UN Human Rights Council special procedures

‘Special procedures’ is a term used by the UN to refer to mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights and now administered by its successor, the Human Rights Council, to address either:

  • specific country situations – this means the Human Rights Council authorises a so-called ‘mandate holder’ to investigate, monitor, advise and publicly report on the human rights situation in a particular country or territory (country mandate); or
  • thematic issues about human rights – this means the authorised representative of the Human Rights Council (called the ‘mandate holder’) will investigate, monitor, advise and publicly report on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide (thematic mandate).

Currently, there are 36 thematic and 13 country mandates. Current special procedures cover topics such as adequate housing, arbitrary detention, the sale of children, sustainable environment, the right to food, education, enforced or involuntary disappearances, the effects of foreign debt and extreme poverty, and are working in countries such as Eritrea, Belarus, Cambodia, Haiti and Myanmar.

See the Special procedures page of the UN Human Rights Council.

The mandates are held either by:

  • an individual who might be referred to in one of the following ways:

    – Special Rapporteur

    – Representative or Special Representative of the Secretary-General

    – Independent Expert; or

  • a working group, usually of five members representing the five organisational regions of the UN.

In order that the mandate holders are, and are seen to be independent, they must serve in their personal capacity and must not benefit financially from their work. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides the special mechanisms with personnel, logistical and research assistance to support them in the discharge of their mandates.

The terms of a special procedures mandate are determined by the Human Rights Council resolution creating them, but may involve responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities. Most special procedures receive information about specific allegations of human rights violations, and communicate with governments asking for information and clarification.