4. “Constructive international dialogue”

Origins and use:

This is another seemingly innocuous concept that is open to a wide range of interpretations. China referred to this concept in its UN Human Rights Council resolution on “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights”, which was again passed in 2021 and reaffirmed that the Council’s work should be guided by the principles of “universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation”.


Implications for human rights:

Credible cooperation and dialogue on human rights require that all actors – not only states but also civil society organizations, human rights defenders, journalists and affected communities – can engage with international human rights mechanisms openly and honestly, without hindrance or fear of reprisals. Addressing, responding to, and contributing to accountability for human rights violations and abuses are a key part of the mandate of the UN Human Rights Council.

Without an international community willing to name, shame and impose penalties on states for violating the rights of people under their control, it would be virtually impossible to hold governments to account for human rights abuses such as those we see in Colombia, Ethiopia, Hungary, Russia, Myanmar, Syria and elsewhere. Instead, the victims of abuses by state forces or large corporations would be forced to pin their hopes on “constructive international dialogue and cooperation” to either end or resolve their plight.

The voices of civil society would be sidelined or silenced for not being “constructive”, and the United Nations would find it even harder to support and defend the voices of its own human rights experts and processes when a powerful member state is under review.