New Paper Discusses the Impact of United Nations Special Procedures

12 April 2021

United Nations (UN) Special Procedures are a unique mechanism of independent expert advice and monitoring in the UN human rights system. Less bound by governmental considerations or institutional constraints, they are today the most outspoken players in the system be it on thematic issues or country situations.

Our new Working Paper Towards Transversal Standards to Evaluate the Impact of UN Special Procedures discusses the impact of UN Special Procedures, reviews progress made to measure it, and proposes avenues to improve this assessment.

‘Most UN Special Procedures have started to evaluate the impact of their work and the effectiveness of their interventions and activities. They are supported by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in this endeavour. Our paper – based on an expert meeting with more than 20 UN Special Procedures, as well as a focus on the work of three mandate holders – reviews the progress made and existing best practices, and proposes avenues to improve this assessment’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP).

The Ability of Mandate Holders to Obtain States’ Cooperation

The paper looks in detail at the ability of the mandate-holders – both thematic as well as those pertaining to a specific country – to obtain the cooperation of a State, which is vital in determining the degree to which the mechanism may gain influence and have an impact. In essence, the extent to which a collaborative relationship can form between the parties to a large degree shapes the extent to which a mandate can affect change and constitute a persuasive pressure to encourage compliance.

‘Our initial research indicates that building sustainable mechanisms of interaction with national authorities is critical to the effective performance of a Special Procedures mandate’ indicates Dr Jonathan Andrew, the author of the Working Paper.

OHCHR Work

The paper also reviews OHCHR work to monitor and evaluate the activities of the different mandates and their interactions with states, public authorities, civil society organizations/NGOs, human rights defenders and rights holders.

‘This evaluation and monitoring notably looks at the impact of interventions in relation to changes in laws and policies, but also in relation to individual cases. It shows that mandates’ engagement has had a direct result on improving measures that more effectively safeguard human rights explains Dr Andrew.

The Development of an Assessment Methodology

The paper discusses the possible development of a common assessment’s methodology that would allow measuring impact across all Special Procedures. In this context, it notably assesses the complexities of developing indicators and of appraising the results of mandates’ interventions vis-à-vis particularly sensitive concerns like enforced or involuntary disappearances. In this context, the analysis also looks at issues of attribution and causality and at evaluating the impact of activities and discussions carried out mainly ‘behind the scene.

The paper expands on this topic with a discussion of other efforts taking place at the UN level to develop more rigorous evaluation and assessment procedures that may be leveraged within the human rights sphere.

Press conference of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioners in South Sudan with Commissioner Andrew Clapham

A Dedicated Initiative of the Geneva Human Rights Platform

This Working Paper forms part of a GHRP’s dedicated initiative that aims at supporting their work via institutional discussions and targeted research on thematic issues, working methods, impact assessment and other methodological issues.

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