What it is: A complaint procedure for UNESCO
Why should I care: It provides an avenue to engage in a mediated discussion with the State on an issue of Education, Science, Culture or Information. Each of these issues may be relevant to First Nations in several obvious (Education, or the right to culture – which is well established in international law) and non-obvious ways (Access to Information and Accessibility of Information regarding state or non-state activities impacting on indigenous territories, for example)
Here are the admissibility criteria, lifted right out of Decision 104 EX /3.3:
the communication must not be anonymous; the communication must originate from a person or a group of persons who, it can be reasonably presumed, are victims of an alleged violation of any of the human rights referred to in paragraph (iii) below. It may also originate from any person, group of persons or non-governmental organization having reliable knowledge of those violations; the communication must concern violations of human rights falling within Unesco’s competence in the fields of education, science, culture and information and must not be motivated exclusively by other considerations; the communication must be compatible with the principles of the Organization, the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international covenants on human rights and other international instruments in the field of human rights; the communication must not be manifestly ill-founded and must appear to contain relevant evidence; the communication must be neither offensive nor an abuse of the right to submit communications. However, such a communication may be considered if it meets all other criteria or admissibility, after the exclusion of the offensive or abusive parts; the communication must not be based exclusively on information disseminated through the mass media; the communication must be submitted within a reasonable timelimit following the facts which constitute its subject-matter or within a reasonable time-limit after the facts have become known; the communication must indicate whether an attempt has been made to exhaust available domestic remedies with regard to the facts which constitute the subject-matter of the communication and the result of such an attempt, if any; communications relating to matters already settled by the States concerned in accordance with the human rights principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international covenants on human rights shall not be considered;
For the sake of convenience, the good folks at UNESCO have even provided a form for those interested in filing complaints!
What happens next
UNESCO will acknowledge receipt and inform the state. I imagine they often request additional information from the victim. The state will also be permitted to reply to the complaint on the point of admissibility.
The complaint will be brought to the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations – the CR. The CR will decide on admissibility and will communicate its decision to the state and the complainant.
This is a confidential procedure, so the results on admissibility will not be published.
Assuming the communication is admissible, UNESCO will begin a process of conciliation between the parties. Although it is possible for UNESCO to make a finding that there has been a violation, it appears this has never happened.
Prospects for success/Is it useful:
Remember, this is a confidential procedure. I’ve never attempted to use it and I’ve never met anyone who has. I suspect, at best, it would provide mixed results and would recommend using it only in certain situations. The confidentiality and the limited expertise of UNESCO on human rights issues both suggest to me this is not the forum to go to if one wants redress, or even a strong public statement (contrasted to ILO Convention 111, for example).
However, it would appear to be an excellent choice if one wanted to engage in a confidential quasi-legal, quasi-political dialogue with a state. For example, if First Nations wanted to have a high-level national discussion on education or cultural matters (like language), the UNESCO procedure provides an interesting vehicle.
Ironically, this is precisely because the procedure requires confidentiality. It would allow for relatively focused and frank discussions, which might not lead to immediate action (or it might), but could lead to development of a longer term collaborative plan.
I’d suspect this would be the best that one could hope for here, but I can think of a few issues that could fit nicely into the UNESCO procedure.