United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – Members & Headquarters

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The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a significant international body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights globally. It is an essential topic for the UPSC examination, as it addresses various aspects related to human rights, international cooperation, and diplomacy.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the UNHRC, its structure, functions, and India’s involvement in the council. Understanding the UNHRC is crucial for UPSC aspirants to stay updated with current affairs and international relations.

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an intergovernmental body dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights globally. Here are some important points on UNHRC:

  • The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an intergovernmental body.
  • It was established in 2006 as a successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
  • The UNHRC consists of 47 member states.
  • Its headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The council’s primary mandate is to promote and protect human rights globally.
  • The UNHRC engages with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and special procedures.
  • Members of the UNHRC serve for a period of 3 years.
  • It has subsidiary bodies, including the Universal Periodic Review Working Group and the Advisory Committee.
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Establishment of UNHRC

The UNHRC was established through a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on March 15, 2006. This resolution aimed to create a new human rights body that would be more credible, efficient, and representative than the previous Commission on Human Rights. The UNHRC officially began its operations on June 19, 2006.

Headquarters of UNHRC

The headquarters of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is located in Geneva, Switzerland.

Objectives of the United Nations Human Rights Council

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The main objectives of the UNHRC are to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and ensure the promotion and protection of human rights globally. The council addresses a wide range of human rights issues, including but not limited to:

  • Upholding freedom of assembly
  • Promoting freedom of expression and free speech
  • Protecting freedom of religion
  • Ensuring the protection of women’s rights
  • Advocating for the rights of the LGBT community and racial/ethnic minorities

The UNHRC was indeed established under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights. One of the reasons for this change was the criticism that the Commission faced due to the inclusion of member states with poor human rights records.

In addition, the UNHRC works in coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The OHCHR provides support and expertise to the council, helping to facilitate its work, conducting research and analysis, and assisting in the implementation of human rights programs and initiatives.

Membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

The UNHRC consists of 47 members who are elected by the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Here are the key details regarding the membership:

Election: The members of the UNHRC are elected by the UNGA. The election takes place for a period of three years, and members are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

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Regional Distribution: The 47 seats in the UNHRC are distributed among the United Nations regional groups as follows:

  • Africa: 13 seats
  • Asia: 13 seats
  • Eastern Europe: 6 seats
  • Latin America: 8 seats
  • Caribbean: 8 seats
  • Western Europe: 7 seats
  • Other Groups: 7 seats

Suspension of Membership: The UNGA has the power to suspend the rights of any UNHRC member if it is found to have persistently committed human rights violations during its tenure. The suspension can be enacted with a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly.

Sessions

The UNHRC holds regular sessions during the months of March, June, and September. These sessions provide a platform for member states to engage in discussions, adopt resolutions, and address human rights issues.

Additionally, special sessions can be convened at any time if deemed necessary by the council or upon the request of member states. Several special sessions have been held since their inception.

Structure of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

1. Bureau of Council

The Bureau consists of the President and four Vice Presidents, representing different regional groups. They assist the President in coordinating the work of the UNHRC, organizing sessions, and ensuring the smooth functioning of the council.

2. President

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The UNHRC is led by a President who is elected by the member states for a one-year term. The President plays a crucial role in facilitating the work of the council, presiding over sessions, representing the council in official capacities, and coordinating with various stakeholders.

Václav Bálek is the current president of the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2023.

3. Subsidiary Bodies

To support its work, the UNHRC has established subsidiary bodies that directly report to the council. These bodies include:

Universal Periodic Review Working Group: This group monitors the progress review of all 193 UN member states. It relies on reports from various sources, including contributions from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Each nation’s human rights situation is examined during a three-and-a-half-hour debate.

Advisory Committee: Created in September 2007, the Advisory Committee provides expert advice on various human rights issues. It is composed of representatives from different regions, including

  • Africa – 5
  • Asia – 5
  • Latin America and the Caribbean – 3
  • Western Europe – 3
  • Eastern Europe – 2
RegionMember Nations
AfricaCôte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Malawi, Senegal
Asia-PacificChina, Nepal, Pakistan, Uzbekistan
Eastern EuropeRussia, Ukraine
Latin America and CaribbeanBolivia, Cuba, Mexico
Western EuropeFrance, United Kingdom

Complaints Procedure: Established on June 18, 2007, the Complaints Procedure facilitates the reporting of consistent and reliable human rights violations and other fundamental freedoms worldwide. It comprises two working groups:

  • Working Group on Communications (WGC): The WGC consists of five experts designated by the Advisory Committee from its members, with representation from each regional group. Serving for a period of three years, these experts determine whether a complaint merits investigation.
  • Working Group on Situations (WGS): Once the WGC decides that a human rights complaint requires investigation, it is passed to the WGS. The WGS meets twice a year to examine the responses of concerned states and situations already before the UNHRC under the complaint procedure.

Functions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

The UNHRC serves various functions aimed at promoting and protecting human rights globally. Here are some additional functions of the UNHRC:

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Engaging Countries on Human Rights Improvement: Members of the council work to engage countries and encourage them to improve their human rights records. Through dialogue, discussions, and cooperation, the council strives to create awareness and foster positive change in human rights practices.

Making Decisions on Human Rights Violations: The UNHRC has the authority to make decisions on a range of actions in response to human rights violations. These decisions can include exposing and documenting violations, as well as recommending that the UN Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further investigation and prosecution.

Exerting Pressure on Violating Countries: While the UNHRC does not have direct enforcement authority, it can exert significant pressure on countries that violate human rights. Through public scrutiny, condemnations, and diplomatic efforts, the council aims to hold violating countries accountable and encourage them to rectify their human rights practices.

Establishing Special Rapporteurs: The UNHRC can establish special rapporteurs with specific mandates to investigate and report on human rights violations and abuses in particular areas or countries. These rapporteurs play a vital role in gathering information, conducting research, and raising awareness about human rights issues.

Collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: The UNHRC works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to support and promote human rights globally. This collaboration ensures a coordinated approach to address human rights concerns and facilitates the implementation of human rights standards and mechanisms.

Engagement with Special Procedures: The UNHRC engages with the United Nations’ special procedures, which are independent experts appointed to monitor and report on specific human rights issues or country situations. This engagement enhances the council’s ability to gather information, assess human rights conditions, and make informed decisions.

Suspension of Council Members: The General Assembly has the authority to suspend the rights and privileges of any UNHRC member that persistently commits gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. The suspension process requires a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly.

Also Read: Arctic Council

Criticism

Here are some points of criticism regarding the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC):

  • Selective focus on certain countries.
  • Membership includes countries with poor human rights records.
  • Weak enforcement mechanisms.
  • Politicization and polarization.
  • Ineffectiveness in addressing grave human rights abuses.
  • Lack of accurate regional representation.
  • Perception of double standards.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, while the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) plays a crucial role in promoting and protecting human rights globally, it faces significant criticisms.

These include selective focus, membership composition, weak enforcement mechanisms, politicization, ineffectiveness in addressing grave abuses, lack of regional representation, and perceptions of double standards. Addressing these concerns is essential to enhance the council’s credibility and effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate of safeguarding human rights worldwide.

Thank You!

Where is the headquarters of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)?

The headquarters of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is located in Geneva, Switzerland.

When was the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) established?

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was established on March 15, 2006.

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Vikramjit Singh, founder of Newscoop, an esteemed UPSC educational website, helps aspirants prepare for UPSC CSE with 5 years of experience, offering a deep understanding of crucial concepts.

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