Human Rights Council
last updated 29 May 2013
The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the world. The Council was created on 15 March 2006, through the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 (replacing the UN Commission on Human Rights). The Council is comprised of 47 Member States, elected by the General Assembly, and is accountable to all members of the United Nations.
The Council is responsible for addressing human rights violations, including gross and systematic violations, without distinction of any kind, and promoting the effective coordination of human rights within the UN system. Specifically, the Council is tasked with the promoting human rights education and learning, working with governmental bodies and civil society, responding to human rights emergencies, and conducting universal periodic reviews of all Member States to assess fulfillment of human rights obligations and commitments.
The Council is informed by its Advisory Committee—a “think tank” which provides expertise and advice on thematic issues—and UN Special Procedures, which conduct thematic or country-specific investigation (includes special rapporteurs and representatives, independent experts, and working groups which monitor and report on human rights violations). In addition, the Council accepts complaints of human rights violations brought by individuals or organizations. Two subcommittees are responsible for handling complaints. The Working Group on Communications assesses the admissibility and merit of the communications and the Working Group on Situations evaluates those communications deemed admissible for patterns of gross and reliably attested violations, which it presents to the Council with recommendations for action. The complaint procedure replaced the 1503 Procedure of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. While the complaint procedure remains confidential, it was modified to ensure impartiality, objectivity, efficiency, and that focus is placed on the victims.
Membership on the Council is determined based on a quota system to ensure equitable geographical representation. Membership includes thirteen African states, thirteen Asian states, six Eastern European states, eight Latin American and Caribbean states, and seven Western European and other states. Council members serve three year terms with the option for reelection (members are not eligible for immediate reelection following service of two consecutive terms). If a Member State of the Council has committed “gross and systematic violations of human rights,” its membership can be terminated by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly.
As observers of human rights violations, NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) play an important role in the work of the Council. NGOs with ECOSOC consultative status have the opportunity to participate in Council sessions and all NHRIs and NGOs can contribute written submissions to support the universal periodic review of Member States.