The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them. It was created by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006 and replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
It meets at the UN Office at Geneva with at least three sessions a year (March, June and September) for a total of at least ten weeks. Special sessions may also be held in response to a request from a state that has support from at least one-third of the member states of the Council.
The Council is made of 47 Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the General Assembly of the United Nations through direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.
The Council’s Membership is based on equitable geographical distribution. Members of the Council are elected to staggered three-year terms and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
Seats are distributed as follows:
- African States: 13 seats;
- Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats;
- Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats;
- Western European and other States: 7 seats; and
- Eastern European States: 6 seats.
The Council in turn elects a Bureau which consists of a President and four Vice-Presidents, representing the five regional groups. They serve for a year, in accordance with the Council’s annual cycle. The Bureau addresses primarily procedural and organisational matters.
In June 2007, the Council adopted resolution 5/1, its “Institution-building package” to guide its work and set up its procedures and mechanisms.
The Human Rights Council has responsibility for the:
- Universal Periodic Review process – a mechanism through which states examine the human rights records of all member states of the UN;
- Special Procedures – independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective;
- Advisory Committee – which serves as the Council’s “think tank”, providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues; and
- Complaint Process – to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
There are an additional four subsidiary bodies reporting directly to the Human Rights Council:
- Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People;
- Forum on Minorities;
- Social Forum; and
- Forum on Business and Human Rights.
The Human Rights Council may establish Commissions of Inquiry or may call upon the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to examine serious human rights issues in particular countries or regions. There are currently four Commissions of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council and two investigations currently being carried out by the OHCHR.