Strengthening policy through dialogue

by Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group Uncategorized @nyc

So much depends on the Human Rights Council and the people who work there.As the world’s pre-eminent human rights body, the Council sits atop one of the three thematic pillars of the UN system. And yet talk to most diplomats, the people who draft and negotiate resolutions, vote on vital human rights questions, establish new treaties and new protection mechanisms, and they are likely to admit that they are often poorly equipped to fully and effectively play their crucial role.

At one level the problem is, of course, resources. State delegations to the Council have to deal with hundreds of different issues and processes (at the last session of the Council alone, there were 40 resolutions) and yet few of them number more than two diplomats. Indeed, since its creation, the Council’s quantitative output has increased prodigiously. For example, between 2010 and 2012, the number of resolutions on thematic and country issues increased from 68 to 105. At the same time, the number of Special Procedure mandates has risen from 35 in 2006 to 48 today, while there has also been an increase in the number of international human rights conventions and the Treaty Bodies which oversee compliance with them.

But it is also a problem of information. Diplomats, and the NGOs who lobby them, are, quite understandably, often so focused on their issue, on driving progress with their agenda, that they do not have the time to step back and ask: did last year’s resolution change anything, did that Special Procedure we created have an impact on-the-ground, were our recommendations during the UPR review of country X actually implemented, is the cost of the quantitative growth in the Council’s output justified by a corresponding qualitative improvement in its impact? Moreover, stakeholders can be so overwhelmed by the range of, often complex, issues they must address, that it is not uncommon to go into negotiations with only a superficial understanding of the issue at hand or the subtleties of the points at stake.

As a diplomat at the Human Rights Council from 2006-2013 (and a member of the Council for half of that), I was rarely approached with strong evidence-based empirical research on a pertinent human rights issues. And nor was I regularly approached with recommendations for policy action based on such research. Some NGOs in Geneva, for example, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, produce excellent reports and work effectively to advocate on the basis of those reports. However, there are relatively few such organisations in Geneva and, moreover, those that do exist tend to have a strong advocacy agenda focused on a limited range of issues.

The URG will aim to help address this situation by asking the questions that delegations and others lack the time or resources to ask, and by working with stakeholders to ensure that policy-makers have, at their disposal, all the information they need to make informed and considered decisions.

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