Formal NGO participation in the Human Rights Council

NGOs can participate in a number of ways in the Human Rights Council. Participating means that they can physically assist to sessions of the Council and its related mechanisms, make written and oral statements or organise events. Participating does not include a right to vote as it is reserved to States, and it is therefore important for NGOs to find other ways for their cause to be reflected in this intergovernmental process. There are a number of formal and informal ways of engaging with the Human Rights Council in a view to influence its work. While the formal ways, such as reading out an oral declaration, may be much more known, it is crucial to give due consideration to the more informal ways of working with the Council.

Written statements, oral statements and side events

Formal participation of NGOs in the Human Rights Council is based on the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) resolution 1996/31 of 25 July 1996, which establishes the possibility for NGOs to obtain consultative status with ECOSOC. In principle, only NGOs in ECOSOC consultative status can assist to sessions of the Human Rights Council. Exceptions to this rule exist, namely for participation in the Social Forum, the Forum on Minority Issues and the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples (see below). In addition to holding ECOSOC consultative status, NGOs will have to request accreditation for each of their representatives in order to assist to any meeting of the Council or its mechanisms.

Written statements

Before a plenary session of the Council, NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC can submit a written statement. This statement will become an official UN document and will be published on the website of the Council. The deadline for submission is two weeks before the beginning of the session. NGO Written Statement Submission is now done on-line at this link. A practical guide to submitting statements on line is available in English.Written statements can also be submitted jointly by several NGOs. At least one of them needs to hold ECOSOC consultative status, but there is no need for the others to do so as well. Written statements can be made under any of the ten agenda items and should respect UN terminology. This means that you should use official names of countries and avoid using depreciatory expressions such as "regime" instead of "government".

Resources on written statements

For detailed explanations on how to hand in a written statement, see our FAQ section.

Oral statements

NGOs can also make oral statements during the session. These will not become an official UN document but are posted on the Extranet (user name "hrc extranet" and password "1session") once delivered.

First of all, you need to pick an item on the agenda of the Council where the content of your statement fits. Second, you also have to take into account that there are different formats of debates. In an interactive dialogue, your statement has to focus on the report under consideration and possibly make comments or ask questions in this regard. The General debate and the panel discussions are more open formats. A statement on torture in country X may for example fit under the following segments: a) interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Torture, b) general debate under item 3, c) general debate under item 4, d) general debate under item 9, etc. Depending on the scope of your declaration, other options may be available to you. If you are unsure as to which segment(s) would best fit your declaration, you may consult the list of speakers desk or contact the Civil Society Section. Much the same as for written statements, make sure you use UN terminology, such as official designations of States, and avoid using depreciative expressions such as “regime”.

In cases where NGOs do not give enough regard to choosing the appropriate item and format of debate, or use terminology that is not accepted within the UN, they are sometimes interrupted by a point of order. States can indeed ask the chair to interrupt a speaker if in their view, the speaker does not respect due procedure. In practice, this can most often be avoided by carefully drafting your statement: When speaking in an interactive dialogue, you should insert clear references to the report under consideration, and when speaking under a thematic item (such as item 3), you should refer to concrete violations by a particular State expressely as examples of a point you are making with regard to the topic under discussion.

The online list of speakers opens for all segments except the UPR (see below) at 2pm on Friday preceeding the beginning of the session and remains open until shortly before the discussion takes place. It may though happen that certain items are filled earlier due to high demand. Inscription should therefore be done as early as possible and through this form. When filling out the form you will be asked to choose the exact segment of deliberations, meaning one of the ten agenda items and one of the three formats of debates. You will be asked to select several options and to indicate priorities. A guideline for using the online registration system is available in English and Spanish. The speaker's name must also be confirmed 24 hours before in Room XX.

Depending on whether you speak during a General debate, an interactive dialogue or a panel discussion, speaking time arrangements vary. Usually, NGOs will have 3 minutes for a statement in a general debate and 2 minutes in an interactive dialogue. It can tough happen that the time available for a statement has to be shortened if the Council is running behind schedule. Similarly, your timeslot may be scheduled later or earlier depending on how quickly the debate is advancing. It is thus very important that you stay informed and that you make sure you are in the room when your statement is up. The list of speakers desk can give you all necessary information in this regard. Last minute updates are also available through Twitter and the SMS alert (sign-up on the Extranet, with user name "hrc extranet" and password "1session"). Once you are up for speaking, you may take a seat at one of the two NGO speakers seats in room XX and deliver your statement as soon as the Chair gives you the floor. Make sure you stick within your time limit and do not read too quickly, to avoid interpreters getting lost!

It is now posible to submit video statements. This option is opened only for NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC which do not have an office or representative in Geneva and which do not have delegates accredited to the relevant sesion of the Council. The procedure for video statements is the same as for oral statements and is available through this form. It is also necessary to address to the Human Rights Council a letter of request. This letter must be submitted on the NGO's official letterhead and signed by its President, Chief Executive Officer or Main Representative of the UN office at Geneva. It must also contain the indication of the session concerned, the agenda item and the specific segment in which the statement will be made, the indication of the full name and a colour copy of a identity document of the person delivering the statement. The video statement will be projected in the room XX under the same conditions as an oral statement. A guideline about video statements and its rules is available in English.

Resources on Oral statements

For detailed explanations on how to make an oral statement, see our FAQ section.

Side events

Side events (also called "informal meetings" or "parallel events") are smaller events organised in the margins of a session. This can be a plenary session or a meeting of a subsidiary body of the Council. Side events are informal in nature: they do not have strict agenda items and do not require speakers to sign up beforehand. Usually, they comprise presentations from some panelists followed by a discussion with participants from the floor. Side events allow you to discuss a given topic in more detail than this would be possible during a plenary session. You may also be able to organise an event on topics that do not figure on the agenda of the Council.

Side events can be organised by NGOs as well as States or intergovernmental organisation. They can also be organised jointly by several of these entities. Side events organised during UPR working group sessions are called "information meetings", yet they are essentially the same and you need to follow the same modalities and procedures as if you were organising an event during a plenary session. If you wish to organise a side event, you will have to request a room online. The deadline is usually two weeks before the beginning of a session. Requests received later than this date are accommodated subject to availability of rooms. Demand is usually very high. You will receive a confirmation of your room booking by Email, yet this confirmation is only sent out after the deadline for room requests has passed.

Ressources on Side events

For detailed explanations on how book a room for a side event, see our FAQ section.

NGOs and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

Survey conducted by UPR Info and Mandat International about the process through which States draft their interventions for the UPR working group. The aim of this survey is to improve NGO's understanding of these processes, in a view to facilitate their interaction and advocacy efforts with States. The results have been published as a full version listing all questions as well as a short version concentrating on timing and priority issues of States.

The UPR is essentially an intervogernmental process where States examine States. Yet there is also scope for NGOs to provide inputs and to monitor implementation of the outcome. Once again, NGOs may participate in the process in formal as well as informal ways. For the latter, the advice outlined here also applies.

Below we have compiled an overview on the different possibilities for NGOs to engage with the process at each stage of a given UPR cycle:

BEFORE the exam in the UPR Working Group

Start planning one year ahead of the review!

  • Submit information to the Stakeholders Report: 5 pages maximum for individual submissions, 10 pages limit for joint submissions. The information should be provided according to the Guidelines published by the Secretariat and sent through the new On-line UPR submissions system for written contributions for the UPR documentation. For further information and examples see the resources box below.
  • Participate in national consultations held by the State under review (SuR) in order to compile the National Report or encourage the SuR to hold such consultations.
  • Lobbying : approach other States and encourage them to make specific recommendations and to ask certain questions (in writing or orally). Keep in mind the following:

    Note 1: Make SMART recommendations (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound). A bad example would be "Improve education". A good and SMART recommendation instead could read "Increase the rate of secondary school completion by 15% over the next 10 years".

    Note 2: The process followed to draft interventions during the UPR varies from State to State. Some prefer NGOs to contact local Embassies, other their Geneva Mission; some States accept contributions until two days before the review, others finalise their statements far earlier. Information on practices and requirements by State is available in Mandat International and UPR Info's survey on States' UPR process (coming soon).

    Note 3: Chose the states you are approaching carefully and strategically. Sometimes it may make sense, in order to obtain a recommendation on a given topic - for instance trafficking -, to approach a State which has trafficking included in its thematic priorities. Yet if you wish to increase the number of recommendations made on your topic, you may also consider concentrating on States that are open for your topic yet that would not necessarily make a statement on trafficking if they were not specifically asked to do so. To identify which States have what priority topics, see our survey (coming soon) and UPR Info's searchable database of past recommendations.
DURING the session of the UPR Working Group
  • In Geneva: Assist to the Working Group. Note though that it is not possible for NGOs to make an oral statement at this stage. Also note that only NGOs in ECOSOC consultative status can assist to the meeting, and you may have to cooperate with an ECOSOC NGO to assist to the Working Group.
  • In Geneva: Organise a side event on the human rights situation in the SuR.
  • In Geneva: Follow-up on lobbying efforts: meet State delegations in person, remind them of the questions and recommendations you suggested earlier, give them a short overview listing human rights issues in the SuR as well as questions and recommendations that other States could ask or make. Examples of overviews can be found here and here.
  • In Geneva: Meet the delegation of the SuR: take advantage of the occasion to personally meet representatives of your government, including high-level officials, in order to present them the observations and demands of civil society.
  • Back home / at the national level: Disseminate information on the content of the review. Inform the media and public opinion about discussions held in Geneva and issue press statements. An interesting idea could be to organise round-tables and screenings of the live or archived video transmission that is available through the webcast.
BETWEEN the Working Group and the plenary session of the Human Rights Council
  • Disseminate information on the outcome of the review: Draw attention of the public opinion in the SuR to recommendations and questions received, by translating them if necessary. Also inform about what answers the government has provided (did it accept or reject a recommendation?).
  • Follow-up on recommendations:
    - Push the government of the SuR to provide clear answers to recommendations (accepted or rejected) well before the plenary session.
    - Approach other State delegations that have issued particular recommendations and encourage them to follow-up on their own recommendations and to obtain a clear answer (accepted or rejected).
DURING the plenary session of the Human Rights Council
  • Assist to the plenary session: make an oral statement under item 6 and/or hand in a written statement before the beginning of the session. Note that only NGOs in ECOSOC consultative status can make oral or written declarations, and you may have to cooperate with an ECOSOC NGO to present a statement.
  • Organise a side event
  • Meet the delegation of the SuR (see above)
  • Disseminate information on the outcome at the national level (see above)
FOLLOW-UP
  • Disseminate information on the outcome at the national level (see above)
  • Monitor implementation of the recommendations the SuR has accepted, as well as of potential voluntary commitments taken by the SuR:
    - By disseminating information in the media and public opinion
    - By engaging in a dialogue with the government
    - By using the UPR results in other proceedings with UN human rights mechanisms, for instance the treaty bodies.
  • Advocate for future acceptance of the selected recommendations not accepted by the SuR.
  • Submit a progress report to the Human Rights Council. For examples, see the website of the CRIN.

The UPR should be seen as an ongoing process where the Geneva stages (the Working Group and the adoption of its outcome in the plenary) are only the tip of the iceberg: The bulk of the work has to be done at the national level, where in the end changes have to be implemented. The UPR is obviously not an end in itself, but should be used within the overall advocacy work of an NGO. It is worth strengthening that potential synergies between work in the UPR and other human rights mechanisms (such as treaty bodies or regional human rights mechanisms) could still be better exploited. Engaging with the UPR may contribute to the overall work of your NGO by strenghtening your advocacy efforts - some NGOs even see the UPR as a possibility for enforcing their claims - and by providing you with a great opportunity for making contacts and extending your network.

Resources on NGO participation in the UPR

For practical information on participating in the Human Rights Council, see our FAQ section. More reading on the UPR is available on our publications page.

NGOs and Special Procedures

When working with Special Procedures, NGOs should think of this work as an interaction with a mandate as a whole, much rather than an interaction with a single mandate holder. Special procedures mandate holders work in fact part-time and are often not based in Geneva. For this reason, they are assisted by special procedures assistants who work at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and who follow closely all the work related to any given mandate. NGOs can for instance request meetings with special procedures assistants or provide them with information on their work by Email.

More specifically, NGOs can engage with special procedures along the following axes:

Communications

NGOs can submit information or "communications" on specific human rights violations to certain mandates. This tool is meant to draw the attention of a special procedures mandate to an individual case or to a more general pattern of human rights violations. All communications should provide information on the following:

  • Who is the victim?
  • Who is the perpetrator of the violation?
  • Date and place of incident
  • Detailed description of facts
  • Suggestions as to what should be done
In addition, all communications should respect the following conditions:
  • No anonymous communications. All communications have to be submitted in the name of an organization or an individual. This information will be kept confidential.
  • The information has to come from reliable sources. Mere reports in the media are not considered enough.
  • The information should be such as that it can be followed-up on.
  • Communications should not contain abusive language nor be politically motivated
  • The content of the communication should fall within the mandate contacted. If you are unsure as to which mandate fits best the content you wish to report, an internal coordination mechanism within OHCHR will take care of passing the information on to the relevant mandate. Communications that are not aimed at a specific mandate should be sent to urgent-action@ohchr.org
  • Note that criteria for submission of communications vary from mandate to mandate. Many mandates have specific forms or questionnaires which should be used for the submission of communications. These specificities are clearly detailed on the websites of thematic and country-based special procedures.

Mandates only provide feedback on your submission if follow-up action is required. To check whether the mandate holder has taken action following your communication, you can check the Communications Report of Special Procedures. This report is accessible either by mandate (as an addendum to the annual report, or for some mandates, through the webpage of the mandate), or as a compilation of all mandates published on the website of the Human Rights Council (select "Sessions" in the upper left corner, select the relevant session - approximately 3 to 4 months after you submitted the communication - then click on "List of Reports" for the session, and finally open the document "Communications Report of Special Procedures"). In this Communications Report you will find a list of Letters of Allegations and Urgent Appeals by topic sent by Special Procedures to States, the full-text of these letters (document symbol in the left hand column) as well as information on whether the government of the State concerned has replied, and if so, what its answer was (for the latter, see the right-hand column "reply" and click on the document symbol. If there is no symbol, the government has not replied).

Country visits

When a special procedures mandate holder has requested to visit your country, there is a role for your NGO to play in pushing your government to accept a visit. You may also wish to consider advocating for your government to issue a standing invitation to allow all special procedures to visit your country at any time.

Before and during a visit, you should provide information on human rights in your country to the mandate holder. You may also wish to meet the mandate holder during his/her visit or organize a series of meetings for him/her. As a matter of fact, the mandate holder has an official programme of visits to follow which has been agreed upon with the government, yet the mandate holder can also hold additional meetings. For such meetings, mandate holders can protect their contacts and not inform the government of whom they have met.

A country visit is also an excellent opportunity to increase awareness of the existence of the mandate and of the rights they monitor and protect.

Mandate holders apply several criteria when they decide which countries they are going to visit: They namely take into account the urgency of a situation and the extent to which human rights violations occur. The credibility of the information received and how well it can be used also play an important role. Finally, mandate holders also need to maintain a certain geographical balance in their programme of visits and take into account regional developments.

Provide information into standard setting process

Special procedures mandates welcome information by NGOs on the development of international human rights law. When engaging in standard setting processes, they often hold consultations with NGOs, issue calls for submissions or hold meetings with NGOs.

Work on the functioning of the special procedures system as a whole

Some NGOs also decide to work on the functioning of the special procedures system as a whole. This would in particular be an option for NGOs with a permanent representative in Geneva.

Resources on NGO engagement with Special Procedures

To learn more about the functioning of Special Procedures, please refer to Functioning of the HR Council. Comprehensive coverage of the system of special procedures is given by our collection of publications. Also see our FAQ section.