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3. Your opportunities to engage

3.11 Government statements – Why are they useful?

You can engage with the Human Rights Council in different ways - including delivering an oral statement, planning a side event, meeting with States, negotiating resolutions, and pushing for government statements. This section focuses on Government statements..

What is a Government statement?

It is a statement made by a State, or a group of States (joint statement), on the human rights situation of another country. Through Government statements, other States can draw attention to a human rights issue in your country. Government statements are also often a necessary step for further action by the UN.

You can push for such statements without travelling to Geneva.

A strong statement

  • contains specific and accurate descriptions of national human rights situations/violations (not watered down)
  • articulates an appropriate position (e.g., ‘condemns the killing/arrest...’)
  • contains clear calls for the State concerned to stop the violations (e.g. concrete action)
  • calls for accountability of these violations
  • reflects human rights standards and should be 'objective”

For example, if there are extrajudicial killings in your country, a strong statement would condemn it and demand that your State end the violations, investigate, prosecute and provide victims with remedy. A strong joint statement should indicate that there will be further Council action if the situation does not improve (i.e. a resolution).

A weak statement

  • is watered down in its language to appease political interests over the human rights reality
  • can be a vague statement expressing ‘concern’ about certain situations, rather than calling for concrete action

For example, if there are extrajudicial killings in your country, a weak statement would merely express concern and encourage your State to look into these allegations.

Examples of strong statements:

Joint Statement on the operations of the Human Rights Council

Why this statement is good:

  • It is specific
  • It contains clear calls for action to strengthen the Human Rights Council
  • It addresses the challenges of being a political inter-governmental body
  • It sets out objective criteria to determine when the Council takes action on a particular country situation

Statement of Germany on the issue of reprisals in Egypt

Why this statement is good:

  • It contains clear calls for action
  • It calls accountability by Egypt for committing reprisals against human rights defenders, citing the name of a specific activist

Joint Statement on Venezuela

Why this statement is good:

  • The statement was led by countries from the same region as Venezuela, who were perceived to have more authority to speak about the situation – and be less easily dismissed by Venezuela – than countries in the global north.
  • The statement reinforced the findings of civil society in the country, which the Venezuelan government had consistently denied, and opened the door for further action at the Council.

Impact of the statement:

  • It paved the way for the resolution which mandated OHCHR to report to the council on the situation. Civil society was able to build on the joint statement in 2016, leading to regular national statements at the Council as well as regional (Latin America) joint statements, and finally leading to a resolution in 2018 calling on the OHCHR to report to the Council on the situation in the country.
  • Although the impact on the ground was limited in 2016, it is important that States have acknowledged the crisis in the country, and the resolution created great pressure on Venezuela.

Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

China – Opening the door for future action

As of now, no State has been willing to bring a resolution on China. However, NGOs regularly meet, and following a widespread crackdown in July 2015, called on the UN and states to speak out.

In response to information from civil society, the High Commissioner issued a statement of concern, covering a range of rights issues in the country, in February 2016. As a result of these efforts, a joint statement given by 12 countries in March 2016 - the only joint statement presented at the Council to ever single out China - represents the peak of coordinated criticism.

Although there was no immediate, attributable impact on the ground, defenders reported some improvements in treatment for individuals in prison, and renewed optimism among the human rights community in the country. The statement also put China on notice that intensified scrutiny was possible, and left the door open for stronger, coordinated Council action in the future.

Example of a weak statement:

Statement of Myanmar on the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Why this statement is weak:

  • It pushes the narrative that the Human Rights Council should only act with the consent of the State concerned – thus prioritising dialogue over action. This is problematic if the State concerned lacks the political will to improve the human rights situation. Human Rights Council action is necessary, particularly in such cases, to ensure States are held to account for human rights violations and abuses.

Reflection Questions

Reflection question thought bubble
  • A government statement can:
    • Put international pressure on your government to do something about a human rights issue
    • Raise awareness of an issue
    • Be a step towards presenting a resolution
    • Garner state support around your issue
  • Lobbying for a government statement may expose you to the risk of reprisals by your State, in particular if you are calling for a resolution on your own county. However, you can usually engage in this kind of advocacy quite discreetly. See ISHR Academy: What to do if you face reprisals when engaging with the UN?
  • It can put your State on the ‘defensive’, closing down potential dialogue.

Explore our top tips for pushing for Government statements at the Human Rights Council.

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