An introduction to UN Special Procedures.
- What are the Special Procedures?
- What do they do?
- How are they appointed?
- What is the difference between the various types?
- How individuals can use mechanisms of the UN to submit complaints
- You can visit CRIN's page:
- UN Special Procedures: Information and Advocacy Opportunities
They are a way for the Human Rights Council (as well as the public) to find out about human rights situations. They are the name given to ‘mechanisms’ created by the Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council) to address human rights situations in specific countries, or to address specific human rights themes e.g. the right to education.
Usually, Special Procedures are actually individual people, or groups of people (called Working Groups). If they are individuals, they may be called a Special Rapporteur, a Special Representative or an Independent Expert.
What do they do?
Although the tasks given to Special Procedure mechanisms vary, their role is to examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories (called country mandates, e.g. Independent expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi), or on major themes (called thematic mandates eg Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children).
The work of Special Procedures may vary: They could conduct studies, provide advice on technical matters, reply to individual complaints, and help promote human rights in their specialist area.
Special Procedures receive information on specific allegations of human rights violations and send urgent appeals or letters of allegation to governments asking for more information. In 2006, more than 1,100 communications were sent to Governments in 143 countries. For those Special Procedures relating to children, go here.
Special Procedures carry out country visits after gaining permission by the country concerned, although they may not need this if the country has issued an open invitation (called a " standing invitation"), which means it will always welcome Special Procedures. As of May 2007, 56 countries had extended standing invitations to the Special Procedures. After their visits, they then write a report about the visit, making recommendations.
Each year, all Special Procedures have to present a report to the Human Rights Council where they describe their activities over the previous year. The presentation of these reports is divided up between the Council’s three annual sessions. Read the reports. Sometimes Special Procedures may report straight to the General Assembly. The Human Rights Council is currently reviewing the working methods of the Special Procedures. Read about the global petition in support of the Special Procedures
How are they appointed?
Special Procedures are currently appointed on an ad hoc basis by a Human Rights Council resolution, when the need arises. They will be appointed by the Chairperson of the Human Rights Council after consultation with the five regional groups, which consist of Member States of the Council.
However, under a request from the United Nations General Assembly, this is currently being reviewed and the Council has established an open-ended intergovernmental working group to review and improve the system. In the words of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, this includes all “mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities in order to maintain a system of special procedures, expert advice and a complaint procedure, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 60/251, through open-ended, intersessional, transparent, well scheduled and inclusive consultations, with the participation of all stakeholders”.
What is the difference between the various types?
There is some confusion concerning the difference between individuals who are Special Procedures. Officially, the different titles of Independent Expert, Special Rapporteur and Special Representative do not reflect a hierarchy, and no one position is more powerful than the other.
However, many consider Special Representatives to be the most influential since they report directly to the General Assembly and Secretary-General of the United Nations. This is one of the reasons why the International Call for Action to End Violence Against Children wants a Special Representative on children and violence to be established, rather than an Independent Expert or Special Rapporteur (see further down).
According to the UN, different titles are simply the result of ‘political negotiations’. The different titles are explained in more detail below:
- Independent experts: There are in fact two types of Independent Experts. Independent Experts may be appointed by the UN Secretary-General to undertake a specific task. For instance, the Study on Violence Against Children, for which Kofi Annan appointed Paulo Sergio Pinheiro as Independent Expert. The nature of their ‘independence’ means that they are not representing the views or opinions of the UN or any government, but are meant to present an objective view of a given situation.
These should not be confused with the 18 Independent Experts who form the Committee on the Rights of the Child. They are persons of ‘high moral character and recognised competence in the field of human rights’. Members are elected for four years by States Parties according to Article 43 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child . Members serve in their personal capacity and may be re-elected if nominated. They may have a thematic or country mandate. See the current list.
The Committee monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State parties. It also monitors implementation of two optional protocols to the Convention, on involvement of children in armed conflict and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
- Special Rapporteur: Special Rapporteur is not a title used exclusively by the United Nations, for example there are also Special Rapporteurs for the African Union. But they are all concerned with monitoring and investigating human rights. You can see a list of United Nations Special Rapporteurs, including 17 frequently asked questions about them. Read the latest reports of the Special Rapporteurs relevant to children
- Special Representative: The representatives of the Secretary-General and some independent experts are selected by the United Nations Secretary-General upon the recommendation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. An example is the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. Special Representatives are often thought to be the most senior of the Special Procedures, although the UN denies the existence of a hierarchy. They report directly to the General Assembly and Secretary General of the United Nations, and may also have a country or thematic mandate. Read why we need a Special Representative to the Secretary General violence against children and sign the petition
- Working Groups: These groups are usually comprised of five experts, one from each of the five United Nations regional groupings: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and the Western Group. There are several currently operating, including: the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Working Group on the use of mercenaries to impede the right of peoples to self-determination.
...See the A to Z of Child Rights
Previous Publication (general) items
- 02/08/2008: United Nations and Children's Rights
- 01/08/2008: Assessment of Procedural and Physical Standards in Children’s Residential Care Institutions in Guyana: Summary and Recommendations
- 01/08/2008: UNICEF Definition of 'Orphan'
- 01/08/2008: Mapping of Residential Care Institutions in Sierra Leone
- 01/08/2008: Third Edition of the ISS Special Series on the Draft UN Guidelines on the Appropriate Use and Conditions of Alternative Care for Children
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Last updated 21/11/2011 07:05:32