Doing It All and Doing It Well? - A Mandate’s Challenges in terms of Cooperation, Fundraising and Maintaining Independence
Aoife Nolan, Rosa Freedman & Thérèse Murphy (eds.) The UN Special Procedures, Brill, 2016, Forthcoming
30 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2016 Last revised: 8 Jun 2016
Date Written: February 4, 2016
The Special Procedures are often referred to as the ‘crown jewels’ of the UN human rights system. Yet, judging from the regular budgetary resources allocated to the Special Procedures system, the UN seems to consider its crown jewels to be of largely symbolic rather than material value.
Providing an insiders’ perspective and drawing on the experience of the mandate of the first Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation from 2008 to 2014, the chapter will address three aspects that are deeply interwoven and influence each other: firstly, the decision to pursue a very active agenda for the mandate, secondly, the role of the Special Procedures, their independence and the need for cooperation with other actors, and thirdly, the question of funding. The mandate was comparatively well-funded, which provided it with unique opportunities but also gave rise to distinct challenges.
The chapter starts by briefly explaining the evolving mandate from ‘Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation’ (as it was named in 2008) to Special Rapporteur (as it was renamed in 2011) after the explicit recognition of the human right to water and sanitation. It details the approach the Special Rapporteur took to her mandate and its achievements, outlining the shift from advocacy for the explicit recognition of the right to water and sanitation to a much stronger focus on implementation of this newly recognised human right, inter alia through close engagement with sector professionals and production of materials aimed at guiding the practical implementation of the human rights to water and sanitation.
The chapter continues by discussing the independence of Special Procedures and their unique position in the human rights system, but also highlights the need to cooperate with a range of other actors, including States, UN organisations, civil society organisations, academic institutions and many other stakeholders. Such cooperation allows the mandate-holders to amplify their work and its impact.
In addition to cooperation, (external) funding is necessary to pursue an agenda as active as the one of the water and sanitation mandate. While the mandate was comparatively well-funded, the nature of funding, the priorities of donors, the fact that the mandate-holder herself is unpaid, and the potential lack of transparency raise challenges for the independence of the mandate-holder and similarly placed Special Procedures. Their independence is often considered their key asset. However on the one hand, the system itself pushes mandate-holders to raise funds (which might risk their independence) and on the other hand, mandate-holders must avoid the danger of independence turning into isolation and disconnect, which would put them in an ivory tower. These dilemmas result in a delicate balancing act between securing funding for carrying out impactful work and not risking the mandate’s independence.
Keywords: human rights, Special Procedures, Special Rapporteur, Human Rights Council, funding, independence
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation