Global Policy Forum

NGOs and the Human Rights Council

After participating in its creation, NGOs remain unclear about the role they will play in the Human Rights Council. They hope to retain at least the same level of active participation they enjoyed with its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, and ensure NGO involvement at the various steps of the newly-created Universal Periodic Review process. As the Council now holds no less than three sessions a year, NGOs with smaller budgets, particularly those from developing countries, will encounter problems with maintaining a presence in Geneva.


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An NGO Assessment of the New Mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council (March, 2009)

The UN member states transferred the Human Rights Commission into the UN Human Rights Council in 2006. This report looks at how NGOs have contributed to the decisions made in the new Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and the Advisory Committee, both inaugurated in 2008. In the UPR, NGOs experienced difficulties because of states' reluctance to consider their comments. On the contrary, the Advisory Committee expressed an openness to and appreciation of the NGOs' expert advice. (Human Rights Law Review)



Score One for the NGOs (July 5, 2008)

In early 2008, Egypt ran unopposed for the African turn in the rotating presidency of the UN Human Rights Council. NGOs opposed the candidacy because of Egypt's poor human rights record and its autocratic government. Forty-two African NGOs wrote letters of objection to all the African heads of state demanding Africa be represented by "a recognized human rights leader." On June 19, 2008, the Human Rights Council elected Nigeria to the presidency, satisfying the NGOs who believe Nigeria will be more open to NGO cooperation than Egypt. (Washington Post)


States Must Cooperate with Human Rights Council (September 29, 2006)

At the second session of the UN Human Rights Council, experts presented their findings on human rights violations to NGO and state representatives, noting the difficulties they encountered with some governments. Human Rights Watch urges Council members to "lead by example" and invite the independent UN monitors to assess their performance on issues such as torture and violence against women. Though the inspectors focus mainly on "notorious" human rights violators, blatant rights abuses prevail in countries like the US, which often hypocritically condemns other governments.

Human Rights Council: Time to Make the UN Matter to Human Rights Victims (June 19, 2006)

Human rights groups struggle to increase their involvement with the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and ensure that HRC decisions translate into action in their respective home countries. In this report, a coalition of Asian NGOs makes recommendations for strengthening international human rights so that victims can receive compensation despite "faulty" domestic processes. Focusing mainly on Asia, the group calls on the HRC to appoint an expert to each UN field office in the region who will work closely with NGOs to monitor their governments' performance on human rights. (FORUM-ASIA)

Civil Society Wonders What Role it Will Play in New UN Council (March 24, 2006)

NGOs remain unclear about the role they will play in the new Human Rights Council. Only one NGO representative has been permitted to speak at the Human Rights Commission's closing ceremonies, but the speaker will affirm NGOs commitment to the Council and speak out against exclusion of civil society from the new Council. (Inter Press Service)

Geneva NGOs Brace for New UN Rights Body (March 23, 2006)

Swiss Info writes that NGOs face an increased challenge in playing an active role in the new Human Rights Council. NGOs with smaller budgets, particularly those from developing countries will encounter problems with ensuring a presence in Geneva at the more frequent Council sittings. The article argues NGOs also face "certain regimes hostile to human rights" that aim to suppress NGO activities in the Council.

The Human Rights Council: A Chance or a Threat for NGO Participation? (March 16, 2006)

NGOs welcomed the creation of the Human Rights Council but now fear that a failure by the new body to recognize the long fought-for "rights and privileges [they] acquired at the Commission" could potentially weaken NGO participation. In this article, the Conference of NGOs (CONGO) expresses hope that the newly created Council will retain active NGO involvement in its work.

160 NGOs Identify Essential Elements of a UN Human Rights Council (January 19, 2006)

In an open letter to foreign ministers and UN permanent representatives, 160 NGO's urge UN Member States to build the new Human Rights Council upon the Human Rights Commission's successes and go beyond, in ensuring that states engaged in gross, systematic human rights violations cannot be elected and that the council meet regularly throughout the year. Of central importance as well, NGOs call for a continuing established participation of NGOs. (Human Rights Watch)


Joint Letter on the UN Human Rights Council (November 1, 2005)

Over 40 major NGO leaders sent a joint letter to General Assembly (GA) President Jan Eliasson. The letter describes the NGOs' recommendations for the new Human Rights Council, which the GA is working to establish following the September 2005 Millennium+5 Summit. The NGOs voice strong support for a permanent Human Rights Council, and urge the GA to protect NGO access to the new body.

The Proposed Human Rights Council: Prospects and Obstacles (September 22, 2005)

In a panel event at the 58th annual DPI/NGO Conference, experts from many sides of the Human Rights Council reform debate presented their views on the best future for the body. The transcript of this discussion juxtaposes these views, and illustrates the overlaps and discords between NGOs, the US, other member states, the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and academia. (Center for UN Reform Education)

UN Reform and Rights Council (August 21, 2005)

NGOs have pushed for years for reform of the Commission on Human Rights. Now that this reform is almost a reality, NGOs must remain vigilant during the establishment of the new Human Rights Council (HRC). This eKantipur editorial proposes several ways to make the HRC successful, and alerts NGOs about the potential warning signs of regressive reform, which would make the HRC less accountable to civil society than its predecessor.

UN: NGOs Seek Louder Voice in New Rights Body (July 29, 2005)

Because UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has left most details on the forthcoming Human Rights Council for member states to decide after the High-Level September summit, many NGOs are worried that they will be excluded from the deliberations leading to the Council's formation. (Inter Press Service)

NGO Joint Statement on the Secretary General's proposed Human Rights Council (April 18, 2005)

This NGO joint statement at the 2005 session of the Commission on Human Rights expresses concern over the Secretary General's proposed Human Rights Council. Specifically, the organizations believe the declining credibility of the UN and its human rights mechanisms results from an "absence of will of the parties concerned" rather than any inherent flaws in the institutions' structures, and that reform efforts should address this problem first. The statement also stresses the importance of representation and NGO participation.

Amnesty International's Views on the Proposals for Human Rights Machinery Reform (April 11, 2005)

Amnesty International (AI) commends UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for his bold proposal to replace the UN Human Rights Commission with a Human Rights Council. However, AI stresses the need for transparency and objectivity under the new Council and says it must "discourage bloc solidarity and political factionalism." Moreover, the organization warns against abandoning the system of Special Procedures established by the current Human Rights Commission and insists that NGOs retain their consultative status at the proposed Council.

United Nations Human Rights Council – Explanatory Note (April 2005)

In his report "In Larger Freedom," Secretary General Kofi Annan devoted just three paragraphs to his proposal on replacing the Human Rights Commission. This explanatory note develops the concept of a Human Rights Council further, and addresses some of the concerns of NGOs by assuring that the new Council will include civil society participation and retain the Commission's special procedures. (United Nations)


NGOs are Side-Lined from Top UN Human Rights Meeting (March 16, 2004)

The United Nations has marginalized NGO interaction with delegates during the Commission on Human Rights under the pretext of security concerns. NGOs which were blocked from accessing the plenary floor, charge that the restriction risks destroying the credibility of the Commission and prevents NGO advocacy possibilities. (Franciscans International)

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