(Geneva) - The United Nations Human Rights Council needs to be strengthened by measures to enhance its impact on the ground, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Service for Human Rights said in a report released today.  The Human Rights Council is approaching a critical juncture in 2018, as countries discuss various measures to strengthen it or make it more efficient.

The report, “Strengthening the UN Human Rights Council from the Ground Up,” outlines the discussions and key recommendations during a dialogue convened by the organizations in February. The dialogue brought together a broad range of human rights defenders working at the national, regional, and international levels with representatives of national human rights institutions, countries from various regions, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The focus was on making concrete and implementable recommendations that do not require institutional reform.

Tawanda Mutasah, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, said:   “To be credible, any discussion of Council strengthening should focus primarily on enhancing its contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights – its impact on the ground. As the council’s Bureau launches discussions this year on enhancing the efficiency of the council, we reiterate that measures to strengthen the council’s efficiency should not, and cannot, be separated from efforts to enhance its effectiveness.”

Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s human rights council advocate, said: “It is therefore imperative that discussions on strengthening the council – and making it more efficient – be informed by the experience and expertise of national and regional level actors, including rights-holders, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, victims/survivors (and their representatives), national human rights institutions and UN country teams.”

Many participants at the February dialogue affirmed the value and relevance of the council in responding to human rights crises and in encouraging a broad range of human rights reforms and commitments by individual countries.  At the same time, they shared concerns about issues that limit the council’s ability to effectively deliver on its mandate.

The Human Rights Council plays a vital role in addressing many human rights concerns, but its impact is limited and credibility eroded when it fails to address grave human rights violations for primarily political reasons. Individual countries should strengthen the council’s ability to promote and protect human rights on the ground, particularly through prevention, implementation and accountability.

John Fisher

Geneva Director, Human Rights Watch

Maryam Al Khawaja, special advisor on advocacy at the Gulf Center for Human Rights and ISHR board member, said: “The selectivity and politicization of the council’s response to country situations allows some governments to escape scrutiny for serious human rights violations.”

Hassan Shire, executive director of DefendDefenders, said: “Having States that commit gross and systematic human rights violations sitting on the Council negatively impacts its credibility in the eyes of people around the world.”

Gustavo Huppes, officer for democratic space at Conectas said: “To have impact on the ground, follow-up and implementation are key, though often neglected priorities of the council”.

Yashasvi Nain, program officer at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said: “An effective council is one that is accessible and visible to a broad range of actors, including victims, rights-holders, civil society, and human rights defenders.”