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Human Rights: A Media Guide to the new UN independent experts (2020)


GENEVA (8 May 2020) – The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed in March, at its 43d session, 12 new independent experts to its fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Currently, there are 56 mandates: 44 thematic ones and 12 mandates related to countries and territories, with a total of 80 human rights experts.

Who are the new independent experts? What is their role? And how can you contact them?

Foreign debt and human rights

Ms. Yuefen LI (China) is the new Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.

Prior to joining the UN in 1990, Ms. Li was a lecturer at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China.  At the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), she assumed various high-level positions and headed UNCTAD's debt and development finance work. She also managed various projects including on Sovereign Lending and Borrowing and Globalization. Ms. Li has been guest professor at various universities including Tsinghua University in China. She has published books, papers and articles in professional journals and newspapers, UN publications and documents. She is currently Senior Advisor on South-South Cooperation and Development Finance at the South Centre.

Check the Independent Expert's mandate.

Languages for interviews: English and Chinese

Twitter: @IEfinanceHRs

Contact in Geneva:

Mr. Bahram Ghazi (Tel: +41 22 928 9515 / bghazi@ohchr.org)

Ms. Frédérique Bourque (Tel: +41 22 917 9946 / fbourque@ohchr.org)

Or write to ieforeigndebt@ohchr.org

Older persons and human rights

Ms. Claudia MAHLER (Austria) is the new Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

Ms. Mahler has been working for the German Institute for Human Rights as a senior researcher in the field of economic, social and cultural rights since 2010. She is also a visiting professor at the Alice Salomon Hochschule. From 2001 to 2009, Ms. Mahler conducted research at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Potsdam where her main fields were in human rights education, minority rights and the law of asylum. In 2000, she was appointed as Vice President of the Human Rights Commission for Tyrol and Vorarlberg. She has also worked as a lecturer in the field of human rights law and as a consultant to OHCHR in Geneva. From 1997-2001, she held the position of an assistant at the Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck, Austria in the field of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedures. Ms. Mahler received her doctoral degree in 2000.

Check the Independent Expert's mandate.

Languages for interviews: English and German

Contact in Geneva:

Khaled Hassine (+41 22 917 9367 / khassine@ohchr.org)

Hee-Kyong Yoo (+41 22 917 9723 / hyoo@ohchr.org)

Or write to olderpersons@ohchr.org

Right to housing

Mr. Balakrishnan RAJAGOPAL (United States of America) is the new Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.

Mr. Rajagopal (United States of America) Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. He is the founder of the Displacement Research and Action Network at MIT. Mr. Rajagopal has conducted over 20 years of research on social movements and human rights advocacy around the world focusing in particular, on land and property rights, evictions and displacement. He has a law degree from University of Madras, India, a masters degree in law from the American University as well as an interdisciplinary doctorate in law from Harvard Law School. He served as a human rights advisor to the World Commission on Dams, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia. He has published numerous books and scholarly articles, including research reports on evictions, displacement, human rights and housing.

Check the Special Rapporteur' mandate.

Language for interviews: English 

Twitter: @adequatehousing

Contact in Geneva:

Gunnar Theissen (+41 22 917 9321 / gtheissen@ohchr.org)

Jon Izagirre (+41 22 917 9715 / jizagirre@ohchr.org)

Or write to: srhousing@ohchr.org

Modern-day slavery

Mr. Tomoya OBOKATA (Japan) is the new Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences.

Mr. Obokata is a Japanese scholar of international law and human rights, currently serving as Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Keele University in the United Kingdom, and previously taught at Queen's University Belfast and Dundee University. He has extensive experience working on the issues of transnational crime, human trafficking and modern-day slavery, including with the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Northern Ireland Assembly All Party Group on Human Trafficking, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the International Organisation for Migration and the European Union. He also worked for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Japan. Mr. Obokata has published widely on the topics related to contemporary forms of slavery.

Check the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

Languages for interviews: English and Japanese

Contact in Geneva:

Satya Jennings (+41 22 9179772/ sjennings@ohchr.org)

Elena Wasylew (+41 22 917 9720 / ewasylew@ohchr.org)

Or write to: srslavery@ohchr.org.

Poverty and human rights

Mr. Olivier DE SCHUTTER (Belgium) is the new Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Mr. De Schutter was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in March 2020 and took up his functions as of 1 May 2020. He is Professor of Law at UCLouvain and at SciencesPo (Paris, France) and has taught human rights at various universities around the world, including the College of Europe, Columbia University and Yale University. As an expert on economic and social rights, he has served the UN as a Member of the UN Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2015-2020) and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014).

Languages: French and English

Check the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

Contact in Geneva:

Patricia Varela (+41 22 928 9234 / pvarela@ohchr.org)

Junko Tadaki (+41 22 917 9298 / jtadaki@ohchr.org)

Or write to: srextremepoverty@ohchr.org

Unilateral sanctions and human rights

Ms. Alena DOUHAN (Belarus) is the new Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

Ms. Douhan assumed her mandate on 25 March 2020. She is a professor of International Law at the Belarusian State University (Belarus) and the Director of the Peace Research Center. Ms. Douhan received her PhD at the Belarusian State University in 2005 and obtained Dr. hab. in International Law and European Law in 2015. Her teaching and research interests are in the fields of international law, sanctions and human rights law, international security law, counter-terrorism, law of international organizations, international dispute settlement, and international environmental law. Ms. Douhan has published extensively on various aspects of international law. She is also a member of a number of academic and expert organisations, including the Use of Force Committee of the International Law Association.

Check the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

Languages for interviews: Russian and English

Contact in Geneva:

Sharof Azizov (+41 22 917 9748 / sazizov@ohchr.org)

Or write to: ucm@ohchr.org

Right to food

Mr. Michael FAKHRI (Lebanon) is the new Special Rapporteur on the right to food

Mr. Fakhri was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in March 2020 and assumed his functions on 1 May 2020. He is a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law where he teaches courses on human rights, food law, development, and commercial law. He is also the director of the Food Resiliency Project in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center. He holds a Doctorate from the University of Toronto, Masters from Harvard Law School, Bachelor of Laws from Queen's University, and a Bachelor of Science in Ecology from Western University.

Check the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

Language for interviews: English

Contact in Geneva:

Jamshid Gaziyev (+41 22 917 9183 / jgaziyev@ohchr.org)

Frédérique Bourque  (+41 22 917 9946 / fbourque@ohchr.org.

Or write to: srfood@ohchr.org

Indigenous peoples

Mr. José Francisco CALÍ TZAY (Guatemala) is the new Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Mr Calí Tzay has served as Ambassador of Guatemala to Germany and held key diplomatic posts in Poland and Ukraine. He was the Director for Human Rights, at the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Consultant on Indigenous Issues to the Government, as well as President of the National Reparation Program for the Victims of the Internal Conflict in Guatemala. He has founded human rights, indigenous peoples and peasants' organisations, and lobbied extensively for the UN to adopt international mechanisms, such as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights of indigenous peoples. Mr Calí Tzay has also contributed to the adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He has been a political advisor and a member of different NGOs and Foundations boards of directors.

Check the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

Languages for interviews: Spanish and English

Contact in Geneva:

Christine Evans (+41 22 917 9197 / cevans@ohchr.org)

Claire Morclette (+41 22 928 94 37 / cmorclette@ohchr.org)

Or write to: indigenous@ohchr.org 

Sale and Sexual exploitation of children

Ms. Mama Fatima SINGHATEH (Gambia) is the new Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

Ms. Singhateh is a trained lawyer with almost 20 years of experience, currently working as an international Consultant on human rights and legal and institutional reforms. She holds a master's degree in International Business Law from the University of Hull and has undergone numerous trainings in child rights programming, arbitration and mediation, and legislative drafting. Ms Singhateh is a former Justice Minister and has held positions as prosecutor, legislative draftsperson, High Court Judge and Justice of Appeal in The Gambia. She has served as a member of the Board of Directors of ECPAT International in Thailand and the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Child Protection Alliance in The Gambia. She has also served as a nominated member and legal advisor to the National Women's Council in The Gambia.

Check the Special Rapporteur mandate.

Language for interviews: English

Contact in Geneva:

Shushan Khachyan (+ 41 22 917 99 84 / skhachyan@ohchr.org)

Elena Wasylew (+41 22 917 9720 / ewasylew@ohchr.org)

Or write to: srsaleofchildren@ohchr.org.

Human rights defenders

Ms. Mary LAWLOR (Ireland) is the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Ms. Lawlor is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development.  Ms. Lawlor was previously the Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, became a Board member in 1975 and was elected Chair from 1983 to 1987. She has a BA in Psychology and Philosophy and postgraduate degrees in Montessori Teaching and Personnel Management.

Check the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

Language for interviews: English

Contact in Geneva:

Adriana Zarraluqui (+41 22 917 9965 / azarraluqui@ohchr.org)

Or write to defenders@ohchr.org


Mr. Thomas H. ANDREWS (United States of America) is the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

A former member of the US Congress from Maine, Mr. Andrews has a Washington DC based consulting practice, Andrews Strategic Services. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in several countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He served as General Secretary of "The Nobel Peace Laureate Campaign for Aung San Suu Kyi and the People of Burma" in 2001 and was a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network. He has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide, led an education institute at the University of Maine and served in the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate.

Check the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

Language for interviews: English

Contact in Bangkok:

Georgia Drake (+66 659 450 406 / georgia.drake@un.org)

Or write to sr-myanmar@ohchr.org


Ms. Isha DYFAN (Sierra Leone) is the new Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia.

Ms. Dyfan was Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International where she provided strategic political advice and led advocacy programmes in New York, Geneva and London. At the UN, she served in three peacekeeping missions, UNMIL, UNMIS and UNAMID, before joining OHCHR as Senior Human Rights Officer responsible for the coordination of Women's Human Rights and Gender Section. Prior to joining the UN, Ms. Dyfan worked for international NGOs with consultative status with the UN on women, peace, and security. She has Law Degrees from the University of Sierra Leone, the University of London and the Council of Legal Education (Inner Temple) in London. She has practiced law for 13 years and has experience applying international human rights instruments, norms and principles in cases of violations of human rights in the field.

Check the Independent Expert mandate.

Language for interviews: English

Contact in Geneva:

Mariannick Koffi (+41 22 917 9506 / mkoffi@ohchr.org)

Or write to ie-somalia@ohchr.org


The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 76 691 1323 / xcelaya@ohchr.org) or Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 79 444 7578 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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