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UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
Friday, 18 April 2008 10:50


Photo: UN/Jean-Marc Ferré

In 2000, less than two years after the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the UN Commission on Human Rights unanimously adopted Resolution 2000/61 that called on the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on human rights defenders. This was the first mechanism created at the international level to protect human rights defenders in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Declaration. Ms Hina Jilani, a noted human rights attorney from Pakistan, was appointed as the first Special Representative. When the mandate was renewed in 2008, the title was changed in that of Special Rapporteur and Ms Margaret Sekaggya was appointed as mandate holder. The change in title has no implications on the activities and functions of the mandate. More information on current mandate holder, Ms Margaret Sekaggya.


The Special Rapporteur, who works in complete independence of any State, is mandated to conduct the following main activities:

  • Seek, receive, examine and respond to information on the situation and rights of defenders
  • Establish cooperation and conduct dialogue with governments and other actors on the promotion and effective implementation of the Declaration
  • Recommend effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders and follow up on these recommendations

The Special Rapporteur’s formal mandate is a very broad one, requiring the identification of strategies, priorities and activities to implement it. The protection of human rights defenders, understood as including the protection of defenders themselves and the protection of their right to defend human rights, is the Special Rapporteur’s overriding concern. 

Individual cases

The Special Rapporteur takes up with the States concerned individual cases of human rights violations committed against human rights defenders. Information on such cases is received from a variety of sources, including State authorities, non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies, the media and individual human rights defenders.


By sending allegation letters or urgent action letters, the Special Rapporteur asks the government concerned to take all appropriate action to investigate and address the alleged events and to communicate the results of its investigation and actions. Allegation letters focus primarily on asking the State authorities to investigate the events and to conduct criminal prosecutions of those responsible. Urgent action letters, sent when the violation is about to occur or is ongoing, request the government to take action to prevent or put to end the violation. The letters sent to Governments are confidential and remain so until the end of the reporting year, when the Special Rapporteur submits the annual report to the Human Rights Council.


The Special Rapporteur constantly consults with other UN Special Rapporteurs whose own mandates are involved in a particular case and frequently sends joint letters of concern with these mandate holders. 

Country visits

The Special Rapporteur is mandated to conduct official visits to States. These visits provide an opportunity to examine in detail the role and situation of human rights defenders in the country, to identify particular problems and to make recommendations on how these could be resolved. The Special Rapporteur is required to look critically at the situation of human rights defenders in a country. The process is intended to provide an independent and impartial assessment, which will be of use to all actors in strengthening both the contribution of defenders to human rights and their protection. Country visits usually take place over a period of 5 to 10 days, during which the Special Rapporteur meets with heads of State and government, relevant government ministers, independent human rights institutions, United Nations agencies, the media and human rights defenders themselves, among others. 


Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 13:49

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