With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), special procedures undertake country visits; act on individual cases and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States and others in which they bring alleged violations or abuses to their attention; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contribute to the development of international human rights standards, engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council; the majority of the mandates also reports to the General Assembly. Their tasks are defined in the resolutions creating or extending their mandates. (Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council)For those interested in determining the leading edge of what may become issues both within international organizations, and in states, following the relevant Special Procedure Mandate Holders' work may be useful. Indeed, though much of the work of Special Procedures do not have direct effect, the activities of Special Procedure Mandate Holders may sometimes have substantial effects on conversation and policy movements in the international and national spheres. Yet often the work of these Mandate Holders is overlooked. Lawyers and legal academics tend to underestimate the effect of this work on the development of both soft and hard law, especially indirectly by influencing policy discussion, and directly by providing frameworks which might be transposed into something more binding. International relations specialists tend to overlook the importance of the political choices made to establish or avoid special procedures. Business tends to be oblivious, perhaps because this is considered "politics" or "policy" far removed from areas of direct interest to business. These notions are pathetically shortsighted, of course. Much of the work of Special Procedures Mandate Holders will have a direct or indirect effect on either the territories within which business operates, or will affect the legal or governance frameworks within which business might have to operate. Civil society tends to be the most sensitive to the work of Special Procedures, though an inability to develop coherent approaches to interaction tends to dissipate their effectiveness in engagement with the work of the mandate holders.
Indeed, states have been the most sensitive to the potential of Special Procedures for affecting both the international environment in which states operate and the internal discourse. "The creation of the Human Rights Council in 2006 brought new efforts by countries leery of UN scrutiny to rein in mandates for monitoring thematic and country-specific situations and make recommendations. They were so useful that some countries started putting up roadblocks and criticizing their performance in the halls of Geneva and elsewhere." (Ted Piccone, Why are Human Rights Special Procedures so Special?, Brookings Sept. 2011)
The report of the activities of Special Procedures covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2014 can be accessed here.
The directory of Special Procedures Mandate Holders can be accessed here.
What follows are excerpts from the Human Rights Council discussion of Special Procedures, which may be accessed as well HERE. Some of the Special Procedure Mandate Holders are identified along with contact information.
The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The system of Special Procedures is a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. In the context of the 2011 review of its work and functioning, the Human Rights Council reaffirmed the obligation of States to cooperate with the Special Procedures, and the integrity and independence of Special Procedures. It also reaffirmed the principles of cooperation, transparency and accountability and the role of the system of Special Procedures in enhancing the capacity of the Human Rights Council to address human rights situations. Member States confirmed their strong opposition to reprisals against persons cooperating with the United Nations and its human rights mechanism and representatives.
The Council further recognized the importance of ensuring transparent, adequate and equitable funding to support all Special Procedures according to their specific needs (see HRC resolution 16/21).
Special procedures are either an individual (called "Special Rapporteur" or "Independent Expert") or a working group composed of five members, one from each of the five United Nations regional groupings: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and the Western group. The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and members of the Working Groups are appointed by the Human Rights Council and serve in their personal capacities. They undertake to uphold independence, efficiency, competence and integrity through probity, impartiality, honesty and good faith. They are not United Nations staff members and do not receive financial remuneration. The independent status of the mandate-holders is crucial for them to be able to fulfil their functions in all impartiality. A mandate-holder’s tenure in a given function, whether it is a thematic or country mandate, is limited to a maximum of six years.
With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Special Procedures undertake country visits; act on individual cases of alleged violations and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contributing to the development of international human rights standards ; engage in advocacy and raise public awareness ; and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special Procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council and the majority of the mandates also report to the General Assembly.
As of 27 March 2015, there are 41 thematic and 14 country mandates
At the invitation of States, mandate-holders carry out country visits to analyse the human rights situation at the national level. Some countries have issued "standing invitations" to the Special Procedures, which means that they are prepared to receive a visit from any thematic mandate-holder. As of 1 January 2015, 109 Member States and one non-Member Observer State have extended a standing invitation to thematic special procedures. At the end of their visits, special procedures' mandate-holders engage in dialogue with the State on their findings and recommendations and present a report to the Human Rights Council.
Most Special Procedures receive information on specific allegations of human rights violations and send communications (urgent appeals and other letters) to States, and occasionally to non-State actors, asking for clarification and action. Mandate-holders may send letters to States seeking information about legal, policy or structural developments, submitting observations, or following-up on recommendations.
The Annual Facts and Figures provides an overview of total communications sent and related nformation. Communications sent and the responses received are reported at each regular session to the Human Rights Council.
Either at the request of the Human Rights Council or at the initiative of the mandate-holders, special procedures prepare thematic studies, develop human rights standards and guidelines, participate in expert consultations, seminars and conferences, organize panels during the sessions of the Human Rights Council, organise “working visits”, i.e. in-country missions that are not fact-finding but a mix between technical assistance, mediation and the development of best practices, and raise public awareness about specific human rights situations and phenomena attesting threats to and violations of human rights through public statements and interaction with a wide variety of partners.
Coordination amongst the Special Procedures : Coordination Committee of Special Procedures and the Annual Meeting of Special Procedures
At their annual meeting in 2005, Special Procedures mandate-holders established a Coordination Committee to facilitate coordination amongst mandate-holders and act as a bridge between them and OHCHR, the broader UN human rights framework, and stakeholders.
Annual meetings of Special Procedures mandate-holders have been organized since 1994. The meeting is intended to better coordinate and harmonize the work of special procedures, and for mandate-holders to address topical issues, and exchange views with States, the President of the Human Rights Council, regional human rights organisations, national human rights institutions, representatives from OHCHR and UN entities, and civil society organisations.
Code of Conduct and working methods of the special procedures
The Code of Conduct adopted by the Council in 2007 and the Manual of Operations adopted by Special Procedures mandate-holders during their Annual Meeting in 2008 provide guidelines on the working methods of Special Procedures. Mandate-holders also established an Internal Advisory Procedure to review practices and working methods, which allows any stakeholder to bring issues relating to working methods and conduct to the attention of the Coordination Committee. The procedure was devised to enhance the independence and effectiveness of Special Procedures and cooperation by States, and to contribute to self-regulation of the special procedures system and individual mandate holders.
Nomination, selection and appointment of mandate holders
In its resolution 5/1 and 16/21, the Human Rights Council clarified the parameters related to the selection and appointment of special procedures mandate-holders: Candidates can be nominated by Governments, the Regional Groups operating within the United Nations system, international organisations or their offices, non-governmental organizations, other human rights bodies and individuals. A Consultative Group appointed by the Council reviews all applications for Special Procedures’ positions and proposes a list of candidates to the President of the Council. Resolution 16/21 has further strengthened and enhanced transparency in the selection and appointment process of mandate holders. National Human Rights Institutions that comply with the Paris Principles may also nominate candidates. Furthermore, candidates are required to submit an application accompanied by a motivation letter for each mandate they wish to apply for. Shortlisted candidates are thereafter interviewed by the Consultative Group.
According to resolution 5/1, the following general criteria will be of paramount importance while nominating, selecting and appointing mandate-holders: (a) expertise; (b) experience in the field of the mandate; (c) independence; (d) impartiality; (e) personal integrity; and (f) objectivity. Due consideration should be given to gender balance and equitable geographic representation, as well as to an appropriate representation of different legal systems. Eligible candidates are highly qualified individuals who possess established competence, relevant expertise and extensive professional experience in the field of human rights. Individuals in decision-making positions in Government or in any other organization or entity which may give rise to a conflict of interest with the responsibilities inherent to the mandate are excluded from being appointed as experts. Technical and objective requirements have been further clarified in HRC decision 6/102.
History of the system
In the early days of the United Nations, the Commission on Human Rights – the predecessor of the Human Rights Council – focused on elaborating human rights standards. The Economic and Social Council had passed a resolution stating that the Commission had “no power to take any action in regard to any complaints concerning human rights” (ECOSOC Resolution 75 (V) (1947)). However in 1965, the Commission on Human Rights was faced with a number of individual petitions from South Africa and came under considerable pressure to deal with them. As a result, in 1967 the Commission departed from previous practice and established an ad-hoc working group of experts to investigate the situation of human rights in Southern Africa (CHR resolution 2 (XXIII)). The ad-hoc working group can be considered as the first Special Procedure of the Commission on Human Rights. Following the 1973 coup in Chile against President Allende by General Augusto Pinochet, the Commission established an ad-hoc working group in 1975 to inquire into the situation of human rights in Chile. In 1979, this working group was replaced by a special rapporteur and two experts to study the fate of the disappeared in Chile. This led to the establishment of the first thematic Special Procedure in 1980: the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to deal with the question of enforced disappearances throughout the world (CHR resolution 20 (XXXVI)). Ten years later, in 1990, there were six thematic mandates covering enforced disappearances, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, religious intolerance, mercenaries, torture and sale of children. Since then, many new mandates have been established to deal with human rights challenges in various parts of the world. They now cover all regions and rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social.
Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of
Ms. Leilani Farha
Working Group of experts on people of African descent
Ms. Monorama Biswas
Ms. Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France
Ms. Mirjana Najcevska
Mr. Sabelo Gumedze
Ms. Verene Shepherd
Mr. Mads Andenas
Mr. Sètondji Roland Jean-Baptiste
Mr. José Guevara
Mr. Seong-Phil Hong
Ms. Maud De Boer-Buquicchio
Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth
Ms. Farida Shaheed
Mr. Alfred de Zayas
English, Spanish, French, Russian
Mr. Marzuki Darusman
Ms. Emna Aouij
Ms. Kamala Chandrakirana
Ms. Frances Raday
Ms. Eleonora Zielinska
Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice
Ms. Alda Facio
Spanish, English, French
Mr. David Kaye
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
Mr. Maina Kiai
Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt
Mr. Gustavo Gallón
English, French, Spanish
physical and mental health
Mr. Dainius Puras
Mr. Michel Forst
Ms. Gabriela Knaul
Ms. Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz
Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons
Mr. Chaloka Beyani
Mr. Ahmed Shaheed
Working Group on arbitrary detention
Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky
Mr. Michael K. Addo
Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business
Ms. Alexandra Guáqueta
Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business
Ms. Margaret Jungk
Mr. Puvan J. Selvanathan
Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga
Mr. Miklós Haraszti
Mr. Surya Prasad Subedi
Ms. Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum
Mr. Kishore Singh
Mr. Olivier de Frouville
Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances
Mr. Ariel Dulitzky
Ms. Jasminka Dzumhur
Mr. Osman El-Hajje
Ms. Houria Es Slami
French, Arabic, English
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
Mr. Christof Heyns
Mr. Philip Alston
Ms. Hilal Elver
Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations
of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
Mr. Juan Bohoslavsky
Mr. Suliman Baldo
Arabic, French, English
Ms. Patricia Arias
English, Spanish, French
Ms. Elzbieta Karska
Mr. Anton Katz
Mr. Saeed Mokbil
Mr. Gabor Rona
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related
Mr. Mutuma Ruteere
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences
Ms. Urmila Bhoola
Independent Expert on human rights and international
Ms. Virginia Dandan
Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
Mr. Bahame Tom Mukirya Nyanduga
Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan
Mr. Mashood Baderin
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic
Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
English, French, Spanish
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while
Mr. Ben Emmerson
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Mr. Juan Ernesto Méndez
Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
Mr. Pablo de Greiff
Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
Ms. Rashida Manjoo
Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation
Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque
English, French, Spanish
Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
Mr. John Knox
Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Mr. Baskut Tuncak
Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons
Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte
French, Spanish, English
Independent Expert on the enhancement of capacity building and technical cooperation with Côte d'Ivoire in the field of human rights
TO BE APPOINTED