Skip to Main Content
Research Guides United Nations Office at Geneva Library & Archives

Human Rights Special Procedures: Home

Library of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Profile Photo
OHCHR Library
8-14 Avenue de la Paix, CH-1211
Geneva 10
+41 (0)22 928 9790
Subjects: Human Rights

Definitions and working methods

The special procedures are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective.

Special procedures, appointed to examine specific human rights issues, reported originally to the Commission on Human Rights and Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The Human Rights Council now has responsibility for the special procedures, including those originally established by the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission.

  • The established practices of the working methods of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (from 1947 to 1999 Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities) related to studies are reflected through the Terms of References of the Sub-Commission (1949) (E/1371-E/CN.4/350, para.13) and the Guidelines adopted by the Sub-Commission in 1993 (E/CN.4/1993/2-E/CN.4/Sub.2/1992/58, Annex, page 32).
  • The Commission on Human Rights started discussion on studies of specific aspects of human rights at its 9th session (1953) when the Commission received the United Sates proposal (see para. 269-270, 273-275, 281-283 in E/2447). The text of the proposal was revised at the 10th session of the Commission (see para. 336-351, 255-361 in  E/2573) and further revised at the 11th session of the Commission (see para. 168-177 in E/2731). At the 12th session (1956) the Commission received a new United States proposal, which was adopted resolution II at its 535th meeting by 11 votes to 3, with 4 abstentions (see para. 47-83 in E/2844).
  • The Human Rights Council, at its 1st session (19-30 June 2006, Report A/61/53, Supp.53) decided "to extend exceptionally for one year, subject to the review to be undertaken by the Council in conformity with General Assembly resolution 60/251, the mandates and the mandate holders of all the special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights as well as the procedure established in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1503 (XLVIII) of 27 May 1970, as listed in the annex to the present decision" (decision 1/102 in Report A/61/53, Supp.53, p. 31).
  • The Human Rights Council, at its 5th session adopted resolution 5/1 (see A/62/53, p. 48-73), which
  • The Human Rights Council, at its 5th session also adopted Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-Holders of the Human Rights Council (see resolution 5/2 in A/62/53, p. 73-80.

Special procedure mechanisms include:

  • special rapporteurs                                                
  • special representatives
  • independent experts
  • working groups

There are also experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General

An expert ... would be a Secretariat official, appointed by and responsible to the Secretary-General, although his functions would be described by the Sub-Commission.
(From E/CN.4/703, Report of the Sub-Commission on its 6th session (para. 56).