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3. Your opportunities to engage

3.3 Communications – Why are they useful?

You can engage with Special Procedures in all areas of their work – communications, statements and press releases, country visits, and thematic reports - and by following up on Special Procedures’ actions.

This and the next section focus on:


The communications procedure may be the single most useful tool of the Special Procedures from the perspective of human rights defenders. You can submit information or allegations to the mandate holders and request that the experts take the matters up with governments.

Below you'll find questions to help you consider why communications might be useful to your advocacy, followed by some examples of how other human rights defenders have done so.

For more information on what they are, see ISHR Academy: Communications – What can Special Procedures do?

Reflection Questions

Reflection question thought bubble
  • A communication offers the opportunity to:
    • Obtain a UN document which ‘records’ a case or law
    • Let your government know that the UN is aware of a situation and is monitoring it
    • Seek a statement from your government regarding a particular case or law
    • Increase understanding by Special Procedures regarding a specific issue or case
    • Build relationships with mandate holders for future action
  • Submitting information to a Special Procedure for a communication could lead to reprisals by your government. See ISHR Academy: What to do if you face reprisals when engaging with the UN?
  • A communication from a Special Procedure might make your government ‘dig in their hee ls’ and keep using a harmful practice or support dangerous laws
  • Remember:
    • You may not know for many months whether a communication has been sent or whether your government has replied
    • A communication by itself is unlikely to completely change a situation, so they have to be considered as one of many tools, and some follow-up work with your government will be necessary

Examples of using communications

Defender Story

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Saudi Arabia – Preventing the execution of minors

In Saudi Arabia death penalty sentences were issued against minors for participation in protests. The individuals were minors at the time of the protests, and the sentence of death by crucifixion or beheading came in 2014 in the context of alleged failures of due process guarantees, including allegations of confessions obtained under torture.

Civil society considered that the domestic judicial system and protections in place would not be adequate to protect the minors from execution and have the sentences repealed, so NGOs engaged with the Special Procedures. Civil society worked with the Special Procedures over a long period of time, providing information when the executions were believed to be imminent.

Special Procedures sent communications in 2015, twice in 2016, twice in 2017, and then in 2018, sent at times when it seemed the executions would take place very soon. The communications contributed to the continued non-enforcement of the sentences.

Communications sent by Special Procedures:

Media coverage of most recent communication & press release:

Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Kenya – Protecting witnesses

In Kenya, witnesses in a case against a company and the government regarding lead poisoning of a community caused by a lead smelting factory, were assaulted, received threats (including from police officials), and were forced into hiding. As it seemed that the government was unwilling to provide protection to them, they engaged they sent information on their case to the Special Procedures.

A communication and press release were sent by the Working Group on business and human rights and the Special Rapporteur on the environment. The witnesses believe that it helped to ensure that protection measures were granted to them by the court.

More information:

Go to the next section for tips on how to get Special Procedures to send a communication

Learn more

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