Quick Search: go

1. Understanding the Special Procedures

1.3 What can the Special Procedures do for you?

This section explains the functions of the Special Procedures with metaphors to show practical ways the Special Procedures can assist you in your work.


Special Procedures can respond rapidly to urgent situations. They are the only UN Human Rights mechanism that can issue urgent appeals. This function is key in cases of ongoing violations or in preventing violations about to occur, and has saved lives in the past.

Advocacy and Raising Awareness

All the work of Special Procedures can be considered advocacy or attempts to raise awareness of particular human rights issues. It may not look the same as grassroots advocacy, but Special Procedures can do many things: make recommendations, make statements at events, issue press releases, and meet with States and other actors privately to try and change the way governments and others act.


Special Procedures are easily accessed by human rights defenders. Your organisation does not need ECOSOC consultative status to submit information to the Special Procedures. Any victim or group can work with the mechanism without any UN accreditation


Special Procedures can operate independently of treaty ratification by States. That is, their work is universal in that they can review and respond to violations of rights in any country in the world within the scope of their mandate. For example, the Special Rapporteurs on housing, extreme poverty and health can review human rights issues in the United States, even though it has not ratified the International Covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.

No need to exhaust domestic remedies

Some international human rights mechanisms require victims to have exhausted all domestic avenues of redress (e.g. courts) before they will act. This is not the case for the Special Procedures. You can engage directly with them at any time.


A crucial characteristic of the Special Procedures is their independence from governments once appointed. This enables them to work on politically sensitive issues and to challenge governments in a way that other bodies may be unable to do. They are also able to propose and support progressive interpretations of international law that reinforce human rights, and to keep specific issues on the international agenda at times when States are either actively hostile, or timid in the face of the hostility of their peers.

Not sure if the Special Procedures are the right tool for you?

There's much more information to come on the different ways the Special Procedures can be used to strengthen your advocacy.

If you want to already check if there might be another mechanism better suited to your needs, you can use the document below to quickly compare the Special Procedures to other UN human rights mechanisms.

Now it's time to get into the detail of what the Special Procedures can and cannot do.

Learn more

Module content
Module content