The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – based in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – is a committee that focuses on the political arena of human rights. UNHRC is focused on ensuring that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is promoted and applied to every person. The committee was established in 2006 and since then, the Human Rights Council has become the most important organ of the UN with regard to human rights.
While UNHCR is a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, it has various different subsidiary bodies of its own, which report to it in regular intervals. These subsidiary bodies include the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, the Advisory Committee, and the Complaint Procedure. Furthermore, the United Nations Human Rights Council also works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which is crucial in promoting and protecting human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a key component of the Council, consisting of a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. UPR is based on reports coming from different sources, one of them being contributions from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Although it was created just a few years ago in 2006 (by General Assembly Resolution 60/251), it has already increased transparency and has had a marked effect on member states of the United Nations, as their human rights records are visible to other member states and NGOs.
UNHRC has addressed different conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian one, and also addresses rights-related situations in countries such as in Burma, Guinea, North Korea, Côte d’Ivoire, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Libya, Iran, and Sri Lanka. The UNHRC also addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, Women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities. Since the goal of the UNHRC is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, to address situations of human rights violations, and to make recommendations, it becomes clear why the Human Rights Council works closely with other relevant bodies focused on similar issues. This includes non-governmental organizations focused on human rights, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on issues of human rights violations against refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund on issues surrounding violations of UDHR applying to children, and others as applicable in certain situations, such as the UN Development Program with regard to some of the Millennium Development Goals.
UNHRC has the jurisdiction to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention, which is why is can work so closely with other United Nations bodies. The committee’s main focus is to support member states in complying with their human rights obligations as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through dialogue, technical assistance, and capacity building measures. It is also responsible for making recommendations for the development of international law in the field of human rights at the General Assembly. Generally speaking, UNHRC is guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, which allow it to help all people, regardless of nationality, religion, gender, orientation, or other bases for discrimination. Since its foundation, the Human Rights Council has faced numerous challenges. The mandate to monior human rights in member countries around the world remains a difficult task. Moreover, UNHRC continues to face the same criticisms that plagued its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. Bloc voting, loose membership standards, and bias against Israel are keeping the council from living up to expectations as a responsible watchdog over global human rights norms.
1. Civil and Political Rights of Economic Migrants
2. Strategies for Reforming the UN Human Rights Council