Human Rights Council Establishes Special Rapporteur on Leprosy, Renews Ten Others

The current President of the Human Rights Council stands with former presidents at the start of the 32nd Session
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The United Nations Human Rights Council created or extended 11 special procedure mandates during its 35th regular session through the adoption of resolutions, including one that created the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. During the session, held from June 6 to June 23, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland, the Human Rights Council also extended the mandates of eight thematic and two country special procedure mandates. [OHCHR Press Release: 35th Session] The new mandate on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members is established for a period of three years, with a mandate to monitor the progress of the implementation of the principles for the elimination of such discrimination; to identify and promote good practices; and to report on an annual basis to the Human Rights Council, a UN intergovernmental group that tracks human rights conditions in the UN Member States and is responsible for creating special procedures, or independent experts who report and give advice on particular human rights issues. [OHCHR Press Release: Leprosy]

New Mandate on Persons Affected by Leprosy

The Human Rights Council adopted the resolution on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members without a vote. Through the resolution, it created the three-year mandate of the Special Rapporteur and called upon Member States to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, particularly by providing information, facilitating country visits, and implementing the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. [OHCHR Press Release: Leprosy] See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 35/L.14, Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, UN Doc. A/HRC/35/L.14, 19 June 2017.

According to the resolution, the Special Rapporteur must report on the steps taken to implement standards aimed at eliminating discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members in all regions, and must make recommendations to the Human Rights Council in connection with those reports. See UN Human Rights Council, Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. Additionally, the Special Rapporteur is tasked with working with all relevant stakeholders to identify and promote good practices regarding the realization of these rights, with the goal of eliminating leprosy worldwide. See id. The resolution continues that the mandate should raise awareness of the rights of persons affected by leprosy to combat their stigmatization and exclusion. The Special Rapporteur must report annually to the Human Rights Council. See id.

The resolution also emphasized the need for other actions to be taken. It encouraged the Special Rapporteur and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in consult with persons affected by leprosy, to work with Member States and relevant organizations to hold seminars educating all stakeholders on topics related to the rights of persons affected with leprosy. See id. The resolution also emphasized the need for Member States to implement the principles and guidelines for eliminating discrimination against persons affected with leprosy and their family members, submitted to the UN General Assembly by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee in 2010. See id.

Japan, speaking on behalf of the States that introduced the resolution, emphasized that this resolution sought to end the stigmatization of leprosy patients, ex-patients, and their families by focusing on social inclusion. [OHCHR Press Release: Leprosy] The goal is to fulfil this mandate by 2020. [OHCHR Press Release: Leprosy]

Renewed Mandates

The Human Rights Council extended the thematic mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education; the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other businesses. [OHCHR Press Release: 35th Session]

Regarding country mandates, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea both for one year. [OHCHR Press Release: 35th Session]

Human Rights & Leprosy

The creation of the new mandate follows the development of principles and guidelines on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy that the United Nations General Assembly endorsed in 2010. Under the principles, persons affected by leprosy and their family members are entitled to equal treatment in respect of all human rights. Specifically, such persons should not be discriminated against in the context of marriage, family, and parenthood; citizenship; participation in government; employment; and access to education. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 15/30, Draft set of principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, A/HRC/15/30, 12 August 2010, paras. 1-9. The guidelines encourage States to take appropriate measures to get rid of discriminatory policies and practices; pay special attention to women, children, and other vulnerable groups; support the reunification of families; promote full inclusion and participation in the community; ensure equal access to employment and education; provide equal access to healthcare, including psychological counselling; ensure an adequate standard of living; and raise awareness to foster respect for the rights of persons affected by leprosy. See id. at paras. 10-14.

The resolution that created the new mandate reflected the content of the principles and guidelines, reiterating that persons affected by leprosy and their families are entitled to the enjoyment of all human rights guaranteed in customary international law, conventions, national constitutions, and national laws. See UN Human Rights Council, Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also taken note of the discrimination against and stigmatization of persons affected by leprosy. The WHO launched a global strategy in April 2016 to eliminate leprosy transmission, and to end discrimination and stigmatization against persons affected by leprosy by 2020. [UN News Centre] The WHO collaborated with national leprosy programs, technical agencies, non-governmental organizations, patients, and communities affected by leprosy to develop the strategy, which focuses on equity, universal health coverage, and inclusion. [WHO Press Release]

United Nations Special Procedures

Special procedures are individual independent human rights experts or groups of experts who report and advise on human rights issues and are overseen by the Human Rights Council. These experts are commonly called Special Rapporteurs, Special Representatives, Working Groups, or Independent Experts. Special procedures have either thematic or country-specific mandates. As of June 2017, the Human Rights Council oversees 44 thematic mandates and 13 country-specific mandates. See OHCHR, Thematic Mandates; OHCHR, Country Mandates.

Special procedures mandate holders are not paid and serve only in their personal capacities for a maximum of six years to ensure that they carry out their duties independently and impartially. Each special procedure mandate is established by a Human Rights Council resolution that creates, extends, or renews the mandate. While mandate holders enjoy the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and, in the case of mandate holders in academia, may also benefit from institutional support from their universities, they do not represent their own country and are not UN staff during their mandate. Candidates are nominated by governments, nongovernmental organizations, and national human rights institutions, and the Consultative Group appointed by the Human Rights Council reviews the candidates and makes a recommendation for appointment. The President of the Council then appoints the mandate holder with approval from the Member States of the Human Rights Council. The eligibility of candidates is governed by Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1. See IJRC, UN Special Procedures.

Special procedures mandate holders monitor the human rights issues related to their thematic or country-specific mandates, may undertake official country visits to States upon invitation, communicate with States through urgent appeals or letters of allegation, make recommendations to States, raise awareness of human rights issues, provide advice on human rights standards, submit annual reports to the Human Rights Council, receive information from civil society, and engage in advocacy. See IJRC, UN Special Procedures.

Additional Information

For more information about the UN Human Rights Council and special procedures, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room or subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

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