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1. Understanding the Special Procedures

1.11 Why should you engage with the Special Procedures?

The Special Procedures is the UN’s system of independent human rights experts, assigned to investigate and report on the realisation of certain rights around the world, or in specific countries.

In this section you will find some tools and information to help you to consider whether the Special Procedures would be useful to you – is it the right mechanism for you to engage to achieve your goals?


they can take up individual cases
they can react quickly (within 24 hours in some cases)
they can visit countries and see the situation on the ground
they work very closely with civil society, relying on NGO input to help define their priorities and the issues and cases they examine
you can easily engage with them, including from your home country, and you don’t need ECOSOC status to do so
thematic mandates are universal, and States cannot use political pressure to escape scrutiny
they are (almost always) independent and expert
they can be creative, often open to using innovative approaches for greater impact, and also able to push the boundaries of their mandates to look at emerging areas, to draw attention to marginalised groups and issues, or to consolidate normative standards and academic research
technical assistance element of their mandate opens doors for dialogue and constructive engagement
statements and reports of Special Procedures can be one of the triggers that encourages the Human Rights Council to take action on an issue


being independent experts, particular mandate holders will have their own priorities, and these may not include the issues you work on
it can be difficult to know whether Special Procedures are taking action on an issue as they do not provide updates to victims or NGOs that submit information
they have no enforcement mechanism (it’s up to the State to extend a formal invitation to visit, or to implement recommendations of a Special Procedure)
they are under-resourced, which means they:

  • respond to a limited number of cases, and often these are only the most grave situations
  • undertake only 2-3 official country visits per year
  • struggle to focus on follow-up or assessing implementation of their recommendations

Situations where it might not be worth engaging

you would be put in too much danger by engaging with the Special Procedures
you have access to other spaces that you can use more effectively to influence your State

Continue to the next section to test your understanding of what you've learnt in this chapter!

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