All the way to the UN: is petitioning a UN human-rights treaty body worthwhile?

2017-02-17T00:01:12Z (GMT) by Ball, Olivia
What evidence is there that accepted methods and mechanisms of human rights protection achieve their aims? The present study examines one avenue of redress offered by the United Nations: the quasi-judicial determination by treaty committees of complaints of rights violations brought by individuals against states. In this first comprehensive assessment of cases won against Australia, quantitative analysis of the committees’ work and qualitative study of petitioners’ experience of the process offer a valuable new perspective on the relative merits of individual communications. Australia is a stable, democratic nation where people generally enjoy peace, prosperity and the rule of law. However, it lacks comprehensive domestic legal protection of human rights, and has no intermediate stratum of a regional court of human rights in the Asia–Pacific. Although it participates in the UN human rights committee procedures – and a high number of complaints has been brought against Australia – its record of response to adverse decisions from these bodies is poor. The present study assesses the perceived merits and pitfalls, from the petitioner’s point of view, of complaining to the UN. Interviews were conducted with 18 people who have lodged a successful complaint against Australia, that is, where a treaty violation was found. Petitioners commented on the risks, time, effort, expense and other costs involved in pursing this form of remedy, relative to the outcomes achieved. Despite a failure by the State Party to implement the committees’ views in at least 80% of cases, most petitioners felt the process was worthwhile.