United Nations

FIDH at the United Nations in Geneva

The workings of intergovernmental organisations are inherently complex. When it comes to human rights, it involves bringing together the views of states, whose interests are sometimes contrary. Nevertheless, by involving civil society in the decision making process and the establishment of international law by international bodies, FIDH fulfils an essential mission.

Guiding human rights defenders at the UN

FIDH has a physical presence in Geneva which serves as a focal point for its network of 192 member organisations. Through this presence, FIDH has an in-depth knowledge of the human rights protection mechanisms at the UN. This has enabled us to build a solid network of contacts with the international body, as well as with the diplomats in charge of negotiating the adoption of new mandates. Before the covid-19 pandemic, FIDH helped more than 60 human rights defenders each year connect with the right interlocutors in the UN human rights bodies.

UN human rights protection bodies seek to promote, assist, and protect human rights defenders. They also initiate investigations of violations that are being committed and monitor the development of violations over time. FIDH, thus, serves as an intermediary and guide for those who fight in the field for human rights protection, and provides a platform for effective interaction between its partners and the various UN bodies.

Since FIDH has consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council it can make the voice of its member organisations heard at the UN Human Rights Council. Hence the cause of the human rights defenders and the victims can be heard by the 47 Member States which are responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world.

Good arguments for protecting human rights

Why use advocacy? Because of its experience and location, the FIDH Geneva office helps human rights defenders, through its advocacy activity, develop the best arguments to make itself heard,. Advocacy enables FIDH to inform human rights protection bodies and diplomats about ongoing violations that FIDH is monitoring. Advocacy is also used to influence decisions being made by the Human Rights Council concerning specific countries, or subjects, as well as mandates and missions related to human rights.

How does one advocate? Advocacy is based on negotiations and informal meetings between NGO representatives who are physically present at their institutions (or online since the pandemic) and State representatives based in Geneva, creating a channel for the transmission of written arguments (letters to the States and the UN institutions, advocacy notes, position papers, reports). Advocacy also means speaking at briefings for UN experts, or before the UN Human Rights Council. This represents the core of the contact and advocacy work that FIDH carries out with experts and diplomats the world over.

Advocate to whom?
• To a political body
The Human Rights Council holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year and, since 2006, has had 47 Member States. The Council can order commissions of inquiry and documentation missions in the field, establish special investigative procedures on specific subjects or countries, query States about their human rights records, and make recommendations. The Council observes and evaluates the efforts of each of the Member States to respect the commitments to human rights made during the Universal Periodical Review (UPR).

• To the Treaty bodies
The treaty bodies are composed of 10 committees of independent experts who monitor how each State is implementing the 10 international human rights protection conventions it has ratified. Any one of them can visit detention centres to ensure that no one is being tortured. Unlike other human rights protection mechanisms, these conventions have the advantage of creating legal obligations for the States. Each State Party submits a report on how its obligations were discharged; treaty-based body experts analyse the reports using information provided by the NGOs and then ask the States about their records. A list of conclusions and recommendations are prepared for the State explaining how it should improve its human rights activities. This is a unique opportunity for local NGOs since independent experts analyse the human rights situation in their country.

• To the Special Procedures
The Special Procedures group is made up of human rights experts or independent groups—some 60 this time—who monitor a country or a special theme. They carry out field studies, question States about any violations they see and report to the Human Rights Council and/or the UN General Assembly. The NGOs and individual persons can submit information and ask these experts or independent groups to follow up; it is up to them to decide whether they will or will not do anything.

• During the Universal Periodical Review
The Human Rights Council also established a Universal Periodical Review, a mechanism that enables the Council to review each of the UN Member States. The Council’s Member States ask questions of the State under review and make recommendations on the basis of the report on the State, the conclusions of the Treaty Bodies, the Special Procedures and some NGO reports. The analyses made by the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures Group are legally more precise than the more political UPRs where diplomats from the participating States make the assessments. NGOs and civil society organisations can play a decisive role by submitting proof of violations, making recommendations and raising questions. The UPR has a reputation of lacking ambition, since the recommendations made are subject to the approval of the State being reviewed. In some cases, this is one of the only mechanisms available for bringing a national human rights issue to the attention of the international community.

• The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Both at the UN head office and in the field, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is a key person and provides an essential platform for advocacy. In Geneva, the Commissioner’s Office helps the Human Rights Council in promoting and protecting fundamental rights and freedoms by referring to the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international conventions on human rights and relevant resolutions adopted by UN bodies. The Commissioner’s Office also provides secretarial services, does research, issues publications and provides technical assistance. Furthermore, it collects and disseminates information and coordinates connections with NGOs and other stakeholders.

This year, 2021, the FIDH delegation in Geneva is focusing on the following countries: Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Mali, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Palestine, Russia, Sudan, Turkey and Venezuela. It will be monitoring the following subjects: the situation of human rights defenders, the development of human rights standards for businesses, recognition of the right to a healthy environment, and the impacts of climate change on human rights.

  • Human Rights Council

    The role of FIDH at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council

    Advocacy, resolutions, decisions, special rapporteurs: does this UN jargon sound complicated? Yet, it is an integral part of the international human rights system that was embodied in the United Nations since 2006 by the Human Rights Council, which held its 47th session starting 21 June 2021.

    Some sensitive issues will be discussed during this session, such as the repression of minorities in Myanmar, the endless crises in Belarus and Venezuela, and the consequences of the situation in Palestine. Civil society has a special opportunity to make its voice heard as the States try to defend some positions that are untenable. FIDH will be there to support its organisations on these matters and will advance the defence of human rights for us all.

    A terrific team

    During sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, you may come across government representatives armed with the best possible arguments to defend their government’s interests, which are contrary to human rights. They try at all costs to play down the bad publicity they would receive if the Human Rights Council adopted an extremely strong resolution against them. FIDH aims to ensure that parties responsible for human rights violations are held accountable, even if they are States themselves.

    To counter their arguments and make them accountable, FIDH has a permanent office in Geneva to work regularly on the very technical and often sensitive issues. The related documentation was obtained mainly from our member organisations and will be used as the basis for our advocacy to the States and the Human Rights Council. For example, for the 47th session, our investigators prepared an extremely precise file on the level of human rights violations in Myanmar after the junta overthrew the government this past 1st of February. There have been more than 800 summary executions and over 5,500 arbitrary arrests, as well as indiscriminate attacks against ethnic groups, without counting the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons as a result of the fighting. The crimes of the junta must be stopped, and FIDH is present at this session to appeal to the international community to continue its firm condemnation. We also need to ensure that a recommendation is made to the foreign companies to urge them to stop compromising with the regime, as they risk being accomplices.

    Clear messages and goals

    → Theoretically, the Universal Periodical Review on Myanmar should be adopted at the June session. This is supposed to be a sort of technical control on human rights that is imposed regularly on the 193 UN Member States. Since the coup d’État has been massively rejected by the Burmese people, and cannot be accepted by the community of States, we, together with 400 other civil society organisations, are recommending that the review process be postponed so as not to give legitimacy to the current regime which does not represent the people of Myanmar.

    → But we expect more results to come from the 47th session. In light of the obstinacy and the blind brutality of Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenka, who even hijacked a plane to arrest a blogger-opponent, and his companion, we are calling for the reinstatement of the position of Special Rapporteur on Belarus, originally created in 2012. This position could be used to continue informing the international community about human rights developments and preparing recommendations to the Belarusian government on respecting its people’s rights.

    → As for the context and the events that occurred in May 2021, FIDH is also calling upon the international community to recognise, at last, the apartheid that exists in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights. We are also asking the international community to support the Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders who, because of their criticisms, are being falsely accused of terrorism and antisemitism by the authorities in Jerusalem.

    → With regard to Venezuela, the international community should continue exercising the pressure needed to convince this country to stop its policy of repression against the civil society.

    → We are also stressing the need to introduce a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Egypt where tens of thousands of people are detained, without due process, and continue to waste away in prison, where torture is systematically used and where defenders and civil society are still being subjected to severe repression.

    → Regarding China, the civil society has strongly urged the international community to bring up the question of the situation in Xinjiang. FIDH is also pleading for foreign companies to break their economic ties in this region where their profits come from forced labour. Otherwise they will be contributing to potential crimes against humanity especially targeting the Uighurs and other minority groups and, as shown in a recent United Nations investigation, can even involve organ trafficking.

    → Climate change: this is a threat to humanity. Global warming is jeopardising the implementation of all human rights for the present and future generations. The effects of the climate crisis are growing steadily worse; the time has come for the UN Human Rights Council to take real steps to address and avoid further consequences on human rights. At the 47th session, therefore, we will be stressing the need to create the position of a special rapporteur on climate change and human rights.

    In March 2021—partly due to our advocacy—close to 57 States signed a petition calling for the creation of this rapporteur mechanism. We will do everything within our power to make this happen.

  • Security Council

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