United Nations special rapporteur
Special rapporteur, independent expert, and working group member are titles given to individuals working on behalf of the United Nations (UN) within the scope of "special procedure" mechanisms who have a specific country or thematic mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The term "rapporteur" is a French-derived word for an investigator who reports to a deliberative body.
The mandate by the United Nations has been to "examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report" on human rights problems through "activities undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities." However, the manual Internal Advisory Procedure to Review Practices and Working Methods (25 June 2008) of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures simply calls these individuals mandate-holders. Other applications of the role include "special representative of the secretary-general" or "independent expert", or a working group usually composed of five members, one from each region of the planet.
Appointed by the Human Rights Council of the UN, these mandate-holders act independently of governments and as such play an important role in monitoring sovereign nations and democratically elected governments and policies. The earliest such appointment was the 1980 Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances responding to Commission on Human Rights resolution 20 (XXXVI). The first Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reporting to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1982/35 begun work in 1982.
They do not receive any financial compensation for their work from the United Nations, though they receive personnel and logistical support from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and are often backed by charities and corporations.
To mark Human Rights Day in 2006, the 37 special rapporteurs, special representatives and independent experts issued a joint statement on the importance of human rights in the fight against poverty.
Special Rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They can only visit countries that have agreed to invite them.
Aside from fact-finding missions, Rapporteurs regularly assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. Once a complaint is verified as legitimate, an urgent letter or appeal is sent to the government that has allegedly committed the violation. If no complaint has been made, Rapporteurs may intervene on behalf of individuals and groups of people of their own accord.
Thematic special rapporteurs are typically appointed to serve for three years, after which their mandate can be extended for another three years. Country special rapporteurs are appointed to serve for one year, and their term is renewed every year.
Controversies and Criticism
In June 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the UN Commission on Human Rights, extended the mandates of all special rapporteurs by one year to enable it to conduct a review of the mandates and seek ways of strengthening their roles. However, special rapporteurs for countries which did not approve a special rapporteur came under question and the mandates of the special rapporteurs for Cuba and Belarus were not renewed.
Other controversies between the special rapporteurs and the council include the introduction of a code of conduct which initially disallowed the special rapporteurs from addressing the media. However a compromise was reached and a code of conduct now exists for the special rapporteurs.
The existence of the "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory" has been particularly controversial, and a number of appointments to this position have been criticized as reflecting bias rather than expertise or adherence to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Richard A. Falk was widely denounced for incitement against Israel, as is the current (2016-- ) holder of this position, Michael Lynk.
Current thematic and country mandates
The HRC oversees 44 thematic and 12 specific country mandates for which it can assign special rapporteurs. Currently there are at least 38 Special Rapporteurs, Special Representatives and Independent Experts who serve under the following country and thematic mandates:,
Countries and territories
- Belarus – Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights (2018–)
Previously: Miklós Haraszti (2012–2018)
- Burundi – Fatsah Ouguergouz, Independent Expert on Human Rights (2010–2011)
- Cambodia – Rhona Smith – Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights (2015–)
- Central African Republic – Ms. Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum, Independent Expert on human rights (2014–)
- Eritrea – Sheila B. Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur on human rights (2013–)
- Haiti – Independent Expert on human rights, Gustavo Gallón (2013–)
Previously: Michel Forst (2008–2013)
- Iran – Javid Rahman (July 2018– )
Previously: Asma Jahangir (2016– 2018)
Previously: Ahmed Shaheed (2011–2016)
- Myanmar – Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on human rights (2014–)
- North Korea - Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on human rights (2016–)
- Palestine – S. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory (2016–)
Previously: Makarim Wibisono (2014–2016)
Previously: Richard A. Falk (2008–2014)
Previously: John Dugard (2001—2008)
- Somalia – Shamsul Bari, Independent Expert on human rights (2008–)
- Sudan – Mohamed Chande Othman, Special Rapporteur on human rights (2005–)
- Access to Safe Drinking water and Sanitation – Léo Heller (2014–)
- Adequate Housing – Leilani Farha (2014–)
- Contemporary Forms of Slavery – Urmila Bhoola (2014–)
- Cultural Rights – Karima Bennoune (2015–)
- Democratic and Equitable International Order – Alfred-Maurice de Zayas (2012–)
- Education – Kishore Singh (2008–)
- Effects of Economic Reform Policies and Foreign Debt on Human Rights – Cephas Lumina (2008–)
- Enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism – Ikponwosa Ero
- Hazardous Substances and Wastes – Baskut Tuncak (2014–)
- Environment – John Knox (2012–)
- Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions – Agnès Callamard (2016–)
- Extreme Poverty and Human Rights – Philip Alston (2014–)
- Right to Food – Hilal Elver (2014–)
Previously: Olivier De Schutter (2008–2014)
- Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and of Association – Clément Nyaletsossi Voule (2018–)
- Freedom of Opinion and Expression – David Kaye (2014–)
- Freedom of Religion or Belief – Ahmed Shaheed (2016–)
- Health – Dainius Pūras (2014–)
- Human Rights Defenders – Michel Forst (2014–)
- Illicit Movement of Toxic Waste – Calin Georgescu (2008–)
- Independence of Judges and Lawyers – Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva (2008–)
- Indigenous Peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (2014–)
- Internally Displaced Persons – Chaloka Beyani (2010–)
- International Solidarity – Rudi Muhammad Rizki (2005–)
- Migrants – François Crépeau (2011–)
- Minority Issues – Rita Izsak (2011–)
- Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence – Pablo de Greiff (2012–)
- Privacy – Joseph Cannataci (2015–)
- Protecting Human Rights while Countering Terrorism – Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (2017–)
Previously: Ben Emmerson (2011–2017) Martin Scheinin (2005–2011)
- Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance – E. Tendayi Achiume (2017–)
- Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Catalina Devandas Aguilar (2014–)
- Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography – Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (2014–)
- Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – Victor Madrigal-Borloz (2018–)
- Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, – Nils Melzer (2016–)
- Trafficking in Persons – Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (2014–)
- Violence against Women – Dr. Dubravka Šimonović (2015–)
- Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises – John Ruggie (2005–)
- United Nations Human Rights Committee
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- United Nations Commission on Human Rights
- United Nations Human Rights Council
- Special rapporteur
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- Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations Human Rights Council
- BBC News Special on Special Rapporteurs
- Human Rights Special Procedures: Determinants of Influence Universal Rights Group 2014
- History of the United Nations Special Procedures Mechanism: Origins, Evolution and Reform Universal Rights Group 2014