When it was established in 2006, the Human Rights Council (Council) was given the mandate to ‘promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.’ In order to assist the Council in realising this mandate, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Universal Rights Group (URG) launched yourHRC.org, an innovative online tool designed to contribute to international efforts to strengthen the visibility, relevance, credibility and impact of the Council. This includes the Council’s membership, which is determined through elections that take place every fall at the UN General Assembly in New York.
The yourHRC.org toolbox
The mission of yourHRC.org is based on the GA resolution 60/251, which asserts that, when electing members, States should ‘take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.’ With these criteria in mind, yourHRC.org portal, together with a number of related reports, provides country specific information on: cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms, participation in Council debates and exchanges, member state voting patterns, political leadership, and Council elections.
One useful tool the yourHRC.org portal provides is an interactive map (see Figure 1), which users can access to see which States have served on the council and for how many terms.
Figure 1. Online interactive map on membership to the Council.
Furthermore, yourHRC.org provides country specific pages where users can examine each State’s level of engagement with the Council and its mechanisms. These pages help shine a light on the work of members of the Council: are they cooperating with the body and its mechanisms; are they assuming leadership positions in, for example, the Bureau; what is their voting record in the Council; are they participating actively in debates, especially via joint statements (see Figure 2); which resolutions and initiatives do they sponsor; are they engaging constructively and positively with civil society; and are they living up to their pledges and commitments made at the time of their election?
Figure 2. Participation of member States during Human Rights Council’s debates, dialogues and panel discussions.
The more we know the answers to these questions, the more we will be able to push for progress and align the work of member States with the Council’s original goals.
yourHRC.org also focuses on candidates for election to the Council, applying the same analytical framework to assess the merits of each candidature, as measured against the election criteria set down in General Assembly (GA) resolution 60/251. Leading up to each council election, yourHRC.org releases a comprehensive Guide to the Human Rights Council elections. The guide provides an overview of the upcoming elections: the number of seats available, the candidates in each regional group, and detailed comparative information for each of the five UN regional groups.
Figure 3. yourHRC.org Guide to the 2019 Human Rights Council elections
Lastly, at the end of each year, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the URG jointly publish an ‘End of Year Report.‘ This document reviews the work of the Council and its members, and the degree to which they have delivered on the body’s crucial mandate as set down in GA resolution 60/251.
Figure 4. yourHRC.org the Human Rights Council in 2018 report
HRC elections in NYC
Maria Fernanda Espinosa, the outgoing President of the General Assembly, often spoke passionately about making the United Nations ‘relevant to all.’ This is an important goal, but how do we achieve it? One place to start is by strengthening the connection between New York City and Geneva. The yourHRC.org portal provides a window into Geneva’s Council for the New York audience.
The work done at the Council is closely linked to the work of the Third Committee: almost half of the resolutions adopted by the Third Committee at GA73 contained a high-level of substantive overlap with resolutions at the Council. Additionally, the Council elections take place in New York City and should involve evaluation from member States in New York.
yourHRC.org aims to increase the impact and credibility of the Council by enabling more accountability among its membership. The portal allows users to survey the past behaviour of former and current members of the Council. If a State wants to run for another term on the Council, how will they improve or expand upon their previous record of engagement? Furthermore, yourHRC.org points out which candidates have never been on the Council before. This knowledge allows civil society and States to potentially push for and support the inclusion of new candidates, particularly smaller States that have been historically underrepresented, such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
Universal Rights Group NYC was recently able to use data provided by the yourHRC.org portal to make a statement at the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)’s pledging event for this year’s Council candidates. URG noticed, among other things, that five candidates have been cited in the Secretary-General’s reports on alleged reprisals and that almost every candidate struggles to submit reports in a timely manner. Civil society and States can similarly use this data to press members of and candidates for the Council’s past behaviour and future commitments.
Ultimately, the Council is endowed with trust by ‘the Peoples of the United Nations’ as described in the UN Charter. Thus, those affected by the Council have a role to play in evaluating and holding to account Council members. The yourHRC.org portal is the perfect tool to assist civil society and member States in this endeavour. By shining a light on the members of the Council, the yourHRC.org portal pushes the Human Rights Council to fully realise the ideals outlined at its creation.
All images contained in this article come from the youHRC.org website.
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