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3. Your opportunities to engage

3.2 Managing expectations

This section is a reminder of what you need to invest in order to get the biggest impact out of the Special Procedures.

While the Special Procedures can be very responsive, accessible and flexible, they are also heavily under-resourced. So you may have to reach out to them more than once and try to build up a relationship in order to get them to take the action that you seek.

The limited availability of resources for Special Procedures mean that they:

  • can only respond to a limited number of cases, and often these are only the most grave situations
  • can only travel a limited number of times per year to events or countries
  • find it challenging to prioritise follow-up or assess implementation of their recommendation
  • will rarely inform human rights defenders that they have sent a communication or taken action on a case

Remember also that Special Procedures mandate holders are individuals with their own priorities (and prejudices), and sometimes it simply may not be possible to convince them to work on issues that are priorities for you.

Finally, there are no mechanisms to force States to reply to communications, to issue invitations to visit, or to comply with the recommendations made by Special Procedures. Once you get the result you want from a Special Procedure, you will have to put some effort into making sure that it translates into change back home.

When planning to engage with the Special Procedures, you will need to keep in mind:

Timing of your action

Special Procedures can sometimes react within 48 hours, but often it takes several weeks for them to act, so it is important to explain why action is needed by a particular date. On the other hand, some of their activities are planned several years in advance, and so you will need to engage far in advance to have an impact.

For example:

  • If you send information on a case that has taken place many months ago, you will need to explain why a communication now is timely and can have an impact.

  • Mandate holders usually have other work separate from their role as a Special Procedure, and so cannot usually decide at a week’s notice to travel to an event – you need to invite mandate holders as far in advance as possible to ensure that they can fit your events into their schedules.

  • Mandate holders often decide on the themes of their reports several years in advance, which means you need to influence their decisions even earlier.


Every human rights defender and NGO has limited resources and you need to use them as efficiently and effectively as possible. In the context of engaging with the Special Procedures, this will mean picking and choosing when and how you engage, and also maximising your resources by building strong partnerships with Geneva-based NGOs who will be able to support you and your advocacy (e.g. by following up with OHCHR staff who support Special Procedures to find out if action has been taken).

Role of the media

Journalists covering the UN are mostly interested in press releases condemning State action, rather than communications sent to governments or UN reports. However, news coverage of action taken by Special Procedures can help bring attention to the issue which can serve your advocacy, and so it’s important to show why the action is news-worthy.

You can also engage with media at home to bring attention to your advocacy. For example, you can share the text of a communication or a press release, or even provide summaries of recommendations from reports of Special Procedures.

Continue to find out more about why it might be useful to engage with the Special Procedures, as well as our tips on how to do it most effectively.

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