How have organizations engaged the UNHRC? Share your examples!

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How have organizations engaged the UNHRC? Share your examples!
Utilising the outputs of the UNHRC

Once a year the UNHRC dedicates a full day's discussion to the rights of the child. The Consortium for Street Children played a key role in the UNHRC's 2011 discussion day on 'A holistic approach for the promotion and protection of the rights of children working and/or living on the street' (A/HRC/17/46), as well as the accompanying Resolution on street children's rights (A/HRC/16/12).

The discussion day and Resolution marked a unique turning point - street children had at that point not been a issue of direct concern and debate within the UN for almost two decades. CSC therefore considered this a vital opportunity to not only bring the issue of street children back onto the international political agenda, but also as an opportunity to ensure that the discussion and Resolution reflected the changing realities, outstanding issues, knowledge and good practices surrounding street children over the past two decades. Therefore, CSC consulted heavily with our network on NGOs on the ground to ensure that their inputs formed part of the discussion.

A lot of emphasis was put on ensuring that the Resolution contained a paragraph with a direct tangible follow up to keep the issue on the agenda - as mentioned in my previous comment, the UNHRC covers a lot of issues and moves on quickly. The Resolution was unanimously passed, and invited 'the Office of the High Commissioner to conduct a study on challenges, lessons learned and best practices in a holistic, child rights and gender-based approach to protect and promote the rights of children working and/or living on the street [...], and to present the study to the Human Rights Council at its nineteenth session'.

Through a unique cross-sector partnership between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Consortium for Street Children, UNICEF and Aviva (one of the largest insurance companies in the world), this report was made possible, and contained several recommendations to States, UN treaty bodies and other key stakeholders. The report, 'The promotion and protection of the rights of children working and/or living on the street' (A/HRC/19/35) can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Children/Study/Pages/childrenonthestreet.aspx.

Through the process of writing the report key stakeholders, including local and national NGOs and street children themselves, were consulted on the context and recommendations (again many of which are tangible and potential direct follow ups). The result is a comprehensive study (which carries legitmacy and leverage due to it being an official OHCHR report) which the Consortium for Street Children is utilising to further the issue of street children at UN level, and informing the development of toolkits (good practices for NGOs) and effective principles (for States at a national level), and supporting the case for regional consultations for continued cross-sector partnerships around the issue of street children.

A few lessons learned to share which might be of use to others - building good personal relationships is often key to success, especially if you are a relatively small NGO; always thinking ahead of potential follow ups, to ensure the issue continues to gain traction; think outside the box, about who your key stakeholders might be (especially with the private sector in light of the recent Principles on Business and Child Rights).

Congrats on the achievements! A few logistical questions...

Thank you for sharing this great example, Anne Louise! It sounds like CRC was able to achieve what it had set out to do: "...to not only bring the issue of street children back onto the international political agenda, but also as an opportunity to ensure that the discussion and Resolution reflected the changing realities, outstanding issues, knowledge and good practices surrounding street children over the past two decades." Congatulations!

A few logistical questions came to mind regarding how CRC was able to engage the UNHRC so effectively:

  1. How much planning time went into this UNHRC engagement? When did the CRC know that they would work towards the goals (above)? This information might be helpful to give organizations a realistic timeframe for how this planning process happens.
  2. What was the relationship between the UNHRC and CRC before this specific engagement in 2011? Has the CRC been working the the Council before this? Do you have a representative in Geneva?
  3. How will you know if these achievements (the comprehensive study, the toolkits and principles) are making an impact on the ground? (Sorry to ask this question - I know it is difficult, but if you have any thoughts, ideas to provide, that would be very helpful)

Thanks!

And we are all eager to read more examples of UNHRC engagement!

Kristin Antin - New Tactics Online Community Builder

some answers to logistics...

Thanks Kristin,

To try to answer your questions:

1. How much planning time went into this UNHRC engagement? When did the CRC know that they would work towards the goals (above)? This information might be helpful to give organizations a realistic timeframe for how this planning process happens.

Since 2009 CSC decided strategically that it was vital to have a presence at UN level in Geneva, to ensure that street children's rights were included in human rights and international development debates (previously to that the presence and engagement had been very limited and sporadic). As a small NGO we found being a member of the NGO Group for the CRC to be very beneficial and helpful. When the UNHRC announced that they would be dedicating a full day to discussing street children's rights, the NGO Group initially facilitated CSC's link to the UNHRC's informal working group on the issue. At least 9 months of planning went into the development of the discussion day and accompanying Resolution. As part of this process CSC also worked through the NGO Group to help facilitate other NGOs involvement, so that all the NGOs were working as strategically as possible together.

2. What was the relationship between the UNHRC and CRC before this specific engagement in 2011? Has the CRC been working the the Council before this? Do you have a representative in Geneva?

As set out above. We do not have a representive based in Geneva. I instead do a lot of travelling from London. We do work with a volunteer representative who can go to meetings on our behalf as and when needed.

3. How will you know if these achievements (the comprehensive study, the toolkits and principles) are making an impact on the ground? (Sorry to ask this question - I know it is difficult, but if you have any thoughts, ideas to provide, that would be very helpful)

Its a very good question, and probably one many advocacy organisations struggle with. From CSC's perspective we used these developments to also develop our own internal 'theory of change' - a work still in progress, but which will help us to assess the impact on the ground through specific M&E indicators. Furthermore, our toolkits will each be developed with an accompanying M&E section.

Hope this answers some of the questions?

Visibility for Eritrea

Morning all - joining this conversation a bit late, but very interested in the comments so far!

I wanted to pick up on the issue of visibility that has been touched on in a number of the comments and give an example in this regard. As Ellen said engaging with the Human Rights Council can be a way of increasing awareness of issues that have otherwise been invisible in the human rights mechanisms. This is also relevant for some countries where there are widespread human rights abuses, but the situation struggles to make it on to the international agenda and where there is no space for civil society within the country (cf Michael's Burma reference).

I'll give a very practical example from our own experience at EHAHRDP, which is the situation in Eritrea. We have very active network members from Eritrea but none of them can work inside the country - in fact there are no independent human rights organisations working in the country at all. The situation in the country is dire - government officials and independent journalists detained incommunicado for over a decade, national military service for life, severely curtailed religious freedoms etc. With our partners and network members, EHAHRDP had been advocating for years on the situation in Eritrea, but the issue still remained almost invisible at the level of the human rights mechanisms.

In September 2011, the ten-year anniversary of the arrests of the government officials who had called for the implementation of the Constitution and a number of independent journalists, we started a campaign to get more attention for Eritrea at the Human Rights Council, beyond the occasional statement. With a key network member and partner NGOs in Geneva (we don't have an office in Geneva), we worked to raise awareness and interest in the situation in Eritrea, through side events and meetings with diplomats at the Council. We also mobilised support from a wide-range of NGOs both in Africa and internationally to call for action on Eritrea at the HRC.

In March 2012, 44 countries from Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America made a joint statement at the Council which condemned the human rights violations in Eritrea. In June 2012, a resolution on Eritrea was adopted without a vote which established a Special Rapporteur on Eritrea who will report back to the Council later this year - so we have gone very quickly from having very little attention to Eritrea to having a dedicated report and space for discussion at the Council.

What are the lessons learned from this engagement? The most important for me was the benefit of working with a range of partners - network members who are expert on the situation "on the ground" and partner NGOs in Geneva who are expert on the UN political landscape. It was also important to be able to demonstrate wide support - we did this by getting mass sign-on to our call to action letters - at key moments in the campaign.

This engagement also emphasised for me that the agenda of the HRC is not set in stone and that the agenda items Kristin referred to earlier are broad enough to encompass a wide-range of issues - and that NGOs can influence this agenda so that pressing issues are discussed.

Are there other issues that activists would like to see on the agenda?

Tools used re Eritrea

I just wanted to add quickly some of the practical tools that we use in talking about issues at the Council that we used in this case. In addition to organising side events, having individual meetings and sending letters to Council members, we also made statements under the general debate on item 4 of the Council agenda, which is very broad "Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention" (the agenda items are available here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NgoParticipation.aspx) - and publicised the issue through press releases and talked about the issue in other fora, such as at the NGO Forum of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR).

It was also very helpful (more than I had expected) to be able to point to decisions in cases heard by the ACHPR on Eritrea which had not been implemented by Eritrea as well as resolutions passed by the ACHPR - to show that we weren't going directly to the international level and that serious efforts had been made to deal with the situation at the regional level.

Combination of tools - and additional spaces and tactics

Thanks Rachel for this very useful and indepth write up of your experiences on Eritrea. Encouraging. 

I'm intersted to hear how you've combined different elements of raising the issue to the Council's agenda. A couple of additional thoughts/questions: 

  1. Have you used - or another organisation working with you on this - the complaint procedure to gather more momentum on the situation? if so, what do you think was its impact?
  2. What is the role of media/social media in these types of campaigns? 
  3. And finally - the 1'000'000$ question - what has been the impact of the Special Rapporteur to date?

Sorry to bombard you with another set of questions!

Thanks for the interesting

Thanks for the interesting (read "challenging") questions Michael!

1. We haven't been at all involved in using the complaint procedure, but I do think that the fact a complaint was underway on the situation in Eritrea at the same time as we were campaigning created greater awareness and interest among diplomats and therefore a greater impact. It's not a tactic that we've tried intentionally - but it would definitely be an interesting idea to explore to engage both the public and private spaces of the Human Rights Council simultaneously.

2. Again, we didn't use media/social media in a big way for the Eritrea campaign. When I mentioned mass mobilisation, that was more of a traditional approach of getting a large number of targetted NGOs - those that engaged with the Human RIghts Council in one instance, or with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in the other - to sign on to advocacy letters and calls for action.

I did find social media useful though as a way of directly linking up with journalists with an interest in Eritrea - though the journalists didn't always get the details quite right in the resulting articles (one of the risks of using the media on a topic as complicated as the Human Rights Council...).

3. Impact - I would love to be able to say that the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Eritrea has created quick results, but in a closed country like this I think we will have to wait quite some time for a serious impact. (In fact, that would be a question back to you Michael, to know how long the Burma mandate took to see an effect?) However, as human rights advocates we are used to being in it for the long run and celebrating incremental victories. Doing advocacy in a closed country like Eritrea, also reminds me that we're not always aware of the full extent of the impact of our work.

I think the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur and the statement are very important statements in themselves. They demonstrate to Eritreans (activists and others) that they have not been forgotten by the international community, which is an encouragement in itself. Previously most international attention to Eritrea was more interested in the country's impact on the security of its neighbours, rather than the human rights situation internally.

It also reminds the Eritrean government that the world is watching. We could say that this has already had the practical impact of encouraging the Eritrean government to engage more regularly with the Human Rights Council - even if only to reject the mandate so far and refute what is being said. I think we should expect to see a larger presence having to deal with these questions in Geneva in future.

The Special Rapporteur will be presenting her first report to the June session of the Council. I hope and expect that we will see further impact once her report is published. Her mandate offers the opportunity to highlight the situation in Eritrea to a much broader audience than has previously been reached and a focal point activists to share their information.

I hope that all makes sense!

UNHRC special sessions

In the first discussion thread Leonida mentioned that the UNHRC can be engaged in cases of massive human rights violations. 

In this respect it's important to remember that the UNHRC can hold special sessions, at the request of one-third of its members, outside of its regular sessions. This enables it to respond in a more timely manner to developing and urgent situations.

The UNHRC has held 19 special sessions to date, the last three on Syria. 

NGOs can get involved in lobbying member States to call for a special session on particularly urgent and developing situations. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies has been involved in such lobbying in the past I believe, around the developments of the 'Arab Spring'  - Paola, do you have any thoughts to share on what makes for successful engagement in such cases? 

 

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