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Methods of work

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Methods of work

The protection of human rights defenders is the main concern of the Special Rapporteur. Protection is understood to include the protection of human rights defenders themselves and the protection of their right to defend and promote human rights.

To fulfil this goal, the Special Rapporteur follows some recurring methods of work but also some specific ones.


Traditionnal methods of work


  • Contacts with all the actors concerned by the situation of human rights defenders


To achieve all his missions, the Special Rapporteur has to remain in contact with the relevant actors in human rights defenders field. In priority, she tries to be accessible to human rights defenders by meeting and communicating with them. For example, she focuses her work on the information received through the complaint procedure or during meetings.


The Special Rapporteur also maintains regular contacts with States. She can meet them at international events, such as the annuals sessions of United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva or of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.


She can meet with States during side-events or bilateral meetings as well. 


The Special Rapporteur makes connection with other relevant actors for her mandate and the related activities. For example, she meets with national parliamentarians, members of regional or international intergovernmental organisations, groups of States, regional courts (such as the European Court of Human rights), etc.


  • Communications


Within her mandate, the Special Rapporteur, in collaboration with the relevant States, examines individual cases of human rights violations committed against human rights defenders. The communications constitute the main form of protection that the mandate holder can provide to human rights defenders. The information sent to the Special Rapporteur this way comes from a variety of sources. For example, States’s authorities, NGOs, media or human rights defenders can report a human rights violation suffered by defenders.


When the Special Rapporteur receives such information, she has to proceed to verify the information. First, she will check if the violation falls within his mandate, and if it is the case, she will verify if the alleged violation is plausible and if the source of the information is reliable. Once these verifications are done, the Special Rapporteur will contact the State’s authorities where the denounced violation is thought to have occurred.


To this end, two ways exist:

-       The urgent appeal, which is used to communicate information about ongoing or about to occur violations. For example, the urgent appeal can be used when a human rights defenders suffers from deaththreats.

-       The allegation letter, which is used to communicate information about violations that are thought to have already occurred. For example, the allegation letter will be used when the Special Rapporteur is informed after the human rights abuse, such as  when the information is related to the murder of a human rights defender.


The communications procedure also helps to inform the State as soon as possible to give it the opportunity to investigate and stop or prevent, when it is still possible, the human rights violation.


In both types of communications letter, the Special Rapporteur urges States to take every necessary measure to investigate the alleged human rights violation and to report back to her on all the investigation’s results and all the actions taken accordingly.


A few numbers: Between the 1 December 2013 and 30 November 2014, the Special Rapporteur sent 231 communications to 84 States, of which 128 were urgent appeals and 103 were letters of allegation.


  • Country visits


One of the Special Rapporteur’s main missions is to conduct official visits into States. To be officially authorized to visit a country, the Special Rapporteur has to receive an invitation. Some States have sent standing invitation and for the others the Special Rapporteur has to formally request the invitation to visit the country. 


Country visits provide excellent opportunities to learn about the situation of human rights defenders on the ground. For a better understanding of the situation in the country visited, the Special Rapporteur meets with as many relevant actors as possible. For example, she may meet with: State’s authorities; independent human rights institutions; United Nation’s institutions (such as the United Nations Regional Offices); regional mechanisms if they exist in the visited area (like the African Commission on Human and People’s rights); media outlets; institutions; and human rights defenders. 


Issues raised during these visits concern: violations committed against human rights defenders; the quality of the environment in which defenders conduct their work for human rights; and efforts undertaken by the authorities to protect defenders from human rights violations.


After each visit, the Special Rapporteur issues a report in which she indicates her main concerns and recommendations on the situation of human rights defenders in the country visited.


  • Reports


Under the mandate, the Special Rapporteur is required to present reports to the United Nations Human rights Council and to the General Assembly.


Reports are the occasion for the Special Rapporteur to report back on her activities, and raise trends and issues on the situation of human rights defenders that she has observed as well as to make recommendations on how these should be addressed.


The recommendations provide valuable indications for each person in charge of ensuring protection for human rights defenders. Recommendations may, for example, highlight the fact that State’s legislation does not comply with international law or that it is not sufficient to effectively protect human rights defenders.


Some reports examine one thematic of concern, such as the impact of security legislation on human rights defender’s rights and activities. Other ones focus on a country, which is the case for reports issued following a country visit.


Reports spread useful indicators of the difficulties faced by human rights defenders, as well as of particular issues or areas of the world.


Expansion by Special Rapporteurs of their methods of work


Depending on the Special Rapporteur, new and cremethods of work have been developed in order to better fulfil the mandate on the situation of human rights defenders.


A Few examples:


  • Consultations


At the very beginning of his mandate the Special Rapporteur, Michel Forst has introduced consultations as a method of work. During each consultation, he met about 40 human rights defenders, region by region or by thematic. Consultations constitute an excellent occasion to bring together human rights defenders from the same region or working on the same thematic and enable them to share their experiences and good practices.


Group work during consultation in Kampala


Within consultations, the Special Rapporteur undertakes a detail exchange with human rights defenders of national and regional trends, the threats and reprisals they are facing, and the methods of protection developed.


These direct exchanges with human rights defenders enable the Special Rapporteur to evaluate the effectivenes of the protection applying to them and if needed to evolve them on a case-by-case basis.


Consultations are also the opportunity for Special Rapporteurs to present their mandate, goals and their methods of work as well as the options open to human rights defenders and the possibilities provided by the mandate to protect them.


Thus, the Special Rapporteur collects information on how human rights defenders perceive the effectiveness of protection mechanisms and establishes what they expect from the mandate.


  • Workshops and conferences

The Special Rapporteur tries to attend as many events as possible regarding the central theme of human rights defenders, or around broader themes relevant to defenders and human rights.


Those events are, for example, intergovernmental meetings, international or regional conferences, seminars, panel discussions or workshops.


The Special Rapporteur uses those events to promote her mandate and the Declaration on human rights defenders and to draw attention to the situation faced by human rights defenders across the world. 


Read more about the mandate's missions and objectives

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