UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences
last updated 10 June 2013

The UN Commission on Human Rights (predecessor of the Human Rights Council) created a number of special rapporteurs and working groups to address specific human rights violations and regions of concern. Special rapporteurs and members of working groups are independent experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights. Their mandates may be thematic in scope, such as violence against women, or country-specific. They may undertake country visits, bring communications of alleged violations to the attention of State parties, contribute to the development of international law and standards, and raise public awareness of human rights violations. These mechanisms have been very effective in bringing urgent human rights issues to the attention of the UN and the international community. A list of current country-specific and thematic mandates is available here.


The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, including its causes and consequences, began in 1994 when the Commission on Human Rights appointed Radhika Coomaraswamy, from Sri Lanka, to the position. Since 2015, the position has been held by Dr. Dubravka Šimonović from Croatia.


The mandate of the Special Rapporteur as articulated by the Commission is to "seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences” from Governments, treaty bodies, specialized agencies, other special rapporteurs and non-governmental organizations and “recommend measures, ways and means, at the local, national, regional and international level to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences.”[1] As independent experts, rapporteurs are seen as one of the most effective tools within the United Nations to monitor human rights violations.[2]


The Special Rapporteur presents annual reports to the UN Human Rights Council on a thematic topic related to the causes and consequences of violence against women (e.g. “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence against Women” (2003)[3], “Violence against Women in the Family” (1999),[4] and “Violence in the Family” (1996).[5] These reports recommend best practices and model legislation. For example, in “Violence in the Family” (1996), Ms. Coomaraswamy provided a definition of domestic violence, a declaration of purpose, and both civil and criminal provisions. A complete collection of the Special Rapporteur’s thematic reports can be found on the Special Rapporteur’s website.[6]


In addition to the annual thematic reports, the Special Rapporteur makes several country visits each year to examine violence against women in that particular country. During country visits, the Special Rapporteur meets with government officials, civil society (including NGOs and community action groups), and individuals impacted by violence against women. Country visits allow the Special Rapporteur to tailor recommendations to that country’s unique situations, including highlighting programs that have been successful and identifying where gaps in enforcement, legislation or public awareness may still exist. The findings and recommendations are then compiled into country reports, which are available on the Special Rapporteur’s website.[7]


Finally, the Special Rapporteur acts as a liaison for individual cases of violence against women, transmitting urgent appeals and allegation letters to the State. These communications from the Special Rapporteur request the State to either provide effective protection for a potential victim (for urgent appeals) or respond to allegations made against the State (for allegation letters).[8] Urgent appeals involve cases where there is reliable information involving an imminent threat to the right to personal integrity or the life of a woman, whereas allegation letters relate to violations that have already occurred or general patterns of violence.[9] Such appeals and allegations can be in regard to one or more individuals or they may convey information relating a general prevailing situation that condones or perpetuates violence against women.[10] Unlike the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which is limited to states which are parties to the Protocol, the Special Rapporteur can liaison with any government. Unlike the Optional Protocol, the Special Rapporteur also does not publish findings relating to individual complaints or conduct quasi-judicial proceedings like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.[11] The form for submitting a case to the Special Rapporteur, including access to the individual complaint form, can be found on the Special Rapporteur’s website.[12]


[1] “Question of integrating the rights of women into the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and the elimination of violence against women,” Human Rights Council, Res 1994/45, 7, available at http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/401503e99f333b03802567360041e65c?Opendocument.

[2] Ted Piccone, “Catalysts for Rights: The Unique Contribution of the U.N.’s Independent Experts on Human Rights,” viii, Brookings Institution (2010), available at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2010/10/human%20rights%20piccone/10_human_rights_piccone.PDF(“Thanks to their status as independent experts mandated by the United Nations, most Special Procedures have played, and continue to play, a critical role in shaping the content of international human rights norms, shedding light on how states comply with such norms, and influencing how governments behave, to the benefit of millions of people.”).

[3] Radhika Coomaraswamy, “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence against Women,” Human Rights Council, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2003/75 (Jan. 6, 2003) available at http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/d90c9e2835619e79c1256ce00058c145?Opendocument

[4] Radhika Coomaraswamy, “Violence against women in the family,” Human Rights Council, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1999/68 (Mar. 10, 1999) available at http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/72e640b38c51653b8025675300566722?Opendocument.

[5] Radhika Coomaraswamy, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences,” Human Rights Council, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1996/53 (Feb. 5, 1996) available athttp://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/commission/thematic52/53-wom.htm,

[6] “Annual Reports,” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx.

[7] “County Visits,” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/CountryVisits.aspx.

[8] “Individual Complaints,” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/Complaints.aspx.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] For examples of the Committee’s published decisions following complaints, see “Decisions/Views,” Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/protocol/dec-views.htm and “Optional Protocol to CEDAW,” http://opcedaw.wordpress.com/communications/by-decision-type/.

[12] “Individual complaint form,” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/IndividualForm.aspx.