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.

Christof Heyns, former Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Maina Kiai, former Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (2015).
The meetings of the United Nations Human Rights Council take place in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palace of Nations.

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."[1] 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.

Appointment authority

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, responsible for monitoring extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, began work in 1982 following the approval of Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1982/35.

Rapporteurs 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.

Each year, rapporteurs gather together for an annual meeting in Geneva, where they discuss issues of common interest, coordinate their work and meet with a range of stakeholders, including States and civil society organizations.[2]

The role

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 may be extended for another three years. Country special rapporteurs are appointed to serve for one year; their term may be renewed every year.

Current thematic and country mandates

The HRC oversees 44 thematic and 12 specific country mandates for which it can assign special rapporteurs.[3] Currently, there are a total of 80 individuals who serve as special rapporteurs, independent experts or working group members.[4]

Countries and territories


  • Arbitrary Detention (Working Group)
       Leigh Toomey (2015-)
       Setondji Roland Jean-Baptiste Adjovi (2014-)
       Jose Guevara (2014-)
       Seong-Phil Hong (2014-)
       Elina Steinarte (2016-)
  • Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation – Pedro Arrojo-Agudo (2020-)
       Previously: Léo Heller (2014-20)
            Catarina de Albuquerque (2008-2014)
  • Adequate Housing – Balakrishnan Rajagopal (2020–)
       Previously: Leilani Farha (2014–2020)
            Raquel Rolnik (2008-2014)
            Miloon Kothari (2002-2008)
  • AlbinismIkponwosa Ero (2015-)
  • Contemporary Forms of Slavery – Tomoya Obokata (2020–)
       Previously: Urmila Bhoola (2014-2020)
            Gulnara Shahinian (2008-2014)
  • Cultural Rights – Karima Bennoune (2015–)[15]
       Previously: Farida Shaheed (2009-2015)
  • Development - Saad Alfarargi (2017-)
  • Discrimination Against Women and Girls (Working Group)
       Elizabeth Broderick (2017-)
       Ivana Radicic (2017-)
       Meskerem Techane (2017-)
       Melissa Upreti (2017-)
       Alda Facio (2014-)
  • Education – Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry (2016–)
       Previously: Kishore Singh (2010-2016)
            Vernor Munoz Villalobos (2004-2010)
            Katarina Tomasevski (1998-2004)
  • Effects of Foreign Debt on Human Rights - Yuefen Li (2020-)
       Previously: Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (2014-2020)
            Cephas Luma (2008-2014)
            Bernards Mudho (2002-2008)
            Fantu Cheru (2000-2002)
  • Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (Working Group)
       Bernard Duhaime (2014-)
       Luciano Hazan (2017-)
       Henrikus Mickevicius (2015-)
       Tae-Ung Baik (2015-)
       Houria Es Slami (2014-)
  • Human rights and the environmentDavid R. Boyd (2018–)
       Previously: John Knox (2012–2018)[16]
  • Hazardous Substances and Wastes – Baskut Tuncak (2014–)[17]
       Previously: Marc Pallemaerts (2012-2014)
            Calin Georgescu (2010-2012)
            Okechukwu Ibeanu (2004-2010)
            Fatma Zohra Ouhachi-Vesely (1995-2004)
  • Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions – Agnès Callamard (2016–)
       Previously: S. Amos Wako (1982-1992)
            Christof Heyns (2010-2016)
            Philip Alston (2004-2010)
            Asma Jahangir (1998-2004)
            Bacre Waly Ndiaye (1992-1998)
  • Extreme Poverty and Human Rights – Olivier De Schutter (2020–)
       Previously: Philip Alston(2014-2020)
            Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona (2008-2014)
            Arjun Sengupta (2004-2008)
            A. M. Lizin (1998-2004)
  • FoodHilal Elver (2014–)
       Previously: Olivier De Schutter (2008–2014)
            Jean Ziegler (2000-2008)
  • Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and of Association – Clément Nyaletsossi Voule (2018–)
       Previously: Annalisa Ciampi (2017)
            Maina Kiai (2011-2017)
  • Freedom of Opinion and Expression – Irene Khan (2020–)
       Previously: David Kaye (2014-2020)
            Frank La Rue (2008-2014)
            Ambeyi Ligabo (2002-2008)
            Abid Hussain (1993-2002)
  • Freedom of Religion or BeliefAhmed Shaheed (2016–)
       Previously: Heiner Bielefeldt (2010-2016)
            Asma Jahangir (2004-2010)
            Abdelfattah Amor (1993-2004)
            Angelo d'Almeida Ribeiro (1986-1993)
  • Health – Dainius Pūras (2014–)
       Previously: Anand Grover (2008-2014)
            Paul Hunt (2002-2008)
  • Human Rights Defenders – Mary Lawlor (2020-current)
       Previously: Michel Forst (2014–2020)
            Margaret Sekaggya (2008-2014)
            Hina Jilani (2000-2008)
  • Illicit Movement of Toxic Waste – Calin Georgescu (2008–2014)
  • Independence of Judges and Lawyers – Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva Diego Garcia-Sayan (2017–?)
       Previously: Mónica Pinto (2015-2016)
            Gabriela Knaul (2009-2015)
            Leandro Despouy (2003-2009)
            Param Cumaraswamy (1994-2003)
  • Indigenous PeoplesVictoria Tauli-Corpuz (2014–)
       Previously: James Anaya (2008-2014)
            Rodolfo Stavenhagen (2001-2008)
  • Internally Displaced Persons – Cecilia Jimenez-Damary (2016-)
       Previously: Chaloka Beyani (2010–2016)
            Walter Kälin (2004-2010)
            Francis Deng (1992-2004)
  • International Order – Livingstone Sewanyana (2018-)
       Previously: Alfred-Maurice de Zayas (2012–2018)[18]
  • International Solidarity – Obiora C. Okafor (2017-)
       Previously: Virginia Dandan (2011-2017)
            Rudi Muhammad Rizki (2005–2011)
  • Leprosy - Alice Cruz (2017-)
  • Mercenaries (Working Group)
       Jelena Aparac (2018-)
       Lilian Bobea (2018-)
       Chris Kwaja (2018-)
       Saeed Mokbil (2014-)
       Sorcha MacLeod (2018-)
  • Migrants – Felipe González Morales (2017-)
       Previously: François Crépeau (2011-2017)
            Jorge Bustamante (2005-2011)
            Gabriela Rodríguez Pizarro (1999-2005)
  • Minority Issues – Fernand de Varennes (2017-)
       Previously: Rita Izsák-Ndiaye (2011–2017)
            Gay McDougall (2005-2011)
  • Negative impact of unilateral coercive measures
  • People of African Descent (Working Group)
       Ricardo Sunga (2014-)
       Dominique Day (2018-)
       Michal Balcerzak (2014-)
       Sabelo Gumedze (2014-)
       Ahmed Reid (2015-)
  • 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–)
       Previously: Mutuma Ruteere (2011-2017)
            Githu Muigai (2008-2011)
            Doudou Diène (2002-2008)
            Maurice Glèlè-Ahanhanzo (1993-2002)
  • Rights of Older Persons - Rosa Kornfeld-Matte (2014-2020) Claudia Mahler (2020-)[19]
  • Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Gerard Quinn (2020–)
       Previously: Catalina Devandas Aguilar (2014–2020)
  • Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child PornographyMaud de Boer-Buquicchio (2014–)
       Previously: Najat Maalla M’jid (2008-2014)
            Juan Miguel Petit (2001-2008)
            Ofelia Calcetas-Santos (1994-2001)
            Vitit Muntarbhorn (1991-1994)
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – Victor Madrigal-Borloz (2018–)
       Previously: Vitit Muntarbhorn (2016–2018)
  • Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – Nils Melzer (2016–)
       Previously: Juan Méndez (2010-2016)
            Manfred Nowak (2004-2010)
            Theo van Boven (2001-2004)
            Nigel Rodley (1993-2001)
            Peter Kooijmans (1985-1993)
  • Trafficking in Persons – Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (2014–)
       Previously: Joy Ngozi Ezeilo (2008-2014)
            Sigma Huda (2004-2008)
  • Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence – Fabian Salvioli (2018-)
       Previously: Pablo de Greiff (2012–2018)
  • Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises (Working Group)
       Elzbieta Karska (2018-)
       Dante Pesce (2015-)
       Anita Ramasastry (2016-)
       Surya Deva (2016-)
       Githu Miugai (2018-)
  • Unilateral Coercive Measures - Idriss Jazairy (2014-)
  • Violence against Women – Dr. Dubravka Šimonović (2015–)
       Previously: Rashida Manjoo (2009-2015)
            Yakin Ertürk (2003-2009)
            Radhika Coomaraswamy (1994-2003)

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.[1]

See also


  1. "Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  2. "OHCHR | 26th Annual Meeting, 17 to 21 June 2019". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2020-04-14.
  3. Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council], United National Human Rights Commission, August 17, 2017.
  4. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/SP/StatisticsCurrentMandateHolders.pdf
  5. "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  6. "Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  7. "Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  8. Robinson, J. J. (June 18, 2011). "Dr. Shaheed Appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Iran". Minivan News: Independent News for the Maldives. Archived from the original on 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  9. "Iran parliament set to ban entry of UN Special Rapporteur on Iran". Tehran Times. June 20, 2011. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  10. Office of the UN High Commisioner on Human Rights, United Nations. "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar". Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  11. Weng, Lawi (July 29, 2014). "Govt Disagrees With UN Rights Envoy's Burma Concerns". The Irrawaddy. irrawaddy.com. Retrieved 2014-09-10.
  12. "The Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  13. "Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territory resigns due to continued lack of access to OPT". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  14. "OHCHR | Special Rapporteur on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  15. "Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights." Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  16. Faa, Marian (10 December 2020). "Torres Strait Islander complaint against climate change inaction wins backing of UN legal experts". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  17. "OHCHR | Mr. Baskut Tuncak". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2019-06-17.
  18. "Human Rights Council concludes nineteenth session". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ohchr.org. March 23, 2012. Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  19. "The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons". OHCHR. Retrieved 15 June 2020.