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3. Your opportunities to engage

3.8 How to hold a meeting with States

This section has some of our tried and tested tips to help you get the most out of meetings with State representatives.

Meetings with States


Holding meetings with governments during the Human Rights Council session is easy, as all government representatives will attend the session at some point – though they will be busy! This can be a good time to make initial face to face contact with diplomats, exchange business cards, and follow up by email or telephone later.

Remember: if you have meetings with governments during the session, you will need to have ECOSOC accreditation (or a badge) to enter the UN buildings. See ISHR Academy: Accessing the UN.


Carefully consider who it is that you should try to meet. Think about the political space:

  • Which States are most supportive of the issues that you work on?
  • Which States have been critical of your government in the past?
  • Which States have most influence on your government?
  • When meeting with a State, you can ask if they can recommend any other countries you should try to contact.

What is your purpose?

Clearly define your reason / objective / purpose for the meeting: (for example: your country’s UPR is coming up, your organization is pushing for a resolution, etc.).

What is your message?

Why is what you are asking for needed? Practice reducing your message to a 30 second ‘elevator pitch’ – that may be all the time you get!

How is your issue relevant to the State?

For example, if the State has made a public commitment to women’s rights, then that’s your angle, or if they are the main sponsor of the resolution on freedom of expression, or if they have strong relations with your government

Manage your expectations

Diplomats typically cannot promise you anything (if it is about initiating HRC action), because decisions lie with ‘capital’ (government ministries back home.). They also are unlikely to be able to spend two hours discussing your concerns in detail.

What is your tone?

Your tone should be diplomatic, persuasive, professional, not confrontational. Remember that the diplomat you are talking to is not the one who makes the decisions – they are like a messenger, and present their governments’ position and not their own personal one.

So if you can convince them with your argument, they will convey the message to their capitals (government officials back home). However, sometimes they can be convinced by you, but cannot do what you want because their capitals do not approve.

They are also human, and if you get openly angry with them, it is less likely that they will push their governments to support what you are asking for.

Top Tips

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Always remember:

  • At the beginning of the meeting, introduce yourself and the work of your organisation

  • Manage your emotions in tense situations or when addressing difficult human rights issues – avoid yelling or crying

  • At the end of the meeting, don’t forget to thank them for taking the time to meet with you!

What materials do you need?

Your note book, business cards, any reports or briefings to support your advocacy. The goal is not to weigh down the diplomat with documents, but to provide them with the brief, focused information that they need.

Remember that they are very busy and will not be able to read a 200 page report – have a one page summary ready. Also, providing a digital copy of a report can be a good excuse to follow up with a diplomat by email after a meeting.

What do you wear?

It's important that you feel confident and comfortable in what you're wearing in a meeting. Diplomats will always dress formally, so ideally your clothing should be formal and professional.

How can you follow up?

Ask for their contact details and say you will be sending further information. Keep contact by email when you go home, but be careful to not overload their email inboxes. For example, if your mailing list sends out several emails per week, do not add them to it (no mass mailing). Only send the most relevant information along with a personal professional message setting out clearly the purpose of the information.

You can also ask them to put you in touch with their colleagues at the local embassy in Geneva (if there is one) and you can meet with the embassy representatives to continue your advocacy where relevant.

See the next sections on how you can engage with the Human Rights Council in other ways, including through resolutions and Government statements.

Learn more

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