Human Rights Council Special Procedures

Applies to/Se aplica a

State practice
State law
Individual cases
For Urgent Action
Only under 18-s


“Special procedures” is the name given to the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to monitor human rights violations in specific countries or examine global human rights issues. There are basically two different mandates:

The principal functions of Special Procedures are:

  • analysing the relevant thematic issue or country situation, including visits to countries;
  • advising on the measures which should be taken by the relevant Government(s) or other actors;
  • alerting the UN agencies, in particular the Human Rights Council, and the public to the need to address specific situations and issues;
  • advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations through measures such as urgent action and by calling upon States to respond to specific allegations and provide redress;
  • activating and mobilising the international and national communities and the Human Rights Council to address particular human rights issues, and to encourage cooperation among Governments, civil society, and inter-governmental organisations;
  • following up on recommendations

In individual cases they can send so called communications (urgent appeals and letters of allegation) on alleged violations of human rights to the Governments concerned.
They present their annual reports, as well as reports on country visits and thematic studies to the Human Rights Council and selected documents to the General Assembly. All special procedures jointly produce a communications report for each session of the Human Rights Council, which includes letters of allegation and urgent appeals, and responses received from governments.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

In individual cases, the mandate holder may send either an urgent appeal or a letter of allegation (of human rights violations) to the Government of the state concerned. Depending on the response received from the Government, the mandate holder will decide on further steps to take.
As a general rule, the existence and content of both urgent appeals and letters of allegation remain confidential until a summary of such communications and the replies received from the State concerned are included in the joint communications report of all special procedures to the Human Rights Council. The joint communications report also includes links to the original urgent appeal or letter of allegation, and – if available – to the Government's response.

The Special Procedures can be used for complaints about state law and practice. The mandate holder may raise these issues as and when he or she thinks it appropriate.
The mandate holders of the Special Procedures conduct country visits, during which they meet with representatives of the State, but also with NGOs. The Special procedures can only visit countries which have agreed to their request for invitation. Some countries have issued "standing invitations", which means that they are, in principle, prepared to receive a visit from any special procedures mandate holder. As of the end of December 2011, 90 States had extended standing invitations to the special procedures. After their visits, special procedures' mandate-holders issue a mission report containing their findings and recommendations.

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

All states

3. Who can submit information?


4. When should information be submitted?

Information on individual cases should be submitted as soon as possible, especially in cases where an urgent action by the Special Procedure is desired.
For information on State law and practice information can be submitted at any time. It is also advisable to watch out for visits of a relevant Special Procedure to your country, and to submit information timely before a scheduled visit, and to attempt to schedule a meeting during the visit. A coalition of NGOs might have a higher chance to have a meeting during a country visit than an individual NGO so far unknown to the Special Procedure.

5. Are there any special rules of procedure?

Information can be submitted by post or electronically, but anonymous submissions will not be considered.
In individual cases, submissions to the Special Procedures are not a quasi-judicial procedure, which means that they are not meant to replace national or international legal procedures. Therefore, there is no need for domestic remedies to be exhausted.
Allegations of human rights violations should contain clear and concise details of the details of the case, the name and other identifying information regarding the individual victim(s), information as to the circumstances including – if available – date and place of incidents and alleged perpetrators, suspected motives, and any steps already taken at the national, regional or international level regarding the case(s).

6. What happens to a submission (how long will it take)?

Mandate holders of the Special Procedures may acknowledge receipt of information from individuals and organisations, but they often do not do so. They are also not required to inform those who provide information about any subsequent measures they have taken – and they often don't.
In case of request for an urgent action, the Quick Response Desk of the Special Procedures Division of the OHCHR coordinates the sending of communications by all mandates. Governments are generally requested to provide a substantive response to urgent appeals within 30 days. Only in appropriate cases a mandate holder may decide to make such urgent appeals public by issuing a press release.
Governments are usually requested to respond to letters of allegation of human rights violations within two months.
A summary of urgent appeals and letters of allegation and responses from Governments is usually included in the joint communications report of the Special Procedures to the Human Rights Council. This will include the names of the victims, unless there are specific reasons why the names of the victims should remain confidential. In this case, explain those reasons in your initial submission.
The joint communications reports can be accessed at

Contact Details: 
How to send information on alleged human rights violations to Special Procedures: Special Procedures Division c/o OHCHR-UNOG 8-14 Avenue de la Paix 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland Fax: +4122 917 90 06 For urgent actions: E-mail: For further information, or to submit information (other than specific information on alleged human rights violations), please contact:
Further Reading: 


Title Date
General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the ICCPR 13/07/1993

General Comment 22 emphasises the broad scope of the freedom of thought, and clarifies that article 18 protects all form of religion, including the right not to profess any religion or belief.
However, manifestation of religion or beliefs may be limited on the grounds of the protection of others (also article 20: prohibition of propaganda for war, hatred or discrimination).
No restrictions on other grounds may be imposed “even if they would be allowed as restrictions to other rights protected in the Covenant, such as national security”. (reiterated in General Comment 29)
(…) while the ICCPR does not explicitly refer to the right to conscientious objection, that right can be derived from article 18 “inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief” (para. 11).

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised