The Institution-Building Process





When the Human Rights Council (the Council) was established on 19 June 2006, it faced a heavy programme of work for its first year. It was to review, rationalise and improve on the former Commission on Human Rights’ (the Commission) system of special procedures, expert advice and complaint procedure, set up a new universal periodic review (UPR) mechanism, and develop its own agenda, programme of work, and rules of procedure. These tasks were to be completed by 18 June 2007, when the membership of the Council would also change. Because the discussions on these issues would shape the workings of the Council for the years to come, the process was generally called 'institution-building'. It dominated the Council's agenda in the first year, and accordingly became the focus of many national and international NGOs.

Formally, the institution-building process was concluded with the adoption of Resolution 5/1 at midnight on 18 June 2007. However, despite the many hours spent on institution building during the first year, the final ‘institution-building package’  did not settle all of the Council’s institutional questions. It required the Council to still discuss and decide on a number of important issues that were not resolved in the institution-building text. Accordingly, many institution-building tasks continued to be discussed throughout the Council's second cycle.

The institution-building working groups

The Council set up three working groups to tackle the different issues confronting it as an institution. It set up working groups on the review of mechanisms and mandates, on the elaboration of modalities for the UPR, and later in the year on the elaboration of an agenda, programme of work, rules of procedure and methods of work. 

The inter-governmental Working Group to ‘formulate concrete recommendations on the issue of reviewing and, where necessary, improving and rationalizing all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities in order to maintain a system of special procedures, expert advice and a complaint procedure divided its work into three segments: the review of special procedures; the complaint procedure; and the expert advice body, each facilitated by a Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva.‘ 

The institution-building Working Groups held their final sessions from 10 to 26 April 2007. The finalisation of their work was marked by a handover to the President of the Council of the final non-papers by the respective facilitators. During the weeks leading up to the 'deadline' of 18 June 2007, the then President of the Council, Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, led the last minute negotiations himself. He held a series of  public informal consultations (on 10, 18, 24 and possibly 25 May 2007) and private discussions, with a view to finding consensus on the important institutional framework of the Council. The year-long process culminated in the adoption of the 'institution-building text' or Resolution 5/1

Implementation of the institution-building text

Starting at its 6th session, the Council started to fill in the missing pieces in its institutional framework. Technical requirements for the selection of special procedures mandate holders and members of the Advisory Committee had to be agreed on, and the modalities of the new UPR had to be refined. Throughout its second cycle, the Council has 'fine-tuned' its machinery, and at the start of the third cycle seems to be ready to fully devote itself to substantive human rights issues.

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Further reading

ISHR has closely followed the institution-building process and has produced comprehensive reports on each of the working groups' discussions. These are available in the Publications section.

Several authors have analysed and commented upon the institution-building at various stages: