Letter from NGOs to States on outcome of Human Rights Council status review





Our organizations have closely followed the General Assembly’s status review of the Human Rights Council over the past seven months. At the beginning of this year, we, along with human rights NGOs from across the world, called on the General Assembly to review the Council’s work in a way that would help meet the hopes and expectations of victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders all over the world. We asked States to seize the opportunity to give full effect to the election-related provisions in Resolution 60/251, including by supporting the establishment of a public pledge review mechanism, and by committing to a competitive and principled process for future Human Rights Council elections, among other improvements.  

The resolution adopted on 17 June, however, contains only a few technical and bureaucratic changes and offers no new measures that would help enforce the high membership standards envisaged by Resolution 60/251.  This result is extremely inadequate and sorely lacking in substance.

But the failure at the General Assembly to move beyond the divisive debates that afflicted this process from the start, which compounds the disappointment regarding the outcome of the Geneva phase of the review, does not absolve States from the responsibility of seeking to improve continuously the way the Council responds to human rights situations.  If anything, it makes that responsibility even more pressing.

We have seen a number of positive developments in the Council in recent months, including relatively quick action in relation to grave human rights violations in Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria; better cross-regional cooperation on certain issues, and imaginative solutions to difficult questions, including to situations in Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, and Yemen.  This approach has been called “improving by doing”, or enhancing and building on the Council’s working methods in each session.

One way States can continue to “improve by doing” would be to implement immediately measures that respect the spirit and letter of Resolution 60/251 and that do not require the adoption of a separate text.  Resolution 60/251 foresaw competitive elections among States committed to contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights.  States genuinely seeking a strong and credible Council should, for instance, insist that their regional groups run open slates in all future Council elections, and thus help vote-trading become a thing of the past.  States can also still commit to present and discuss their pledges in the General Assembly before future elections, as well as provide regular updates, on a voluntary basis, to the Assembly and the Council on progress with the implementation of their election pledges.

Ultimately the greatest determinant of the success or failure of the Human Rights Council is the will of its members to put aside as much as possible political calculation and posturing and focus on protecting and promoting human rights, of their own populations and of people everywhere, even within the borders of friendly states.


Amnesty International

Baha'i International Community
Human Rights Watch
International Service for Human Rights


United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


  • NGOs
  • United Nations
  • UN General Assembly
  • UN Human Rights Council