What are the human rights priorities of world governments in 2019?

by the URG team Blog, Blog

An independent analysis of the High-Level Segment of the Human Rights Council

At the opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, (Council) one hundred world leaders, including presidents, prime ministers, ministers, and heads of international organisations, delivered high level speeches commenting on the state of global human rights in 2019. They presented both their own countries’ recent developments and achievements as well as their priorities for the coming year. Universal Rights Group (URG) has analysed the content of all 100 statements, to identify the key human rights themes, debates, situations of concern, and priorities for 2019 and beyond.

The results of the analysis are presented below in a number of ‘word clouds’ where the size of the word reflects the total number of mentions of the relevant theme/situation. URG has generated word clouds for: economic, social and cultural rights themes; civil and political right themes; groups in focus themes; cross-cutting/other themes; country or regional situations; and institutional themes related to the UN human rights bodies and mechanisms. Finally, URG identified the ‘top 20’ most frequently mentioned themes across all categories, which is represented in the first world cloud.

URG’s analysis found that the 100 high-level speeches contained references to over 237 human rights topics or subjects. When clustered, URG identified around 76 key human rights themes or topics.

To identify key themes for 2019, URG counted the number of mentions of those broad themes across all high-level speeches (only themes mentioned by at least four different State representatives were included in the final results).

Key findings from URG’s analysis include:

–          The Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda remain at the heart of the Council’s – and States’ – agendas.

–          Other key human rights issues and priorities for 2019, according to our analysis, include: conflict resolution, the prevention of human rights violations, non-discrimination, technical assistance and cooperation, ensuring universality, the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights, the realisation of the right to development, strengthening democratic institutions, the implementation of human rights recommendations (e.g. from the UPR, Treaty Bodies, and Special Procedures, the protection of vulnerable groups, and human rights and climate change.

–          A key trend in the domain of economic, social and cultural rights was the large number of mentions of the right to development, especially linking this with the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. Among the other themes widely mentioned were: protection of family; social inclusion; combatting poverty; and the promotion of the rights to food, to water and to adequate housing.

–          The civil and political rights agenda was dominated by the themes of non-discrimination and strengthening democratic institutions. High attention was given to the rights to life and to freedom of religion or belief. The protection of freedom of expression was mainly linked to opening civil society space, and to protection of the media and of journalists. Prevention of torture was consistently mentioned as well. Notably, there was a substantial decline in the number of references to terrorism and/or violent extremism.

–          Turning to ‘groups in focus’ or ‘groups in vulnerable situations,’ the HRC40 High Level Segment saw a strong focus on women’s rights and the elimination of discrimination against women. 2019 continues to see particular attention on the rights of the child/children, and the rights of migrants and refugees. Once again, many dignitaries praised the work of human right defenders and urged the international community to protect them.

–          Looking at cross-cutting/horizontal human rights concerns, State representatives drew particular attention to the resolution of conflicts, prevention, rule of law, technical assistance and cooperation, the implementation agenda, corruption and human rights, Council efficiency, dignity and universality. Other themes in focus were: transparency and accountability, and the ‘politicisation’ of human rights.

–          Regarding country-specific human rights violations, the 2019 HLS saw a high level of concern over the situation in Myanmar and, most notably, the situation in Venezuela. Regarding the latter, the number of statements on Venezuela was far higher in 2019 than 2018. The situations in Israel/OPT, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, also remain high on the agenda of the international community in 2019.

–          Finally, the majority of governments used their speeches as an opportunity to extend their support to the Council and its mechanisms (the Special Procedures and the UPR), and to congratulate and offer their support to the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. Moreover, many States spoke about the independence of OHCHR, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the Council.


Top 20 themes across all categories


Civil and political rights

Economic, social and cultural rights

Groups in focus

UN institutions and mechanisms

Country-specific situations


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