The admissibility criteria will generally relate to: the reliability of the source; the internal consistency of the information received; the precision of the factual details included in the information; and the scope of the mandate itself. However, it must be emphasized that the criteria and the procedure involved in responding to an individual complaint vary, so it is necessary to submit a complaint in accordance with the specific requirements established by each special rapporteur.
When a special rapporteur receives credible information on alleged human rights violations, s/he can send a communication, usually taking the form of a letter, transmitted through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the Government concerned requesting information and comments on the allegation and that preventive or investigatory action be taken.
Communications may deal with individual cases, cases of groups or communities, general trends and patterns of human rights violations occurring in a particular country, or the content of draft or existing legislation considered to be a matter of concern.
Communications will usually take the form of either “urgent appeals” or “letters of allegation”. Special rapporteurs may send joint communications when cases fall under the scope of more than one mandate.
“Urgent appeals” are used to communicate information about a violation that is allegedly ongoing or about to occur. The intention is to ensure that the appropriate State authorities are informed as quickly as possible of the circumstances so that they can intervene to end or prevent a human rights violation.
“Letters of allegation” are used to communicate information about violations that are said to have already occurred and whose impact on the alleged victim can no longer be changed. This kind of letter is used, for example, in cases where information reaches the special rapporteur after the human rights abuse has already been committed.
In both types of letter, the special rapporteur asks the Government concerned to take all appropriate action to investigate and address the alleged events and to communicate the results of its investigation and actions. Depending on the response received, the special rapporteur may decide to inquire further or make recommendations.
Communications are not accusatory per se, cannot replace a judicial proceeding, and do not imply any kind of value judgement on the part of the special rapporteur; rather they are a means of requesting clarification on alleged violations with a view to trying to ensure, along with the Government concerned, the protection of human rights.
All communications sent and received are confidential and remain so until the end of the reporting cycle, when the special rapporteur submits an annual report to the Commission on Human Rights on communications sent and replies received from Governments on specific cases. The names of the alleged victims are reflected in the reports to the Commission, except in the case of children or specific circumstances.