The Special Procedures system is made up of experts, usually titled Special Rapporteurs, assigned to investigate and report on the realization of certain rights around the world, or in specific countries. Over the past decade they have become one of the most effective international instruments for confronting violations of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) people. Amongst other examples they have taken action against killings, violence, deprivation of liberty, denials of the rights of freedom of expression and association, as well as discrimination in access to public services on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Often their independence allows them to shine a light on issues that are otherwise deemed too politically ‘sensitive’ for discussion at the international level. The Special Procedures have therefore proved themselves to be of considerable value to LGBTI activists.
With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), special procedures undertake country visits; act on individual cases and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States and others in which they bring alleged violations or abuses to their attention; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contribute to the development of international human rights standards, engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council; the majority of the mandates also reports to the General Assembly. Their tasks are defined in the resolutions creating or extending their mandates.
Special procedures are either an individual (called “Special Rapporteur” or “Independent Expert”) or a working group composed of five members, one from each of the five United Nations regional groupings: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and the Western group. The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and members of the Working Groups are appointed by the Human Rights Council and serve in their personal capacities. They undertake to uphold independence, efficiency, competence and integrity through probity, impartiality, honesty and good faith. They are not United Nations staff members and do not receive financial remuneration. The independent status of the mandate holders is crucial in order to be able to fulfil their functions in all impartiality. A mandate-holder’s tenure in a given function, whether it is a thematic or country mandate, is limited to a maximum of six years.
As of 27 March 2015 there are 41 thematic and 14 country mandates.
For a Guide to working with the UN Special Procedures to advance LGBTI Issues, see ARC’s Guide to the Special Procedures
You can find out more information about the Special Procedures at the UN website.
ICJ database: Explore to find out how the United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders (as well as the human rights treaty monitoring bodies) have engaged with issues of human rights relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.