The U.N. Human Rights Council
, an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of
47 States charged with responsibility for the promotion and protection of all human
rights around the globe, has had a history that in many respects mirrors that of the contentiousness of its charge. Just as human rights itself is a malleable subject, and one that can be embraced in contradictory ways, as well as used as a cover for all sorts of ideological and state power agendas, so has this intergovernmental organization found itself serving both the highest and loftiest goals over its history. That is not so much a criticism as it is an acknowledgement that agencies like the Human Rights Council can only reflect the collective wills and aspirations of the states (and increasingly important non-state stakeholders) whose collective character is etched into the UNHRC's organization and operation.
It is with that in mind that the "OHCHR Management Plan for 2014-2017
" recently released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights ought to be read. It provides an interesting blend of aspiration and acknowledgement of structural limitation. The most potentially contentious change appears to be a shift, perhaps modest, from the traditional emphasis on economic and social rights to civil and political rights
. This takes the form of a new emphasis on "widening the democratic space
" in states (Management Plan,
pp. 73- 83). creating It appears modest because it looks to target "public freedoms, human rights education and the work of human rights defenders and the media" (Management Plan
p. 7). Yet fundamental differences between the West and other states on the nature and character of these rights--and on the nature of "democratic space" will likely bog the UNHRC for some time, and may well threaten to continue to deepen the function of the UNCHR as an ideological space rather than an operational space for human rights principles.
This becomes apparent, for example, with the Management Plan's focus on the protection of human rights defenders in China (Management Plan, p. 219
). And yet, while the focus on China targets human rights defenders, that on Central Asia seeks to widen "the democratic space with a focus on: “public freedoms” (freedom of expression, assembly and association; and incitement to hatred) and human rights defenders" (Management Plan
. p. 252). For the United States, however, the focus remains on social and economic rights, and democratic space is understood in terms of its approach to counter terrorism powers. (Management Plan, p. 188
). These contextual shifts point either to the acceptance of a broad understanding of a contextually applied set of human rights norms, or an operationalization plan the mechanisms of which remain somewhat opaque. Universalist principles advocates will no doubt decry the unevenness.
Beyond the links provided for the Management Plan
, this post includes the Introduction (Ibid., pp. 5-7), and the thematic priorities
(with links) for each of the regions highlighted, all set out below. For Implementing at the Country Level HERE