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3. Your opportunities to engage

3.4 Requesting a communication

This section provides information on how you can request Special Procedures to issue a communication.

It follows from the last section on Communications – Why are they useful?

Requesting a communication

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

Who can submit information?

In most cases, anyone can submit information to a Special Procedure for consideration in their communications.

There is no requirement that organisations have ECOSOC status (or be registered with the UN). Even individuals can submit information to a Special Procedure.

The Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances have slightly more formal requirements and accept information only from the individuals concerned, their families or representatives (including NGOs).

Where should information be sent?

You will need to submit information through an online questionnaire. This questionnaire is used to facilitate the consideration of alleged violations by all mandate holders.

Submissions are also considered when they are sent by email to specific mandate holders.

Submissions are also considered when they are sent by email to specific mandate holders.

You can also send the information to an OHCHR general mailbox: urgent-action@ohchr.org. If you are sending information this way, the OHCHR team supporting the Special Procedures will make an assessment of the kind of communication to be made and which mandate holder(s) is most relevant. It is useful to indicate in the subject line of the email whether the situation is urgent, and to which mandate holder you want to direct your information.

If you wish to target one specific mandate holder, you should also send a message directly to their email address, available in the list of thematic or country-specific Special Procedures.

Specific information to include and criteria for communications for individual special procedures are available on the web pages of the particular mandate holder.

Submissions should be made in English, French or Spanish.

Top Tips

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Submitting information for Special Procedure communications

  • If you are interested in a joint action by various Special Procedures, it is important to share information with all of the relevant mandates and to explain why it is important for them to act together (i.e. why there would be a greater impact). If you specifically do not want a joint action, you should explain why.

  • You can create a submission for Special Procedures with information you already have – using relatively few resources. To ensure that your information is considered credible, avoid exclusively using media sources. Instead, use first-hand sources as much as possible as the basis for your information.

  • Some Special Procedures receive over 100 submissions each week. To increase the chances of your submission being picked up, you should:

    • focus on very recent or upcoming events,
    • demonstrate why action at that specific moment is necessary (especially if you are also hoping for a press release), and
    • consider compiling a number of cases to show a trend. (Make sure you have the consent of any individual victim or organisation mentioned.)
  • You can sometimes find out who is the OHCHR staff member supporting the relevant mandate by looking at the contact details given at the end of the most recent press releases issued by that Special Procedure. Double check if it’s a joint press release, because the contact details might be for someone supporting a different mandate!

  • Be sure to answer the following questions, most of which are also included in the online questionnaire:

    1. Who is sending the information? Provide your contact details.
    2. Is the situation urgent?
    3. What is/are the name, age, gender, place of origin and/or residence of victims? If the allegation concerns a large group then provide information about that body.
    4. What happened? Include dates and locations. If it concerns a law or policy, provide the document in an annex.
    5. Who are the perpetrators? If possible, give names, titles/functions, and any possible motive.
    6. What is the context? e.g. If information is needed to understand the situation, share it with the experts - be brief!
    7. What action has been taken? At the national or international level, and include remedies already sought.
    8. What action should the Special Procedure(s) take? Suggest steps or measures the experts could take to best address the situation.

What can be expected after submission?

Once the OHCHR has received your information, OHCHR staff will consider the submission to see if there is enough information and enough credibility to the information, for a mandate holder to send a communication.

Sometimes, OHCHR staff will make contact with the source of information to request additional details. They must also be sure that the case falls within the mandate of one or more of the Special Procedures.

For these reasons, as well as due to limited resources, the OHCHR is not able to act upon all information that they receive.

Previously, the communication remained confidential until the presentation of the ‘Joint Communications Report’ to the HRC (in March, June and September), when the communications sent and any State replies received since the last HRC session appear in the communications database.

Now, however, communications are also published in the database once the ‘deadline’ for a government response has expired. This deadline is stated in the letter, but is usually:

  • within 48 hours where the expert is planning to issue a press release or where the communication deals with a draft law, or
  • within 60 days in other cases

Even with this change, one of the weaknesses of the system is that it is hard follow the exact status of any information submitted to the Special Procedures. For example, only the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Working Groups on arbitrary detention and enforced or involuntary disappearances acknowledge submissions as a matter of course.

This can be frustrating as it means that it is often unclear whether the Special Procedures have acted on the information provided.

Consequently, if you wish to know the status of the Special Procedures’ activity on a case, it may be necessary to send a follow-up letter or email, or to telephone and ask to speak to the desk officer supporting the relevant mandate. You should also inform OHCHR if there are any changes to the situation addressed in your submission.

See the next sections on how you can engage in other actions of Special Procedures, including Statements and Press Releases, Country Visits, Thematic Reports, and Follow up Activities.

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