Feb 29 2016
Past event

High-level panel in the framework of the high-level segment of the 31st session of the Human Rights Council

10 years of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council: Opportunities and perspectives

Almost 10 years ago, the United Nations’ General Assembly established the Human Rights Council to succeed to the Human Rights Commission and to elevate human rights as the third main pillar of the United Nations. What has the Human Rights Council achieved entering in its second decade? And what can we expect looking ahead to the next ten years? Where are the main chances and challenges? The 10th anniversary is an opportunity for all stakeholders to reflect on these questions and advance the protection of and respect for human rights.

Since the establishment of the Human Rights Council in 2006 the international context has changed and this is also the case when it comes to human rights. While the number of international treaty ratifications has constantly increased in the last 10 years, migration, violent extremism, the persistence of authoritarian regimes, the multiplication of hybrid conflicts or the emergence of powerful non-state actors pose new challenges to the capacity of the Human Rights Council to respond adequately to human rights violations. While some traditional challenges remain – ranging from the lack of implementation of human rights obligations and commitments to the diverging views of what should be the human rights issues that are to be addressed by the international community–, the Human Rights Council and other international or regional human rights protection systems are facing an increased difficulty to deliver on their expending mandate with insufficient resources.

Yet, the current context also offers the opportunity for the Human Rights Council to build on its strength and to reinforce its role in the international architecture on peace and security, as well as on sustainable development. Key instruments of the Human Rights Council such as the Universal Periodic Review or the special procedures enjoy wide legitimacy and the Council has demonstrated its ability to respond to urgent human rights situations. The increasing role of civil society and the private sector in contributing to a better protection of human rights is widely recognized, and the Human Rights Council is well positioned to integrate these stakeholders further in its work. New technologies also offer the possibility for the Human Rights Council to enhance the visibility and impact of its work and improve the follow-up of implementation.

This high-level panel, organised by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland in collaboration with the Universal Rights Group (URG), aims at taking stock of the experience of the past decade of the Human Rights Council, building on the achievements, addressing current and emerging challenges and reflecting on perspectives and opportunities for the time ahead. It aims at providing a platform to bring different perspectives, from States, international organisations as well as from non-States actors, to discuss ways to build on present and future opportunities to enhance efficiency, impact and legitimacy of the Human Rights Council and in the end the protection of and respect for human rights.

The panel discussion aims at contributing to the debate on these issues and to answer inter alia the following questions:

  • What should the Human Rights Council be accomplishing in 10 years’ time?
  • What is the role of the civil society and the private sector in the implementation of the Human Rights Council outputs?
  • How to improve the implementation of Human Rights Council decisions and outputs?
  • How to build on the strengths of the Human Rights Council to reinforce further its efficiency and impact?
  • How to enhance further the potential offered by new technologies to improve the visibility of the Human Rights Council and to better follow-up on implementation?
  • How can the Human Rights Council best react to current and emerging global challenges? – In the absence of a formal intergovernmental review of the Human Rights Council, what is the civil society view of necessary improvements, in an ideal world, to the UN’s apex human rights body?
  • The first International Conference on Human Rights was held in Tehran in May 1968. 25 years later (June 1993), a second World Conference on Human Rights was held in Vienna. Would a third World Conference be the appropriate mean to address new and emerging human rights challenges and enhance the protection of human rights?
  • Where and how non-State actors fit into the international human rights architecture?
  • How have the purpose, mandate and work of the OHCHR changed since Vienna? What is the primary function of OHCHR in 2016? A global guardian of universal rights, a secretariat to the Human Rights Council, or an international human rights “service provider”?
  • How to enhance synergies between the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies?


– H.E. Mr. Didier Burkhalter, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland

– H.E. Mr. Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Vice-Minister for Human Rights and Multilateral Affairs of Mexico

– M. Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International

– Mr. Stéphane Graber, Secretary General, Swiss Trading and Shipping Association

Moderation: Ms. Peggy Hicks, Director, Research and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Simultaneous interpretation will be provided (English – French).

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