Created in 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council has established a variety of mechanisms to support its mission of protecting and advancing human rights globally. However, critics and supporters alike have questioned its efficacy on the ground. With the dawn of the Arab Awakening, critical consideration of the Council’s contributions is now more vital than ever. As the Council’s 20th session wraps up with a full agenda covering Syria, Belarus, women’s rights and freedom of expression, it is time to re-assess what contribution the Council is making toward defending human rights at the national level where rights meet realities.
On July 11, the Managing Global Order project at Brookings and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs hosted a conversation on the UN Human Rights Council and its wider impact, especially the means by which events in Geneva translate into tangible action on the ground. Panelists include: Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, special representative of Switzerland to the Human Rights Council; Ambassador Mark Lagon, chair for international relations and security in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University; and Paula Schriefer, deputy assistant secretary for international organization affairs at the U.S. Department of State. They discussed how the Council, including its body of independent experts, supports human rights defenders in their daily struggle to protect human rights. Senior Fellow Ted Piccone, deputy director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, provided introductory comments focused on the key findings of his new book, Catalysts for Change: How the UN’s Independent Experts Promote Human Rights (Brookings, 2012).