Human Rights Special Procedures


Special procedures mechanisms can intervene directly with Governments on allegations of violations of human rights that come within their mandates by means of letters which include urgent appeals and other communications. The intervention can relate to a human rights violation that has already occurred, is ongoing, or which has a high risk of occurring. The process involves sending a letter to the concerned State identifying the facts of the allegation, applicable international human rights norms and standards, the concerns and questions of the mandate-holder(s), and a request for follow-up action. Communications may deal with individual cases, general patterns and trends of human rights violations, cases affecting a particular group or community, or the content of draft or existing legislation, policy or practice considered not to be fully compatible with international human rights standards.  In some cases, communications are also sent to inter-governmental organisations or non-State actors.

The decision to intervene is at the discretion of mandate-holders and will depend on the various criteria established under their respective mandates, as well as the criteria laid out in the Code of Conduct. The criteria will generally relate to: the reliability of the source and the credibility of information received; the details provided; and the scope of the mandate. Communications can be sent by mandate-holders irrespective of whether an alleged victim has exhausted domestic remedies and whether the concerned State has ratified an international or regional human rights instruments.

Submitting information to the special procedures

In order for a complaint to be assessed, the following information is needed:

  1. Identification of the alleged victim(s).
  2. Identification of the alleged perpetrators of the violation (if known), including substantiated information on all the actors involved, including non-state actors if relevant.
  3. Identification of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication, if different from the victim (this information will be kept confidential).
  4. Date, place and detailed description of the circumstances of the incident(s) or violation. The information submitted can refer to violations that are said to have already occurred, that are ongoing or about to occur.

Other details pertaining to the specific alleged violation may be required depending on the mandate(s) to which the submission is addressed or relevant.

Communications that contain abusive language or that are obviously politically motivated are not considered. Communications should not be based solely on media reports.

Questionnaire for submitting information to the special procedures

To facilitate the consideration of alleged violations, questionnaires relating to several mandates are available to persons wishing to submit information.  Communications are also considered even when they are not submitted in the form of a questionnaire.  For specific information concerning the individual communications criteria of specific special procedure mandates please consult the individual webpages of thematic mandatesor country mandates. Submissions are encouraged in English, French or Spanish to ensure timely processing. 

After consulting the requirements established by each mandate for the submission of allegations, information can be submitted by e-mail to submissions to Special Procedures, or by postal mail to:

8-14 Avenue de la Paix 
1211 Geneva 10 

Protection of victims and sources

It should be noted that neither Special Procedure mandate-holders nor the United Nations have the means to ensure the safety of persons on whose behalf they may intervene.

Communications sent and State replies received remain confidential until they are published in Communications Reports submitted to each regular session of the Human Rights Council (in March, June and September).  However, in certain situations, including those of grave concern, a special procedure mandate-holder may issue a public statement earlier.

The names of alleged victims are usually included in the communication sent to the State to enable the competent authorities to investigate the alleged violation or take appropriate preventive action. These names are also published in the Communications Reports, except if privacy or protection concerns require keeping the identity of the concerned victim(s) confidential.

The identity of the source of information is always kept confidential and neither included in the communication sent to the Government, nor in the public communications report.

Follow-up information

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to provide updates on new developments relating to a case they have brought to the attention of special procedures by sending such information to submissions to Special Procedures and to the mandate(s) to which they have addressed their submission. Such updates could relate to the following events: The release of a concerned individual from detention, a new court judgment or a measure taken by the concerned authorities to improve the situation.

Communications reports

Special procedures submit Communications Reports to the Human Rights Council containing summaries of the communications sent since the last reporting period . Since September 2011, the text of all communications sent and replies received can be accessed through these periodic reports. Some mandates have continued to publish annually, their observations on replies received.

Other complaint procedures

Several other complaint mechanisms have been established as part of the international human rights system. For more information, please visit the Complaints procedures of Human Rights Treaty Bodies and theComplaint procedure of the Human Rights Council.