The UN Human Rights Council
How the Human Rights Council came about
On 15 March 2006, the United Nations General Assembly voted by a large majority to replace the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) with a new Human Rights Council (Resolution 60/251). The replacement of the CHR was one of the key reform recommendations made by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to strengthen the United Nations’ protection of human rights (In Larger Freedom).
The Human Rights Council, which comprises 47 elected member states, has the same status as the UN General Assembly committees and reports directly to the General Assembly. The new Human Rights Council convened for the first time from 19 to 30 June 2006.
With the adoption of Resolution 5/1 on 19 June 2007, the Human Rights Council largely completed its organisational development.
Voting in the Human Rights Council
© UN Office Geneva
What is new about the Human Rights Council?
- The Council meets for ten weeks per year spread over three sessions. This ensures a high level of continuity when addressing human rights issues in the United Nations.
- The Human Rights Council has a comprehensive mandate to deal with human rights abuses in individual countries and to submit recommendations.
- Furthermore, the Human Rights Council can hold special sessions in order to respond very quickly to serious human rights violations.
- The Human Rights Council now has an Advisory Committee consisting of 18 experts.
- With the Universal Periodic Review, the Human Rights Council has established a procedure under which all UN member states have to submit to a periodic review mechanism to ensure that they are meeting their human rights obligations.
The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
The United Nations logo for the first session of the Human Rights Council in 2006
Under this new procedure, the Human Rights Council examines the human rights situation in each UN member state at four-yearly intervals. The UPR is based on a national country report of 20 pages, a compilation of documents on the implementation of international human rights commitments prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a summary of statements submitted by civil society on the country.
The country in question presents its report and, in the course of an interactive dialogue before the Human Rights Council lasting three and a half hours, responds to the questions and recommendations of other states. After the dialogue meeting, the reviewed state has the opportunity within a short period to react to the recommendations and accept or reject them.
All UN member states underwent this procedure for the first time between April 2008 and November 2011. The second cycle began in May 2012, and the states now have to declare whether and how they have implemented the recommendations from the first round.
The human rights situation in Germany
The human rights situation in Germany was first reviewed by the Human Rights Council on 2 February 2009. Germany was reviewed for a second time on 25 April 2013. As part of the review, Markus Löning, the then Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, submitted the Human Rights Report of the Federal Government to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in January 2013.
Germany as a member of the Human Rights Council
Election to the UN Human Rights Council
Germany was one of the first members of the newly created Human Rights Council from 2006 to 2009.
Germany has been a member of the Council again from January 2013, having been elected with 127 votes in the General Assembly on 12 November 2012. Germany will seek re‑election for the next term from 2016 to 2018.
The priorities of Germany’s membership
During its membership, Germany intends to work to raise the profile of the Council as a central body and early warning mechanism of international human rights protection. The Human Rights Council must address critical human rights situations consistently and make unrestricted use of all of the instruments at its disposal (Universal Periodic Reviews, Special Rapporteurs, special sessions).
Moreover, the Council should not only provide impetus for new human rights standards and preserve the human rights acquis, but should also address the application of human rights standards to a greater degree. Germany will seek to ensure that the Council’s work is based on broad cross-regional cooperation.
Germany’s Presidency of the Human Rights Council in 2015
Rücker with his predecessor, Gabonese Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella
© UN Office Geneva
On 8 December 2014, Ambassador Joachim Rücker was elected as the President of the Human Rights Council for 2015. In assuming the Presidency of the Human Rights Council, Germany is underscoring its commitment to human rights, which finds its expression in numerous bilateral projects and initiatives in multilateral forums.
Germany sees its Presidency as an opportunity to build bridges with a view to counteracting the increasing polarisation of the Human Rights Council. The German Presidency will also have a strong focus on the preservation and promotion of opportunities for non-governmental organisations to become involved in the Human Rights Council.
More information about the German Presidency of the Human Rights Council is available here.
Members of the Human Rights Council and distribution of seats
Elections to the Human Rights Council take place every year, with one third of its members being elected for a three-year term. From 1 January to 31 December 2015, the Council is composed as follows:
|African States||Asia-Pacific States||Latin American|
and Caribbean States
|Eastern European States||Western European|
and other States
|Up to the end of 2015||Ethiopia|
United Arab Emirates
|Up to the end of 2016||Algeria|
|FYR of Macedonia|
|Up to the end of 2017||Botswana|
Eight EU member states are thus currently serving on the UN Human Rights Council.
Last updated 29.01.2015