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Special Procedures: at the core of the United Nations human rights system PDF Imprimer Envoyer
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Vendredi, 28 Juin 2013 18:50

Me Thierry del Prado (Geneva, Switzerland)

Human Right Council in GenevaIn 1980, the first thematic mechanism of what is now known as Special Procedures was established by the predecessor of the Human Rights Council following several coups in Latin America which led to enforced disappearances: the Working Group on Disappearances, still in activity today. This paved the way for the establishment of other thematic mandates covering a wide range of human rights issues. Many new mandates have been set up and continue to be created to deal with human rights challenges in various parts of the world. They now cover all regions and rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and environmental. The system of Special Procedures has become a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery. As of 1 January 2013 there were 36 thematic and 12 country mandates.
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Special procedures provide for either an individual (called "Special Rapporteur" or "Independent Expert") or a working group composed of five members. They are all appointed by the Human Rights Council and serve in their personal capacities. They are not United Nations staff members and do not receive financial remuneration. The independent status of the mandate holders is fundamental in order to be able to fulfil their functions in all impartiality. A mandate-holder's tenure is limited to a maximum of six years.

They are supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and undertake country visits, act on individual cases or concerns of a broader nature by sending communications to States in which they bring alleged violations or abuses to their attention; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, engage in advocacy and public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation. The mandate holders report annually to the Human Rights Council and the majority as well to the General Assembly. Their tasks are defined in the resolutions creating or extending their mandates.

Country visits
Mandate holders carry out country visits to analyse the human rights situation at the national level. If the State agrees, an invitation to visit is extended. Some countries have issued "standing invitations" which means that they are prepared to receive a visit from any thematic special procedures mandate holders within thematic special procedures. As of 1 January 2013, 92 States had extended such standing invitations, mostly in Europe and in the Americas. During these visits, mandate holders assess the general human rights situation, as well as the specific institutional, legal, judicial, administrative and de facto situation under their respective mandates.

States receiving such visits must guarantee freedom of movement in the whole country, in particular to restricted areas; freedom of inquiry, such as access to all detention centres; confidential and unsupervised contact with civil society, witnesses and other private persons, and assurance by the Government that those who have been in contact with the mandate holders will not, as a result, suffer threats, harassment or punishment or be subjected to judicial proceedings. During the country visit the experts will meet with national and local authorities; non-governmental organizations, and victims of human rights violations and will meet the press at the end in a press conference. After their visits, the mandate holders issue a mission report containing their findings and recommendations on their thematic expertise.Special Rapporteur on the right to education

Several mechanisms provide that mandate holders may intervene directly with Governments on specific allegations of violations of human rights. This can relate to a human rights violation that has already occurred, is ongoing, or has a high risk of occurring. The process in general involves sending a letter to the concerned State requesting information and comments and, where necessary, asking that preventive or investigatory action be taken. Communications may deal with individual cases, general trends and patterns of human rights violations occurring in a particular country, cases affecting a particular group or community, or the content of draft or existing legislation considered to be not fully compatible with international human rights standards. Communications sent and the responses received are reported at each regular session to the Human Rights Council.

Code of Conduct and working methods
The Council adopted in 2007 a Code of Conduct regulating the working methods of mandate holders. The procedure is designed to enhance the independence and effectiveness of special procedures and cooperation by States, and to contribute to the self-regulation of the special procedures system and of individual mandate holders, although some considered it as a limitation to the scope of activities undertaken and its independence.

Annual Meeting and Coordination Committee
Annual meetings of all mandate holders have been organized since 1994. These serve to coordinate and harmonize the work undertaken within the special procedures and to exchange views with States, the President of the Human Rights Council, civil society/non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and representatives from United Nations entities. In 2005 Special Procedures mandate holders also established a Coordination Committee to enhance coordination between mandate holders and to act as a bridge between them and the broader United Nations' human rights framework.
Special procedures have emerged at the core of the United Nations human rights system. They represent one of the principal achievements of the Council and have provided valuable thematic analysis on key human rights issues. In addition, they have served as a prevention mechanism for victims in preventing abuses and even having saved lives, through their communications addressed to States. They also have provided high-quality assessments of country situations, by carrying out their respective country visits.

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