What are they?
Special procedures are used by the Human Rights Council to find out about human rights situations for a given issue or in a particular country. It is the name given to the Council's mechanism for investigating and enforcing human rights.
Usually they are individual people, or groups of people - called 'Working Groups' - who are experts in a particular field. There are a few terms given to individuals acting as special procedures - Special Rapporteur and Independent Expert are common. It’s important to note that special procedures are not paid positions and are not full time.
Special procedures are currently appointed on an ad hoc basis when the need arises by a Human Rights Council resolution.
What do they do?
The specific tasks given to special procedures may vary, but in a nutshell their role is to examine, monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries/territories (called 'country mandates' - eg 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).
Children have all human rights. Not because they are "the future" or the "adults of tomorrow", but because they are human beings today. This means that all special procedures relate to children. However, some have a specific children’s rights mandate:
The actual work special procedures do varies as well. They could conduct studies, do country visits, provide advice on technical legal or policy matters, reply to individual human rights violations complaints - all with the broad aim of promoting human rights in their special area. In particular:
- If special procedures find specific allegations of human rights violations, they can send urgent appeals or letters of allegation to governments asking for more information.
- They visit countries they are investigating (see the list of upcoming visits). But they can only do this if the country has given permission. Some countries have issued open invitations to special procedures, called a "standing invitation", which means they will always welcome special procedures. See the full list of the countries extending a standing visit. After their visits they write a report about what they witnessed and make recommendations.
- Every year all special procedures must present a report to the Human Rights Council about their activities, and sometimes they may report directly to the General Assembly.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has produced official communications guidelines for how people and organisations, including NGOs, can engage with special procedures. If you would like further information on how to use special procedures to promote and protect children’s rights, please email us.