A new approach to advancing dialogue on human rights

by Yoni Ish-Hurwitz, Executive Director of the Human Rights Likeminded Office Blog, By invitation

Polarisation and politicisation at the United Nations – words on the mind of every diplomat and international activist working on human rights. More often than not in debates and decisions at the Human Right Council, group dynamics come into play, often masking differences or commonalities in national positions. For example, a country that normally supports sexuality education may reverse its position and support an amendment against it, if tabled by its regional or political group.

Against this backdrop, the Human Rights Likeminded Office (which is not related to the Geneva-based ‘Like-Minded Group’) proposes a new approach. We do not coordinate group positions (there is no group). There is no need to sign up for membership. Instead, the Human Rights Likeminded Office (HRLO) shares inputs with all those that are committed to promoting human rights. Thus, if a delegation consistently votes in favour of resolutions on women’s rights, HRLO will provide that delegation with the tools to further its agenda; or if a delegation supports resolutions on the moratorium on the death penalty, HRLO is ready to assist its efforts to mobilise international support.

The HRLO is pleased to join the diplomatic community at the Human Rights Council, starting at the 37th session. Its efforts are aimed at supporting cross-regional dialogue and strengthen collective action for human rights. To address the challenge of ‘groupthink’ and level the playing field between large and small delegations, HRLO provides substantive inputs that can help inform diplomatic decisions. Equipped with the right background and context, delegates coming to the Council for the first time are thus more able to participate and advance their national positions in support of human rights. Bridging the information gap between Geneva and New York can also improve synergy, clarity and consistency in the efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Made up of former diplomats and international civil servants, HRLO’s staff and advisory board have the expertise to assist States from all regions. As such, HRLO is also well positioned to leverage the inputs from the Secretary-General’s reports and leading human rights organisations and to deliver key messages to diplomats in a manner that is relevant, concise, accessible and actionable.

Beyond the 70 Likeminded delegations regularly supported by these services, other delegations championing specific human rights issues can also benefit. HRLO has already helped identify more allies that may be ready to support efforts on specific topics. As more of those delegations speak up clearly in support of their national principles on human rights, the entire international community will benefit from a more substantive and constructive dialogue. With the right tools, as more delegations find more opportunities to engage with the Human Rights Council and articulate their views, it will become easier to recognise what is at stake on every topic and what needs to be done to bridge differences.

Yoni Ish-Hurwitz is Executive Director of the Human Rights Likeminded Office

Feature photo: A general view of participants during 36th session of the Human Rights Council. 11 September 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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