Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation

UN Special Procedures


"Special Procedures" are are either an individual (called "Special Rapporteur" or "Independent Expert") or a working group composed of five members to examine a particular theme or the human rights situation in a specific country. Each of these experts has the responsability to monitor and report to the Human Rights Council. As of 1 November 2014 there are 39 thematic and 14 country mandates.

Special procedures can intervene directly with Governments on allegations of violations of human rights that come within their mandates. The intervention can relate to a human rights violation that has already occurred, is ongoing, or which has a high risk of occurring. These experts have a number of tools by means of which they can publicise cases of reprisals that occcur, in hopes of pressuring a State into pursuing accountability for the violations.

Urgent appeals involve the expert (or a group of experts) sending a letter to the State, reuqiring it to intervene in a case and to submit information to the mandate holder on the steps taken in response to the case.

Country visits allow the experts to build a picture of the on-the-ground situation and generally include meetings with local civil society. These visits conclude with the publication of a report and possibly a press release.

Another tool available to special procedures is to issue press releases on an ad hoc basis as a means of drawing greater attention to particular cases. Some experts have in the past used press releases as a basis of making a public call on a State to ensure the safety of particular cases.

The decision to intervene is at the discretion of mandate-holders and will depend on the various criteria established under their respective mandates. 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 irrespective of whether an alleged victim has exhausted domestic remedies and whether the concerned State has ratified an international or regional human rights instruments.

Scales for Justice (S4J) is experienced with sending communications to the UN Special Procedures and is in regular exchange with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). After receiving information on human rights violations S4J studies which Special Procedures mandate would be relevant in the issue and subsequently prepares the communication. After sending the communication S4J ensures that a regular follow-up with the OHCHR takes place . If necessary S4J also organizes meetings with the special procedure mandate holders (or assistants), ideally together with the victim. The established relation of trust with the OHCHR is crucial for  this task, as experience shows that increases the chances of being heard.

Possible results of urgent appeals are government communications sent by the UN (these communcations remain strictly confidential until the next communication report of the Special Procedures to the Human Rights Council), press releases by the UN as well as inclusion of the case into official reports. S4J has a proven record of success with attaining these results and several UN communcations and press releases are in direct relation to the information provided by S4J members.

Source: OHCHR