The Special Procedures of the United Nations are a group of human rights experts based out of Geneva, Switzerland that report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Through resolution 2002/31, the Commission on Human Rights established the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. More commonly referred to as the SR-Health, this office is tasked with documenting, reporting, discussing, and providing recommendations pertaining to the right to health.
Like all Special Procedures, the SR-Health can receive individual complaints from persons who allege that their right to health has been violated. Upon receiving a complaint, the SR-Health submits the complaint to the offending government, seeking explanation regarding the allegations. Over the next several months, the SR-Health act as an intermediary between the source and the government. At the end of the process, the SR-Health posts an opinion of the allegations in a joint communications report.
The Program and Process
DMI uses its complaint program to connect aggrieved victims and their families in their home countries with the SR-Health in Geneva. We solicit information from the ground, develop and process that information into a formal complaint, and then submit the complaint to the SR-Health. We also monitor the status of our complaints by engaging with the SR-Health and by providing additional information upon request.
DMI’s complaint process is two-fold. First, we work with the victim to explain the process of engaging with the SR-Health. This is an important first step, as DMI never submits a complaint without first obtaining the informed consent of the victim or his duly authorized representative. If the victim consents, we can begin soliciting the information necessary for the complaint. Generally, this involves asking the complainant to provide a narrative description of the abuse. DMI has generated a form in both English and Arabic to help identify the necessary information. The information-gathering process can take as little as a few hours or as long as a month.
There are two ways to submit a complaint to the SR-Health; “incident-based” and “complainant-based.” Incident-based complaints are submitted on behalf of ten or more victims at a time that were persecuted during the same action, while complainant-based complaints have only one victim. For example, if the Government of Bahrain arrests twelve healthcare professionals for providing treatment to injured protestors, DMI will attempt to identify all twelve persons and obtain their information and the informed consent of their families before submitting an incident-based complaint.
After processing the information, DMI prepares a document similar to a legal declaration that provides the pertinent facts in narrative form. The goal is to provide the information in a succinct and easily usable form, as presenting the information in a lengthy and complex manner limits the number of complaints the SR-Health can act upon. After the complaint is penned, it is emailed to the SR-Health, who decides whether or not to submit it to the government in question.
If the SR-Health submits the complaint to the government in question, the process can go one of two ways. If the government chooses to respond (and not all governments do), the SR-Health will pass the response to DMI and ask for a reply. This process repeats itself until either the government stops responding or the SR-Health is satisfied that no new information will be obtained, at which point the SR-Health issues an opinion. If the government chooses not to respond, the SR-Health issues an opinion more quickly. The whole process can take anywhere from six months to a year before the SR-Health publishes an opinion, with a mean time of 9-10 months.
What You Can Do
Are you or someone you know a victim of a medical impartiality violation? If so, you can fill out the form linked here and we will process your complaint and bring it before the SR-Health of the United Nations. You can also contact us if you want to better understand the process before deciding whether or not to submit. We are always available to help in any way we can.