Tag Archives: UN

World Humanitarian Day: Nourishing the World with a Milk of Human Kindness

By Sunday Adaji Esq.












Love, they say, makes the world to go round. Imagine a world devoid of charities, a world where everyone is to himself. Such a world would be a hell. The extent of reliefs, comfort, support, peace and the breath of fresh air that we enjoy today is as a result of the humanitarian efforts of persons and organisations who take it upon themselves to be their “brothers keepers.” Thanks a million to charities, to civil society organisations, (CSOs), Community Based Organisations (CBO) and individuals who are driven by passion to nourish the world with a milk of human kindness. This is the essence of the World Humanitarian Day, and it is on this note that Lawyers Alert wishes you a Happy World Humanitarian Day. The World Humanitarian Day is celebrated on the 19th of August every year and it is a day set aside by the United Nations to honour humanitarian efforts worldwide and propagating the idea of supporting people in crisis.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) states on its website, “World Humanitarian Day 2019 is set to celebrate Women humanitarians and their undying contribution in making the world a better place.”

In conflict situations, in times of disasters and in times of gross human rights violations, women are among the most vulnerable persons that are worse hit. But it is gratifying to note that women are also among those who are working tirelessly to bring succour to the poor, the destitute and to internally displaced persons (IDP).











Nigeria is presently bedeviled with insecurity. The North East of Nigeria is under constant attack by Boko Haram and ISWA (Islamic State of West Africa), as a result of which millions of Nigerians are internally displaced. The North Central part of Nigeria is riddled with herdsmen-farmers clash, as a result of which thousands of Nigerians are displaced. There are also pockets of conflicts in other parts of the country which have negatively affected vulnerable persons. We cannot lose sight of the flood and kidnapping ravaging the country presently.











Over 13 million children are out of school, many of them are in the streets asking for alms. We have the poor, the destitute, the jobless and victims of human rights violation in our midst. All these go to show that there is a lot to be done. As a matter of fact, the Federal Government is doing the best it can to grapple with the situation, but the federal government cannot do it alone. It takes the efforts and contribution of all and sundry to bring succour to millions of Nigerians who are negatively affected by conflicts and disasters in the country.

Lawyers Alert and indeed hundreds of other CSOs are doing the best they can to alleviate the sufferings of the vulnerable groups in our midst. They may still be far from putting an end to the plights of vulnerable groups, but one fact we cannot lose sight of is: THE PLIGHT OF THE VULNERABLE GROUPS WOULD HAVE BEEN WORST IF THERE WERE NO HUMANITARIAN RELIEFS FROM THE CSOs.

Lawyers Alert joins other CSOs, CBOs, the Federal Government, and government agencies, the ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations to celebrate women humanitarians who have contributed and who are contributing to make the world a better place to live. To this end, Lawyers Alert acknowledges the humanitarian efforts of Mother Teresa, Helen Keller, Mary Slessor, Florence Nightingale, Wangari Maathai, and others too numerous to mention.











Dear reader, there is much work to do in the humanitarian field. Government cannot do it alone, Lawyers Alert cannot do it alone, CSOs cannot do it alone. Get up, roll up your sleeves and join these armies of humanitarian persons to work and make the world a better place to live. This is the essence of the World Humanitarian Day.

Once again, Lawyers Alert wishes you a Happy World Humanitarian Day.



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Nigeria Rebukes UN High Commissioner For Pushing LGBT as Human Rights

NEW YORK, July 10 (C-Fam) Nigeria publicly chastised the UN human rights office for trampling on universally-agreed rights as it seeks to impose same sex marriage and outlaw commonly-held views on homosexuality. The sharp rebuke accused the UN officials of infringing on the right to democracy, religious freedom, and cultural standards that strengthen families.

The statement, delivered last week in Geneva, came in response to a report released last month by the UN human rights office. The report on discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity criticizes laws protecting children from LGBT propaganda and condemns therapy to help people with unwanted sexual attractions. Expressing negative views on homosexuality contributes to violence, the report claims.

The UN report, which governments are free to ignore but which will be used to pressure them, also tells countries to legalize same sex marriage or unions, and provide benefits.

The majority of countries define marriage as the union of a man and woman. Nigeria strengthened its law in 2014.

Nigeria rebuked the UN officials for disrespecting the democratic process and endangering universally-agreed human rights.

Religious freedom and cultural rights are “fundamental parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Nigeria stated. Countries have a “duty to ensure the family values, the religious values and the cultural values of its citizens are protected,” which are “the bedrock of the moral values of the individual.”

Nigeria’s marriage law “is intended to uphold and strengthen these values.”

Nigeria has the largest population in Africa and the majority of its 170 million citizens are Christian or Muslim.

The law “synchronizes” Nigeria’s culture, traditions, and two main religions, all of which reject “unreservedly, same sex marriage, homosexuality, lesbianism, gay and transgender attitudes.”

The Nigerians also said gay rights and orientation “will limit population” and “impose unintended consequences on the family as an institution.”

The UN human rights office ramped up its campaign to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) behavior in 2011, based on a Human Rights Council resolution expressing “grace concern” at violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The recent report concedes “data are patchy” on homicides. Persons identified as LGBT may be targeted by terrorist groups, and are victims of honor killings.

But the UN report strays from acts of violence to lump in expressing religious beliefs and counseling. It “condemns” reparative therapy to help with unwanted homosexual attractions, and describes statements on homosexuality by Catholic leaders as contributing to stigma and violence against adolescents and children.

Legalizing same sex marriage is not required, the report concedes, yet goes on to tell countries to recognize same sex unions. Countries should run public education campaignson sexual orientation and repeal policies that impact rights to health, education, work, housing and social security – providing an opening for attacks on faith-based organizations and individuals that decline to participate or assist in homosexual activities.

The UN human rights office is currently mired in scandal and rumors of corruption. Its officials are accused of mishandling an investigation of French soldiers sexually abusing African boys. Staffers are rumored to be cozy with officials from governments seeking to influence decisions inside the UN office.

Nordic countries funded the UN office’s campaign for LGBT rights, even as the UN human rights chief pled for funding to do its basic work.

Privately African and other delegates express immense frustration at what they see as an obsession with LGBT issues by UN personnel and some governments.

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Posted by on July 12, 2015 in Human Rights


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Charlie Hebdo attack and global reaction highlights critical importance of Raba plan of Action

 by Andrew Smith, Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19

Last week’s appalling attack against journalists and police officers at the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and the cascade of comment and counter-comment that has followed, remind us once again of both the importance of, and the sensitivities that surround, the relationship between freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and non-discrimination.

Identifying and understanding the contours of that relationship has always been a deeply divisive issue at the United Nations, the only forum where all members of the international community can come together to debate such matters. ARTICLE 19 has long argued that these rights are mutually interdependent and reinforcing. The Universal Rights Group’s recent report on combatting religious intolerance lays out the history of attempts, at the UN Commission on Human Rights and, since 2006, at the UN Human Rights Council (the Council), to grapple with matters of freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, religious intolerance and stigmatisation, and incitement to hostility, violence or discrimination.

Against this background, the adoption, in 2011, of Council resolution 16/18 on ‘combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief’ was a landmark success for the international community. The resolution – carefully negotiated by Pakistan, Turkey, the UK and the US – was hailed as a ‘triumph of multilateralism’ by then OIC Secretary General, as it managed to reconcile the increasingly polarised approaches of the West and the OIC in approaching the issue of religious intolerance, replacing calls (from the OIC) to combat the deeply problematic concept of ‘defamation of religions’ with commitments to address religious intolerance through promoting the related rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and non-discrimination. The resolution, in its in-built action plan, calls on states to, inter alia:

  • Encourage the creation of collaborative networks to build mutual understanding promoting dialogue and inspiring constructive action;
  • Create an appropriate mechanism within governments to, inter alia, identify and address potential areas of tension between members of different religious communities, and assisting with conflict prevention and mediation;
  • Speak out against intolerance, including advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence;
  • Recognise that the open, constructive and respectful debate of ideas can play a positive role in combating religious hatred, incitement and violence;
  • Encourage the representation and meaningful participation of individuals, irrespective of their religion in all sectors of society;
  • Adopt measures to criminalise incitement ‘to imminent violence’ based on religion or belief.

While consensus on resolution 16/18 remains intact (with subsequent annual resolutions – 19/25, 22/31, 25/34 – passing by consensus), to ensure its effective implementation, further work is urgently required at international and regional levels to deepen states’ understandings of the international human rights standards that underpin it, which often appear divided.

The scope of protection that should be afforded to the right to freedom of expression remains one of the most divisive issues at the Council. Initiatives to give strong recognition to this core right are resisted by states preferring to push for greater control over offensive or intolerant expression. In particular, these efforts to qualify freedom of expression often misrepresent the scope of article 20(2) of the ICCPR, which requires states to prohibit any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constituting incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence (‘the obligation to prohibit incitement.’) ‘Responsibilities’ are increasingly being emphasised, while ‘rights’ are abrogated with deliberate purpose.

The Rabat Plan of Action (adopted on 5 October 2012), drawing on the work of the Treaty Bodies and a series of expert seminars convened by OHCHR, provides a useful framework for understanding the obligation to prohibit incitement, and a blue print for its implementation in line with international human rights standards. Its significance in this regard has been recognised in recent iterations of resolution 16/18.

The Rabat Plan of Action advances an understanding of the obligation to prohibit incitement that regards proscription of expression constituting incitement as serving a very limited role – essentially as an act of last resort – and stresses that there must be sufficient safeguards against abuse of such prohibitions. Instead, the Rabat Plan of Action focuses on promoting a climate of free and open discourse to prevent against incitement, recommending the legislative, jurisprudential and policy responses required of states to increase tolerance.

Several points of principle must be kept in mind when understanding both resolution 16/18 and the relationship between articles 19 and 20(2) of the ICCPR, in particular that:

  • Any prohibition on incitement must meet the three-part test set out in article 19 (3) of the ICCPR;
  • Only the most severe forms of incitement warrant restrictive measures on expression, and only in the most extreme cases is criminalisation compatible with international human rights law. The Rabat Plan of Action advances a six-part test for use by prosecutors and judiciary for identifying the most serious forms of incitement that may warrant sanctions;
  • Blasphemy laws are unproductive as they censure inter-religious dialogue and healthy debate about religion. International human rights law does not protect religions as such, or shield the feelings of believers from offence or criticism, and therefore laws on blasphemy must be repealed;
  • It is impermissible to abuse prohibitions on incitement as a pretext to curtail criticism of the state, expressions of protest or dissent, or open debate, including in relation to politics and religion.

UN Special Procedures have relied extensively upon the Rabat Plan of Action in elaborating recommendations to combat incitement, and it has been incorporated into the guidance of the CERD Committee. States should closely examine the Rabat Plan of Action in conjunction with these reports and further guidance, and the recommendations should inform domestic action as well as inter-governmental discussions on 16/18 at the Council and through the Istanbul Process (an inter-governmental 16/18 implementation mechanism).

In the last week we have seen many states officially condemn the attacks on Charlie Hebdo while invoking the importance of freedom of expression. However, many of these same states maintain laws that criminalise blasphemy, insult, and other forms of offensive expression that do not meet the Rabat threshold, and apply these laws selectively, often to punish minority, dissenting or unpopular viewpoints. Following the Charlie Hebdo murders and with the guidance of resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action, states should pause to reflect on how consistently their own legal frameworks protect offensive or unpopular speech. Engagement with civil society is essential to examine how laws and policies should be reformed to ensure robust protection of freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and non-discrimination for all people.

At the regional level, initiatives such as the development by the League of Arab States of a ‘model law on defamation of religion’ go directly against the spirit of resolution 16/18, underlining how fragile and superficial consensus on resolution 16/18 really is. At the same time, regional instruments in place in the European Union, and developed recently through the Organisation of American States, do not fully comply with resolution 16/18 and the high threshold that should be required for restricting speech. States must seek consistency between international and regional efforts to combat intolerance and promote open space for dialogue.

At the same time, neither resolution 16/18 nor the Rabat Plan of Action should be considered exhaustive enumerations of international standards in this field or the measures states must take to combat intolerance. The scope of both documents is limited by the contexts they respond to – dealing together only with religious, racial and national intolerance, and arguably not sufficiently addressing all forums where intolerance may be manifested. Renewed debate on resolution 16/18 should also consider how to address these gaps.

Many forms of intolerance motivated from prejudice on protected grounds recognised under international human rights law, including sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, age or disability, are not dealt with in resolution 16/18 or the Rabat Plan of Action. A progressive reading of the ICCPR, in particular its provisions on non-discrimination and equality, requires states to take all forms of intolerance, and advocacy of all discriminatory hatred constituting incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence, equally seriously.

Andrew Smith (Legal Officer, ARTICLE 19)

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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Human Rights


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the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 16/18

by Marc Limon, Nazila Ghanea and Hilary Power

It is almost impossible to turn on the news today without witnessing scenes of hatred, violence and intolerance perpetrated in the name of religion or belief. The march of ISIL across Syria and Iraq, with associated reports of gross and systematic violations of human rights, may be an extreme example of such hatred, but it comes against a background of heightened religious hostility and discrimination in virtually every part of the world. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, violence and discrimination against religious groups by governments and rival faiths have reached new heights in all regions except the Americas. This bleak picture is supported by the findings of the latest report on religious freedom by the US State Department, which concluded that 2013 saw ‘the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,’ with millions of individuals from all faiths ‘forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs’ in ‘almost every corner of the globe.’

In the face of such trends, it is clear that the fight against religious intolerance and discrimination must be a key political priority for the international community, and in particular the UN and its Human Rights Council.

The main UN global policy framework for combatting religious intolerance, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief is set down in Council resolution 16/18. Resolution 16/18 was adopted, with much fanfare, in March 2011 and hailed by stakeholders from all regions and faiths as a turning point in international efforts to confront religious intolerance. After more than five decades of failure, UN member states had, it was hoped, at last come together to agree a common, consensus-based approach and practical plan of action.

Almost four years on, and against the aforementioned backdrop of heightened religious hostility, UN consensus around the ‘16/18 framework’ is at breaking point. Rather than working together to implement the 16/18 action plan, states have returned to pre-2011 arguments over the nature of the problem, the correct role of the international community, and whether the solution to intolerance lies in strengthening the enjoyment of fundamental human rights or in setting clearer limits thereon.

These divisions have re-emerged, in large part, because of conceptual confusion among policymakers about what implementation of resolution 16/18 means and what it entails. Linked to (and indeed flowing from) this conceptual opacity, states – especially states from the Western Group (WEOG) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – argue over whether resolution 16/18 is being effectively implemented or not and, if not, who is to blame.

A new Universal Rights Group policy report aims to help put the 16/18 framework ‘back on track’ by cutting through the political rhetoric to understand the different positions of key actors and how to bridge them, and by providing an impartial assessment of levels of implementation.

Key findings and conclusions in the report include:

* The prevention of discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, race and religion, and the protection of minorities, were two of the four priority human rights issues chosen by member states at time of the establishment of the UN (1946).

* From that time until the early 1960s, the UN’s human rights system addressed racial and religious discrimination/intolerance as joint and interconnected issues. However, in 1962 the UN decided to decouple its consideration of the two discriminations.

* This decision facilitated the rapid adoption of a new UN convention on the elimination of racial discrimination (1965). However, consideration of religious intolerance was shunted to the diplomatic ‘slow lane.’ After long and difficult negotiations, the UN eventually adopted a (soft law) declaration in 1981 – a declaration that, today, is largely forgotten.

* From 1946 to the turn of the century, UN policy to combat religious intolerance was notably ineffective. Yet the international community was at least united around a single approach. That changed in the years after 1999 when deepening OIC concern over Islamaphobia (especially in the context of 9/11), together with a Western shift in emphasis away from combatting religious intolerance and towards promoting freedom of conscience, led to a split in the UN policy architecture – a split that remains with us today.

* Against this unpromising background, in March 2011 a group of four states – Pakistan, Turkey, the UK and the US – tabled a text at the Human Rights Council designed to heal divisions, reconcile the positions of East and West, and lay down a workable plan of action to at last confront and challenge global religious intolerance. That text became resolution 16/18.

* When looking at the implementation of resolution 16/18, expectations of the degree to which it is capable of resulting in policy shifts in UN member states should be tempered by an understanding that the primary political impetus behind resolution 16/18 was international rather than domestic.

* Nevertheless, resolution 16/18, with its in-built action plan and associated implementation mechanism (the Istanbul Process), does provide a useful and, in theory, workable framework for combatting religious intolerance. While it is difficult to identify a direct causal relationship between resolution 16/18 and concrete policy shifts at national level, it is possible to identify a number of domestic improvements in-line with parts of the action plan. A good example is the clear improvement, since 2011, in the speed and sophistication with which political and religious leaders speak-out against acts of intolerance.

* Despite these positive steps, Pew Research Center data shows a significant worsening of levels of religious intolerance in almost every part of the world over the past decade.

* An analysis of the underlying causes of this situation reveals a strong empirical relationship between levels of religious intolerance, levels of freedom of religion and levels of freedom of expression. States that place high restrictions on freedom of religion also tend to place high restrictions on freedom of expression, and in states where both these core freedoms are restricted, incidences of religious intolerance tend, on average, to be far higher.

* However, URG’s analysis also shows that promoting respect for freedom of religion and freedom of expression is not enough on its own. If states are to strike a blow against intolerance, they must also take a range of supplementary (and complementary) steps to strengthen policy (in line with resolution 16/18).

Policy Recommendations
The report ends by proposing a set of recommendations designed to ‘re-energise’ the 16/18 process and thereby strengthen the international community’s ability to effectively respond to rising intolerance and discrimination. Recommendations include:

* States – especially EU and OIC states – should cooperate to dismantle the artificial divide that currently separates the UN’s work on promoting respect for freedom of religion from its work on combatting religious intolerance. In the medium- to long-term, this would mean agreeing on a single, coherent policy covering the mutually interdependent issues of freedom of religion, religious discrimination and religious intolerance;

* Linked with this point, states should avoid a return to the initiative on ‘defamation of religions,’ which achieved little beyond the polarisation of East and West. They should also avoid establishing new instruments or mechanisms on religious discrimination or intolerance in the absence of a solid evidential base showing that such measures would help;

* Because arguments over implementation are central to the current difficulties faced by the 16/18 process, it would be useful for relevant Council mechanisms, especially the Special Procedures, to undertake an independent and impartial analysis of steps taken by states, religious leaders and civil society, together with related best practice;

* Better use can and should be made of the UPR process and Treaty Body dialogues to promote implementation of the 16/18 action plan and to report on progress;

* States should ‘re-energise’ the Istanbul Process by agreeing in advance on a schedule of future meetings – a series that would allow all parts of the 16/18 action plan to be addressed; and

* The format of Istanbul Process meetings should be reformed, so that for each meeting a geographically balanced group of states, religious community representatives and civil society leaders are invited to present information about their national experiences, challenges faced and future plans.


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Human rights financing: the UN’s little pillar


By Professor Michael O’Flaherty and Marc Limon


In 2005, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, presented plans for United Nations reform which elevated human rights to be one of the three pillars of the UN system – alongside economic and social development, and peace and security.

This represented an acknowledgement of the centrality of human rights to the work and ideals of the UN system: ‘we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights’. The elevation of human rights also reflected a common determination to address the global human rights ‘implementation gap’ – i.e. the gap between the comprehensive global body of human rights norms and standards developed over the previous 60 years, and the ability of the international human rights system to secure the effective implementation of those norms on-the-ground.

The reforms presented by Kofi Annan, in particular the creation of the Human Rights Council, were designed, in large part, to enable the human rights system to fill this gap.

In a plan of action submitted in response to the Secretary-General’s report, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, welcomed the reforms but noted that for them to be effective there must be a considerable increase in resources. She noted in particular, that the human rights programme received only 1.8 percent of the UN budget and that the bulk of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) resources, including for key activities mandated by UN bodies, were derived from extra-budgetary contributions. The High Commissioner therefore proposed a doubling of resources for human rights ‘over the next five to six years’.

Today, the Human Council is seven years old and, despite a shaky start, is generally seen to be performing well. Resources made available for human rights have indeed doubled, and OHCHR now has 1118 staff in 59 countries (up from 190 staff in 1997). One might, therefore, think the vision laid down in 2005 has been realised and that the implementation gap is well on the way to being closed.

Such an assumption would, however, be wrong.

Curiously, the root of the problem is that the reforms foreseen by Kofi Annan eight years ago have proven, if anything, too successful. The higher profile attached to human rights and to the Human Rights Council, the success of the Council’s new Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and the enthusiasm of States and NGOs to engage with the Council to drive new initiatives and establish new mechanisms, mean that instead of deepening its focus on implementation (as was foreseen), OHCHR resources are being spread more thinly across ever-widening demands.

In 2012, the Human Rights Council adopted more than 100 resolutions (up from around 50 in 2007), many of them calling on OHCHR to draft new reports or convene new meetings and panels.

At the same time, the number of special procedure mandates has increased to almost 50 (up from 38 in 2008), and the number of treaty ratifications has continued to rise while new treaty-based bodies, such as the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, have been established. One consequence of this is that the number of treaty body members has risen from 139 to 172.

The level of engagement with and interest in the UPR process has exceeded all expectations, numerous new resource-intensive fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry have been established, and calls for OHCHR to apply its expertise at a country-level around the world continue to grow.

While welcome, this enthusiasm for and determination to work with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, has once again brought OHCHR and the human rights system to a point where the High Commissioner’s 2005 warning that the ‘Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (is) chronically under-resourced and ill equipped’ once again appears highly relevant. Within the Office, senior staff familiar with resource constraints talk of a ‘train wreck waiting to happen’, unless something is done to address the gulf between State demand and State largesse.

Indeed, at a time of growing demand, the OHCHR’s budget is actually in decline. From an already low base, human rights, supposedly one of the three pillars of the UN, receives less than 3 percent of the regular UN budget – a figure the current High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, has described as ‘scandalous’. Furthermore, human rights funding is set to see a 4.8 percent drop in funding in the next biennium (2014-2015). This leaves OHCHR increasingly reliant on unpredictable voluntary financing, even for supposedly ‘mandated’ activities (i.e. activities that the Office is told to do by States). Today, 40 percent of treaty body funding and 45 percent of special procedures funding comes from voluntary contributions. These figures rise to 91 percent in the case of OHCHR field operations, an area of work that can be described as largely un-mandated. Reliance on such funding creates financial and institutional insecurity, reduces the Office’s strategic flexibility (much funding is ‘earmarked’ meaning it can only be spent on designated activities) and may also be used to question the Office’s political independence.

In her foreword to the Office’s 2013 Annual Report, the High Commissioner expressed alarm at this situation: ‘Regular budget allocations are not keeping pace with the additional work that is mandated by the Human Rights Council. In 2012, total voluntary contributions to my Office reached US$111.1 million, an insufficient amount to cover our expenditure. For 2012-2013, we have already cut our budget by US$26.5 million. Unless voluntary contributions increase to US$135 million, we will face a funding shortfall yet again in 2013.’

These numbers matter because of what they say about OHCHR’s ability to fulfil its vital mandate and what they say about the human rights system’s ability to address the implementation gap that drove reform back in 2005.

Talk to Special Procedure mandate-holders and many will tell you, for example, that they lack the human resources (some don’t even have one full-time assistant) and/or budget to consider even the most basic types of follow-up after country visits. Others admit to not having the time or resources to deal with any but a handful of the hundreds of individual complaints and petitions they receive every month, never mind following-up with governments to secure remedy. Talk to members of treaty bodies and they will describe the backlog of State reports, their frustration at not being able to do more follow-up, or of the long delays in responding to petitions. Talk to OHCHR staff and you hear of existing field operations being cut back and new ones shelved, and of plans for regional and international events being abandoned.

It is clear that, after a long and painful economic downturn, the human rights system cannot expect huge injections of new money. It is equally true that there are significant inefficiencies in the system that also act as an important brake on implementation. However, even with this in mind, it is difficult to understand how the issue of human rights, which is now supposed to be the focus of a third of the UN’s work and energy, is worthy of less than 3 percent of the organisation’s budget.

Taking up this case, a group of 42 States led by Norway, Morocco, Turkey and Mexico have appealed, in statements to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council and to the 2012 General Assembly, for ‘a sufficient share of core financing’ for human rights (i.e. activities mandated by States should be covered by the regular budget) and a corresponding reduction in the Office’s reliance on unpredictable voluntary financing. While noting the importance of financial reform and greater strategic prioritisation by the Office, the States have also argued that ‘we would do ourselves a disservice if we allowed the financial challenges of the UN and cross-cutting budget reductions to undermine the encouraging demand for the OHCHR’s competence’.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely in this biennium that such calls will be heeded. Ongoing budget discussions in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee seem likely to result in the elimination of over ten OHCHR posts. Meanwhile, the same General Assembly is approving yet more new mandates for the Office to implement.

However, in the medium and long-term there is every reason to hope that the funding situation can be brought to a level more reflective of human rights’ status in the UN architecture. This is especially the case as the Human Rights Council nears its 10th anniversary in 2016, a moment when it may, and should, be elevated to become a main body of the UN. With human rights as one of the three pillars of the UN, with the Human Rights Council possibly becoming a main body of the UN, with States placing ever-increasing trust and responsibility in the hands of OHCHR, and with OHCHR’s latest Draft Thematic Strategies (2014-2017) prioritising the need to focus resources on strengthening the implementation of norms through the human rights mechanisms, securing 5 percent of the regular budget for human rights in 2016-2017 is surely not unreasonable nor impossible.

As the High Commissioner herself recently said: ‘the space for human rights has expanded greatly, but the means have not followed suit. Without additional resources, the great progress we have seen in human rights implementation may cease, and may even regress. I hope, then, that I can count on your support – financial, substantive and political – in making human rights a reality for all. Together, we have come a long way in 20 years; let us continue this important work together in the years ahead.’


This article was originally published by ISHR at

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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Human Rights


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A Rough Guide to the Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the main intergovernmental body within the United Nations (UN) system responsible for “promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all” and for addressing human rights violations, including gross and systematic violations.

The Council was created on 15 March 2006 by UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 which decided “to establish the Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, in replacement of the Commission on Human Rights”. The Commission had become discredited amid controversies over its membership and perceived politicisation. The establishment of the Human Rights Council was part of a comprehensive UN reform effort by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlined in his 2005 report, ‘In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All’. He presented human rights, along with economic and social development and peace and security, as one of three ‘pillars’ on which to base the work of the UN.

The Council, which comprises 47 members apportioned by geographic region, meets for three regular sessions per year (March, June and September) for a total of 10 weeks or more. It can also hold special sessions at the request of any Council member with the support of one-third of the Council membership.

Institution-building package

The Council’s first session took place from 19th to 30th June 2006. One year later, the Council adopted its ‘Institution-building package’ (resolution 5/1) which details procedures, mechanisms and structures that form the basis of its work. Among those mechanisms were the new Universal Periodic Review mechanism, the Advisory Committee and the Complaint Procedure – all of which report directly to the Council. The Council also assumed a number of mechanisms established by the former Commission of Human Rights including the Special Procedures.

Council sessions

Regular sessions of the Human Rights Council (three per year) serve as a forum for dialogue on pressing thematic and country-specific human rights issues facing the international community. A typical session includes a briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on important human rights issues and situations, the presentation of UN reports on human rights promotion and protection, the holding of interactive dialogues with UN Special Procedures (based on their reports to the Council), the adoption ofUPR reports for recently-reviewed countries, panel debates on matters of particular interest or importance, and the consideration (Council members only) of complaints brought to the Council’s attention under the Confidential Complaints Procedure (see below).

The main output of a given Council session is a series of Human Rights Council resolutions drafted and negotiated by States and designed to take forward a particular human rights issue or agenda. Action is taken on such resolutions (adoption by consensus, adoption with a vote, or rejection) at the end of each Council session.

If one third of Council members so requests, the Human Rights Council can decide at any time to hold a Special session to address human rights violations and emergencies (with either a country or thematic focus). Special sessions last for one day and allow States and other stakeholders to hear updates (for example by the High Commissioner, relevant Special Procedures mandate holders or Commissions of Inquiry) and present their views on the issue at hand. The session usually concludes with the adoption of a resolution.

A good summary of the work of the Human Rights Council in a given year can be found here.

Universal Periodic Review

All Council members and other UN member States are required to undergo a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that examines a State’s fulfilment of its human rights obligations and commitments. Each review is an intergovernmental process that facilitates an interactive dialogue between the country under review and the UPR working group, which is composed of the 47 Council members and chaired by the Council President.

During the review cycles, which began in April 2008 and see each State reviewed every four and a half years, the UPR working group makes initial recommendations with subsequent reviews focusing on the implementation of recommendations from the previous review

More information on the UPR Process, including on how to engage with it, can be found here.

Complaint Procedure

The Council maintains a Complaint Procedure that allows individuals and groups to report human rights abuses in a confidential setting. The goal of the procedure is to objectively and efficiently facilitate dialogue and cooperation among the accused State, Council members, and the complainant(s). A working group on communications and a working group on situations evaluate the complaints and bring them to the attention of the Council.

Special Procedures

The Council, like the previous Commission, maintains a system of Special Procedures that includes country and thematic mandates.Country mandates, which normally last for a year and can be renewed, allow mandate-holders to examine and advise on human rights situations in specific countries. Thematic mandates, which normally last for three years and can also be renewed, allow mandate-holders to analyse major human rights phenomena globally. Special Procedure mandate-holders serve in an independent, personal capacity and conduct in-depth research and site visits pertaining to their issue area or country.

There are a number of different types of Special Procedure, with ‘Special Rapporteur’ being the most common. Other types include ‘Independent Experts’, ‘Working Groups’ and ‘Special Representatives of the Secretary-General’. All undertake similar tasks, as set out in the resolution establishing or renewing their mandates, although there are differences in emphasis – for example Independent Experts tend to focus on norm-setting (in the case of thematic mandates) and technical assistance and capacity-building (in the case of country mandates), whereas Special Rapporteurs usually carry out a wider range of human rights promotion and protection activities including norm-setting, country visits and receiving and acting upon individual complaints.

Mandate-holders are appointed by the Human Rights Council upon a proposal of the President of the Council. The President bases his or her proposal on the recommendations of a consultative group (five ambassadors, one from each regional group) and following wide consultations.

More information on Special Procedures, including how to engage with them, can be found here and here.

Five-Year Review

On 17th June 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 65/281, which was the result of a review of the work and functioning of the Human Rights Council after five years (as mandated by General Assembly resolution 60/251).

In the resolution, member States agreed to maintain the Council’s status as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. They also adopted several procedural changes to the Council’s work, such as moving the start of its yearly membership cycle from June to January (thus moving Council elections from the spring to the autumn), creating an office of the Council President, and establishing future review mechanisms.


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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Human Rights


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