Human Rights Council (c) ISSA:ELMA Okic.jpeg

Credit: © ISSA / Elma Okic
29 Febrero 2024

More than 300 organisations, among them RTE, have sent a joint letter to UN representatives, raising major concerns about access and participation of civil society organisations in UN spaces, following the decision to limit participation for UN human rights bodies and mechanisms to in-person only. 

Read the letter below.


The undersigned civil society organisations are writing to express our great concern regarding issues of access and participation at the UN Human Rights Council, Treaty Bodies and related mechanisms. We recall the letter signed by 40 civil society organisations on 23 June 2023 welcoming the agreement between the Secretary-General and the President of the Human Rights Council for the 17th cycle to maintain hybrid modalities of participation throughout 2023 and urging the competent bodies to create a mandate that would allow for the consolidation of said modalities.

We deeply regret, however, that the 5th Committee of the General Assembly and its relevant subsidiary bodies in New York failed to provide the required mandate and legislative framework upon which such modalities could have been permanently adopted for 2024. We regret further that, in the recent UPR 45th session, the United Nations Offices at Geneva (UNOG) did not provide modalities for live online participation, as it maintained that it has no mandate for providing hybrid services. Similarly, we are extremely concerned by the negative impact that these measures are having on the functioning of those Treaty Bodies that are currently in session or that will soon begin their sessions, as the online participation of numerous civil society representatives that were scheduled to interact with Treaty Bodies have been cancelled, while hybrid and online meetings are still allowed for States upon request.

We join States in Geneva in expressing our deep concern about the significant negative impact of the lack of provision for live online participation tools on the inclusivity and universality of all UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council, UPR and Treaty Bodies. Civil society organisations have long demanded effective means for remote participation, due to the glaring obstacles faced by rights holders and victims and survivors of violations, as well as people from marginalised and vulnerable communities, in accessing multilateral spaces, including, but not limited to, denial of visas, resource challenges, travel costs, environmental considerations, security concerns and accessibility for people with disabilities. 

For the past four years, the Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms in Geneva have set an excellent example for the UN-wide system and strengthened their work through live online interventions and pre-recorded videos, coupled with in-person interventions. These interventions have improved diversity and accessibility and brought defenders and victims of violations closer to the UN human rights system, in turn making the UN more relevant to rights holders. It is disheartening that we now face discontinuation of best practices rather than adoption across the UN mechanisms.

As illustrated by the High Commissioner’s landmark report A/HRC/51/13, ‘the recipe for effective crisis response and for trust and resilience is a more systematic investment in meaningful, safe and inclusive participation at all levels, coupled with effective measures to protect access to information and an enabling environment for debate as well as the security and holistic protection of those who speak up’.

Additionally, as we have emphasised on different occasions, Geneva is the central hub for human rights conferences at the UN level, and urgent action should be taken to mitigate its contributions to the climate crisis. While in-person meetings are necessary, the possibility of intervention through online participation allows the UN to align its practices with the urgency of reducing carbon emissions. With the HRC sessions getting longer, and the unmitigated planetary crisis, sustainability must be a priority. Ensuring modalities for remote participation also contributes to building greater engagement and ownership of norms and standards. 

The undersigned organisations respectfully urge you to:

  • Similarly to 2023, ensure that the necessary provisional arrangements are put in place to allow the UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms as well as the Treaty Bodies and other mechanisms, to continue to make live online participation available through Zoom, WebEx or other tools in all in-person meetings, both formal and informal, in all its sessions throughout 2024, until mandated otherwise, following the good practices consolidated during the business continuity scheme and the previous arrangements between the Council’s Presidency and the Secretary-General.

  • Ensure that UNOG and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have the budget and mandate to provide all stakeholders engaging with the UN human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, as well as the Treaty Bodies and other mechanisms, with the necessary channels to participate in meetings via  Zoom, WebEx or other relevant platforms.

  • Insofar as is necessary and appropriate, address these challenges with the 5th Committee and relevant subsidiary bodies to ensure that the framework and technical requirements for hybrid and virtual services are put in place permanently for the effective participation of all stakeholders, in particular the beneficiaries of the UN system, including human rights defenders, and civil society organisations.

See here for a full list of signatories.