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The Social Forum of the Human Rights Council

The Social Forum is an annual three-day meeting convened by the Human Rights Council. It is defined as a unique space for open and interactive dialogue between civil society actors, representatives of Member States, and intergovernmental organizations, on a theme chosen by the Council each year.

Youth attend Peace Bell Ceremony / United Nations - New York © UN Photo / Paulo FilgueirasIn setting the theme and focus of discussion for each Forum, the Human Rights Council underlines the importance of coordinated efforts at national, regional and international levels for the promotion of social cohesion based on the principles of social justice, equity and solidarity as well as of addressing the social dimension and challenges of the on-going globalization process. The debates are steered by a Chairperson-Rapporteur, appointed every year by the Human Rights Council from candidates nominated by regional groups, who is responsible for leading the discussions.

The Social Forum is open to the participation of representatives of United Nations Member States and all other interested stakeholders including intergovernmental organizations, different components of the United Nations system, representatives of the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, and representatives of other non-governmental organizations, whose aims and purposes are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The Forum is also open to the participation of emerging actors, such as: small groups and rural and urban associations from the North and the South; anti-poverty groups; peasants’ and farmers’ organizations and their national and international associations; voluntary service organizations; youth associations; grassroots organizations, trade unions and associations of workers, among others.

History of the Social Forum

The idea of a Social Forum had been discussed since 1997 in response to concerns about the impact of globalization on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The forum was meant to serve as a new space in the United Nations system for the exchange of diverse views and concerns across  regions, professions and cultural backgrounds with a view to formulate new ideas and proposals for action to address global challenges in the context of human rights.

The Social Forum was originally an initiative of the former Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (the Sub-Commission) which was the main subsidiary body of the former Commission on Human Rights (resolution 2001/24). As a forum on economic, social and cultural rights, the initial meeting of the Social Forum was held in 2002 prior to the annual session of the Sub-Commission, and two-day meetings were held annually between 2004 and 2006 with the participation of ten members of the Sub-Commission taking into account regional representation.

After the Commission on Human Rights was replaced by the Human Rights Council in 2006, the latter decided to preserve the Social Forum (resolution A/HRC/6/13).

Since 2008, the Social Forum has focused on the following themes1:

  • Eradication of poverty and social dimension of the globalization process (2008)
  • Impacts of economic and financial crises on efforts to combat poverty (2009)
  • Adverse effects of climate change on human rights (2010)
  • Promotion of the right to development (2011)
  • People-centered development and globalization (2012)
  • The rights of older persons (2014)
  • Access to medicines in the context of the right to health (2015)

The 2016 Social Forum

Through its resolution 29/19 the Human Rights Council decided that the 2016 Meeting of the Social Forum “should focus on the promotion and full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities in the context of the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD.)”

The 2016 Social Forum will take place in Room XX of the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, from 3 to 5 October 2016. A detailed program of work is being developed with broad consultation among several organizations. All relevant documents including the programme of work will be posted on the website in due course.  

1. The Social Forum was not held in 2013.