Established by General Assembly resolution 60/251, the Human Rights Council is the principal United Nations intergovernmental body responsible for human rights. It replaced and assumed most mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities previously entrusted to the Commission on Human Rights.
Transition from Commission on Human Rights to Human Rights Council
Created to be the UN’s principal organ for the promotion of human rights, the Human Rights Commission had a prime role in establishing the norms for the protection of human rights and in putting in place the mechanisms for monitoring their implementation. Nevertheless, because of numerous obstacles due mainly to its intergovernmental, and therefore political, nature, it became more and more strongly criticised, not only by NGOs but by certain States.
In adopting resolution A/RES/60/251, on 15 March 2006, the UN General Assembly decided by a large majority to replace the Human Rights Commission by the Human Rights Council. The aim is to make the mechanism for protecting human rights more effective, closer to the victims, and to reduce the risks of political manipulation.
The Human Rights Council
Membership of the Council consists of 47 States (13 members from the African Group, 13 from the Asian Group, 6 from the Eastern European Group, 8 members from the Latin American and Caribbean Group, and 7 members from the Western and Others Group) elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly. The human rights records and voluntary human rights pledges and commitments of candidate States are to be taken into account when electing member States. The Council’s member States serve for three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.
The Council meets in Geneva for at least ten weeks, currently distributed over three regular sessions per year in March, June and September. Special sessions can also be called, at short notice, at the request of a member of the Council with the support of at least a third of the Council’s members.
Members of the Council and observers – states, specialised agencies, other intergovernmental organisations and national human rights institutions, as well as NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC – can attend and contribute to both regular and special sessions as well as to the Council’s subsidiary bodies.
Mandates and mechanisms
The universal periodic review
The universal periodic review (UPR) is a new human rights mechanism. Through it the Council periodically reviews the fulfilment by each of the United Nations 192 Member States of its human rights obligations and commitments. The UPR is a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue with the State under review.
“Special procedures” is the general name given to the mechanisms established by the former Commission and assumed by the Council to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories (country mandates), or on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide (thematic mandates).
The complaint procedure
The complaint procedure is based on communications received from individuals, groups or organizations that claim to be victims of human rights violations or that have direct, reliable knowledge of such violations. It is based on the former Commission’s 1503 procedure
Two distinct working groups—the Working Group on Communications and the Working Group on Situations—are responsible, respectively, for examining communications and bringing consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms to the Council’s attention.
Review of the Human Rights Council
Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, the Human Rights Council is to review its work and functioning five years after it has come into existence.
Background documents :