UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures

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.

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 1 August 2017, there are 44 thematic and 12 country mandates.


Country visits

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.


Other activities

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.

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