UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

Context: Recently, elections were held for the cohort of member nations who will serve for the next three years (2021-23) in the UN Human Rights Council.

  • UNHRC replaced the UN Human Rights Commission in 2006 after a vast majority of the UN members endorsed a proposal to create a new institution to promote and protect rights.
  • The Geneva-based council has 47 members serving at any time with elections held to fill up seats every year, based on allocations to regions.
  • It passes non-binding resolutions on human rights issues, besides overseeing expert investigation of violations in specific countries.

Analysis

United Nations Human Rights Council

  • The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.
  • It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year.
  • The Human Rights Council was established in 2006 by a Resolution as a subsidiary body to the UN General Assembly.
  • It replaced the former Commission on Human Rights, which operated from 1946 to 2006.

Membership of the Human Rights Council

  • The Council is made of 47 Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the General Assemblyof the United Nations through direct and secret ballot.
  • The General Assembly takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.
  • The Council’s Membership is based on equitable geographical distribution. 

    Seats are distributed as follows:

1.    African States: 13 seats

2.    Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats

3.    Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats

4.    Western European and other States: 7 seats

5.    Eastern European States: 6 seats

  • Members of the Council serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
  • At present India is also its member.
  • Iceland was elected in July 2018 to serve as a member from 13 July 2018 to 31 December 2019 to replace the vacancy left by the United States following its decision to withdraw its membership.

Functions

  • The Human Rights Council has created or renewed the mandates of various “special procedures.”
  • The special procedures are experts appointed to monitor human rights around priority themes or in specific countries with serious human rights problems.
  • The special procedures may be individual experts (“special rapporteurs” or “independent experts”) or working groups.
  • The Council also manages the Universal Periodic Review, a process through which each UN Member State’s overall human rights record is reviewed.

Sessions

  • The Council conducts its substantive work primarily in Regular Sessions and Special Sessions.
  • Regular Sessions are held no fewer than three times a year, usually in March, June, and September.

Presidency and Bureau

  • The Bureau of the Council consists of five people – one President and four Vice-presidents – representing the five regional groups.
  • They serve for a year, in accordance with the Council’s annual cycle.

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