The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

■ Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts who are responsible for monitoring specific human rights. This monitoring system was established by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights and took over by the Human Rights Council within the Special Procedures mechanism. The Commission’s mandate to establish such mechanisms was firmly recognized in the Economic and Social Council’s Resolution 1235 (XLII) of 6 June 1967, which states that “The Commission on Human Rights may, in appropriate cases […] make a thorough study of situations which reveal a consistent pattern of violations of human rights […] and report, with recommendations thereon, to the Economic and Social Council.”

Special Rapporteurs are appointed to examine the general human rights situation of a specific country or to study a specific thematic aspect of human rights at an international level. They are nominated pursuant to resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council, which must then be confirmed by another resolution adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council. Their mandate is officially granted for one year, renewable each year. However, the Special Rapporteurs with thematic mandates are nominated on the basis of a three-year mandate, on average.

In addition to the work of Special Rapporteurs, the UN system have created and mandated numerous international commissions of inquiry and fact-finding mission to investigate situations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, whether protracted or resulting from sudden events.

These international investigative mechanisms have been established by various UN bodies such as the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council (and its predecessor the Commission of Human Rights), the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. They are now seen as an essential tool in the UN’s response to such violations particularly in promoting accountability and combating impunity. The Office of the high Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) provides guidance on methodology and international standards to such investigative bodies and serves as the repository and institutional memory of their work.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights/Human Rights Council


The mission of Special Rapporteurs is to report to the UN General Assembly and to the Human Rights Council on the theme or country for which they are responsible. They therefore have no protection mandate.

The main method used by Special Rapporteurs consists of gathering all relevant information from all available sources, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They may also visit the concerned countries. The Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly may request that they issue several successive reports on the same subject.

Through practice, Special Rapporteurs, representatives, independent experts, working groups, and other such bodies that monitor and report on specific countries or thematic issues have progressively established practical rules that States must respect to guarantee the independence, objectivity, and integrity of their mission on the ground.

These rules are:

•freedom and ease of movement throughout the entire country being examined, in particular any zones where access is restricted;

•freedom of investigation, in particular with regard to access to prisons, detention centres, and places of interrogation; contact with members of the government and decentralized authorities; confidential contact with witnesses and any individual, including persons deprived of their liberty, whom the Rapporteur wishes to see, without the presence of any representatives of authorities; full access to all written information that is relevant to the Rapporteur’s mandate;

•the guarantee on the part of the government that no representative of the authorities or any other individual who has had contact with the Special Rapporteur will be subject to threats, pressure, punishment, or judicial procedures as a result of this contact;

•the government’s guarantee of safety for the Rapporteur, but without restricting his or her freedom of movement and investigation;

•UN personnel assisting the Rapporteur must be granted the same guarantees and ease of movement, before, during, and after the visit.


As of April 2023, there are 79 Special Rapporteurs appointed for the following 14 countries and 45 thematic mandates:

  • Country Mandates:

° Afghanistan

° Belarus

° Burundi

° Cambodia

° Central African Republic

° Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

° Eritrea

° Islamic Republic of Iran

° Mali

° Myanmar

° Palestinian territories occupied since 1967


° Somalia

° Syrian Arab Republic (this mandate will start once the mandate of the commission of inquiry ends)

  • Thematic Mandates:

° Adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context (Special Rapporteur)

° African descent (Working Group)

° Arbitrary detention (Working Group)

° Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance (Special Rapporteur)

° Contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences (Special Rapporteur)

° Cultural rights (Special Rapporteur)

° Discrimination against women and girls (Working Group)

° Effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social, and cultural rights (Independent Expert)

° Elimination of discrimination against persons with leprosy and their family members (Special Rapporteur)

° Enforced or involuntary disappearances (Working Group)

° Enjoyment of all human rights by older persons (Independent Expert)

° Enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism (Independent Expert)

° Extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions (Special Rapporteur)

° Extreme poverty and human rights (Special Rapporteur)

° Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Special Rapporteur)

° Freedom of religion or belief (Special Rapporteur)

° Human rights and international solidarity (Independent Expert)

° Human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (Working Group)

° Human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (Special Rapporteur)

° Human rights of internally displaced persons (Special Rapporteur)

° Human rights of migrants (Special Rapporteur)

° Human right to safe drinking water and sanitation (Special Rapporteur)

° Implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes (Special Rapporteur)

° Independence of judges and lawyers (Special Rapporteur)

° Minority issues (Special Rapporteur)

° Negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights (Special Rapporteur)

° Promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change (Special Rapporteur)

° Promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism (Special Rapporteur)

° Promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Special Rapporteur)

° Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (Independent Expert)

° Promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence (Special Rapporteur)

° Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (Independent Expert)

° Rights of indigenous peoples (Special Rapporteur)

° Rights of persons with disabilities (Special Rapporteur)

° Right to development (Special Rapporteur)

° Right to education (Special Rapporteur)

° Right to everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Special Rapporteur)

° Right to food (Special Rapporteur)

° Right to privacy (Special Rapporteur)

° Sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material (Special Rapporteur)

° Situation of human rights defenders (Special Rapporteur)

° Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (Special Rapporteur)

° Trafficking in persons, especially women and children (Special Rapporteur)

° Use of mercenaries as a means of impeding the exercise of the right of people to self-determination (Working Group)

° Violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences (Special Rapporteur)

Special Rapporteurs are among the many UN human rights monitoring instruments. In addition to Special Rapporteurs appointed by the Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General appoints Special Representatives, Advisors, and Envoys who focus on specific countries or issues. ➔ Secretariat of the UN


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✎ Special Rapporteurs

c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Palais Wilson

52 rue des Pâquis

1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 22 917 92 20



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For Additional Information:

OHCHR,*Commissions of Inquiry and Fact-finding missions on international human rights and humanitarian law: Guidance and practice , 2015, Geneva. Available at

Special procedure of the human right council, Current and former mandate holders (existing mandates) , April 2023, Available at

Human Rights Council-mandated Investigative Bodies , 2023, Available at

Naples-Mitchell, Joanna, “Perspectives of UN special rapporteurs on their role: inherent tensions and unique contributions to human rights”, The International Journal of Human Rights , 2011, Vol. 15, no. 2: 232-248.

Rodeley, Nigel, S. and David Weissbrodt. “United-Nations Non-Treaty Procedure for Dealing with Human Rights Violations.” in Guide to International Human Rights Practice , edited by Hurst Hannum, Fourth edition, 65–88. Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2004.

Subedi, P., Surya, “Protection of Human Rights through the Mechanism of UN Special Rapporteurs”, Human Rights Quarterly , Vol. 33, No.1, February 2011: 201-228.

Human Rights in Eastern Civilisations: Some Reflections of a Former UN Special Rapporteur , Edward Elgar Publishing, 2021. 320 pages.

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