Frequently Asked Questions - What is a Human Rights Council expert panel?
A group of people chosen to consider a particular subject and advise the Human Rights Council. The HRC has these for all sorts of issues from country specific investigations (e.g about Syria or Sri Lanka) to topical issues like freedom of peaceful assembly, which was the focus of the 18th session.
First up, we rallied support for the Panel by making joint statements and writing to governments and encouraging other NGOs to support it as well.
Now that the HRC has voted to go ahead with a panel, we will try to work closely with the Swedish government on the terms of reference, to suggest experts, share our research and mobilise engagement as part of the Connect Your Rights! Campaign. If all goes well, we would look to follow up the Panel’s recommendations in the UPR processes that we are supporting in India, Brazil, South Africa and the Philippines which will go before the HRC in June 2012.
Yes! The panel outcomes may be weak if the “experts” are not of high quality or there is weak or ill-informed engagement on the issues, or the sponsoring State does not co-ordinate the process well. Because there is no process for a resolution to be voted on at the end of the panel, there is a risk that discussion will remain very diplomatic, that it may water down the substance of the issues, and that it still gives the possibility for opponents to disrupt debate or ensure there are no concrete outcomes.
There is no set procedure for Panels. Generally, it is up to the leading sponsor State to coordinate the identification of panelists and the general concept note of the meeting. A panel consists of a 3 hour formal UN debate – usually introduced by 4-5 experts in the field and high level personalities. States and some NGOs respond to that with their political statements. At the end the Panel reports to the Council, hopefully with some recommended actions. This might happen at the 19th session of the HRC in March 2012.
A Panel is often seen as the softest, risk-free step that the Council can take on an issue. Sometimes these kinds of panels are criticized because of that – too weak an option, not really doing anything, delay tactic etc. On the other hand it is a good entry point for a new issue and it’s safe in the sense that there is no automatic follow up.
However, it’s useful for bringing a new agenda forward or consolidating an issue without negotiating a resolution, and without risking creating divisions around a bad resolution For this reason I think it is a really good option for the internet rights are human rights work. If it goes badly, the outcome won’t be strategically damaging and it will give us a chance to see how states will engage.