Resolution process of the Human Rights Council: a bird’s eye view
The journey of a proposal to an outcome
1 Mar 2023

The Human Rights Council (HRC) considers three types of proposals at the end of its sessions: draft resolutions, draft decisions and draft President’s statements (PRSTs), which represent the main outcome of a session. Resolutions concern substantive human rights matters, either thematic or country-specific. Decisions are generally reserved for procedural matters. President’s statements are formally presented by the President on behalf of the entire HRC membership and could address human rights issues, or question procedures/working methods. PRSTs require unanimity, whereas resolutions or decisions can be adopted by consensus or vote.

A draft resolution is born

The resolutions-making process is the prerogative of states. All resolutions usually originate from human rights concerns or with a view to putting the spotlight on and advancing particular human rights issues. Draft proposals (resolutions and decisions) may be put forward by both member and observer states of the HRC, either a single state or a core group of states commonly known as “main sponsor(s).” Draft proposals are born after many consultations and research by main sponsors, leading to a first version known as “zero draft” – a work in progress version that will change as informal consultations and negotiations with other states on the text advance.

Negotiating the text of a draft resolution: from “zero draft” to draft resolution for tabling

Before the formal submission (tabling) of the draft resolution to the HRC for its consideration, main sponsor(s) consult with other states on the draft text during informal consultations (known also as “informals”). Informals allow the main sponsor(s) to present the text and its rationale, clarify concepts or language and identify any contentious issues and serious disagreement on the text. This process anticipates any possible amendments or voting patterns. For other states this is an opportunity to influence the text based on their national positions. 

Main sponsor(s) will produce revised versions, incorporating substantive comments received. Comments may also be sought by the main sponsors from UN entities, such as OHCHR and NGOs. At least one public informal open-ended consultation on a draft proposal is required before it is considered for action by the HRC. 

Formal submission of draft resolutions to the Council for consideration

Formal submission (tabling) of draft resolutions is subject to strict technical requirements (including having a title and indicating the agenda item under which they are submitted). Main sponsor(s) must first initiate and submit their draft resolution for the HRC’s consideration through the e-deleGATE platform. The e-deleGATE platform proved to be an imperative tool, inter alia, for the HRC’s business continuity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The deadline for tabling of draft resolutions is usually in the penultimate week of the regular session. Once tabled, the draft resolution is registered by the Secretariat, assigned an “L” number, formatted, sent for editing and then translation in UN languages. 

Main sponsors and all those delegations that have co-sponsored the draft resolution through e-deleGATE before the tabling deadline, are considered original co-sponsors and will appear on the first page of the officially issued draft resolution (the “L” document). All other states co-sponsoring after this deadline, and until two weeks after the adoption of the draft resolution, will be considered additional co-sponsors. 

Revisions and amendments

After tabling, draft resolutions may be subject to changes either by way of revisions (changes made by the main sponsor(s)) or amendments (changes proposed by other delegations and not acceptable to the main sponsor(s), also known as “hostile” amendments). Written revisions and written amendments must be formally submitted prior to a set deadline. Past that deadline, all revisions or amendments will have to be made orally during the consideration of the draft resolution. 

Amendments are sometimes withdrawn after main sponsors take on board some of the proposed changes or reach a compromise language with the submitter of the amendments and revise their text accordingly. The outstanding amendments that are considered by the HRC are then voted upon and are often rejected, with a few rare exceptions.

From draft to adopted resolution

Voting is a HRC members’ process only. Observer states may only intervene to introduce draft resolutions as main sponsors or speak as a country concerned in a country-specific draft resolution. Draft resolutions are normally considered in the numerical order of the agenda items and within each item, in the chronological order of their submission. Main sponsor(s) may, for various reasons, decide to withdraw their draft resolution and can do so at any time before the HRC begins voting on them.

Resolutions are either adopted by consensus or by a recorded vote, or rejected by a recorded vote. Normally, the HRC votes using the electronic voting system of Room XX in Palais des Nations. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the HRC had to quickly adapt to the new realities of virtual sessions and urgently identify an online voting system that would comply with its rules of procedure.

Resolutions are adopted by a (simple) majority of its members, who are present and voting. With very few exceptions, draft resolutions are rarely defeated. The first time the HRC rejected a resolution was in 2021. Once action on a draft resolution is completed, the HRC will proceed with consideration of the next draft proposal. This is done in chronological order of L. documents under a specific agenda item. 

* Meena Ramkaun and Lilian Durnescu are Human Rights Officers at the Human Rights Council Branch, OHCHR.
Read more articles about FOCUS ON