fall within UNESCO's field of competences, which include the right to information, freedom of opinion, and expression. These rights may also be considered implicated in the exercise of others, such as freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and freedom of assembly and association.

The current CR is made up of representatives of 30 UNESCO member states (check out the composition of the Committee here). It meets in private twice a year at UNESCO headquarters in Paris during the sessions of the Executive Board, in spring and autumn (check the dates here).

How does it work – and does it work?

Its goal is to work out of the public spotlight to seek solutions on allegations of violations of human rights that are communicated to UNESCO. It does so by establishing a dialogue with the State concerned.

It is important to know that this dialogue with the State takes place in complete confidentiality among the 30 members of the CR, which has made clear that its objective is to improve the situation of the alleged victims, but in no case to condemn and penalise the government. The CR will issue a recommendation that will be shared with the parties concerned, but never made public. As a mechanism it is not treaty-based, so its decisions are not binding. Nevertheless, as an approach it has proven effective in many instances.

According to UNESCO, from 1978 to 2015 the CR considered 597 of these communications. In 381 cases, a recommendation was made; the 216 remaining cases are either still underway, or were considered inadmissible.

After CR engagement, 224 alleged victims of human rights violations individuals were released or acquitted, 56 were authorised either to leave or return to their countries, 30 were able to resume their employment or activity, and 14 were able to resume a banned media.

Who can engage with it?

Any individual, group of individuals or non-governmental organisation is allowed to communicate complaints to UNESCO concerning violations of human rights, whether the authors of these communications are themselves victims of such violations, or they have reliable knowledge of such violations.

How do you communicate with the CR?

The alleged violations should concern a UNESCO member state. Check the list here.

Your communication to the CR must be made in either French or English, and must follow the following criteria, as described by UNESCO:

• The communication must not be anonymous;
• The communication must not be manifestly ill-founded and must appear to contain relevant evidence;
• The communication must be neither offensive nor an abuse of the right to submit communications;
• The communication must not be based exclusively on information disseminated through the mass media (the press, television, radio, internet...);
• The communication must be submitted within a reasonable time limit following the facts which constitute its subject matter or within a reasonable time limit after the facts have become known;
• The communication must indicate whether an attempt has been made to exhaust available domestic remedies with regard to the facts, which constitute the subject matter of the communication and the result of such an attempt, if any.

Communications must take the form described on page 71 of this UNESCO document.

Communications must be sent to:
Director of the Office of International Standards and Legal Affairs of UNESCO
7 place de Fontenoy,
75352 Paris 07 SP France
[email protected]

What cases may be more likely to result in a positive outcome?

• Cases where the alleged victims are alive, so their situation could potentially be improved by State action;
• Cases where the situation can be improved by a unilateral decision of the State;
• Cases in which domestic remedies have been exhausted or at least there has been an attempt to use them. (Make sure you include information on having exhausted domestic or regional remedies, or evidence that domestic or regional remedies are not working properly.);
• Cases where the requested solution is as concrete as possible;
• Cases from countries where the government is more likely to make a move under confidential pressure by other States;
• Cases not already being examined by another UN body.

What to expect after your submission

• You will receive a letter (see page 69 of standard letter) confirming whether the case is considered admissible.
• If admissible, a letter will then be transmitted to the State concerned informing it of the communication received and requesting an explanation of the alleged violation/s of human rights.
• The case will be examined by the CR at a private session in which the presence of the State concerned might be requested. In no case will the author of the communication be requested to attend the meeting.
• You may be requested by the CR for more information, and you are expected to update the case as needed throughout the process.
• Both you and the State concerned will be informed of the decisions, which are not binding, and not subject to appeal.
• The CR may agree to re-examine a communication if it receives additional information or new facts.
• Timing: Results could take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the case and the will of the State to cooperate.

CR-related resources

Committee on Conventions and Recommendations website
Committee on Conventions and Recommendations flyer
Committee on Conventions and Recommendations brochure
UNESCO's Procedures for the Protection of Human Rights: The Legislative History of the 104 EX/3/3 procedure

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