Trade and Globalisation

Reports and papers

Visit to the 26th session of the Human Rights Council

08 Jul 2014 - 10:26

Wilbur Perlot, deputy director Clingendael Academy, had the opportunity to visit the 26th session of the Human Rights Council. For two days he followed the Dutch delegation and observed their activities.

Frantic Negotiations

A session of the Council lasts three, sometimes four, weeks. The Human Rights Council has  47 members. Only those members can vote or amend resolutions.  However, in the week leading up to the adoption of a resolution, other UN members, NGOs and UN agencies try to influence the decision making process. Next to the regular reports to the Council on the human rights situation of certain countries of concern , there are interactive dialogues focusing on human rights violations in for example Syria and thematic resolutions. All these documents lead to many frantic negotiations, informal consultations, strategy sessions, etc.

Whispered Chats

Although the plenary room is not the place to observe for the most important action, at any moment there are diplomats in the main room talking to one another; having whispered chats, while looking around, seemingly checking who might be listening in. These moments of interactions create a scene of secrecy. If you observe and pay attention well enough, it is possible to quite clearly see what for example an adversary is up to, to whom they are talking and what your next move should be.


The most important goal with any resolution is normally speaking to get it accepted by consensus by the 47 Council members with as many co-sponsors as possible, no amendments and no vote. Of course a text of a resolution should reflect desirable outcomes, but compromise making is inevitable. Otherwise the text itself is strong, but the manner of adoption is weak. If a Council member asks a vote on a resolution it can be adopted with a normal majority in favour of the text, the same is true for amendments. A resolution is tabled one week ahead of the adoption, after which changes to the text are only possible through amendments. Signing up for co-sponsorship is still allowed after tabling, however co-sponsors signing on to the resolution before tabling appear on the document itself,  which is considered of significance in the UN.

No go areas

It is one of the many informal rules during the process. Agreed language, coming from other UN resolutions, should preferably not be renegotiated. However, countries opposing such a resolution will do their utmost to undermine the outcome in other UN fora. Where possible, one should support like-minded countries, especially when negotiations get tough.Similarly, introducing amendments to a resolution of a like-minded country is a major no go and should only be used in emergency cases. Even making a statement of disappointment towards the resolution of a like-minded country is a heavy diplomatic weapon.

Regional interpretations

Some of the informal rules are regional specific. At some point the delegation of Eritrea reminded the delegation of Somalia that African countries do not submit resolutions about another country if that country is in disagreement with the contents of the resolution. The resolution under discussion was a resolution drafted by Somalia about the human rights situation in Eritrea, a resolution that was adopted and the only one to make news headlines in the Netherlands. During the exchange between the two delegations, some of the formal rules became apparent. Somalia organised a public informal consultation after tabling the resolution, which in itself is quite unusual. The goal of a consultation is to see where everyone stands as regards to the resolution and to negotiate specific passages with an aim to reach consensus and gain co-sponsors. An informal consultation normally last between 1 and 2 hours.   In this case Somalia had scheduled two sessions of an hour in two different rooms. Many delegations were discussing this with one another, assuming a mistake and doubting which one in the programme would actually take place. However, it was Eritrea who gave a whole different interpretation. While listing to the problems the country had with the resolution, most of these were procedural in nature. One of the issues was that Somalia had to organise two informal consultations and that two sessions after one another in different rooms would not count.

Context, jargon and procedures

For this kind of work it is good to have the procedures and content in order. It allows manoeuvrability and playing with the rules. Being able to quote a significant number of relevant UN resolutions works well in creating a position for the negotiations and making counterarguments more difficult. As in any negotiation, personal skills are an important factor in the process, but in the multilateral setting the context, the jargon and the procedures rule the day.

Skills training at Clingendael Academy

The observations will infuse the Clingendael Academy’s skills training on multilateral negotiations. Expect a few negotiation simulations to emerge from the visit, such as negotiating the resolution ‘protection of the family’ and a resolution on the violence against women. The next seminar of international negotiation is scheduled for 10 to 13 November. In the meantime, ten general tips to ponder and chew on:

  1. Cherish your victories;
  2. Strategize!; (and reach out to like minded countries/individuals that can lend support);
  3. Know the playing field;
  4. Don’t make it personal (and don’t read this sentence thinking ‘of course’. It happens to us all!);
  5. Keep an eye on the prize;
  6. Know the jargon;
  7. Play (by) the (informal) rules;
  8. Let the system work for you;
  10. Learn how to read lips