New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 52, 2011


The critical issue examined in this Article is whether a group of monitors explicitly created to hold governments to account, can themselves be subjected to a strong accountability regime controlled by those same governments, without thereby destroying the independence that is considered to be the system’s hallmark. In 2007, a group of powerful governments pushed through a Code of Conduct to regulate the activities of Special Rapporteurs - the UN’s main system of human rights monitoring by independent experts. The same group has now proposed the establishment of a Legal Committee to enforce compliance with the Code through sanctions. Other governments, the SRs, and civil society groups are highly critical of the way in which the Code has been used so far to stifle the work of the monitors and strongly oppose the creation of any compliance mechanism. The Article notes the powerful pressures which have succeeded in insisting that almost all international actors should be accountable to their principals, and explores the strongest case that can be made for exempting SRs from this general trend. It concludes that existing forms of accountability are weak, and probably inadequate, but that serious concerns about the undermining of the SRs independence are also warranted. It calls for a new approach which recognizes the multifaceted nature of the notions of independence and accountability and ends with a specific proposal for a legal committee designed to strengthen both values and enhance the legitimacy of the system as a whole.

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