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3. Your opportunities to engage

3.5 Side events – 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 planning a side event.

What is a side event?

You can organise side (or parallel) events on issues that are relevant to the work of the Human Rights Council.

Side event at the Human Rights Council on the Protection needs of human rights defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights (March 2016) (55 min)

Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Reprisals – Impact of a side event

During the 36th regular session of the Human Rights Council in September 2017 member States were negotiating a resolution on reprisals.

During this session, ISHR organised a side event inviting human rights defenders, UN experts and States to discuss the issue. Holding a side event on a topic that was being discussed during the same session of the Council generated interest and ensured good participation by States and NGOs. During the side event, three human rights defenders spoke very passionately about their personal experiences and the situation in their communities and countries.

The side event was able to achieve much more than merely highlight the fact that reprisals exist and that they are a problem. By presenting testimonies and relevant experiences, the side event was able to connect the HRC negotiations on the resolution to the reality of the ground, and motivated diplomats to engage in a more committed way with the resolution.

Examples of side events

Side event on Applying a Woman Centred Approach to Access to Justice (September 2018) (49 min)

Side event on Burundi: Escalation of Violence and the Voice of Human Rights Defenders (December 2015) (49 min) (In French – Burundi: Escalade de la violence et voix de défenseurs du terrain – 49 min)

Reflection Questions

Reflection question thought bubble

A side event can:

  • Raise awareness of an issue or builds support for an action by the Council
  • Be a space where victims can tell their story
  • Expose an issue in detail in front of other States (it’s not just a 2 minute statement!)
  • Put pressure on the government
  • Give opportunity to network with supportive NGOs and State
  • Give another opportunity to lobby, if you are pushing for a resolution or government statement on a human rights issue or situation
  • Build the profile of your NGO


  • Exposure of you and/your organisation at this public event could lead to reprisals by your government. See ISHR Academy: What to do if you face reprisals when engaging with the UN?
  • There are many, many side events that take place at the Human Rights Council and so it can be hard to ensure that States hear about your event and are able to attend
  • There is not likely to be a concrete outcome of a side event

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