As part of a project to raise the profile of international debates on human rights, Dr. Silke Voß-Kyeck discussed the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva – its work and history as well as current focuses – in an informative online talk with Sarah Kohrt from the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation on July 28. Voß-Kyeck earned a doctorate in political science and worked at Amnesty International Deutschland for many years before becoming the HRC reporter for our umbrella organization Forum Menschenrechte* in 2019, or simply “our woman in Geneva”.
Civil society plays an important role
The HRC was established in its current form in 2006, and has 47 member states. It meets for a total of ten weeks a year, but can also convene for special sessions on pressing issues and developments. Germany is one of the current members, coinciding with its membership in the UN Security Council. Since 2006, members have been elected for a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms in order to prevent long-term entrenched structures. More than 5,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world have consultative status at the HRC, which enables them to make brief presentations in the round assembly hall, submit statements, and organize side events in the complex of buildings that used to house the League of Nations in Geneva – events which right now may only be held online.
LSVD has consultative status
The Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) is one of the NGOs with this consultative status. It submits statements and has taken the opportunity to attend sessions and speak up. Other human rights organizations from Germany that do so as part of alliances or via international networks include Amnesty, FIAN, Human Rights Watch, Terre des Hommes, Brot für die Welt, and Forum Menschenrechte.
Voß-Kyeck emphasized that this participation by civil society is unique among UN bodies. It is based on resolution 1996/31 by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and implemented in principle by the new HRC in 2006. Resolution 1996/31 describes in detail how organizations can receive consultative status, an admittedly complex and comprehensive procedure which the LSVD successfully completed in 2006. Patience pays off.
Voß-Kyeck showed a photo of Nasredeen Abdelbari, who came to the HRC in autumn 2019 shortly after his appointment as Sudan’s Minister of Justice. She noted that this was not Abdelbari’s first time at the HRC, because he had attended a session years earlier as a representative of civil society. Voß-Kyeck also discussed a number of recent events, including a side event a side event on discrimination against intersex persons in all spheres of life including sports, co-organized by, co-organized by ILGA, OII, and GATE and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of South Africa and Austria.
Knowing adversaries, forging alliances
NGOs are advised to carefully study which states might be potential partners. They should examine states’ voting records and their domestic laws and regulations before approaching them for joint projects. Some states have spoken out against LGBTI concerns, formed blocks at the HRC, and championed “traditional values” over universal human rights in an effort to reinterpret the concept of human rights. They include Russia, Egypt, Pakistan and China. Although the Vatican is not a member of the HRC, it always finds ways to exert pressure regarding LGBTI concerns. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World), based in Geneva is a recommended civil society partner for LGBTI topics, as is Human Rights Watch, and also the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) which receives funding from Brot für die Welt and the German Foreign Office.
Universal Periodic Reviews
Of special significance is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process which all states have to undergo on a regular basis. The next UPR for Germany is scheduled for 2023. The process is a very important development that was introduced in 2006 and has been quite effective. For example, the UPR process in Germany was a factor in the country’s decision to adopt a third category of gender identity.
George Floyd’s death discussed at the HRC
Following the death of George Floyd in late May, the HRC held an urgent debate on racism in the USA. The prospect of holding a debate was strenuously opposed by the USA, which wanted to prevent discussion and any resolution on the subject. The EU and Germany were also reluctant to censure the USA. Civil society networks, however, did their utmost to support the event. The debate then did take place, and a resolution was passed in which the USA was not named but George Floyd was. These are not legally binding resolutions, but rather political recommendations. They encourage states to address the issues, and civil society can use them to pressure governments to take concrete steps.
Relevance for Germany
This urgent debate was also attended by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her office will produce a report on the topic which itself will be the subject of discussion and therefore keep the issue on the agenda. As Voß-Kyeck emphasized, all states are called upon to address racist attitudes in their police forces and justice systems. The resolution is also relevant for Germany, where a discussion on the police and racial profiling is underway. Here, too, we see that patience pays off.
Because of the coronavirus restrictions Voß-Kyeck has not been at the URC in person for several months but has participated in many online events. In autumn she plans to return to Geneva, but that of course depends on the further course of the pandemic.
Klaus Jetz, Executive Director, LSVD
Find all blog-articles relating to this project tagged with HR-2020
- Urgent debate on the current protests on racially inspired human rights violations 43rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council
- Document „The promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against police brutality and other violations of human rights”
- OHCHR and LGBTI Combatting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
- ILGA World´s engagement at the HRC (ILGA=the international lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex association): LGBTI-Human Rights at Geneva, 30 June — 20 July 2020
*Forum Menschenrechte (FMR) is a network of 53 (2019) German non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are committed to better and more comprehensive protection of human rights – worldwide, in specific regions of the world, within countries and also within the Federal Republic of Germany. The FMR was established in 1994 following the World Conference on Human Rights Conference in Vienna.