The Human Rights Council @ 10 - Anniversary Monitor
The Human Rights Council @ 10

Special Edition Monitor
June 2016
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More accessible to rights holders, more protective for victims of human rights violations, and more effective in holding States and non-State actors to account – this is the direction the Human Rights Council should take as it celebrates its tenth anniversary.

2016 marks the end of the first decade of the Council’s work, and an opportunity to take stock of progress, spell out an overarching vision for the future and initiate necessary course corrections. This anniversary edition of ISHR’s Human Rights Monitor, featuring an impressive line-up of human rights defenders, national and international policy makers, political leaders, and human rights experts from all regions, is one of our contributions to this task.

We hope you enjoy reading this publication, and use it as a resource and inspiration in approaching the Council's work. Let's make the Council's second decade the decisive one, when we collectively make it a more accessibly, protective and effective body.

The first decade: Assessing the Human Rights Council's impact and effectiveness

Charting a new course for global human rights
By Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General

Ten years since the momentous vote establishing the UN Human Rights Council, there remain deep concerns about a widespread erosion of respect for some of the basic norms of human rights and international humanitarian law. Yet we can also draw great encouragement from the gains made possible by the Council... more

Successes, failures and lessons to date
By Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, first President of the UN Human Rights Council

A decade on it is timely to ask, what have been the Council’s successes and achievements; its shortcomings and limitations? What can be done to improve its functioning?... more

The world needs a strong Human Rights Council now more than ever
By the Hon Philip Ruddock, Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights

The Human Rights Council should ensure sustained, high-level attention to country situations, support democratic transitions and human rights progress, and strengthen support for civil society in Geneva and on the ground... more

Activists in an international system: pushing for change in Sri Lanka
By Ruki Fernando, human rights activist and advisor at INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre

During a decade of desperation and emergency in Sri Lanka, local human rights defenders needed the international system to address gross and systematic human rights violations in the country - but the international system would not have taken action if defenders hadn’t pushed for it... more

Personal commitment to human rights, political will and creative thinking, the keys to successful leadership
By Laura Dupuy, Ambassador of Uruguay, and President of the Human Rights Council from June 2011 to December 2012

In steering the Human Rights Council to fulfil its important mandate, the personal commitment of its President to the full and effective promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons, and the political will to think outside the box are central... more

The power of a positive vision: How the Council came to adopt a majority resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity
By John Fisher, former Co-Director, ARC International, and current Geneva Director, Human Rights Watch

An analysis of the factors that contributed to the Human Rights Council’s September 2014 adoption of an important resolution on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It was the first such resolution after a period of painful inertia since 2011, and was adopted by an absolute majority, with the support of States from all regions, and a substantial increase in the margin of success... more

The UPR and economic, social and cultural rights: A skewed agenda?
By Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director, Center for Economic and Social Rights

The Universal Periodic Review has given significantly less attention to economic, social and cultural rights than to civil and political rights. Addressing this imbalance is essential if the Council is to fulfil its mandate to promote the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights... more

The utility, importance and potential of the Human Rights Council to human rights defenders working in restrictive environments
By Feliciano Reyna, Venezuelan human rights defender

The Human Rights Council plays a critical role, not only in promoting and protecting human rights, but also in protecting those that defend them... more

Special Procedures of the Council: Devalued ‘crown jewel’ or powerful tool for the powerless?
By Catarina de Albuquerque, Executive Chair of the Sanitation and Water for All Global Partnership

Additional core resources, mandatory reporting on cooperation and implementation by States, and dedicated support by OHCHR are all necessary to safeguard and strengthen the ‘crown jewels’ of the UN human rights systems... more

Risky Prospects: Engagement of Chinese Human Rights Defenders with the Human Rights Council
By Linda Wang, UN Coordinator, and Alex Beck, Senior Program and Development Coordinator of Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders

From the perspective of many Chinese human rights defenders and independent NGOs, the difficulties and risks associated with engaging the Human Rights Council outweigh the benefits. Engagement is nearly inconceivable because of accessibility problems and the threat of State reprisals. But there are meaningful actions the Council could take... more

By Philippe Dam, Human Rights Watch Advocacy Director for Europe and Central Asia, and former Human Rights Watch Geneva Deputy Director

Ten brief ‘lessons’ highlight the great potential and possible pitfalls of the Human Rights Council’s ability to respond to serious violations when it has the right mix of external pressure, internal leadership and determined diplomacy. These lessons stem from Philippe Dam’s direct exposure to the Council during its first ten years, and are shaped by his work with the then Geneva Director of Human Rights Watch, Julie de Rivero... more

Making the most of the Human Rights Council on the African continent
By Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

Despite African civil society’s engagement at the Human Rights Council having increased over the last decade, fundamental challenges remain in obtaining timely and effective mechanisms to address the continent’s gravest human rights crises... more

The Universal Periodic Review and human rights progress: A case study from Australia
By Anna Brown, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Litigation, Human Rights Law Centre

The UPR has received mixed reviews about its effectiveness as a mechanism to achieve positive human rights change. However, the case study of Australia demonstrates the capacity of the UPR to open space for dialogue and facilitate positive, albeit modest, human rights progress and monitoring, writes Anna Brown... more

Bringing human rights home: national human rights institutions and the Human Rights Council
By Katharina Rose, Geneva Representative for the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions

Paris Principles compliant national human rights institutions can play a pivotal role in bridging the implementation gap between universal human rights norms and standards and their full realisation in-country. More can be done at the Human Rights Council to ensure their effective engagement... more


Repositioning the Human Rights Council as a principal organ of the UN
By Joachim Rücker, former President of the UN Human Rights Council and German Ambassador to the UN in Geneva

Repositioning the Human Rights Council as a principal organ of the UN has the potential to elevate the status and influence of human rights within the UN and worldwide, writes former Council President Joachim Rücker... more

A meaningful Human Rights Council in 2030: catalyse national rights protection
By Camila Asano of Conectas Human Rights, Gabriela Kletzel of the Center for Legal and Social Studies, Daniela Quintanilla of Corporación Humanas and Paulo de Tarso Lugon Arantes of CELS, Conectas and Corporación Humanas

A meaningful Council should bolster its capacity for catalysing national efforts; keep the human rights flame alight by strengthening its presence in relevant global debates; increase social participation; and call for more responsible and accountable Member States ... more

The Human Rights Council still to come
By Chris Sidoti, international human rights expert and ISHR Board member

How can the Human Rights Council be better in its second decade than in its first? Where should it be at the end of its second decade? Here are five key proposals to make the Council more principled and effective in its work... more

Human Rights Council in 2030: Relevant or moribund?
By R. Iniyan Ilango, UN Advocacy Programme Manager at the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Despite some successes, the Council’s responses to situations of human rights violations still lack substance and a rigorous approach to measuring progress. In its next decade, it should become more responsive to people’s needs and inclusive of victims’ voices ... more

Strengthening the Council’s mandate and impact: A vision for the (near?) future
By John Pace, former Secretary of the UN Commission on Human Rights and Coordinator of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights

The Human Rights Council should be a principal organ of the UN, civil society should be able to put items and initiatives on its agenda, and norms and standards should be developed by experts if the Council is to be the truly responsive, influential and effective body the world so desperately needs... more

Ten years on: from a short play with intermissions to opera without pause
By Eric Tistounet, Chief of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former Secretary of the Human Rights Council

In its inaugural decade, the Human Rights Council has been very effective in spotlighting crises at an early stage and has dealt with chronic and urgent human rights violations. However, routine and workload risk turning it into a long opera without any pause... more

Setting the global standard on freedom of expression: successes and challenges in the Council’s first decade
By Andrew Smith, Legal Officer, ARTICLE 19

The Council’s anniversary year marks a challenging time for freedom of expression worldwide: impunity for murdered journalists and bloggers, arbitrary arrests of government critics, blocking of social media sites, and the adoption of more laws to further reduce the space for dissent and dialogue... more


Strengthening the Council’s focus and impact on implementation and accountability
By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Enhancing the role and participation of civil society and national human rights institutions at the Human Rights Council could contribute to strengthening State implementation of obligations and accountability for violations, writes the High Commissioner... more

The UN'S MAIN human rights body should play a more prominent role in conflict prevention
By Didier Burkhalter, former Swiss President and now Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland

The effective implementation of human rights is a major challenge: there is a gap between the Council's activity and the reality on the ground. Switzerland’s Didier Burhalter outlines some of the opportunities to close this gap and ensure the effective realisation of the human rights of every individual... more

10TH Anniversary of the Human Rights Council: Reflecting back and looking forward
By Choi Kyonglim, President of the UN Human Rights Council

The Council has played a significant and positive role in protecting human rights, promoting dialogue, and contributing to the prevention of violations. The work of human rights defenders has been and will continue to be critical to the Council’s success. The anniversary of the Council should be an occasion for celebration, but also a commitment to make the Council more efficient and effective... more

An obligation to act now to end reprisals
By Sir Nicolas Bratza, former President of the European Court of Human Rights

The Human Rights Council, Member States, and the Council President and Bureau all have legal duties to prevent, protect against, investigate, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals. Here's what needs to be done to discharge those duties... more

Progressive realisation? The role of the Human Rights Council in protecting economic, social and cultural rights
By Lucy McKernan, Geneva Representative, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

States and NGOs alike should do more within the Human Rights Council to promote the full realisation of economic, social and cultural rights – and to address gross and systematic violations of those rights – in concrete ways... more

six steps to strengthen the UN Human Rights Council
By Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International

At a high-level discussion held during the 31st session of the Human Rights Council, Salil Shetty discussed successes and failures of the Council to date, together with imperatives for the decade ahead... more

Between the cycles: The UPR's achievements and opportunities
By Roland Chauville, Director, UPR Info

Now at the end of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), it is clear that the mechanism has so far proven its worth. But we must now complete the UPR framework to realise its full potential... more

Principles over politics: Strengthening the membership and impact of the Human Rights Council
By Peter Matt, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the UN in Geneva

A more principled approach to electing members to the Human Rights Council, adequate resourcing for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and enhanced access and protection for civil society are the essential ingredients for a more effective Council with a more positive impact on the ground... more

Potential unfulfilled: Strengthening the Council’s approach to country situations
By John Fisher, Geneva Director, Human Rights Watch

The Council’s potential to address human rights situations could be better fulfilled through political will, more consistent leadership, triggers for action, and a willingness to stand up for what’s right... more

A vote of confidence: Enhancing the Human Rights Council Elections
By Richard Bennett, Representative and Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York

The Human Rights Council is only as strong as its members enable it to be, and its ability to live up to its human rights protection mandate hinges on the election of strong, committed States... more

Bridging the divide: A proposal for ‘hybrid’ resolutions at the Human Rights Council
By Marc Limon, Executive Director, Universal Rights Group

The use of ‘hybrid’ resolutions, focusing on particular human rights situations in a particular country or region, could be a way for the Council to avoid being a thematic ‘talk shop’ and to more effectively address human rights situations in a concrete and targeted way in line with its mandate... more

The Human Rights Council and the Security Council: Time to think about better synergies?
By Joanna Weschler, Deputy Director of Security Council Report

Strengthened interactivity between the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, including by way of tabling and discussing the reports of the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures in the Security Council, could assist to elevate vital human rights considerations in the discussion and resolution of issues of peace and security... more

Reform of selection process needed to strengthen Special Procedures
By Rosa Freedman, Senior Lecturer at Birmingham Law School, and Advisory Committee member of the Universal Rights Group

The Special Procedures system has a vital role to play in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide and in mainstreaming human rights across the UN. Their status and influence could be further enhanced, however, by reforming the process for their selection and appointment... more

Towards a UPR which is accessible, strong, effective and protective 

By Ben Leather, Advocacy and Communications Manager, and Tess McEvoy, Programme Coordinator and Legal Counsel, International Service for Human Rights

As the UPR reaches the end of its second cycle, ISHR has developed a strategy detailing measures that would enhance the UPR’s ability to fulfil its potential and achieve a greater vision during its third cycle. Ben Leather and Tess McEvoy provide a snapshot of that strategy, which will be launched later this year... more

Early warning, effective response: The role of the Human Rights Council in preventing gross and systematic violations
By Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights

The contributions of human rights defenders, together with principled leadership and a commitment to action based on certain triggers or criteria by States, are vital if the Council is to be effective in preventing gross and systematic violations of human rights... more

What happens in Geneva should not stay in Geneva: how communication, coherence and cooperation can strengthen implementation
By Geir Sjøberg, Policy Director for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway

Building on the Council’s eventful first decade will need renewed efforts to translate important decisions into action. Addressing the role of the Council, shortcomings of the international system and the primary responsibility of States, such implementation requires transparency and citizen engagement, stronger leadership, resourcing and policy coherence... more

ESC rights: The need for a courageous, uncompromising approach
By Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing

In a world of increasing inequality, what more can and should the Human Rights Council do to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights, especially those of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable... more

The missing link: What kind of relationship should there be between the treaty bodies and the Human Rights Council?
By Olivier de Frouville, Professor at the Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas, Director of the Centre de Recherche sur les Droits de l’Homme et le Droit Humanitaire, and member of the UN Human Rights Committee

The UN human rights system is a mish-mash of parts that operate relatively autonomously from each other. Olivier de Frouville examines the relationship between the system’s many parts and how coherence and coordination could be improved... more

civil society position paper

At 10 years, the UN’s peak human rights body should move to become more accessible to rights holders, more protective for victims of human rights violations, and more effective in holding States and non-State actors to account.

In a joint civil society paper published on the occasion of the anniversary of the Human Rights Council, 20 leading national, regional and international human rights NGOs outline a series of concrete steps and proposals that would strengthen the impact of the Council’s work…more
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