Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council

24 Jan 2014

Who are the Special Procedures: The special procedures of the Human Rights Council (HRC) 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 UN human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. As of 1 October 2013 there were 37 thematic and 13 country mandates.

Mandate: With the support 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, engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special procedures report annually to the HRC; the majority of the mandates also reports to the General Assembly. Their tasks are defined in the resolutions creating their mandates.

Types of Special Procedures: 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 UN regional groupings: the Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and members of the Working Groups are appointed by the HRC and serve in their personal capacities. They are not UN staff members and do not receive financial remuneration. The independent status of the mandate holders is crucial in order to be able to fulfil their functions in all impartiality. A mandate-holder’s tenure is limited to six years.

Country visits: Mandate holders carry out country visits to analyse the human rights situation at the national level. They typically send a letter to the State requesting to visit the country, and, if the State agrees, an invitation to visit is extended. Some countries have issued "standing invitations", which means that they are, in principle, prepared to receive a visit from any thematic special procedures mandate holder. After their visits, Special Procedures issue a mission report containing their findings and recommendations.

Tools: Most special procedures receive information on specific allegations of human rights violations and send urgent appeals or letters of allegation to States asking for clarification. Mandate holders may also send letters to States seeking information about new developments, submitting observations, or following-up on recommendations. These letters do not necessarily allege that a violation has taken place or is about to occur. Communications sent and the responses received are reported at each regular session to the Human Rights Council.

Nomination: According to resolution 5/1, the following general criteria will be of paramount importance while nominating 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. Eligible candidates are highly qualified individuals who possess established competence, relevant expertise and extensive professional experience in the field of human rights.

Readers are kindly informed that allegations of violations can be brought to the attention of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva at: urgent-action@ohchr.org