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Special Procedures


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Secretary-General’s Reform Agenda

The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, in his report “Strengthening of the United Nations: an agenda for further change” (A/57/387), submitted to the 57th session of the General Assembly in September 2002, highlighted the importance of the United Nations work on human rights and the need to build upon its achievements and to strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery.

An essential part of that machinery, are the special procedure mechanisms established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. However, due to the ad hoc expansion in the number of special procedures in recent years, the Secretary-General felt that steps could be taken to enhance their effectiveness.

He identified two related sets of measures that are required:

(1) Improve the quality of reports and analyses produced by the special procedures. This can be achieved by setting clear criteria for the use of special procedures and the selection of appointees, and by establishing better guidelines for their operations and reporting functions.

(2) Strengthen the organizations capacity to support the special procedures. Measures to address this problem could include the appointment of more senior professionals and better administrative support.

The Secretary-General requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a review of the special procedures and to report back by September 2003 with recommendations on how to enhance their effectiveness and improve the support provided.

In resolution 57/300 the General Assembly, having considered the report of the Secretary-General requested the Commission on Human Rights and the relevant intergovernmental bodies to review the human rights special procedures in order to rationalize their work and enhance their effectiveness, consistent with their mandates, and also requested the High Commissioner to support this exercise.

As part of this process a document containing a summary of the activities undertaken to strengthen the operation of special procedures was presented to the 59th session of the Commission on Human Rights in 2003 for its consideration.

In his report to the 59th session of the General Assembly, entitled "In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all," (A/59/2005), submitted in March 2005, the Secretary-General highlighted the "unique system of independent and expert special procedures to observe and analyse human rights compliance by theme and by country" as a success of the Commission on Human Rights. Recognizing many other deficiencies with the Commission on Human Rights, he proposed replacing the Commission on Human Rights with a new body--the Human Rights Council.

By its resolution 60/251 adopted on 15 March 2006, the General Assembly established the Human Rights Council and decided that "the Council shall assume, review and, where necessary, improve and rationalize all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities of the Commission on Human Rights in order to maintain a system of special procedures ... " On 18 June 2007, the Council completed its first year of work and adopted a resolution entitled "Institution-building of the United Nations Human Rights Council," which included provisions on the selection of mandate holders and the review of all special procedures mandates. All mandates were extended (except the mandates on Belarus and Cuba ) until they are next considered by the Human Rights Council and the review is undertaken. The Council also adopted a Code of Conduct for special procedures mandate holders.

The Commission on Human Rights and the strengthening of special procedures

Resolution 2004/76

Decision 2005/113

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