Human rights institutions, mechanisms and processes

The international community has at its disposal a comprehensive institutional machinery to respond to human rights concerns around the world. At its centre are the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Procedure system, the Treaty Body system, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It is clearly of great importance for the promotion and protection of human rights that these institutions, mechanisms and processes operate to their fullest potential and successfully fulfil their mandates. For that to happen, policy-makers must have at their disposal accurate information and analysis about the manner in which the system is functioning and evolving, and practicable recommendations for how it can be improved. The URG will make recommendations on how to strengthen the capacity of international human rights mechanisms and processes to deliver on the ground improvements in human rights.

Our projects

The evolution and future sustainability of the Special Procedure system

UN Special Procedures, often seen as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the international human rights system, face serious challenges. A significant rise in the number and scope of mandates, together with a drop in the resources made available, have led to political tensions that create uncertainties in terms of sustainability and future effectiveness.

This project on Special Procedures seeks to make sense of the pressures and tensions and help policy-makers make necessary decisions to safeguard the future of the Special Procedure system. The project is designed to help support, strengthen and improve this crucial human rights protection mechanism.

The growth, effectiveness and impact of Human Rights Council resolutions

Since the Human Rights Council was established there has been a huge increase in the number of resolutions adopted by the body (from around 30 in 2006 to over 100 in 2012). This represents a significant drain on resources and yet, to date, there has been no analysis of what this trend means, whether it has resulted in better human rights protection on the ground, whether it is sustainable, and what steps can be taken to make UN human rights resolutions more effective.

This project therefore looks to record and analyse trends vis-à-vis Council resolutions, make sense of those trends and predict future changes. It will analyse the different models of resolutions, what tools they use to promote human rights (e.g. commissioning OHCHR reports, convening panel debates in the Council) and whether different resolutions are designed to have an impact on the ground. The URG seeks to provide policy advice for making the development of Council resolutions more sustainable and more effective in the future.

The UPR, treaty bodies and Special Procedures: a connectivity study

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Treaty Body system and Special Procedures mechanism are supposed to be complementary and mutually reinforcing. But is this proving to be the case in practice?

This project aims to identify and understand the ways in which the three processes are complementing and supporting each other. It will look at the relationship between recommendations produced by the three mechanisms, and also at what impact UPR has had on Treaty Body reporting and Special Procedures engagement. The project, taking this analysis into account, will propose ways in which the interaction of the three processes might be strengthened.

Communications with the international human rights system: an impact assessment

The system of communicating with international human rights mechanisms has evolved steadily over many decades. Today, the system is highly complex and lacks proper coordination. There are serious questions as to its accessibility for people on the ground and as to its effectiveness in actually helping people.

The project will therefore look at the historical evolution of petitioning the human rights system (Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, the Confidential Complaints Procedure etc.), and take a fresh look at whether the system is ‘fit for purpose.’ It will suggest new ideas for how the system could be reformed to make it more cost-efficient, accessible responsive and effective.

Human rights financing in the UN system: towards 6%?

In a 2011 speech to the General Assembly, the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described the (less than) 3% of the total UN budget allocated to the OHCHR as ‘scandalous’. The strengthened performance of the Human Rights Council over recent years, building on its status as one of the 3 pillars of the UN system, presents an opportunity to revisit the issue UN regular budget allocation to human rights.

With this project, the URG aims to support the initiative of Norway, Morocco, Mexico and Turkey to have a greater proportion of the UN regular budget allocated to human rights, by providing an independent analysis the situation of funding for human rights – both evolution over time, comparison with other UN areas of work, and how the money is used. It will also assess the impact of the low budget allocation on international human rights actions and mechanisms, as well as the activities that could be undertaken should the budget be raised to 6%.

Lessons learnt from the first two cycles of the UPR

The creation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a system of peer review under which the human rights record of every state is scrutinised by the international community, was one of the major innovation of the Human Rights Council. As we approach the end of the UPR’s second cycle, it is important to review the mechanism’s achievements and failures, understand the degree to which it has resulted in measurable improvements on the ground, and identify ways in which it can be improved in the future.

Understanding and measuring the impact of country-specific Special Rapporteurs

Recently, there has been an increasingly politicised and polarised debate on the value of country-specific rapporteurs – with a number of states calling for this tool to be removed from the Human Rights Council altogether. Unfortunately, to-date there has been relatively little objective evidence gathered in support of claims on both sides of the discussion – particularly in relation to effectiveness and impact of country-specific work by the UN Special Procedures.

This project therefore seeks to provide an objective and detached assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, credibility and potential impact of country-specific mandates. It aims to assess the impact of, and draw lessons from, a sample of past mandates including: South Africa, Chile; Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, El Salvador and Rwanda – as well as the emergence and the impact of the first thematic mandate – the WGEID – originally intended to address Argentina. Focusing on past, rather than present cases, it hopes to diminish the politicisation of the debate through providing historical distance and enabling the contribution of the States concerned by those mandates.