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. This allows for greater continuity in the UN’s examination of human rights issues.
- The Human Rights Council has 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 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 a short period within which it may 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, Markus Löning, the Federal Government Human Rights Commissioner of the time, 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.
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 will strive to give the Council a higher profile as the leading international institution and early-warning mechanism for the protection of human rights. The Human Rights Council must be rigorous in raising critical human rights situations and confidently use all the instruments at its disposal (Universal Periodic Review, its system of special rapporteurs, special sessions).
The Council should additionally not only function as a driving force behind new human rights standards and as the guardian of the human rights acquis, but should also devote more attention to enforcing human rights standards. Germany will campaign for the Council’s work to be based on broad supra-regional cooperation.
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), Morocco (till 2016), Namibia (till 2016), Sierra Leone (till 2015), South Africa (till 2016).
Asian Group - 13 seats:
China (till 2016), 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), Saudi Arabia (till 2016), United Arab Emirates (till 2015), Viet Nam (till 2016).
Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) - 8 seats:
Argentina (till 2015), Brazil (till 2015), Chile (till 2014), Costa Rica (till 2014), Cuba (till 2016), Mexico (till 2016), Peru (till 2014), Venezuela (till 2015).
Eastern European Group (EEG) - 6 seats:
Czech Republic (till 2014), Estonia (till 2015), Moldova (till 2016), Montenegro (till 2015), Romania (till 2014), Russia (till 2016).
Western European and Others Group (WEOG) - 7 seats:
Austria (till 2014), France (till 2016), Germany (till 2015), Great Britain (till 2016), Ireland (till 2015), Italy (till 2014), United States (till 2015).
Nine EU member states are thus currently serving on the UN Human Rights Council.
Last updated 01.04.2014