Certain non-governmental organisations and some international treaty bodies and mechanisms have urgent procedures designed to assist persons who face an imminent risk of torture or ill-treatment, or of other serious violations of human rights.
For example, NGOs undertaking emergency actions include:
- Amnesty International has an urgent action network which is aimed to assist persons at risk of torture, death or medical neglect; from an unfair trial, the judicial death penalty or political killing; or from forcible repatriation to a country where someone may be at risk of further human rights abuses. The purpose of Urgent Actions is to rapidly produce an internationally coordinated mass protest, to stop or prevent serious human rights violations. For more information, consult Amnesty's Urgent Action site.
- The World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) has the capacity to conduct urgent appeals through its SOS-Torture Network. It sends urgent information to NGOs as well as intergovernmental and regional organisations liable to take action and intervene in a situation.
- The Asian Human Rights Commission has an urgent appeals desk that undertakes actions on behalf of persons or groups whose human rights have been violated, and for whom some immediate intervention by people around the world may lead to a remedy or official reaction.
The individual complaints procedures of international treaty bodies and regional courts allow for the adoption of provision measures. This enables the body to request, and in some cases, to order the State to undertake specific measures to safeguard the rights of the individual complainant. In order for an individual to request provisional measures, the matter must properly be within the jurisdiction of the complaint procedure, e.g., the state concerned must have agreed to the jurisdiction, the substance of the complaint must relate to a breach of one of the articles covered by the complaint mechanism, etc. For example:
- The United Nations Committee against Torture may, in the course of its consideration of either the admissibility or the merits of a communication, and before taking any decision, request the State Party concerned to take steps to avoid possible irreparable damage to the alleged victim of the violation. This provision offers protection to persons alleging a violation of the Convention even before the Committee takes a decision on the admissibility or the merits of the case. Moreover, it does not prejudge the Committee's final decision.
- The United Nations Human Rights Committee, similarly, may, through its system of interim protection, ensure that urgent requests are dealt with expeditiously. There have been cases, for example, in which the Committee has advised against a threatened expulsion, requested the suspension of a death sentence or drawn attention to the need for an urgent medical examination.
- The European Court of Human Rights may adopt interim measures, at the request of a party or any other person concerned, or on its own motion. Similarly, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights may request that a state take "precautionary measures" to avoid serious and irreparable harm, if it receives a complaint that a serious violation of human rights is about to take place. The Commission may also request that the Court order "provisional measures" in urgent cases which involve danger to persons, even where a case has not yet been submitted to the Court. If the victim's life, personal integrity or health is in imminent danger, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has the powers under Rule 111 of its Rules of Procedure to adopt provisional measures, thereby urging the State concerned not to take any action that will cause irreparable damage to the victim until the case has been heard by the Commission. The Commission can also adopt other urgent measures as it sees fit.
Also, the extra-conventional mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council, e.g., the special rapporteurs entrusted to examine, monitor and publicly report on the situation in specific countries or on major phenomena or human rights violations worldwide, in some cases undertake urgent actions. In such cases, the Special Rapporteur or Chairperson of a Working Group may address a message to the authorities of the state concerned requesting clarifications or appealing to the Government to take the necessary measures to guarantee the rights of the alleged victim. For example:
- The Special Rapporteur on Torture may send urgent appeals to governments on behalf of individuals with regard to whom serious fears had been expressed that they might be subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. In 2002, the Special Rapporteur sent 294 urgent appeals to 82 Governments (1).
- The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions may send urgent transmissions to the government concerned in cases that evince a fear of imminent extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; these cases include death threats and fear of imminent execution of death sentences in contravention of the limitations on capital punishment set forth in the pertinent international instruments. This fear is sometimes based on alleged violations of the right to life that have already been committed. The Special Rapporteur may also send urgent appeals to governments after having been informed of the imminent expulsion of persons to a country where they are at risk of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution.
- Similarly, when there are sufficiently reliable allegations that a person is being detained arbitrarily and that the continuation of the detention may constitute a serious danger to that person's health or life, or in other circumstances, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention may send an urgent appeal by the most rapid channel of communication, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State concerned, requesting that the Government take appropriate measures to ensure that the detained person's right to life and to physical and mental integrity are respected.
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, Theo van Boven, submitted pursuant to Commission resolution 2002/38, Addendum, E/CN.4/2003/68/Add.1, 27 February 2003.