Background

Inaugural Meeting of Human Rights Council Opens in Switzerland

Inaugural Meeting of Human Rights Council Opens in Switzerland

© UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre


The Human Rights Council is the principal human rights political body of the United Nations.  It was created by the UN General Assembly (GA) in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. The Council's mandate is to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide.

Membership of the Council

The Council is composed of 47 elected Member 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.
 
Find out more information on the current members of the Council

For more information on this year's election, check Amnesty International's Human Rights Council Elections page

How does the Council work?

The Council is responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the right to development - for all.

Its main tasks are to:

  • Address situations of violations of human rights and make recommendations to states;
  • Review the fulfilment by each state of its human rights obligations and commitments through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR);
  • Contribute to the prevention of human rights violations through dialogue and cooperation;
  • Serve as a forum for dialogue on thematic human rights issues;
  • Develop new human rights standards;
  • Promote the mainstreaming of human rights and a gender perspective within the UN system.


To accomplish these tasks, the Council relies on different tools and mechanisms:

  • The UPR: a mechanism by which a Working Group of the Council regularly reviews the fulfilment by all UN member states of their human rights obligations and commitments;
  • The Special Procedures: independent human rights experts mandated to monitor a particular country or thematic issue;
  • Working Groups, e.g. on particular matters such as the Working Group on the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • The Advisory Committee, composed of 18 elected experts, that functions as a think-tank for the Council on human rights issues;


A confidential complaint procedure that allows individuals and organisations to bring complaints about a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights to the attention of the Council.

The Council can act in different ways, such as to:

  • Request the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Advisory Committee or Special Procedures to undertake a study on a specific issue;
  • Adopt resolutions and decisions on themes and countries to express concern at a particular human rights situation or to call on a government and/or UN bodies to take action to protect human rights;
  • Dispatch a fact-finding mission to report back to the Council for consideration and action;
  • Consider reports and recommendations on specific countries or issues, e.g. from the Special Procedures or the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and engage in dialogue;
  • Hold general debates on countries and issues;
  • Establish new Special Procedures on specific countries or themes;
  • Deal with urgent situations by holding a special session on a country or theme.

 

When and where does the Council meet?

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.
 

Amnesty International's work with the Human Rights Council

Amnesty International participates actively in the Council sessions, including by:

  • Submitting written statements;
  • Making oral statements and participating in dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Procedure mandate-holders;
  • Lobbying member and observer states to take action to protect human rights;
  • Organising side events to highlight key human rights issues;
  • Networking with NGOs, human rights experts, governments;
  • Contributing to the negotiation of Council resolutions and decisions.

 

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