WE EXPLAIN | What is the UN Human Rights Council?

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Что такое Совет ООН по правам человека?

View of the meeting room of the Human Rights Council at the UN building in Geneva WE EXPLAIN | What is the UN Human Rights Council? Human Rights

War crimes, discrimination, arbitrary detention and sexual violence are just some of the global issues addressed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

The next session of the Council began on Monday and will become the longest in its history. It will run until April with a packed agenda: the HRC will discuss the ongoing wars in Gaza, Sudan and Ukraine, as well as the situation of human rights defenders around the world and the human rights situation in more than 50 countries.

What does the Human Rights Council do and why is it needed?

The 47-member council has been the subject of controversy since its creation in 2006, particularly when the United States temporarily left it in 2018. However, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the critical role of the HRC in UN human rights work, which is so important to maintaining peace.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Что такое Совет ООН по правам человека?

Palais des Nations (photo from the archive).

To summarize the functions of the Council, this body, headquartered in Geneva, is a multilateral forum for the international community on all matters relating to human rights.

In addition to establishing fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry to investigate specific situations, Council members meet three times a year at the Palais des Nations in Switzerland to discuss a wide range of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights with UN officials, independent experts, representatives member states and civil society organizations.

How the HRC works in practice?

One of the innovative mechanisms Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review. It provides for reviewing the human rights situation in each of the 193 UN member states once every four years. This is a kind of human rights report card for countries.

The review process, based on the principle of cooperation and carried out by States under the auspices of the Council, provides an opportunity for each country to report on the implementation of international obligations, as well as the problems and measures that are needed to improve the human rights situation.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Что такое Совет ООН по правам человека?

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk (left) at the opening of the 54th session of the HRC with the President of the Council in 2023.

The Council also establishes panels to investigate abuses in specific countries and thematic areas, such as an expert mechanism to promote racial justice and equity in law enforcement.

The Council appoints independent experts, including special rapporteurs, who act in an individual capacity and do not receive any remuneration from the UN for their work.

How the HRC influences the global human rights situation?

Human rights have always been a very sensitive issue for UN member states.

The Council has the power to adopt resolutions, organize fact-finding missions, and create commissions to investigate violations. In particular, the Council may appoint independent experts on specific issues.

Thus, in 2023, the HRC appointed for the first time a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia.

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In the Council on Human Rights discussed the first report of the Special Rapporteur on Russia

In 2021, the Council recognized the right to a clean and safe environment as a human right.

HRO mechanisms allow serious violations to be identified and brought to the world stage for study, discussion and, where possible, action.

Who can participate in the activities of the Council?

Elections to the Council are held annually by secret ballot. Countries are elected for three-year terms on a rotating basis. There are a total of 47 seats in the HRC, distributed among five regional groups. The term of office of Council members expires on December 31 of a given year.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Что такое Совет ООН по правам человека?

Delegates to the UN General Assembly vote in elections to the HRC.

The election process for the HRC is placed directly in the hands of the General Assembly, the only UN body in which all 193 countries have equal votes. The geographical division into groups and the distribution of seats between them are intended to prevent disproportionate attention to certain regions.

Who is currently represented on the Council?

On October 10, 2023, the UN General Assembly elected Albania, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Malawi and the Netherlands to the HRC.

On January 1, these 15 newly elected countries began a three-year term of service in the Council.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia also remain members of the HRC , USA, France, Germany and other states.

What is happening in the Human Rights Council at the moment?

55th session of the HRC opened on Monday and will last until April 5. It will be attended by the UN Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, Dennis Francis, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, as well as senior officials of member states.

The session promises active discussions and efforts to address the world’s greatest human rights challenges.

The main thing you need to know:

  • On March 4, the High Commissioner will present his global report, which will focus on the human rights situation in various countries and regions.
  • During the session, delegates will discuss numerous thematic and country reports.
  • In particular, the topics of discussion will concern the situation in Ukraine and the violations caused by the Russian military invasion.
  • Also in the spotlight – Venezuela, Iran, Colombia and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.


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