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Will the UN Human Rights Council “sacrifice” or silence Civil Society?


A number of civil society organizations are voicing out their concerns that the so-called “efficiency” process of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) seems to be going in a direction that will defeat the whole purpose of the Council, by completing the seeming nullification process that HRC member states seem to be doing against civil society as an uncomfortable voice, with the excuse of finances.

The Human Rights Council is undergoing discussions to renew emergency measures that have been adopted 2 years ago, which have greatly impacted civil society participation.

These measures were aimed at “addressing liquidity and budgetary crisis” faced by the Council and “saving meeting time throughout the year“.  In a stocktaking meeting on 11 November, the majority of States have positioned themselves in favour of renewing the efficiency measures for yet another year, despite the inconclusive results on whether they actually have helped the Council save time and money.

Now, how could leaving civil society out of this would save money? In fact, by silencing what civil society has to say at the HRC sessions, there is a threat that human rights abuses around the world would continue to rise even more since no state will have to face in front of the rest situations of concern that have to be solved, and this will make it more expensive for states and the HRC to fulfill their commitments with the different international pacts and the Agenda 2030.

The HRC has been undergoing a financial crisis. As a consequence, for the past 2 years, it has adopted measures that have limited civil society’s time and space to speak. This was made even worse due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” explained Fabiana Leibl from HRCNet. “In considering human rights situations around the world, the Human Rights Council is profoundly dependent on the testimonies and analysis provided by organizations and people who document human rights abuses and violations. Our voices are essential and need to be part of the conversations” she added.

Civil society organisations have consistently raised concerns that the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints coupled with measures adopted to respond to the COVID-19 crisis have heavily restricted civil society participation at the HRC.

Furthermore, the UN human rights pillar suffers from chronic gross and disproportionate underfunding compared to the other pillars of the UN (Peace and Security and Development). Human Rights only receives 3.7% of the UN regular budget compared to its other two pillars. Organisations have reiterated over the years that improving the effectiveness of the Council must also be part of the strengthening of the human rights pillar of the UN and States’ responsibility to provide proper funding for human rights.

On 6 December 2021, the Council can reinforce civil society participation or hinder it by renewing the so-called efficiency measures. We must be part of the negotiations. We want any actions undertaken to be informed by and answer to our demands and concerns. Civil society participation can’t be an afterthought. The Council must not sacrifice civil society engagement to meet budget and cash flow shortfalls.” declared Salma El Hosseiny from ISHR.

Democracy involves the stimulation of debate and discussion which can never be efficient. By its very nature, multilateralism requires the inclusion of all voices to be heard. Unilateral decisions, on the other hand, are efficient. The two should not be equated” said Susan Wilding from Civicus.

#NoCouncilWithoutUs #EmptyChairs #EfficiencyHRC