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Ireland and the Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council

Established in 2006, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. It meets in Geneva. The Council is composed of forty-seven States elected for staggered three-year terms by the UN General Assembly. The Council is mandated, among other things, to:

  • Address violations of human rights and human rights emergencies
  • Make recommendations to the UN General Assembly in relation to international human rights law
  • Promote the full implementation of human rights obligations undertaken by States
  • Undertake a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the fulfilment by each of the 193 UN Member States of its human rights obligations.

The HRC meets in three main sessions per year for a total duration of at least ten weeks. These regular sessions take place in March, June and September. In addition, a special session can be convened at any time to address human rights violations and emergencies if one third of the Member States requests this. Most recently, the HRC held special sessions on the human rights implications of the ongoing situation in the Sudan in November 2021, on the serious human rights concerns and situation in Afghanistan in August 2021, on the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem in May 2021 and on the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar in February 2021.

Ireland’s Engagement at the UN Human Rights Council

Our focus

Ireland has been an active participant in the Council’s work since its establishment. Among the issues prioritised by us are:

  • the human rights situation in individual countries;
  • freedom of expression, in particular as it relates to the use of the internet and other networked technologies;
  • freedom of religion or belief;
  • violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • the protection of human rights defenders;
  • creating and maintaining space for civil society; and,
  • human rights and climate change.

In November 2012, Ireland was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for a three-year term, which began on 1 January 2013. The election was the result of extensive diplomatic efforts at the United Nations in New York and in capitals across the world and recognition of Ireland's good standing in the area of international human rights advocacy.

Ireland’s three-year membership of the UN Human Rights Council came to an end on 31 December 2015. While a member of the Council, Ireland focused on the human rights situation in individual countries, as well as a number of thematic priorities such as ensuring the rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex) persons, the rights of the child, protection of human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief and internet freedom.

During our membership, Ireland also led two national initiatives at the Council: the first on the promotion and protection of civil society space and the second on preventable morbidity and mortality of children under five. Advancing these initiatives was chief amongst Ireland’s priorities as a member of the Council.

Ireland continues to engage in work at the Council as an observer State, including in relation to these two initiatives.

Irish National Initiatives

Civil society space

In 2013, 2014 and 2021, Ireland led the drafting and negotiations on three resolutions on civil society space. Civil society actors have come under increasing pressure in many parts of the world in recent years. In some countries, dialogue with civil society remains limited and the space for civil society engagement is narrow or shrinking. Restrictive legislation and repressive practices in some countries have led to stigmatisation, harassment, and even criminalisation of civil society actors.

The 2013 resolution provided for a panel discussion to be held during the March 2014 session of the Human Rights Council on the challenges facing States in their efforts to ensure space for civil society, and lessons learnt and good practices in this regard.

The 2014 resolution affirms the important role of civil society, identifies and reaffirms the key fundamental freedoms which facilitate civil society actors and activities, and requests the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a compilation of practical recommendations for the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society, based on good practices and lessons learned.

Most recently, the 2021 resolution highlights the essential role civil society plays in the Covid-19 response and recovery. The resolution also draws attention to the growing challenges facing civil society, which have been compounded by the pandemic. The resolution mandates the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report that examines in detail the key challenges identified by civil society as impeding their activities, and provides recommendations to address these which will be delivered to the Council in 2022. An inclusive approach will be taken to the preparation of the report, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, in particular civil society.
Ireland continues to lead this initiative as part of a cross-regional core group.

Combating preventable morbidity and mortality of children under 5 years of age

As part of our commitment to ensuring that our human rights priorities and development programme are mutually reinforcing, Ireland has also presented resolutions on preventable morbidity and mortality of children under five. 6.6 million children under the age of five die each year, mainly from preventable and treatable causes.

The first such resolution was adopted by consensus on 26 September 2013 and focused on how the Council can act in elaborating a human rights based approach to this issue and support the engagement of the human rights community in efforts to strengthen accountability for children’s health. As a result of the adoption of this resolution, technical guidance was elaborated by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in consultation with the World Health Organization, grounded in human rights principles, to help governments and other actors to design policies and programmes to reduce and eliminate under-five mortality.

At the 27th session of the HRC in September 2014, the OHCHR held a launch of the technical guidance on preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five. Ireland, along with a cross-regional group, ran a follow-up resolution at the 27th session of the HRC to secure endorsement of the guidance by the Council and to encourage States to apply it. Ireland will continue to lead this initiative as part of the cross-regional core group.