Human rights in the United Nations


TheUnitedNationsisthemostimportantinternational organisationensuringhuman rightsprotectionworldwide. Germanyiscurrentlya memberoftheUnitedNationsHuman RightsCouncil.

Germany actively promotes United Nations human rights activities

Menschenrechtsrat der Vereinten Nationen
Menschenrechtsrat der Vereinten Nationen© Thomas Trutschel/ photothek.net

Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations states that protecting human rights is one of the organisation’s prime purposes. The foundation for international human rights protection is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which were adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1976, were further milestones as regards ensuring binding protection for human rights under international law.

The Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the key forum in the United Nations for ensuring that these agreements are observed. It helps member states to uphold human rights, deals with human rights violations and draws up recommendations for the further development of international law in the field of human rights.

The United Nations logo for the first session of the Human Rights Council in 2006
The United Nations logo for the first session of the Human Rights Council in 2006© picture-alliance/dpa

The Human Rights Council comprises 47 elected member states and has various instruments at its disposal to work for global respect for human rights. In the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Human Rights Council examines the human rights situation in each United Nations member state at five‑yearly intervals. The aim is not merely to check up on states, but also to provide help if there are problems with implementation. Furthermore, the Human Rights Council can launch special procedures, focusing either on the situation in a particular country or on a specific international human rights issue, and appoint a special rapporteur or a group of independent experts to deal with these matters.

Germany was a founding member of the Human Rights Council. In October 2015, it was elected to the Council for the third time by the General Assembly for the 2016 to 2018 term. During its membership, Germany is working to raise the profile of the Council as a central body and early-warning mechanism for the international protection of human rights. The Human Rights Council must address critical human rights situations systematically and make full use of all of the instruments at its disposal. In 2015, the Human Rights Council was chaired by Ambassador Joachim Rücker, who was Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Office of the United Nations and to the other international organisations in Geneva at the time. Germany used this position to enhance civil society’s role in the Council, boost the Council’s efficiency and effectiveness, and improve the Council’s links with other parts of the United Nations system.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was established by the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. Since then, the High Commissioner has led on human rights issues in the United Nations system. The High Commissioner reports directly to the Secretary‑General of the United Nations. He or she can put violations of human rights worldwide on the General Assembly’s agenda and is responsible for joining up all of the United Nation’s human rights activities.

Based in Geneva and New York, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) helps the High Commissioner to fulfil his or her mandate and provides guidance and technical support to governments, national human rights institutions and NGOs.

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