Both thematic and country-specific special procedures may conduct country visits, during which they investigate the human rights situation of a specific country. Following the visit, the mandate holder will submit a report on their findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council.
The process is most often initiated by a mandate holder sending a UN member state a request to visit. If the state agrees, an invitation will be extended and specific dates for the visit agreed upon. However, the state may issue an invitation to a mandate holder at any time, and both the Human Rights Council and Office of the High Commissioner may suggest visits as well. Some factors that may contribute to a country visit request include: relevance to a thematic report or study, recent changes in a country’s human rights situation, a mandate’s interest in achieving geographic balance, and the likelihood the visit will have an impact.
The special procedures have jointly developed standard terms of reference that outline the guarantees states should make when issuing invitations to mandate holders. Specifically, states should ensure that mandate holders enjoy:
(a) Freedom of movement in the whole country, including facilitation of transport, in particular to restricted areas;
(b) Freedom of inquiry, in particular as regards:
(i) Access to all prisons, detention centers and places of interrogation;
(ii) Contacts with central and local authorities of all branches of government;
(iii) Contacts with representatives of non-governmental organizations, other private institutions and the media;
(iv) Confidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons, including persons deprived of their liberty, considered necessary to fulfil the mandate of the special rapporteur; and
(v) Full access to all documentary material relevant to the mandate;
(c) Assurance by the Government that persons, whether officials or private individuals, who have been in contact with the special rapporteur/representative in relation to the mandate, will not, as a result, suffer threats, harassment or punishment or be subjected to judicial proceedings;
(d) Appropriate security arrangements without, however, restricting the freedom of movement and inquiry referred to above;
(e) Extension of the same guarantees and facilities mentioned above to the appropriate United Nations staff who will assist the special rapporteur before, during and after the visit.
As of August 2016, the following seven special procedures have undertaken visits to China:
In addition, 12 special procedures have pending visit requests to China.
Although China extended an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in 2004, no further communications have occurred since the Special Rapporteur’s request for dates of visit in 2006.