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1. Understanding the Human Rights Council

1.7 Why engage with the Human Rights Council?

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental space dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

At the same time, it is a space that is driven by a combination of national interests and civil society push.


it’s political (you can play with that)
States often care more about what other States say than what experts say
it’s a high profile space and States care about the fact that other States are listening when they are criticised within this forum
it’s empowering, especially for victims, to be able to raise their voice at the HRC
it’s a mechanism which creates more useful and targeted mechanisms (for example, those that focus on specific country situations)
you have very easy access to diplomats (including from your own country)


it’s political (you have to work within that)
it takes a lot of work and time to put a country on the agenda of the HRC
it’s slow
it’s hard to navigate without having a partner in Geneva
it has limited obvious impact on the national level (it’s a ‘talk shop’)
HRC resolutions are not really binding
it has no enforcement mechanism - it’s up to each State themselves to implement the resolutions
countries that are ‘politically sensitive’ can escape scrutiny
some of its mechanisms are confidential and fully controlled by States, with no clear outcome (e.g. the Complaints Mechanism)
some of its own mechanisms can be used to attack human rights (e.g. when States use the Advisory Committee – composed of States – to investigate an issue, rather than independent experts like the Special Procedures)

Situations where it might not be worth engaging

you would be put in too much danger

your country doesn’t care about international criticism

you have access to other spaces that you can use more effectively to influence your State

Test yourself on what you've learnt so far in the next section.

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