You are here: New UNA-UK report urges UK leadership in bolstering the Human Rights Council

11 April 2017

As the UK prepares to be scrutinised on its human rights record by up to 192 member states, UNA-UK is urging the Government to lead by example in strengthening the most neglected of the UN's three pillars - the human rights system.

The UK's welcome re-election to the Human Rights Council gives us a voice in the global debate on human rights, but it also gives us a duty to put that to good use

Produced in collaboration with the Universal Rights Group (URG), UNA-UK's new report, Leading by example: Practical proposals for UK action to bolster the UN human rights pillar, highlights lessons learned from a high-level roundtable discussion hosted in London on 22 November 2016. The event brought together human rights experts from academia, the United Nations, the UK Government and civil society.

The report contains over 30 practical recommendations for UK action to improve the effectiveness of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). It also examines the capacity - and, indeed, the legitimacy - of the United Kingdom to exercise leadership on reform. These recommendations are designed to strengthen the hand of the United Kingdom – a permanent member of the Security Council and a voting member of the HRC – in ensuring that the UN human rights pillar is sufficiently equipped to respond to the challenges facing the international community.

This new report comes at a critical time, with the UK due to undertake its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the HRC on 4 May. This peer-review process takes place every four years, and will see the UK's human rights record scrutinised by other UN member states. 

Over recent months, UNA-UK has fought to ensure that the UK sets a positive example at the forthcoming review, for example by increasing parliamentary scrutiny of the process through a recent meeting of the UN All-Party Parliamentary Group.

If there is no change in the third cycle of the UPR, there is a chance that it may go down in history as something that was nice, but that was never really implemented, and that is very serious

Leading by example?

While the UK has been a principle advocate for human rights around the world, the report highlights areas where the UK's behaviour at home fails to match up with its actions abroad. Poor handling of visits by UN human rights experts ('Special Rapporteurs') and damaging UK rhetoric on human rights protections by Government Ministers have exacerbated these concerns.

UNA-UK believes that such inconsistencies undermine both the UK's leadership on the Council and the credibility of the HRC as a whole. Further efforts by the UK to not only initiate structural reform of the HRC, but to 'lead by example' in its engagement with Council mechanisms such as the UPR would comprise a valuable step towards improving implementation of human rights law.

The report has been circulated within the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Justice, as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. 

You can review the full list of recommendations and contributors in the report.

To request a hard copy, please contact Natalie Saad on


Photo: 'The Broken Chair' sculpture outside the UN Office in Geneva. Credit: Rumplstiltskin1