Today the UN General Assembly elected Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine to the Human Rights Council (HRC) for the 2018-2020 term. With the election of Australia, Chile, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Qatar, 20 of the 47 Council members during 2018 will be members of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect.
Unfortunately, this year's HRC election saw 'clean slates' in four of the five regional groups: the Latin American and Caribbean Group, Eastern European Group, Western European and Others Group, and African Group. Clean slate elections threaten to undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the HRC as they do not encourage states to demonstrate their commitment to the highest standards of human rights and their full cooperation with all UN mechanisms. These are conditions set forth in UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 for all HRC members. Moreover, the fact that potential mass atrocity crimes are occurring in a number of current and newly elected HRC member states is particularly disturbing.
A strong and credible HRC can help uphold the international community's Responsibility to Protect. Mass atrocity crimes are often the culmination of sustained human rights violations and abuses. The Human Rights Council and its mechanisms - including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Special Procedures and treaty bodies, as well as the technical assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – all play an essential role in providing early warning of the risk factors that can lead to crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide.
Since 2008, the HRC has referred to states' responsibility to protect their populations in 22 thematic and country resolutions. But more work needs to be done to turn early warning into timely preventive action. In this regard, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect encourages all HRC members to:
• Improve the link between human rights and peace and security:
o Support the Swiss Appeal of 13 June 2016 to put human rights at the center of conflict prevention, by asking the Secretary-General to bring to the attention of the Security Council relevant decisions and reports by the Human Rights Council;
o Encourage the General Assembly to ensure information collected by Special Procedures and international investigative mechanisms is relayed to the Security Council in a timely manner;
o Promote a thematic dialogue on human rights and the prevention of mass atrocities.
• Make better use of the UPR to detect early signs of potential mass atrocity crimes:
o In preparation for your national report, consider what action your government has taken to implement R2P nationally.
o Use the UPR to ask relevant questions regarding the ratification and implementation of core prevention treaties, as well as regarding risk factors such as the use of hate speech and systematic violations and abuses of human rights;
o Where, through the UPR mechanism, an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes is detected, Council members should act in a timely manner, by holding a special session before these violations reach the level of mass atrocity crimes;
• Make use of the Irish Principles, which lay out independent and objective considerations to guide decisions on whether and when the HRC should respond to a country-specific situation.
The Global Centre has compiled profiles on each of the newly-elected Human Rights Council members. These provide a basic overview of their commitment to prevent mass atrocities by protecting and promoting human rights.