Human Rights Council reform

There is a growing recognition that as the Human Rights Council (HRC) approaches its twelve year anniversary there is a need to undertake an inclusive, cross regional and structured dialogue to review how the HRC could best fulfil its mandate and purpose, as set down in GA resolution 60/251. This includes discussions around how the work and effectiveness of the HRC might be further enhanced and strengthened in the future.

That does not mean root and branch reform based on a premise that the Council is fundamentally failing. It is not. Rather, it means pursuing evidence-based improvements in a number of specific areas where the experience of the past twelve years suggests the Council could do better. Examples of such areas include: 1) working methods; 2) the agenda and the programme of work; 3) the effective delivery of capacity-building and technical support; 4) membership – in particular supporting inclusivity and accessibility for a more diverse membership, and improved compliance with the principles and criteria set down in GA resolution 60/251; 5) support for domestic implementation; 6) strengthening coordination and communication between ‘Geneva’ and ‘New York’; and 7) securing a shift in how the Council considers and deals with situations of human rights violations – from reaction to prevention.

Calls for, and debates around, Council strengthening have steadily increased over the past two years. There appears to be broad agreement on the need for a process of reflection and review with a view to improving the functioning of the Council even further. Today, the key difference between States is not over whether there is a need to bring improvements to the work of the Council, but rather how and when to proceed in that effort and what improvements are needed.

Moving towards a strengthened Council

The overall goal of any strengthening process should be to create a truly inclusive Council, open to all, that works for all, and that delivers for all. This can be achieved by strengthening the body’s working methods, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and, ultimately, its credibility.

As suggested above, any efforts to strengthen the Council might seek to secure improvements across a number of key areas including, inter alia:

  • Methods of work, the agenda and the programme of work;
  • Strengthened delivery of international human rights technical assistance and capacity-building support;
  • National implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments;
  • Addressing human rights situations – from reaction to prevention;
  • Council accessibility and membership.

Many of these areas of potential strengthening were covered in the Dutch-led joint statement at HRC35. For each of these issues, it will be important to consider and understand the nature of the challenge, and then to identify steps needed to improve the Council’s inclusivity, performance and delivery.