This section looks at the process of drafting, negotiating and adopting a resolution, and how you can engage in this process.
For resolutions presented during regular sessions of the Council, the focus of a resolution is defined by the core group who draft the resolution (see ISHR Academy: Resolutions – What does the Human Rights Council do?), and is often influenced by strong lobbying of civil society.
This lobbying by civil society can sometimes span several years, and can include:
States will not present a resolution that they think is likely to be voted down, and so they will seek the widest possible support. This can mean that the text of the resolution can represent the ‘lowest common denominator’ – i.e. a ‘conservative’ text leading to as little controversy as possible. This may not represent the ideal for civil society, who are often pushing for more progressive language throughout the drafting process.
Resolutions are negotiated during “informal meetings” or “informal consultations” – also known as “informals” – that are announced on the Council’s “Bulletin of Informal Meetings”.
Each draft resolution must be discussed in at least one informal consultation that all States can attend. During the informals, the core group presents the draft text of the resolution and States are invited to make comments on the entire text in chronological order, including suggestions to edit the language, and add or remove paragraphs. States also negotiate resolutions outside of the “informal consultations”.
Usually NGOs are allowed into the room for informals, and NGOs can also be invited to make comments – if the core group allows it.
In the case of human rights emergencies arising in a particular country, you can lobby a State to call for a special session of the Human Rights Council.
Special sessions require a “trigger” or crisis moment that makes the need for it clear, and they must have support of 1/3 of the members of the Council. Special sessions normally result in the adoption of a resolution. If this happens, you can skip the step of preparing a joint statement, and can go directly to gathering support for a resolution.
Note that a call for a special session requires a lot of work and happens rarely, relative to the number of situations that civil society would feel warrant a special session.
In the face of heavy opposition, human rights defenders mobilised around the globe to encourage their governments to support (or not vote against) the creation of an Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. In their hundreds, they also signed a worldwide civil society call for the creation of the expert – showing States that this was a mechanism that had relevance to LGBT persons around the world. Some defenders highlighted that engaging with their government on this resolution opened space for dialogue on the situation in their own country, and raised their credibility as civil society organisations.
As resolutions must be ultimately presented, agreed to and voted on by States, you must work with and negotiate with States when negotiating resolutions.
For country-specific resolutions:
Identify the leading State: First, you need to find a State that is willing to lead on the issue, and is committed to do so, no matter what or how much push-back it gets from other States. You cannot do this from Geneva, you will need to first engage directly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital as they ultimately give the green light (or not) to go ahead.
Leading State raises issue in national statements: Usually, the next step is to get the identified leading State to raise the issue of the country concerned in their national statements, particularly under Item 4 of the HRC agenda.
Presentation of joint statements: The next step would be a joint statement by a group of States on the issue of the country concerned. There could be several joint statements before the group of States decide that they can present a resolution. Sometimes the States ‘drop the ball, that is, they fail to use the joint statements to build towards a resolution adopted by the Council as a whole.
Lobby for support: You will have to lobby for support for the joint statement and/or resolution by persuading other States to sponsor or support the leading State.
For thematic resolutions:
Lobbying for a resolution: You must continue to engage to convince the States that more is needed (and that there is sufficient support for a resolution on this issue within the Human Rights Council).
Influencing the text of a resolution: It helps to first know who is the “pen holder” of the resolution, that is, the State that is writing and leading the resolution. Even if there is a “core group” (comprising several States), one of them will be the pen holder. You need to contact them and get the zero-draft (i.e. the first draft of the resolution). You can engage with them bi-laterally, for example, set up meetings to make your case about what should be changed/added/removed/highlighted in the draft resolution, and afterwards you can send your comments by email to ensure they get the language right. When suggesting language, explain why you are suggesting it, including any legal basis, and why is it useful/harmful to have this or not. If you can find the same language in previous resolutions, you can refer to it and reiterate that this is language already supported by your government because they sponsored/voted in favour of the previous resolution.
Choosing States who can push language you want in the text of a resolution: This depends on what exactly you are trying to push. You will need to research the State’s positions and pick the most relevant or best suited State for your advocacy objective. You then meet with them, suggest the language, convince them why it’s important to have it, and ask them to raise it in the informals.
Participating in Informal Consultations (“Informals”): Usually NGOs are allowed into the room for informals, and NGOs can also be invited to make comments – if the core group allows it. In this case, during the informals, a member of the core group (on the podium) will ask if there is any civil society speaker wishing to take the floor. You can then raise your hand, identify yourself, and deliver your intervention, which includes your comments or position on the text of the resolution.
Sometimes it is more strategic to have a State make a comment that you propose or support, as it can have a “stronger” influence or impact. Especially with those States that are not-friendly to NGOs, who may automatically reject your suggestion, regardless of the substance.
It is quite important to take notes during the informals, particularly on who said what on which part, as this will help you analyse and determine the States’ positions. This will give you an indication of how States are planning to vote or what amendments they may suggest, and with this information, you can plan your advocacy ahead of the submission of amendments.
The agenda of informals is typically:
First the core group will ask for general comments, States may comment, and this is also when you can speak to your position on the whole text generally
Then the core group moves to the paragraphs of the resolution text: first is the PP (pre-ambles) so they will say: we will take PP1 to PP4, and open the floor for comments on those paragraphs.
You can then comment on those paragraphs when they ask civil society to take the floor.
After the PPs, comes the OPs (operative paragraphs), and you will have an opportunity to comment on each paragraph – you can comment on general content, context and specific wording. If there is any specific wording of previous resolutions, conventions, or other UN documents that is already part of the normative framework or has been agreed to by States, this should be identified to make your intervention stronger.
Tabling the resolution. There must be at least one informal consultation before a State can present the resolution to the Council (i.e. ‘table’ the resolution), and depending on how controversial the topic is, there can be several informals (sometimes four or five depending on how long it takes to go through the text of the resolution). Informals generally stop when the core group has gone through the entire text of the resolution, and all have had an opportunity to comment. The core group decides on the final text of the resolution on the bases of ‘red line’ issues for them, and what is required to ensure the resolution gets adopted.
Voting on the resolution. It is useful to prepare a joint civil society letter to States explaining why they should vote in favour/or against the resolution, and in favour/against the amendments. This letter which summarizes the arguments is a useful tool to refer to when you approach Council members to influence their voting.
See the next section the final way you can engage with the Human Rights Council in other ways: Government statements.