THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL’S SPECIAL PROCEDURES
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council serves several functions, one of which is to promote and monitor human rights worldwide through the establishment of special procedures. Special procedures are individual independent human rights experts, or groups of such experts, who report and advise on human rights issues. They are called by many names, including Special Rapporteurs, Special Representatives, Working Groups, and Independent Experts.
Special procedures have either thematic or country-specific mandates. As of October 2020, the Human Rights Council oversees 44 thematic mandates and 11 country-specific mandates. The combined work of the special rapporteurs is broad enough to encompass civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.
Special procedures mandate holders serve in their personal capacities, meaning they are not UN staff, are not paid a salary for their work, and do not represent their countries of citizenship. Each mandate holder may serve for a maximum of six years. This independent status is intended to allow these experts to carry out their functions with impartiality.
In fulfilling their responsibilities, 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.
The Human Rights Council assumed oversight of the special procedures created by its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, upon its establishment in 2006. The Human Rights Council has since created or extended the mandates of many country-specific and thematic special procedures.
As described in greater detail at the links below, each special procedure’s responsibilities are defined in the Human Rights Council resolution(s) that create or extend its mandate. Generally, in the process of carrying out their mandates, special procedures may:
- undertake in-person country visits to assess human rights violations,
- communicate directly with States on alleged human rights violation by sending urgent appeals or letters of allegation,
- make recommendations to States for preventing, ending, or remedying violations,
- convene expert consultations,
- conduct thematic studies,
- raise awareness of human rights issues,
- provide advice for adherence to human rights standards,
- receive information from individuals and civil society,
- engage in advocacy, and
- contribute to the overall development of human rights standards.
After the special procedures mandate holders assess a specific human rights situation, they may report their findings or thematic studies to the Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly and release public statements to the media.
As of January 2018, 170 States have been visited by at least one special procedure mandate holder, while 23 States have never been visited. Over 100 countries have extended standing invitations to all thematic special procedures.
Special procedures mandate holders report to the Human Rights Council annually. Most special procedures also report to the UN General Assembly. The Human Rights Council reviews country-specific mandates annually and thematic mandates every three years.
Nomination & Appointment
Appointment of special procedures mandate holders takes place before the Human Rights Council. Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1 details the criteria for their selection and appointment. General eligibility criteria include the nominee’s expertise, experience in the field of the mandate, independence, impartiality, personal integrity, and objectivity. Specific criteria necessary to ensure all mandate holders are “highly qualified individuals” include the nominee’s established competence, relevant expertise, and professional experience in the field of human rights. The Human Rights Council also considers gender balance, geographic representation, and representation of different legal systems when appointing mandate holders. Conflicts of interest, such as holding a position in government, will disqualify an individual from consideration.
The OHCHR maintains a public list of eligible candidates for the position of special procedures mandate holder.
Governments, regional groups operating within the UN human rights system, international organizations or their offices, such as the OHCHR, nongovernmental organizations, other human rights bodies, and individuals may nominate candidates to be special procedures mandate holders. Resolution 16/21 adds national human rights institutions that comply with the Paris Principles to the list of entities able to nominate candidates.
Next, the Human Rights Council appoints a Consultative Group to review all applications and propose a list of candidates to the President of the Council. In doing so, the Consultative Group takes into account the views of stakeholders, including the current or outgoing mandate holder, in deciding the particular requirements for each mandate.
Following the Consultative Group’s recommendations, the President of the Council appoints an appropriate candidate for each vacant mandate, with approval by the Council’s Member States.
Click on the links below to learn about each special procedure. For additional general information, visit the OHCHR’s website, which features the activities of the special procedures, a directory of mandate holders, a list of countries that have received and are scheduled to receive visits from special procedures mandate holders, and instructions for submitting information to mandate holders. Also see Fact Sheet No. 27 for a list of answers to frequently asked questions about UN special procedures.
THEMATIC SPECIAL PROCEDURES
The following 44 Thematic Special Procedures have been established:
- Working Group on people of African descent
- Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
- Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances
- Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination
- Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises
- Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
- Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism
- Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order
- Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
- Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
- Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons
- Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
- Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context
- Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
- Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
- Special Rapporteur on the right to development
- Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
- Special Rapporteur on the right to education
- Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
- Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
- Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
- Special Rapporteur on the right to food
- Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
- Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
- Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
- Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
- Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
- Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
- Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
- Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons
- Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members
- Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
- Special Rapporteur on minority issues
- Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
- Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
- Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences
- Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism
- Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
- Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation & guarantees of non-recurrence
- Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights
- Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
- Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation
COUNTRY-SPECIFIC SPECIAL PROCEDURES
Learn more about the country-focused special procedures, listed below, on the Country-Specific Special Procedures page. Clicking on the links below will lead to the OHCHR page for each special procedure. The former mandates of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire have been discontinued.
The following 11 country-specific special procedures are active:
- Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic
- Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali
- Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic
The Human Rights Council had previously authorized special procedures to focus on other countries – including Sudan – but did not extend those mandates to the current date. With regard to Myanmar, Syria, and other countries, the Council has created additional investigative bodies: the Independent Investigative for Myanmar (IIMM) and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (IICI Syria). Other investigative mechanisms focus on Burundi, the Kasaï region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, South Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen,