Giving Small States a Level Playing Field at the Human Rights Council

by H.E. Mr. Omar Hilale, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco Blog, International human rights institutions, mechanisms and processes

The principle of sovereign equality of States, enshrined in the UN Charter, recognises that all States are equal irrespective of their size, wealth, population or strength. Article 4 of General Assembly resolution 60/251, establishing the Human Rights Council, makes clear that the work of the Council shall be guided by ‘the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.’

It is noteworthy that there are two fundamental principles underpinning the Council: an equitable geographical representation and an election process allowing all interested States, including small ones, to bid for a seat on an equal footing, taking into account their contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments. The ineligibility for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms also consecrates the principle of rotation of membership. These principles are in consonance with the principle of equality among States as enshrined in the UN Charter.

As a facilitator during the review of the Human Rights Council in 2011, I recall that the issue of universality in the Council was brought up by Mauritius, a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). Mauritius argued that the review should look to strengthen this principle by creating a level-playing field for all State delegations to participate fully and equally in the Council’s work. Without such inclusive participation, the Council would not be able to guarantee the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, and nor would it be able to promote and protect all human rights in an equal manner.

It is clear that it is extremely challenging for Least Developing Countries (LDCs) and SIDS, in particular those that do not have a presence in Geneva, to follow the myriad of processes, both formal and informal, that take place every month within the Council and its mechanisms. At the base of this challenge lay interconnected financial, human and technical capacity constraints.

During the 2011 review, Morocco, which has always been a strong advocate behind strengthening LDC and SIDS participation in the multilateral system, backed Mauritius’ proposal to create a Technical Assistance Trust Fund to ‘support the participation of least developed countries and small island developing States in the work of the Council.’ We were pleased that this proposal was eventually included in resolution 16/21 on the Review of the Work and Functioning of the Human Rights Council.

Consequently, at the Human Rights Council’s 19th session, 127 States (a record number of cosponsors) came together to sponsor the landmark resolution 19/26, submitted by Morocco with a group of supportive countries, establishing a Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to Support the Participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the work of the Human Rights Council.

The overall aim of the Trust Fund is to empower small delegations to play a full and effective part in the work of the Council and in the promotion and protection of human rights by, inter alia, creating training and capacity building programmes, organising fellowship programmes to allow officials from LDCs and SIDS to undertake work placements in Geneva, and supporting the attendance and participation of representatives of LDCs and SIDS in Council sessions.

During the 25th session of the Council in March 2014, I had the honour to deliver a Statement of behalf of a cross regional group of countries announcing the operationalisation of the Trust Fund. It is gratifying to see that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has now set up the fellowship programme in collaboration with the Universal Rights Group. Information on the fellowship programme supported under the Voluntary Trust Fund is available on the internet and can be accessed here

The establishment and operationalisation of the fund is an important example of North-South cooperation in strengthening human rights capacity. It is in this spirit that the Council should operate. All States, big or small, must be able to participate fully and freely in the work of the Council. This will help support human rights at home and strengthen the work of the Council in line with the principles of democracy, universality and equality.

Morocco is proud of have been part of this laudable process to assist SIDS and LDCs, and promote North-South and South-South cooperation. As such, and to demonstrate its continued commitment to and engagement with the process, I am pleased to announce that in November this year, Morocco will host a regional seminar to support the participation of SIDS and LDCs in the work of the Council. The seminar will take place in Rabat from 18-20th November, and will follow up on the similar seminar held in Mauritius during 2013.


His Excellency Mr. Omar Hilale
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva 


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