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2. The Human Rights Council as a political space

2.6 Commitments and obligations – Your country as an actor

Your government has made certain international human rights commitments, through voluntary pledges, as well as by ratifying international treaties. Understanding these can help you in your work to protect and promote human rights at the national level.

This section includes information on Commitments and Obligations, and the next section focuses on Sponsorships.


Commitments are pledges your government makes to protect and promote human rights. Pledges are typically not considered legally enforceable obligations, but can be used to put pressure on your government to act in accordance with these commitments.

Examples of commitments made by a State:

  • Voluntary pledges of Human Rights Council members – These are commitments made by States and submitted to the General Assembly when they become a member of the Human Rights Council. In their pledge, governments describe what they do to protect human rights, and they promise to engage constructively with the Council in the future.

  • Pledges made as part of UPR Process – These are commitments made voluntarily by States when they are under review during the UPR process (unrelated to recommendations made to it by other States)

  • Foreign policy priorities – These are commitments made by a State as part of its foreign policy priorities. For example, Canada has made Violence against Women a human right priority, and thus Canada can be an ally when conducting your advocacy at the HRC. A country’s foreign policy priorities (or commitment to a particular human rights theme) is also reflected in the recommendations it makes to other States during the latter’s Universal Periodic Review.


Obligations of a State to protect and promote human rights are considered to be legally binding.

Examples of State obligations:

  • International human rights treaties when ratified by a State – Once a State ratifies a treaty, it is obligated to implement its provisions at the national level, through laws, policies, programmes and practices.

Why are they important to your advocacy strategy?

It is important to understand both your country’s commitments and obligations in the development of your advocacy plan, as they are useful when holding your government to account for its actions or non-actions in protecting and promoting human rights.

These can be used as pressure points, and can help to tailor your advocacy strategy.

Key Resources

Voluntary Pledges and Commitments (by country):

  • To find the pledge made by your country, go to the page related to your country on the OHCHR website and look for ‘Voluntary Pledges and Commitments’.

Voluntary Pledges (by year):

ISHR Scorecards

  • To get an overview of a country’s cooperation with UN human rights mechanism, check out ISHR's 'scorecards' for each of the States seeking election to the Council in upcoming elections.

UPR-Info Database

  • To find out the recommendations your country has made or received by other States during each review cycle, see the UPR-Info Database.

International Treaties

Reflection Questions

Reflection question thought bubble

Using the Key Resources listed above, consider the following in the context of your country:

  • Consider volunteer pledges, foreign policy priorities, etc.
  • Consider how to pressure States so that they live up to their commitments (e.g., how to get your government to take action at home, or how to encourage other States to speak out about the situation in your country).
  • Consider how you might use your country’s priorities, or other country’s priorities, to push your agenda.
  • For example, work with Canada and NGOs in Saudi Arabia to tackle women’s rights.

Learn more

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