Side Event: Introduction to the Human Rights Council & Special Procedures

The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) is a global nonprofit organization representing and coordinating a membership of over 100 national United Nations Associations.
From left to right; Anita Goh, Lidiya Grigoreva, Wiebke Harms, Veronika Stromsikova
From left to right; Anita Goh, Lidiya Grigoreva, Wiebke Harms, Veronika Stromsikova

The side event was organized by WFUNA and Mandat International, within the framework of the NGO Committee on Human Rights of CoNGO, and was chaired by Wiebke Harms, WFUNA's Human Rights Education Program Officer. It focused on how NGOs can effectively engage with the Human Rights Council and the Special Procedures.

Session 1: Engagement with the Council

Lidiya Grigoreva, from the Civil Society Section, OHCHR introduced three formal ways in which NGOs can interact with the Human Rights Council:

  • Submitting written statements either on country or thematic situations. Ms. Grigoreva pointed out that written statements are increasingly used by NGOs and it can therefore be a good idea to submit joint statements instead of individual ones
  • Arranging side events parallel to the Council`s session to shed light on either country specific or thematic situations
  • Delivering oral statements at the HRC during general debates which concern either the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development or human rights situations that require the Council`s attention

Anita Goh, from the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, spoke from the NGO perspective and focused on  a variety of informal ways to interact with state delegations for human rights advocacy purposes. Ms. Goh outlined three main objectives for NGOs during the Council's sessions:

  • Voicing concern on human rights issues
  • Influencing the outcome of documents and resolutions 
  • Assisting the Council towards moving in the right direction with a focus on hot topics

Veronika Stromsikova from the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic in Geneva urged NGOs to carefully think through what they want to achieve during the Council`s session and who to target for their advocacy, so as not to waste time trying to convince those already convinced. When addressing state delegates, NGOs should understand that many missions are understaffed and that therefore the engagement with NGOs cannot be taken for granted. When working on specific issues, she stressed the importance of seeking entry points to the broader work of the Human Rights Council. Finally, she encouraged NGOs to always enter in contact with interested delegations when bringing issues to the attention of the Council or at side events. 

Session 2: Special Procedures

Boris-Ephrem Tchoumavi from OHCHR Special Procedures branch explained that there are currently 48 Special Procedures, 36 of which are thematic and 12 of which are country-based.

Morse Flores from the International Association for Religious Freedom considered the Special Procedures ‘the core of UN human rights machinery’. He encouraged NGOs to take advantage of the accessibility and independence of the Special Procedures and to build a good relationship with them, both providing them with appropriate information and requesting their assistance when necessary. He also advised NGOs to use the Special Rapporteurs’ reports and especially their recommendations as tools for their advocacy work.

From left to right; Morese Flores, Wiebke Harms, Boris-Ephrem Tchoumavi

Mr Tchoumavi and Mr Flores summarized the work of the Special Procedures as follows:

  • Presenting reports to the General Assembly or Human Rights Council
  • Sending communications to governments
  • Conducting country visits
  • Standard generating activities (guidance & evaluation of national policies/legislation)

The panelists pointed out the following ways in which NGOs can interact with Special Procedures:

  • Sending information on human rights violations which have occurred or may occur, which Special Rapporteur then communicates to government in the form of an allegation letter (past violations) or urgent appeal (future violations)
  • Contributing information to Reports of Special Rapporteur
  • Lobbying government to invite Special Rapporteur
  • Meeting with Special Rapporteur during their country visit

Have a look at the photos from this event here.

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