Promotion and protection of human rights:
the role of special procedures of the Human Rights Council
Asma Jangahir, in a visit to Afghanistan in October
2002 during her previous mandate as Special
Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and
arbitrary executions. Photo: OHCHR
Year in and year out, special rapporteurs and other independent human rights experts monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on certain types of human rights violations or violations in a specific country. Acting in their personal capacity, much of their work is conducted behind the scenes, and does not always receive wide attention. Some would say they are the unsung heroes of the UN human rights monitoring system.
The nuts and bolts of human rights monitoring is not necessarily what grabs headlines – but it was a core function that evolved under the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (CHR), replaced in 2006 by the Human Rights Council (HRC). Some would say the unsung heroes of human rights are those who are responsible for carrying out what is known as the “special procedures” system. Special procedures are special rapporteurs, representatives, independent experts and working groups that monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on a thematic issue (thematic mandates) or on a human rights situation in a specific country (country mandates). Special rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They also receive, assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations – and follow up with the Government concerned.
Their reports are made public, as are their recommendations. They cover a broad range of human rights themes such as trafficking, child prostitution and pornography, indigenous people, internally displaced persons, migrants – they also promote freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, adequate food and housing as well as the independence of judges and lawyers.
On occasion, their work makes the headlines – such as with Myanmar or Sudan, or on arbitrary executions or torture – with Governments complaining they are being intrusive. The work of special procedures is critical in identifying, assessing, and addressing gaps in the implementation of human rights at the country level, and ensuring increased compliance with human rights standards. Special procedures’ dialogue with Governments and with other relevant stakeholders is a concrete means to engage with countries on human rights, and has real impact on the ground.
Now a review of these mechanisms, the special procedures, is under way at the HRC. All stakeholders, including Governments and civil society actors at the national and international level, agree that the special procedures system is a valuable legacy of the CHR, and recognize its positive contribution to making a difference on the ground so that human rights and fundamental freedoms can be tracked and promoted.
- In 2007, there were 40 special procedures, 28 thematic mandates and 12 country mandates. During the same year, special procedures mandate holders undertook 62 visits to 51 countries. They submitted 135 reports to the HRC and 20 to the General Assembly (GA). They issued over 150 press statements and sent almost 1,000 communications to 125 countries.
- Maldives: Following the visit to the Maldives by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in February 2007, the Government implemented one of the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, which addressed gender discrimination in the judiciary, by appointing the first female judges in that country in July 2007.
- Cote d’Ivoire: The Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) visited Côte d’Ivoire in April 2006, while the country was still experiencing conflict. His report recommended that the authorities develop a strategy for the protection of IDPs. This issue was addressed by the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement in March 2007.
- Haiti: The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti has welcomed good cooperation with the Government, noting progress in the implementation of his recommendations, particularly on judicial and police reform and on the promotion of women's rights.
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK): Following a January 2008 visit to neighbouring Republic of Korea, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea reported that the country continues to violate human rights systematically by torturing, publicly prosecuting and oppressing its citizens. DPRK has refused to allow him to enter the country.
- In September 2007, the General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people was a key advocate in the discussions that led to this ground-breaking instrument.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):
Rupert Colville, OHCHR Spokesperson, Tel: +41 22 917 9767
Send an email
USEFUL WEB LINKS:
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council
UN Special Procedures: Facts and Figures 2007 (pdf)
Human Rights Treaty Bodies
UN News Service
1. ^ A new thematic mandate was created by the HRC in September 2007: on contemporary forms of slavery.
2. ^ Two country mandates were discontinued by the HRC in June 2007: Belarus and Cuba.