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1. Understanding the Special Procedures

1.5 Communications – What do the Special Procedures do?

The specific tasks assigned to any Special Procedure vary according to the Human Rights Council resolution establishing the mandate. However, the tools or outputs that are available to the Special Procedures are the same.

The next sections focus on the main outputs of the Special Procedures which include:

This section explores one of the main outputs of the Special Procedures:


Communications are letters sent by the Special Procedures to governments to follow up on information they have received about allegations of violations of the rights covered by their mandates. Communications seek to bring such violations to an end, and to obtain redress for victims. In recent years, some Special Procedures have begun to send communications to non-State bodies, including corporations and inter-governmental actors like the Human Rights Council.

There are three main kinds of communications available to the Special Procedures:

Urgent appeals

Theses are emergency tools to bring a halt to ongoing violations or prevent violations likely to occur. The Special Procedures aim to transmit such appeals very soon after having received information. Urgent appeals request clarification on the status of individuals or groups, as well as remind governments of their responsibilities towards those persons.


  • Joint Urgent Appeal sent by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders concerning alleged reprisals against a human rights defender in Turkmenistan and against her husband, for her cooperation with the WGEID.
    • Note that the names of the victims were communicated to the government, but were redacted from the public version of the letter.

Allegation letters

These, by contrast, deal with human rights situations that have already occurred. They outline the relevant allegations and then request information from the government on those allegations, as well as on any measures taken to provide redress to victims. They may make suggestions as to actions the government should take following on from the incidents they describe. They can deal with cases involving violations against individuals or groups and can also address more general concerns about the human rights situation in a country.


  • Allegation letter sent by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities to Italy regarding the restriction of the legal capacity of Mr. Dominique Da Prat, who was allegedly denied the right to choose his own administrator and the right to manage his own financial affairs.
    • The Special Rapporteur was concerned that the allegations could constitute a violation of the right to be free from exploitation, violence and abuse enshrined in the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Policy/legislative communications

These are a relatively new form of communication and are sent to register concern that an existing or proposed policy or piece of legislation has or will impact on the enjoyment of rights by certain members of the population. Unlike other communications, some of these are immediately made publicly available on the website of the relevant Special Procedure.


  • Joint ‘other’ letter sent by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and six other Special Procedures to Myanmar concerning the ‘Law Amending the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law 2018’ (Law).
    • The experts felt might be used to illegally dispossess land users of their land without due process or adequate notice, undermine their human rights, and have a disproportionate impact on poor, rural and minority communities, ethnic nationalities and indigenous peoples.

Usually communications are based on information submitted to the Special Procedures by NGOs or victims.

All types of communication may be sent by an individual Special Procedure or jointly with others where the violations fall into multiple categories. For example, allegations of a human rights defender being detained arbitrarily for organising a protest could lead to a communication being sent jointly by the Special Procedures working on human rights defenders, on arbitrary detention, and on freedom of assembly. Special Procedure communications, and any government responses, are made available in a database on the OHCHR website and in a report presented to the HRC.

Go to the next sections to find out more about other tools and outputs of the Special Procedures, including: statements and press releases, country visits, thematic reports, and follow-up activities.

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