Special rapporteur, independent expert, and working group member are titles given to individuals working on behalf of the United Nations (UN) within the scope of "special procedure" mechanisms who have a specific country or thematic mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The term "rapporteur" is a French-derived word for an investigator who reports to a deliberative body.
The mandate by the United Nations has been to "examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report" on human rights problems through "activities undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities." However, the manual Internal Advisory Procedure to Review Practices and Working Methods (25 June 2008) of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures simply calls these individuals mandate-holders. Other applications of the role include "special representative of the secretary-general" or "independent expert", or a working group usually composed of five members, one from each region of the planet.
Appointed by the Human Rights Council of the UN, these mandate-holders act independently of governments and as such play an important role in monitoring sovereign nations and democratically elected governments and policies. The earliest such appointment was the 1980 Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances responding to Commission on Human Rights resolution 20 (XXXVI). The first Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reporting to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1982/35 begun work in 1982.
They do not receive any financial compensation for their work from the United Nations, though they receive personnel and logistical support from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and are often backed by charities and corporations.
To mark Human Rights Day in 2006, the 37 special rapporteurs, special representatives and independent experts issued a joint statement on the importance of human rights in the fight against poverty.
Special Rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They can only visit countries that have agreed to invite them.
Aside from fact-finding missions, Rapporteurs regularly assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. Once a complaint is verified as legitimate, an urgent letter or appeal is sent to the government that has allegedly committed the violation. If no complaint has been made, Rapporteurs may intervene on behalf of individuals and groups of people of their own accord.
Thematic special rapporteurs are typically appointed to serve for three years, after which their mandate can be extended for another three years. Country special rapporteurs are appointed to serve for one year, and their term is renewed every year.
In June 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the UN Commission on Human Rights, extended the mandates of all special rapporteurs by one year to enable it to conduct a review of the mandates and seek ways of strengthening their roles. However, special rapporteurs for countries which did not approve a special rapporteur came under question and the mandates of the special rapporteurs for Cuba and Belarus were not renewed.
Other controversies between the special rapporteurs and the council include the introduction of a code of conduct which initially disallowed the special rapporteurs from addressing the media. However a compromise was reached and a code of conduct now exists for the special rapporteurs.
The HRC oversees 43 thematic and 14 specific country mandates for which it can assign special rapporteurs. Currently there are at least 38 Special Rapporteurs, Special Representatives and Independent Experts who serve under the following country and thematic mandates:,