Who we are
The Universal Rights Group (URG) is a small, independent think tank dedicated to analysing and strengthening global human rights policy. It is the only such institution in Geneva and the only think tank in the world focused exclusively on human rights.
The goal of the organisation is to support and strengthen policy-making and policy-implementation in the international human rights system by providing rigorous yet accessible, timely and policy-relevant research, analysis and recommendations. It provides a forum for discussion and debate on important human rights issues facing the international community and a window onto the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms – a window designed to promote transparency, accountability, awareness and effectiveness.
A key aspect of this goal is to make the international human rights system more accessible to, and bring it into closer orbit with policy-makers and other stakeholders – including the victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders – at regional, national and local levels.
The Group looks to support and strenghten policy-making in three main ways:
- Through the provision of independent, respected and policy-relevant research, analysis and recommendations.
- By providing a non-political and informal platform for dialogue, information-sharing and cooperation on pressing human rights concerns.
- By promoting knowledge, understanding and awareness at regional, national and grassroots levels, so as to empower individuals and groups to better engage with the international human rights system and to drive change.
“To generate progress towards the full realisation of the rights and freedoms contained in the universal human rights instruments through solutions-based policy research, forward-looking policy prescription, and through offering a respected platform for information-sharing and dialogue”.
Integrity, Independence and Impartiality – in order to have impact, the Group’s work must be respected and credible.
Impact – everything the Group does will be premised on generating impact, on supporting and strengthening human rights policy-making.
Innovation – the Group will aim to be ‘ahead of the curve’ in responding strategically to important and emerging issues in order to provide policy-makers with timely guidance. It will also aim to be innovative in the way in which it delivers its outputs – with particular emphasis placed on levering information technology and social media.
Insight – the Group will also aim to help policy-makers understand and get to the heart of a particular issue, by offering new strategic thinking.
Inclusivity – the Group will aim to engage all stakeholders in its work. It will promote cross-regionalism and gender-balance in everything it does.
Integration – the URG’s work will be premised on contributing to, supporting and improving the policy output of existing human rights structures and standards. The Group will also act as a ‘bridge’ or interface between renowned international experts and policy-makers in order to promote institutional linkages and knowledge-transfer.
Why a human rights think tank?
The need for independent thinking and ideas on human rights could not be greater.
The Human Rights Council is 12 years old and faces enormous challenges if it is to successfully and effectively implement its mandate. After an uncertain start, the Council is generally seen (at least among delegates accredited to it) to have strengthened its performance over recent years. Yet belief in this qualitative improvement is largely based on anecdotal evidence and on the proactive role of the Council in responding to important human rights crises such as those in Libya and Syria. There is a distinct lack of empirical research that might prove (or disprove) the perception, held by Geneva-based decision makers, that the Council is gradually beginning to deliver on its mandate. The lack of such evidence-based research probably explains the disconnect between perceptions of the Council inside and outside of Geneva, and the skepticism which often greets the work of the body among non-Geneva policy-makers and policy-shapers.
The relative lack of independent and widely accessible policy analysis and advice also impacts negatively on the effectiveness of the Council’s mechanisms, including treaty bodies and Special Procedures; on other United Nations bodies, programmes and processes which have an important bearing on human rights including, inter alia, the General Assembly’s Third Committee, the Security Council, the United Nations Secretariat, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme; and on regional and national human rights mechanisms.
And finally, the gap exacerbates the already existing disconnect between policy-making at international level and its implementation at regional, national and local levels.
At the same time, the power of human rights as a universal language and set of values has never been greater. Linked with this, crucial human rights-centric issues and questions have become enormously important. Some of the most significant of these have been evident over the past few years in the context of the Arab Spring – in particular the interlinked issues of human rights, democratic transition, accountability, justice, religion and the spread of information technology. These, and related ‘big-picture’ questions of universality, diversity and cultural relativism; the complexity, resource-intensiveness and effectiveness of monitoring and enforcement mechanisms; and the politicisation of human rights arguments, are both sensitive and complex. Human rights policy-makers and other stakeholders at all levels need to be able to identify, understand and formulate responses to such issues.
With all this in mind, there is a clear need for an institution that is independent and broadly credible – not an activist organisation, but rather an institution that would carry out independent and scientifically-sound policy research and analysis and deliver politically-practicable policy options on human rights issues. That research must command the respect of all parts of the human rights community in all regions of the world, and command the attention of the key decision makers in both the public and private sectors, in Geneva, in New York, in regional and national capitals and elsewhere.