Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression


The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is one of the thematic special procedures overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The current mandate holder is IJRC Advisory Board member, David Kaye.

The mandate holder promotes the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Special Rapporteur gathers information relating to violations of these rights, as well as to discrimination against, threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, or intimidation that is directed at persons trying to exercise these rights. The Special Rapporteur pays special attention to the infringement of the rights of journalists and other professionals in the field of information.

In addition to studying the right of freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur receives and responds to individual complaints of violations and makes recommendations on ways to enhance the protection of these rights. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also receives technical assistance and advisory services from the Special Rapporteur.


The mandate of the Special Rapporteur lasts for a period of three years. The mandate is filled by one highly qualified individual.

The UN Commission on Human Rights established the Special Rapporteurship in 1993 with Resolution 1993/45. The Human Rights Council extended the mandate in 2008 (Resolution 7/36), 2011 (Resolution 16/4), and 2014 (Resolution 25/2).

In fulfilling the mandate, the Special Rapporteur undertakes country visits, communicates with governments concerning information and complaints received regarding alleged rights violations, and submits activity reports to the Human Rights Council.

Country Visits

One important function of the Special Rapporteur is to conduct country visits, which it does on the basis of an invitation from the country concerned. Country visits provide the Special Rapporteur an opportunity to assess the state of protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in detail, and to make recommendations for improvement if appropriate.

The Special Rapporteur undertakes one to four visits per year, to States that have extended an invitation. View the list of previous country visits and the Special Rapporteur’s subsequent reports here.

More than 100 countries have extended standing invitations to country visits by all thematic special procedures. View the list of countries that have extended standing invitations here.

Receiving Information & Complaints

The Special Rapporteur receives information and complaints about alleged violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Importantly, the Special Rapporteur does not issue decisions concerning individual complaints and cannot require the State to remedy any alleged violation; rather, the Special Rapporteur raises the issue of concern with the relevant State. The Special Rapporteur may contact the government concerned to invite comment on the allegation, seek clarification, remind the government of its international obligations, or request information on steps being taken by the government to redress the situation. Generally called “communications,” these exchanges with the government can take a variety of forms of varying degrees of significance. Specifically, the Special Rapporteur contacts a government through either an allegation letter or an urgent appeal.

The Special Rapporteur keeps confidential all communications to and from the government until it includes them in the Annual Report, which is submitted to the Human Rights Council annually. The communications sent by the Special Rapporteur and other special procedures are also compiled in periodic reports submitted to the UN Human Rights Council at each of its regular sessions.

The Special Rapporteur is particularly interested in receiving information on problems or violations related to the following issues:

  • detention of, discrimination against, or threats or use of violence and harassment directed at individuals or professional in the field of information who are seeking to exercise or promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
  • activities of political parties and trade union activists;
  • actions against the print or broadcast media, or impairment to their independent operation;
  • actions against publishers and performers in other media, such as books, magazines, film, theatre, and the studio arts;
  • activities of human rights defenders;
  • obstacles to women’s human rights, such at the right to express their views and be heard, participate in decision-making processes, have equal standing before the law, and seek and receive information on matters of particular relevance to women, such as family planning and violence against women; and,
  • obstacles to access to information on projects and initiatives proposed by the government to advance the right to development, as well as obstacles to participation in the decision-making process.

Allegation Letters

Generally, the Special Rapporteur sends an allegation letter in circumstances where the alleged violation has already occurred, relates to general patterns of violations, or is not so pressing as to warrant sending an urgent appeal. An allegation letter generally contains a request for the government to clarify the substance of the allegation and to forward any information related to the allegation to the Special Rapporteur.

Urgent Appeals

The urgent appeals procedure is reserved for cases in which there are sufficiently reliable allegations that the rights to freedom of assembly and of association may be infringed upon.

In an urgent appeal, the Special Rapporteur is careful not to draw any conclusions about the facts of the case. Instead, the Special Rapporteur simply presses for the government to ensure that the rights to freedom of assembly and of association are not violated and to provide the Special Rapporteur with comments and observations.

Reports to the Human Rights Council

The Special Rapporteur reports annually to the Human Rights Council on all of its activities relating to its mandate. These reports are available on the Special Rapporteur’s Annual Reports webpage.


Complaints should be submitted to the Special Rapporteur via the online submission form. Communications and complaints must convey the minimum information requested in the Special Rapporteur’s guidance. Depending on the type of communication, this information should include the following:

  • the identity of the alleged perpetrator(s) of the violation;
  • information regarding any action taken by the State;
  • the identity of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication, which will be kept confidential; and,
  • if the allegation concerns the rights of a person or persons:

o   a detailed description of the alleged violation, including date, location, and circumstances of the incident;

o   the name, age, gender, ethnic background (if relevant), and profession of the alleged victim; and,

o   his or her views, affiliations, or past or present participation in political, social, ethnic, or labor group or activity.

  • or, if the allegation concerns a medium of communication:

o   a detailed description of the alleged violation of the right, including date, location, and circumstances of the incident;

o   the nature of the medium affected (e.g., newspaper, independent radio); and,

o    the political orientation of the medium, if relevant.

The Special Rapporteur may also be contacted by:

  • Mail:

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
c/o Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10

  • Fax: +41 22 917 9006

To contact the Special Rapporteur with regard to another matter (not a complaint), use the email address: [email protected].