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UN Special Rapporteurs, Human Rights, and the Role of NGOs

The International Center for Conflict and Human Rights Analysis (ICCHRA) posted an article last month discussing the UN Human Rights Council's system of Special Rapporteurs and the importance of NGOs. It is very informative so I thought I'd post some of the more salient points here:

- There is no overall plan in creating Special Rapporteurs (SRs); instead, they are nearly always created in response to reports presented by NGOs indicating serious and wide-spread abuses of particular human rights.

- Each SR has a small UN Secretariat staff and although SRs initially worked independently, due to increasing overlap they now work together and send joint communications to governments. For example, the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in persons works closely with the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children and child prostitution, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

- The only tool that Special Rapporteurs have is the ability to send a “communication” — that is, a letter sent to the Ambassador representing a State at the UN in Geneva. Information on human rights abuses can be sent to a Special Rapporteur by a State, an NGO, or an individual victim. Nearly always, the information is sent by an NGO. Governments do not criticize each other as they could be attacked in return, and victims rarely know ‘how the system works’. Thus information to Special Rapporteurs is nearly always sent by the representatives of international NGOs who have members or local contacts in the countries in question.

- The major purpose for an NGO to use the system of UN Special Rapporteurs is to indicate to the government that the NGO knows what is going on and that there is no part of the country so far removed that NGOs cannot have information on events.

- Many governments do not reply to communications; some reply briefly justifying their actions; a few governments do carry out serious investigations, sometimes not being aware of the situation before.

- In addition to the tool of sending communications, the Special Rapporteur can visit a country — on invitation of the government — to talk to government authorities and, depending on the country, with NGOs and other associations. The Special Rapporteur is accompanied by one or more members of the UN secretariat.

- The impact of the UN Special Rapporteurs depends on close, if informal, cooperation with NGOs. Without the NGOs, there would be no information coming into the system and without NGOs there would be no follow up.

- The strength of NGOs is their ability to cooperate and their range of personal contacts in the UN system. The most difficult task for NGO representatives at the UN is to keep lines of communication open to local members and to evaluate the information sent to them by local groups.

The link to the article is

Currently the Special Rapporteur for trafficking in persons is Ms Sigma Huda of Bangladesh. She was sentenced last month to three years in jail by the Bangladesh courts for aiding and abetting extortion. The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers expressed concerns on the fairness of the trial.


Maria Jett's picture

Toronto Area Trafficking Events

Hi there, Khairunnisa,

Thanks so much for posting this info. I also wanted to encourage you to use your journal to report to the community from events that you yourself attend, in Toronto and elsewhere.


Maria Jett, Online Community Director

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