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Special Procedures
Wednesday, 21 November 2007 07:38

General information 

What are the special procedures?

What is the role of the special procedures?

What can the special procedures do?

 


What are the special procedures?

The Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) established a number of mechanisms to examine, monitor, and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries, or on specific human rights and issues. These procedures are all together referred to as the ‘special procedures’. Special procedures are normally entrusted to individuals who are independent human rights experts or occasionally to a group of independent human rights experts. The special procedures were assumed by the Human Rights Council in 2006.

Special procedures are broadly divided into mechanisms that focus on country-specific situations (referred to as country mandates or mechanisms) and those that focus on thematic human rights issues (referred to as thematic mandates or mechanisms). There are currently 38 special procedures, 29 thematic mandates and nine country-specific mandates.

All individuals appointed to special procedures are expected to be independent, are not paid, and serve in a personal capacity for a maximum of six years (two terms of three years for thematic mandates, and six one-year terms for country mandates).

 

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What is the role of the special procedures?

Special procedures are at the very core of the united Nations (UN) human rights system. They represent one of the principal achievements of the Commission and are according to Amnesty International among the ‘most innovative, responsive and flexible tools of the human rights machinery’. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) states that special procedures ‘have provided valuable conceptual analysis on key human rights themes; have served as a mechanism of last resort for victims; have sometimes prevented serious abuses, and even saved lives, through urgent appeals; have served as an early-warning mechanism to draw attention to human rights crises; and have frequently provided high-quality diagnoses of individual country situations, including by carrying out country missions.’

 

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What can the special procedures do?

1.    Undertake fact-finding missions to countries

Special procedures carry out country missions, in which they meet with local authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), human rights defenders, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), communities, individuals, and other stakeholders, and visit relevant facilities such as prisons, detention centres, sites of evictions, etc. Based on the findings of the mission, they make recommendations for action by the concerned government, the Commission and the international community. These interactions can give NGOs and communities a chance to raise issues and highlight violations, and help set up dialogues with governments on key issues. Media coverage of country visits can help place human rights issues within the public eye. Special procedures are also often able to obtain direct relief for victims during their country visits.

2.    Issue communications and urgent appeals to governments

Special procedures can respond to credible information received from NGOs, individuals, and others about a human rights violation by sending communications to the concerned government setting out the alleged facts, and requesting the government to respond to the allegation and to take corrective action. Communications are not an accusatory or judicial proceeding, but are a tool used by special procedures to seek clarification on alleged violations in order to ensure the protection of human rights. The very fact that a particular situation has been taken up by a UN human rights mechanism can trigger a response from national authorities, prevent or halt violations, or ensure other corrective action.

3.    Issue press releases or statements

In cases of severe human rights violations, special procedures may also issue public statements and press releases highlighting their concern about the situation and call on the concerned government to stop these violations, and take appropriate measures to correct the situation. These statements and press releases are a powerful tool to draw the attention of the media, and the public and international community to a situation of concern. 

4.    Identify trends or emerging issues

Special procedures undertake studies on specific topics falling within their mandate to gather a better understanding of a problem, explore cross-linkages between issues and suggest solutions. In their annual reports, they also analyse trends in human rights protection or violations as well as emerging issues. These reports can be extremely influential in placing violations against a particular group or a certain phenomenon on the international agenda.

5.    Contribute to the elaboration of human rights standards falling within their mandate

Special procedures often elaborate on the content or application of human rights standards by studying the application of these standards to specific issues or groups, and providing guidance to States on the implementation of human rights standards.

6.    Submit reports to the Council and in some instances the General Assembly

Special procedures submit annual reports to the Council, and, in some cases, the General Assembly, covering the activities relating to their mandates, in which they highlight situations of concern, individual cases of human rights violations, trends and emerging issues, and make recommendations for action. Special procedures also brief the Council and, in some cases, the General Assembly, on their findings and recommendations, and participate in an interactive dialogue with States. The annual reports as well as the briefings help draw the attention of the Council and the international community to human rights violations occurring in a particular country or against a particular group, or significant issues affecting the implementation of human rights. They may also serve as an early-warning system on the severe deterioration of the human rights situation in a particular country.

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Further reading 

  • For more information on the special procedures, see the dedicated OHCHR webpage
  • The OHCHR also produces a periodic Special Procedures Bulletin. The 10th Issue, covering July to September 2008, is available here as a PDF document

 

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 May 2011 10:41
 

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