The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

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

Special Rapporteurs

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts who are responsible for monitoring specific human rights. This monitoring system was established by the 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 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.


Their mission 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 NGOs. They may also visit the countries in question. The Human Rights Council or 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 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 centers, 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.

Country and Thematic Mandates

As of June 2015, Special Rapporteurs exist for the following countries and thematic mandates:

  • Country Mandates

° Belarus

° Cambodia

° Central African Republic

° Côte d’Ivoire

° Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

° Eritrea

° Haiti

° Islamic Republic of Iran

° Mali

° Myanmar

° Palestinian territories occupied since 1967

° Somalia

° Sudan

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

  • Thematic Mandates

° Adequate housing (Special Rapporteur)

° African descent (Working Group)

° Arbitrary detention (Working Group)

° Sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography (Special Rapporteur)

° Cultural rights (Special Rapporteur)

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

° Right to education (Special Rapporteur)

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

° Enforced or involuntary disappearances (Working Group)

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

° Extreme poverty and human rights (Special Rapporteur)

° Right to food (Special Rapporteur)

° 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)

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

° Freedom of opinion and expression (Special Rapporteur)

° Freedom of religion and belief (Special Rapporteur)

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

° Human rights defenders (Special Rapporteur)

° Independence of judges and lawyers (Special Rapporteur)

° Rights of indigenous peoples (Special Rapporteurs)

° Human rights of internally displaced persons (Special Rapporteur)

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

° Human rights of migrants (Special Rapporteur)

° Minority issues (Independent Expert)

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

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

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

° Human rights and international solidarity (Independent Expert)

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

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

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

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

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

° Right to safe drinking water and sanitation (Special Rapporteur)

° Discrimination against women in law and in practice (Working Group)

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

° Enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism

° Persons with disabilities

° Unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of Human Rights

° Right to the privacy

° Enjoyment of all human rights by older persons

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

Human rightsIndividual recourseUnited Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights/Human Rights CouncilWomen

Special Rapporteurs

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

52 rue Paquis

1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Tel.: (41) 22 917 91 59

Fax: (41) 22 917 90 12

For Additional Information: Rodley, Nigel, 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, 65–88. Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2004.

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