Quick Search: go

3. Your opportunities to engage

3.9 Resolutions – Why are they useful?

Negotiating resolutions is another opportunity for you to engage with the Human Rights Council.

What is a resolution?

Human Rights Council resolutions are texts that represent the position of the Council’s members (or the majority of them) on particular human rights issues and situations. They are drafted and adopted by members of the Council.

A resolution can:

  • develop norms and standards (e.g. can call for the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas)

  • call for a report by UN offices or officials (e.g. requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity)

  • call for an investigation (e.g. call for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a thorough investigation into human rights violations and abuses in Burundi, including on their extent and whether they may constitute international crimes, with a view to contributing to the fight against impunity)

  • call for an event to allow for debate and sharing of ideas (e.g. a discussion panel on raising visibility of the work of women human rights defenders, a seminar, or a workshop on reprisals)

  • create a mechanism, such as

    • expert (or group) looking at a particular theme (e.g. the working group on discrimination against women in law and practice)
    • expert (or group) looking at a situation in a particular country (e.g. the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea)

Impact of Resolutions

Resolutions (including standards they set and requests made of States) are not legally binding, but can be effective tools for pressuring States to take action on an issue. Voting in favour or a resolution reflects a State’s public commitment on an issue and can be used in your advocacy.

HRC Thematic Resolutions

The Human Rights Council also adopts a series of resolutions focusing on a particular human rights theme. These recurring thematic resolutions are created every year, two years or three years - more often, every three years.

  • Sample Voluntary Yearly Calendar of Resolutions (HRC Secretariat) For example, the Human Rights Council adopts a resolution on human rights defenders annually, each resolution focusing on different challenges that defenders face (such as reprisals) or on the situation of particular groups of defenders (such as women human rights defenders).

While resolutions on thematic human rights issues are usually brought to the Council every three years, and resolutions on the human rights situation of a specific country are usually brought every year.


Example of a strong resolution:

Resolution creating Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

The resolution created a Commission of Inquiry, whose responsibilities include investigating human rights violations, identifying those responsible, and making recommendations on how to hold those individuals accountable. This resolution is a good example because it:

  • Refers to relevant UN mechanisms’ comments on the situation
  • Creates a mechanism to respond to a situation of grave human rights violations
  • Gives the mechanism very clear powers: to investigate and make recommendations
  • Focuses on accountability, with recommendations on how to hold those responsible for violations to account

Example of a Weak Resolution:

Resolution on Protection of the Family: role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons

This resolution is one of a series of resolutions on ‘protection of the family’ that:

  • seek to subvert the universality of international human rights,
  • shift rights protections away from family members to the institution of ‘the family’ (in this case failing to adequately recognise older persons as individual rightsholders)
  • try to define family in a way that ignores the fact that various forms of family exist everywhere
  • emphasise the positive role of ‘the family’ in preserving traditions and ‘the values system of society’, without acknowledging that families can perpetuate discriminatory and harmful values and traditions, as well as the violations that can be committed within the family
  • fall far short of States’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfil their rights (and in this case reinforces ageist stereotypes)

For more information on why civil society found the resolution problematic, see this article (AWID).

Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Sri Lanka – When a State appropriates a resolution

In 2014, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution on Sri Lanka, led by the UK and US, with support from a coalition of States from Africa and Latin America. The resolution was considered a victory by civil society, which had pushed for investigations and accountability for human rights violations committed during the civil war in the 2000s. The resolution ordered an international investigation aimed at “avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability.”

The next year, however, Sri Lanka joined the core group on the resolution, and this time the language in the resolution was much less critical of Sri Lanka. For States, having the country that is the subject of a resolution join as a co-sponsor is a way to increase cooperation of the country, in the spirit of constructive dialogue.

However, Sri Lanka was able to use its position within the core group to take the lead on drafting the text of a subsequent resolution adopted in 2015. By making assurances to States that it would take certain actions (despite civil society warnings that there was no real commitment of the State on these issues), it negotiated a resolution that was very far from what civil society had wished for.

Resolutions on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka


Reflection Questions

Reflection question thought bubble
  • Participating in the negotiation of resolutions allows you to:
    • push for one of the actions above which are relevant to your priority issues
    • ensure particular words or concepts are included in (or excluded from) the text of a resolution
  • If you are aiming to use international pressure to get change in your country, then a resolution at the Council would help keep up this pressure.
    • If you are trying to get UN bodies to draw attention to specific human rights violations or abuses, a resolution can be useful to do this. For example, if you want a UN report on the violations in your country, a resolution can call for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to create this reporting mechanism.
  • The final adopted text of the resolution may not be what you advocated for, as the content is ultimately agreed to and voted on by States.
  • Being involved in negotiations may expose you to the risk of reprisals by your State, in particular if you are calling for a resolution on your own country.
  • If your government does not care about its international image or international pressure, then a resolution can be less useful.

Go to the next section for tips on how to push for and influence the content of a resolution.

Learn more

Module content
Module content