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 organizational development.
What is new about the Human Rights Council?
- The Council meets for ten weeks per year spread over three sessions. So in future there will be considerably more time to deal with human rights issues in the UN.
- The Human Rights Council has been given a comprehensive mandate to deal with human rights abuses in individual countries and to submit recommendations.
- 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 will in future 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 own report and, in a three hour interactive dialogue before the Human Rights Council, responds to the questions and recommendations of other states. After the dialogue meeting, the reviewed state has the opportunity within a fixed 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. The states now have to declare whether and how they have implemented the recommendations from the first round.
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. In preparation for this, Federal Government Human Rights Commissioner Markus Löning had submitted Germany’s National Report in Preparation for the 2nd Hearing of Germany under the Universal Periodic Review (PDF, 376 KB) to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in January.
More information on Universal Periodic Review is available on the external link, opens in new windowHuman Rights Council website
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.
From 2013 to 2015, Germany is again a member. On 12 November 2012 it received 127 votes in the General Assembly, thereby winning one of the three available seats in the Western European and Other States Group.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle praised the election as a “show of confidence in our country and a tribute to our consistent stand on human rights around the world”. He said that during its membership Germany would strive to give the Human Rights Council a higher profile as the leading international institution concerned with human rights protection and would endeavour to set new global standards.
The priorities of Germany’s membership
As one of the priorities, he named economic and social human rights, which – he went on to say – should be given as much attention as political and civil rights. He added that “only people who do not live in fear of hunger, thirst or illness can enjoy true freedom and take responsibility for their lives.”
Likewise, Germanywould work hard to ensure that children all over the world were better protected. Having campaigned particularly for the rights of children in situations of armed conflict during its membership of the UN Security Council in 2011 and 2012, Germany intended to carry on this work in the Human Rights Council, stated Westerwelle.
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 2013, the Council is composed as follows:
African Group – 13 seats:
Angola (till 2013), Benin (till 2014), Botswana (till 2014), Burkina Faso (till 2014), the Congo (till 2014), Côte d’Ivoire (till 2015), Ethiopia (till 2015), Gabon (till 2015), Kenya (till 2015), Libya (till 2013, membership suspended for a while), Mauritania (till 2013), Sierra Leone (till 2015), Uganda (till 2013).
Asian Group – 13 seats:
India (till 2014), Indonesia (till 2014), Japan (till 2015), Kazakhstan (till 2015), Korea (till 2015), Kuwait (till 2014), Malaysia (till 2013), Maldives (till 2013), Pakistan (till 2015), the Philippines (till 2014), Qatar (till 2013), Thailand (till 2013), United Arab Emirates (till 2015).
Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) – 8 seats:
Argentina (till 2015), Brazil(till 2015), Chile (till 2014), Costa Rica (till 2014), Ecuador(till 2013), Guatemala (till 2013), Peru(till 2014), Venezuela (till 2015).
Eastern European Group (EEG) – 6 seats:
the Czech Republic (till 2014), Estonia (till 2015), Moldova(till 2013), Montenegro(till 2015), Poland(till 2013), Romania(till 2014).
Western European and Others Group (WEOG) – 7 seats:
Austria (till 2014), Germany(till 2015), Ireland (till 2015), Italy(till 2014), Spain (till 2013), Switzerland (till 2013), United States (till 2015).
Nine EU member states are thus currently serving on the UN Human Rights Council.
Last updated 29.04.2013