Safeguard civil society participation at the United Nations Human Rights Council

Image source: International Service for Human Rights Image source: International Service for Human Rights
Author: 
Various

Civil society participation is a cornerstone of the Human Rights Council (HRC), which needs to be promoted and safeguarded at the HRC as a crucial part of its work. Without adequate consultation, decisions on issues relating to participation and procedure will be taken without full consideration of all key stakeholders, to the detriment of the Council’s effectiveness.

We call on the Human Rights Council bureau and the 47 HRC member states to: 

  • Maintain hybrid modalities (remote participation in all debates and informal consultations) for all Observers of the Council (states and civil society organisations with ECOSOC status) regardless of the Covid-19 measures, as complementary to in-person participation

  • Reinstate General Debates in June sessions and maintain unrestricted General Debates

  • Ensure that efficiency is not prioritised over effectiveness, expertise and inclusiveness, including by addressing the chronic underfunding of the UN’s human rights pillar. 

  • Institutionalise the good practice set by HRC president in 2022 where he responded to civil society’s ask to act as the civil society organisations’ focal point in the HRC Bureau, in order to facilitate their engagement throughout the year, particularly with regard to issues that affect civil society participation. 

Hybrid modalities are long standing demands of civil society organizations prior to Covid-19 and have proven to be an effective way to promote a more inclusive and accessible HRC. Remote participation provides opportunities to overcome barriers faced by civil society organisations, including, but not limited to, denial of visas, resource challenges, unsustainable costs of travel, and accessibility for people with disabilities.

Inclusive participation of civil society actors helps ensure that the HRC is informed and responsive to human rights priorities and needs on the ground, engagement of organisations based outside Geneva, as well as under-resourced civil society actors. It ensures  access for victims, survivors, and their families and for child and youth led movements and gender/sexual diverse advocates, who are otherwise rarely heard.

The General Assembly resolution 60/251 does not make a distinction between different kinds of Observers of the Council. Therefore, post Covid-19 modalities, in particular remote participation in debates and informal consultations, should apply in the same manner to both Observer states and civil society organisations with the ECOSOC status.

Additionally, General Debates are the only opportunity for states, as well as for NGOs, to address countries that are not formally on the Council’s agenda. They are essential for the HRC to exercise its prevention mandate and its mandate to “address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon” (UN General Assembly resolution 60/251, paragraph 3). Cancellation of GDs in June (when many reports/discussions around gender take place) prevents women’s rights groups and defenders to address the Council including on gender-based violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI).

All voices matter. Space for civil society must be promoted and safeguarded at the HRC so they can be heard and the Council can be fully informed of human rights priorities and needs on the ground. #NoCouncilWithoutUs 

  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies CIHRS

  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

  • Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI)

  • CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation 

  • Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

  • AWID (Association for Women's Rights in Development)

  • The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy - MIFTAH

  • Associação Moçambicana dos advogados cristãos

  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

  • CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality

  • International Network on the Prevention of ELder Abuse (INPEA)

  • FEDERA Foundation for Women and Family Planning

  • Syrian Legal Development Programme (SLDP)

  • Habitat International Coalition

  • Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man

  • Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)

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