South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was established in 2006, replacing the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). The creation of UNHRC marks one of the major reforms ever undertaken in the United Nations (UN) since its inception in 1945, and was a significant step towards strengthening the institutional mechanism of the human rights as well as the promotion of human rights.

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 of April 6 2006 UN General Assembly officially established the UNHCR based in Geneva. The stated objective of the UNHRC was to promote universal respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without any distinction. The HRC was also entrusted with the responsibility of addressing situations of violations of human rights, and make recommendations thereon, along with an effective co-ordination and mainstreaming of human rights within the UN system. The UNGA Resolution furthermore mentioned that the HRC shall undertake a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and make recommendations with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights and submit an annual report to the General Assembly. The inaugural session of the HRC was held on 19 June -30 June 2006 in Geneva, electing Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico as its first President. One year later, on 18 June 2007, the Council adopted the Human Rights Council “Institution-building package” resolution to guide its work and set up its procedures and mechanisms.

The Council is made up of 47 United Nations Member States. On a yearly basis, the United Nations General Assembly elects a third of the members directly and individually by secret ballot for a period of 3 years. They shall not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms. The composition of the Council is based on equitable geographical distribution, and seats are distributed as follows among regional groups: Group of African States and the Group of Asian states are allotted 13 seats each. 8 seats are allotted to the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, 6 seats are allotted to the Group of Eastern States, while Group of Western European and other States are allocated 7 seats.

The main mechanism of the UNHRC are: 1) The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – It is aimed at reviewing the human rights records of all United Nations Member States; 2) The Advisory Committee – It is composed of 18 independent experts and function as a think-tank for the Council and to provide expertise and advice on a number of thematic issues; 3) The HRC Complaint Procedure – It addresses communications submitted by individuals or organizations that claim to be victims of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and fundamental freedoms or that have direct, reliable knowledge of such violations; and 4) The Special Procedures – They were established by the former UN Commission on Human Rights and now assumed by the Council. They are made up of mandate-holders such as special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups. Their main role is to monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories (country mandate) or on a major phenomenon of human rights violations (thematic mandate).

The UNHRC has exercised a considerable effect on the situation of human rights in Asia. The Council’s work in Sri Lanka has helped the international community to respond to human rights emergencies and work towards accountability and has also boosted its creditability. In Sri Lanka, the UPR was also a great success. The Human Rights Council has also discussed at large the threat faced in the Middle East region as a result of the reign of terror unleashed by the Islamic State. In March 2015, HRC adopted a resolution denouncing ISIS atrocities. The HRC has also paid attention towards the situation in Syria.

On 21 October 2016, HRC concluded its special session on Syria and adopted a resolution in which it urged the immediate implementation of the cessation of hostilities, and demanded that the regime and its allies put an immediate end to all aerial bombardments of and military flights over Aleppo city. The Council demanded that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities and its supporters, promptly allowed rapid, safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access, including across conflict lines and borders. The HRC has also focused on the human rights situation in Myanmar arising due to ethnic conflict. On 24th March 2017, HRC adopted a resolution by which it decided to dispatch an independent, international fact-finding mission to establish the facts about alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces and abuses in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State.

The Council has also taken stock of the human rights situation in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. . HRC has condemned in the strongest terms the long-standing and on-going systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and other human rights abuses committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and has decided to strengthen, for a period of two years, the capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, including its field-based structure in Seoul, to allow the implementation of relevant recommendation.


Updated On: May 29th, 2017