The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted 33 resolutions during its 33rd session, including to create one new independent expert mandate to monitor violence against LGBT persons and extending or renewing the mandates of eight other expert bodies. [OHCHR] The Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental group that tracks human rights conditions in the UN Member States, is responsible for creating special procedures, or independent human rights experts who report and advise on particular human rights issues. Additionally, six mandate holders are ending their six-year terms this calendar year.
Creation of a New Mandate
During its latest session, the Human Rights Council created the mandate of an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 32/2, Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,UN Doc. A/HRC/32/L.2/Rev.1, 28 June 2016, para. 3.
The three-year mandate requires the Independent Expert to highlight instances of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and work to address the underlying causes of such discrimination at an international and national level. See id. The Independent Expert is responsible for helping States find more effective ways to safeguard individuals from gender or sexuality-based discrimination and to facilitate international support for those domestic initiatives. See id. Additionally, the mandate requires the identification of best practices and gaps in implementation of human rights legal obligations in order to combat discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. See id.
This special procedure was created five years after the Human Rights Council’s very first adoption of a resolution that addressed sexual orientation or gender identity. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 17/19, Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/17/19, 14 July 2011. That 2011 resolution asked the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct a study on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and how international human rights law can help curb that violence. See id. The OHCHR published its report later that same year, and published another updated report on the same topic in 2015.
Extended and Renewed Mandates
In addition to creating a new special procedure mandate, the Human Rights Council extended several existing mandates. The extended mandates included those of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, extended for another year, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, also extended for one year. [OHCHR Press Release] The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus was created by the Council in a 2012 resolution. See Human Rights Council, Resolution 20/13, Situation of human rights in Belarus, UN Doc. A/HRC/Res/20/13, 16 July 2013. In light of a 2012 report from the OHCHR that found a pattern of systemic human rights violations, impunity for perpetrators, and specific targeting of human rights defenders, this special procedure’s responsibilities include monitoring human rights conditions in Belarus and offering advice on how to improve those conditions. See id. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, created in July 2012, is tasked with many of the same responsibilities concerning the human rights situation in Eritrea, which, according to the Human Rights Council’s resolution, includes forced labor, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and restrictions to freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. See Human Rights Council, Resolution 20/20, Situation of human rights in Eritrea, UN Doc. A/HRC/Res/20/20, 17 July 2012.
The Council also extended the mandate of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice in its resolution on eliminating discrimination against women, focusing particularly on women’s need for accessible and high-quality health care. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 32/4, Elimination of discrimination against women, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/L.7/Rev.1, 29 June 2016, paras. 4, 19. This extension will last for three years and contains the same terms as the resolution that created the Working Group in June 2010. See id.
Also extended for another three years, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons makes country visits and works alongside governments and organizations to improve State responses to internal displacement. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 32/11, Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/L.13, 1 July 2016. In extending the mandate, the Human Rights Council expressed particular concern over the vulnerable position of internally displaced persons with often limited access to aid, shelter, food, and other resources. See id.
Additionally, the Council extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food for three years. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 32/8, Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/L.15, 30 June 2016. This special procedure keeps track of international compliance with the fundamental right to food and has monitored developments in the global food crisis for the past sixteen years. See UN Comm’n on Human Rights, Human Rights Resolution 2000/10, The right to food, UN Doc. E/CN/4/RES/2000/10, 17 April 2000.
Finally, the mandate on capacity-building and technical cooperation with Cote d’Ivoire in the field of human rights was extended for another year. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 32/30, Capacity-building and technical cooperation with Cote d’Ivoire in the field of human rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/L.27, 28 June 2016. The Independent Expert will monitor capacity-building efforts in Cote d’Ivoire and submit his or her recommendations to the Human Rights Council during its 35th session. See id. at para. 26.
In addition to the new mandate and the extension of six others, the Council decided to renew two mandates. The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, which brings violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and of association to the Human Rights Council’s attention, was renewed for a period of three years. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 32/32, The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/L.32, 1 July 2016. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences focuses on private and State-imposed violence against women and determines the major causes of such violence. Its mandate was also renewed by the Human Rights Council for a period of three years. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 32/19, Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, including indigenous women and girls, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/L.28/Rev.1, 1 July 2016.
Changeover of Individual Mandate Holders
Each special procedure mandate holder may serve in his or her position for a maximum of six years. Therefore, the special rapporteurs and independent experts who were appointed in 2010 will conclude their terms this calendar year. The current mandate holders whose positions come to an end in 2016 are: Chaloka Beyani, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Kishore Singh, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The responsibilities of each special procedure are established by a Human Rights Council resolution that creates, extends, or renews the mandate. All mandates are either thematic or country-specific in focus and can take the form of a special rapporteur, independent expert, or working group. Special procedures are independent experts who do not represent their own countries nor serve as UN staff while performing their mandate functions. Their positions are honorary and they receive no monetary compensation for their work. The eligibility requirements for their nomination and appointment are governed by Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1, which includes expertise and objectivity as necessary criteria. Candidates may be nominated by governments, nongovernmental organizations, and certain national human rights institutions. A Consultative Group appointed by the Human Rights Council reviews the candidates and makes recommendations to the President of the Council, who then appoints the mandate holder, with approval from the Member States of the Human Rights Council. [IJRC]
Along with monitoring human rights issues related to their thematic or country-specific mandates and making recommendations, special procedures mandate holders communicate directly with States about possible human rights violations, accept information about human rights developments from civil society, and promote awareness of important human rights issues. Special procedures also regularly organize seminars and consultations to provide information about specific human rights topics. While all mandate holders report to the Human Rights Council annually, some also submit reports to the UN General Assembly. [IJRC]
To learn more about the UN Human Rights Council and special procedures, visit IJRC’s online resource hub or the OHCHR’s website, which provides information about past and upcoming country visits by special procedures, recommendations that special procedures have made in their annual reports to the Human Rights Council, previous reports to the General Assembly, and a directory of special procedures mandate holders.