UN Special Procedures is the collective name for independent human rights experts mandated by the Human Rights Council to address either country-specific human rights violations, or to promote certain thematic human rights concerns.

The UN Special Procedures mechanism is a system of over fifty ‘Special Rapporteurs’ (though some take the form of ‘Working Groups’ or ‘Independent Experts’). These are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to fulfil a particular mandate (e.g. to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly, or the right to water and sanitation).

​There are different types of Special Procedures mandates, including Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups. Notwithstanding their different names, they work in broadly similar ways: they undertake country missions to work with national stakeholders (including human rights defenders) to strengthen the enjoyment of human rights; they receive and act on petitions / communications / complaints from individual victims of human rights violations (or their representatives); and they report to the Human Rights Council (and sometimes the UN General Assembly) on their work, presenting their conclusions and recommendations.

​As one aspect of fulfilling their mandate, most Special Procedures receive petitions from the victims of human rights violations, or their representatives, analyse the allegations made, and then communicate with the concerned government to request information on the allegations made and, eventually, to secure remedy and redress. Individuals do not have to ‘exhaust domestic remedy’ (i.e. seek and fail to obtain justice at national level) before petitioning the Special Procedures system.

Detailed information about the Special Procedures communications system can be accessed here.

The Special Procedures mechanism has recently developed and introduced a single online petition/communication platform, greatly facilitating access to the UN’s human rights protection system.

EHRDs wishing to submit petitions or complaints about alleged human rights violations and to seek help, are advised to submit information through this centralised platform:

​Alternatively, submissions can be made via email to: urgent-action@ohchr.org

When using the Special Procedures petitions platform or when submitting information by email, EHRDs should make clear to which Special Procedure(s) is should the information be submitted. Below, you will find a list of some of the Special Procedures that can help you.

EHRDs may track progress with their petition/communication by referring to the Special Procedures communications reports, which can be accessed here.

For petitions/communications addressed and/or dealt with by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, progress can be tracked here.

Regarding petitions / communications / complaints, any EHRD from any country in the world has the right to contact Special Procedures mandate-holders, without exception (for example, it is not necessary for an EHRD’s country of residence to have signed and ratified a particular human rights treaty).

On the issue of protecting the rights, and promoting the work, of EHRDs, the Special Procedures mandates of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, are particularly relevant. In some instances, for example where there is an alleged violation of the rights of indigenous persons, other mandates (e.g. the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples) will also be in a position to provide support.

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights defenders works to examine and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders, works with governments to improve how human rights defenders are treated, and recommends effective strategies to protect human rights defenders.

For help, advice, or support, EHRDs can contact the Special Rapporteur by email at: defenders@ohchr.org or by fax at +41 (0) 22 917 90 06.

EHRDs can also communicate with the Special Rapporteur in writing at: Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders: Mr Michel Forst, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson, United Nations Office at Geneva, CH 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland.

For more information on the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, you can visit his website.

To submit formal petitions to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, alleging violations of human rights, please click here.

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment works to study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, works on identifying and promoting good practices relating to human rights and environmental protection, and promotes the realisation of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

For help, advice or support, EHRDs can contact the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment by email at: srenvironment@ohchr.org or by telephone at +41(0) 22 917 9113, or at +41(0) 22 917 9008.

EHRDs can also communicate with the Special Rapporteur in writing at: Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson, United Nations Office at Geneva, CH 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland.

For more information on the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, you can visit his website.

To submit formal petitions to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and the environment, alleging violations of human rights, please click here.

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples works to protect the rights of indigenous people by examining means of overcoming obstacles to the full protection of indigenous peoples, exchanging information and communications with governments and indigenous peoples, and making recommendations on ways to prevent and remedy violations of rights of the indigenous peoples.

To report an alleged human rights violation involving EHRDs and indigenous peoples’ rights, EHRDs can send an email to: indigenous@ohchr.org.

Petitioners should include, in the subject line, ‘Communication regarding [country or indigenous people,’ and should include the proper information in their submission.

Alternatively, EHRDs can communicate with the Special Rapporteur by fax at +41 22 917 92 32, or by mail at: Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson, United Nations Office at Geneva, CH 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland.

For more information on the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, you can visit her website.

Other Special Procedures mandates

Depending on the situation and the nature of the alleged violation(s), other Special Procedures mandates may also be in a position to assist. They include, inter alia:

  • Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste.
  • Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
  • Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
  • Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.
  • Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights