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1. Understanding the Special Procedures

1.8 Thematic reports – 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.

This section focuses on one of the main outputs of the UN mandate holders:

Thematic reports

Learn about how the Special Procedures can examine a specific human rights issue in depth through their reports.

All Special Procedures submit an annual written report to the Human Rights Council, which is made available on the OHCHR’s Human Rights Council web page in the weeks leading up to the session at which they will be presented.

The reports usually include a summary of the year’s work, and address emerging thematic or normative issues. The reports also contain recommendations for States and other relevant actors, such as UN agencies, businesses, and civil society. They can ask countries to confirm the status of a human rights situation, as well as call for a State to actively address a situation.

These official thematic reports are one way that Special Procedures play a role in the normative development of human rights.

During the Human Rights Council session, the experts make an oral presentation of their report to the HRC and engage in an interactive dialogue with States and other stakeholders, including NGOs.

During this dialogue, questions can be addressed to the experts on their present and future work, as well as on the normative development of the rights they cover. Special Procedures are sometimes asked by the Human Rights Council to provide an update on situations of particular concern or a report on a specific issue.

Sometimes the Human Rights Council will, by resolution, mandate a Special Procedure to report to the General Assembly. When reporting to the General Assembly, mandate holders engage in an interactive dialogue with only States, although NGOs can try to influence statements and questions made by States.

Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Defending the universality of human rights

The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights chose to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by focusing her report to the General Assembly on the relationship between cultural diversity and the universality of human rights.

She highlighted current threats to universality, and called 'for foundational renewal and vigorous defence of this principle', which is regularly under attack by a small number of States in UN spaces.

Special Procedures are not limited to producing their official thematic reports, and can contribute to other policy documents being developed through State-led, NGO-led or even academia-led processes.

For example, two Special Rapporteurs were in the group of experts that drew up the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10, and various current and former Special Procedures were involved in an expert group that elaborated and adopted the Model National Law on the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

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

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