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The Working Group’s mandate was most recently extended by Human Rights Council resolution 51/8 of 6 October 2022 for a three-year period.


  1. To investigate cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily or otherwise inconsistently with the relevant international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or in the relevant international legal instruments accepted by the States concerned;
  2. To seek and receive information from Governments and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and receive information from the individuals concerned, their families or their representatives;
  3. To act on information submitted to its attention regarding alleged cases of arbitrary detention by sending urgent appeals and communications to concerned Governments to clarify and to bring to their attention these cases;
  4. To conduct field missions upon the invitation of Government, in order to understand better the situations prevailing in countries, as well as the underlying reasons for instances of arbitrary deprivation of liberty;
  5. To formulate deliberations on issues of a general nature in order to assist States to prevent and guard against the practice of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to facilitate consideration of future cases;
  6. To present an annual report to the Human Rights Council presenting its activities, findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Furthermore, the Human Rights Council encourages the Working Group in fulfilling its mandate:

  1. To work in cooperation and dialogue with all those concerned by the cases submitted to it, and in particular with States that provide information which should be given due consideration;
  2. To work in coordination with other mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, with other competent United Nations bodies and with treaty bodies, bearing in mind the role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in such coordination, and to take all necessary measures to avoid duplication with those mechanisms, in particular regarding the treatment of the communications it receives and field missions;
  3. To carry out its task with discretion, objectivity and independence.

History of the mandate

The former Commission on Human Rights has addressed the rise of arbitrary detention since 1985. In 1990, it requested the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to undertake a thorough study of the matter and submit recommendations to it for the reduction of such practices.

At the same time, concern about the guarantees which should be enjoyed by all persons deprived of their liberty was manifested in the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1988 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.

In 1991, in pursuance of the recommendations made in the above-mentioned report of the Sub-Commission, the former Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 1991/42, set up the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly, by resolution 60/251 of 3 April 2006, established the Human Rights Council; which in turn, by its decision 1/102 of 13 November 2006, decided to assume all mandates of the former Commission on Human Rights.

The mandate of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was then stated in Human Rights Council resolutions 15/18, 20/16, and 33/30.

For more information, see Revised Fact Sheet No 26.

Historic events

25th Anniversary Commemoration, 28 November 2016

The event took place on 28 November 2016, at Room XXIV of the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. It consisted of a round table discussion consisting of three panels. The objectives of this commemoration event were:

  • To raise awareness about and take stock of the development and evolution of the WGAD over the past 25 years;
  • To stimulate reflection on contemporary and future challenges and opportunities for the work of the WGAD; and
  • To provide a space for different global stakeholders to share their experiences on their work with the WGAD with a view to collecting good practices.

20th Anniversary Commemoration, 14 November 2011

The event took place on 14 November 2011, at the Arab World Institute in Paris, France. It consisted of a roundtable discussion consisting of a morning and an afternoon panel:
  • Morning session: The WGAD’s history and its development in the past 20 years
  • Afternoon session: Lessons learned and the way forward