What are regional human rights complaints mechanisms? 

States which violate or fail to protect children’s rights can be held to account at a national, regional or international level. Courts are the best known example of national mechanisms, and those at the international level include UN bodies that allow individuals or groups of individuals to bring cases of rights violations before them. Regional complaints mechanisms are often similar to those in the UN system, but operate with regional jurisdiction.

Similar to the international level, not all regional human rights mechanisms have complaints procedures. You can find out more about regional mechanisms in our guides section. Below is a list of some of the most effective regional complaints mechanisms for children’s rights violations.

What do they do? 

Regional human rights systems were developed to reflect regional values and offer a more specific framework than the UN system. Such a framework can resonate more strongly with local realities and allow for different approaches to enforcing standards.

Complaints about rights violations can be brought before regional human rights systems if the complainant has exhausted all avenues available to them in the domestic courts or has been prevented from seeking justice.

Each mechanism works differently; you can find out more by clicking on the links below that take you through to our guides section for each and offer the following information:

  • Explanations of how regional systems can be navigated to challenge breaches of children’s rights, and how they can be used to seek reparation and effect changes in national legislation which will extend protection for children’s rights;

  • Examples of successful cases; and

  • Glossaries of key terms for each regional system.


The African Union has several complaints mechanisms for children’s rights:

As in the UN human rights system, complaints may also be addressed to special procedures – individuals or working groups who are charged with monitoring a particular thematic area of concern, for example women’s rights. Currently, there is only one special procedure for children's rights, a Special Rapporteur on child marriage appointed by the ACERWC. The Special Rapporteur has the authority to conduct fact-finding missions on alleged violations. Complaints involving other breaches of children’s rights may be addressed to the other procedures.


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also has a court - the Community Court of Justice - which was established in 2006 and started hearing cases in 2008. The Court has jurisdiction to hear human right cases, provided the applicants are not anonymous and the same matter is not pending before another international court. The Court can rule on allegations of human rights violations, and also issue “advisory opinions” when someone asks for clarification on a legal matter.


The Organisation of American States (OAS) is a regional grouping which includes mechanisms that hold OAS Member States to account for human rights violations in the Americas and the Caribbean. See if your country is an OAS Member.

  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was established by the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. Complaints may be brought against any Member State of OAS. If a State is a party to the American Convention on Human Rights, it is held to account for the rights enshrined in this Convention. If a State has not ratified the American Convention, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man is applied. The Inter-American System has no specific instrument relating to children, but other instruments may be invoked to make individual and inter-State complaints about violations of children’s rights to the Inter-American Commission.

  • The Rapporteur on Child Rights, who is appointed by the Commission, may receive communications from States, organisations and individuals about a particular thematic issue or country of concern. They may carry out on-site investigations. States must agree to the Rapporteur’s visit.  

  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was created by the American Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s decisions are binding. Only the Inter-American Commission and State Parties to the American Convention may present complaints to the Court. Individuals must present complaints to the Commission, which may then pass them to the Court. Any State against whom a complaint is presented must have accepted the Court’s jurisdiction to rule on such cases, otherwise the case may only be taken to the Commission. Find out if your country has accepted the Court's authority.

In the Caribbean, there are a number of regional courts that hear human rights cases. There's the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which acts as a final court of appeal for a number of States. There's also the Caribbean Court of Justice, which deals with appeals from the CARICOM (Caribbean) countries and has jurisdiction over CARICOM treaties.


The Council of Europe has two mechanisms which can be used to challenge breaches of children’s rights: the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights.

  • The European Court of Human Rights can hear complaints about State violations of European human rights law. All Member States of the Council of Europe must abide by the Court’s judgments, and failure to do so can lead to expulsion from the Council of Europe.

  • The European Committee of Social Rights was created by the European Social Charter. States must have ratified the Protocol to the Charter which entered into force in 1998. This Committee, which protects social and economic rights, complements the work of the European Court of Human Rights which protects civil and political rights. The Committee can review complaints filed against States that have also ratified the Protocol to the European Social Charter providing for a communications procedure.

The European Union (EU) also has the European Court of Justice, which isn't a human rights court per se, but can hear cases that involve human rights where they touch on EU law. In certain niche circumstances, it might be the best option to bring a complaint, because EU law can be directly applicable in Member States.


  • The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) was inaugurated in October 2009 as a consultative body of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). From the very start, NGOs have been trying to test whether it would receive complaints of human rights violations in the region from individuals/groups affected by negative situations. From the outset, the AICHR declined to accept these complaints, viewing them as beyond its powers. However, AICHR’s mandate will be reviewed in 2014 (every five years), and this presents an opportunity to assess its impact and hopefully to invigorate its role in the protection of human rights.
  • ASEAN also has a Women and Children's Commission for Southeast Asia, though this has yet to begin its substantive work.