Human Rights and the United Nations

The United Nations supports the protection of human rights in many ways. The High Commissioner for Human Rights – since September 2014 Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein – is responsible for the protection and adoption of human rights, the supervision of human rights programmes and responds to serious violations of human rights. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, together with the High Commissioner, draws the governments’ attention to human rights issues such as the treatment of convicts or capital punishment.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, which was founded on 15 March 2006 by the General Assembly, took over the jurisdiction of the Commission on Human Rights, which had been operating for 60 years, and it became a key inter-governmental and human rights body. The Council has 47 representatives from various countries who are elected for three years.

Their task is to protect and promote the enforcement of human rights, to fight against human rights violations and to make recommendations, including the handling of human rights in emergency situations. The Council reviews human rights conditions in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the 193 UN member states every four years.

The Council cooperates with the UN Rapporteurs, which is a group created by the former Commission on Human Rights. A Rapporteur can be a person – Special Rapporteur or representative – or a working group. They are recognized, independent experts, who are appointed by the Human Rights Council on a voluntary basis who examine, verify, and publicly report on human rights conditions in various countries or on serious human rights violations such as arbitrary detention, execution, torture, child prostitution or denial of fundamental rights (e.g. the right to housing, drinking water, freedom of expression, education, etc.).

Internationally recognized experts, appointed by the Council, monitor and report their findings on human rights in specific countries, as well as on violations of human rights in any part of the world.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights supports all these efforts. It provides technical assistance for governments through activities such as training of police and judges, legislative counselling and the establishment of national human rights institutions.

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