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HRW Identifies Key Points for Special Procedures Review

The task of the intergovernmental working group on review of mandates is wide-ranging and important. The following six key points should help guide the working group’s review:

The independence of the special procedures must be respected.

The contribution of special procedures to human rights protection is inextricably linked to their independence. While the Human Rights Council should consider steps to make special procedures more efficient, any measure that would directly or indirectly circumscribe the ability of mandate holders to speak and work independently would fundamentally undermine the system. If the special procedures review is to be successful and credible, maintaining the independence of mandate holders must be at the forefront of the council’s deliberations.  

The practice of using rapporteurs to address the human rights situation in a particular country must be continued.

The work of country rapporteurs on human rights situations in places such as the former Yugoslavia and Chile has saved lives, and must continue. To address concerns about selectivity, country rapporteurs should generally be appointed as an outcome of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), except when serious new human rights situations arise outside a country’s review period. As the UPR system will take several years before it reaches all countries, the existing country rapporteurs should be extended until the country at issue has been subject to UPR. Countries that already have a country rapporteur could be the first considered under UPR in order to hasten this process.  

Mandate holders should be responsible for clarifying their working methods and should put in place model standards for professional conduct.

Persons appointed to hold special procedures mandates should have a clear understanding of the professional standards and working methods which guide their activities. The revised “Manual of the United Nations Human Rights Special Procedures” is well placed to address those issues, and work is already under way on the revision of the manual. The working group should endorse that process and support clarification of the professional standards applicable but leave the detailed development of such standards to the professionals themselves.  

The Human Rights Council must develop effective methods for integrating reporting by special procedures and for follow-up to their work.

The interactive dialogue during the second session was an important achievement of the council. The working group must build on that success by making recommendations aimed at ensuring that concrete steps follow such dialogues. It should also make suggestions to better integrate the special procedures into the council’s work, including reporting at routine intervals and on a priority basis for urgent matters, and for systematic follow-up on recommendations by special procedures.  

The review must address obstacles to the effectiveness of special procedures, particularly governmental failure to cooperate.

The council’s mandate requires that its members “fully cooperate with the council.” Full cooperation must entail respect for the special procedures and their work, including allowing unimpeded visits and promptly responding to their recommendations. The council should put in place an internal system that would monitor compliance by council members with the special procedures, and take appropriate measures in response to non-compliance. The council should also agree on a system of escalating responses to uncooperative states that are not council members.  

Overlap within special procedures should be addressed through appropriate means.

Concern over duplication and overlap within the special procedure system is understandable and should be addressed. However, any attempt to impose arbitrary limits on the number of rapporteurs is misguided, since expert assistance has proven valuable on a broad range of thematic and country issues. Given the interrelationships between human rights issues, further collaboration among rapporteurs should be encouraged through joint efforts and additional formal partnerships, or even by combining related topics into working groups. 

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