Are we seeing a new human rights ‘implementation agenda’?

by H.E. Ambassador Choi Kyong-lim, 10th President of the Human Rights Council and the URG team By invitation, Glion Human Rights Dialogues, Human rights implementation and impact, Human rights institutions and mechanisms, Universal Periodic Review

Note: This article is based on a speech delivered by Ambassador CHOI Kyonglim, President of the Human Rights Council, on Monday 17th October 2016, at an event hosted by the Governments of Norway and Switzerland, supported by the Universal Rights Group, to mark the launch of the report of the third Glion Human Rights Dialogue.

I will touch on three issues within the Human Rights Council that are directly related to implementation: efficiency, cooperation and the Universal Periodic Review.

Efficiency and Implementation

One of the priorities of my Presidency was to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council. My preoccupation with efficiency was reinforced during the Council’s 31st session last March. I was able to observe first-hand that, due to the Council’s completely packed programme of work, there is limited time for discussions on whether our work is indeed making tangible impact on the ground. I became aware that unless we take concrete steps to make the Council and its methods of work more efficient, the Human Rights Council will not have time and space to lead the international community from ‘the era of declaration’ to the ‘era of implementation,’ as was so well stated by former Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan.

Thus, our efforts for efficiency are not merely for the sake of reducing the workload of the Council, but have the larger aim of freeing up space on the Council’s agenda to be able to increase focus on implementation and follow-up.

Creating space at the HRC

Since closing that challenging 31st session, I, along with my Vice-Presidents, have devoted a great deal of time and effort to identifying practical and agreeable ways to increase the efficiency of the Council. We are all very well aware, however, that making changes in the Council, even purely technical ones, is a slow process.

This is the premise behind why I decided to hold the Human Rights Council retreat last month. Representatives of all of the Member States of the Council, along with representatives of regional and political groups, the Council’s Special Procedures and civil society, had the opportunity to gather together in a relaxed atmosphere, outside of Geneva, and engage in frank discussions on how to strengthen the Council’s capacity to deliver on its mandate. Under the overarching topic of cooperation and dialogue at the Human Rights Council, participants focused their discussions on the issues of the working methods of the Human Rights Council, the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, and impact on the ground. The issue of increasing the Council’s focus on implementation permeated the discussions.

Cooperation and Implementation

Many participants in the Human Rights Council retreat highlighted the importance of enhanced cooperation and dialogue for securing better implementation of the Council’s work.

General Assembly resolution 60/251, which created the Human Rights Council, recognized that the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue

Effective cooperation is indeed essential to many of the key aspects of the Council’s work, including the delivery of capacity-building and technical support, the sharing of good practices and ensuring that the UPR process leads to tangible impact on the ground. But rising tensions within the Council have unfortunately led to a reduction in effective cooperation and constructive dialogue. This adversely affects States’ ability and resolve to engage in implementation efforts, thus reducing the Council’s capacity to effectively fulfil its mandate.

At the Human Rights Council retreat, I think that there was broad agreement that meaningful dialogue between States and Council mechanisms on questions of cooperation and implementation should increase. Attention was drawn to the importance of further strengthening follow-up efforts by Council’s mechanisms, and suggestions were made that cooperation with Special Procedures should be incentivized, and non-cooperation brought to the attention of the Human Rights Council. The importance of cooperating with and engaging parliaments, judiciaries, NGOs and NHRIs in the implementation process was also highlighted.

UPR and Implementation

The Universal Periodic Review holds great potential to lead the charge in increasing the Council’s focus on implementation. As the second cycle of the UPR comes to a close and the start of the third cycle quickly approaches, we are presented with the ideal opportunity to polish this “jewel of the crown”. While it is clear that there is mixed opinion on making changes to this beloved mechanism, there appears to be wide agreement that at least some improvements could be made in how we utilize this important mechanism.

The questions of whether and how to strengthen the UPR in its third cycle was also addressed at the Human Rights Council retreat. Participants agreed that the UPR provides an opportune forum where States’ can showcase good practices in implementing their human rights obligations and recommendations. Some participants pointed out that it could also be a place for discussing the implementation plan of the State under review and matching capacity-building requests with pledges of international support. Strengthening expert or third party assessments of levels of national implementation was discussed, as were the benefits of developing national systems of indicators to measure the real impact made on the enjoyment of human rights. The central importance of national ownership of implementation was emphasized by many.

It is my sincere hope that States, as well as NHRIs and NGOs, will take these discussions forward and seize this opportunity to strengthen the UPR by shifting their focus to implementation.


As the Human Rights Council turns 10, there is increased focus on ensuring that it is in fact making real, positive impact on the ground. The impact that the Council has, however, depends on State implementation of the recommendations and decisions of the Council and its mechanisms. As a result of the third Glion Human Rights Dialogue and the 2016 Human Rights Council retreat, I believe that stakeholders have a greater appreciation for the importance of implementation as well as a stronger understanding of the role each one plays in implementation efforts. So yes, I do believe that we are gradually seeing a shift within the Council towards a human rights implementation agenda.

But now comes the most important part – turning our words into concrete actions.


Featured Image: UN Geneva, Choi Kyonglim, President of the Human Rights Council at the 31st regular session of the Human Rights Council, 15 March 2016, UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré. 

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