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Human Rights in the United Nations

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The United Nations is the most important international organisation ensuring human rights protection worldwide. Germany is currently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Germany actively promotes United Nations human rights activities

Voting in the Human Rights Council
Voting in the Human Rights Council© UN Office Geneva

The United Nations is the most important international organisation ensuring human rights protection worldwide. 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 entered into force in 1966 and 1976 respectively, were further milestones ensuring binding protection for human rights under international law.

The United Nations Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the most important forum in the United Nations for ensuring that these agreements are observed. It helps member states to observe 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. With the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Human Rights Council examines the human rights situation in each UN member state at four-yearly intervals. The aim is not merely to check up on states, but also to provide help if there are problems with implementation. Each country presents a report to the Human Rights Council and responds to the questions and recommendations of other states. After the meeting, the reviewed state has the opportunity within a short period to react to the recommendations and accept or reject them. On a repeat review, the states have to declare whether and how they have implemented the recommendations from the previous round.

In addition, the Human Rights Council can launch a special procedure, focusing either on the situation in a particular country or on a specific international human rights issue, a appoint a special rapporteur or a group of independent experts to deal with these matters. If there have been systematic, gross, reliably attested human rights violations, a complaint procedure can be initiated.

Germany is a member of the Human Rights Council in 2016-2018

Election to the UN Human Rigths Council
Election to the UN Human Rights Council© picture-alliance/photoshot

On 28 October 2015, Germany was re-elected by the General Assembly and will thus remain on the Council until 2018.

During its membership, Germany will work 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.

For more information:

UN Human Rights Council

OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Resolution 60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council PDF | 115 KB

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