Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights




What is OHCHR?

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the UN organisation responsible for promoting those human rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties.

Its job includes preventing human rights violations, securing respect for all human rights, promoting international cooperation to protect human rights, and coordinating related activities throughout the United Nations.

In addition to these responsibilities, the Office leads efforts to integrate a human rights approach within all work carried out by United Nations agencies.

The Office aims to offer leadership, work objectively, educate and take action to empower individuals and assist States in upholding human rights. It is part of the United Nations Secretariat with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.


What does it do?

The Office works to promote both the universal ratification and implementation of the major human rights treaties and respect for the rule of law.

OHCHR works with governments, legislatures, courts, national institutions, civil society, regional and international organisations, and the United Nations system to develop and strengthen capacity, particularly at the national level, for the protection of human rights.

The specific responsibilities of the High Commissioner, as set out in the mandate given by the United Nations General Assembly, are:

  • To promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights;
  • To provide advisory services and technical and financial assistance in the field of human rights to States that request them;
  • To coordinate United Nations education and public information programmes in the field of human rights;
  • To play an active role in removing the obstacles to the full realisation of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world;
  • To engage in a dialogue with Governments in order to secure respect for all human rights;
  • To enhance international cooperation for the promotion and protection of all human rights;
  • To coordinate the national human rights promotion and protection activities throughout the United Nations system;
  • To rationalise, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations


More specifically, the Office supports the work of the United Nations human rights mechanisms, such as the Human Rights Council and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (and other treaty bodies (what are these?), except for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women).

For example, OHCHR coordinates the submission of NGO reports both to the Council and the Committee. If you have queries about the work of the Committee or the Council, or about the submission of your NGO reports for example, you will usually need to communicate with an employee of OHCHR (see below for how to do this).

OHCHR is divided into the following units:

  • Treaties and Commission Branch (TCB), which services the human rights treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council and related working groups, and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Among other things, it follows up on recommendations and decisions taken at treaty-body meetings, and helps to build national capacities to implement treaty-body recommendations.
  • Special Procedures Branch (SPB), which provides support to the fact-finding and investigatory mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. The Council (and/or ECOSOC) gives mandates to specific persons to investigate specific types of human rights violations and conduct studies on particular themes and situations from a human rights perspective. These mandate-holders may thus draw the attention of Member States and the public to human rights violations in certain countries or to specific human rights issues.
  • Research and Right to Development Branch (RRDB), which is mainly responsible for promoting and protecting the right to development.
  • Capacity Building and Field Operations Branch (CBB), which develops, implements, monitors and evaluates advisory services and other technical-assistance projects at the request of governments; and also provides support to human rights fact-finding missions and investigations.

The Office's priorities are set out in two key strategic documents: the OHCHR Plan of Action and its Strategic Management Plan 2010-11. These priorities have included:

  • greater country engagement,
  • working closely with partners at the country and local levels, in order to ensure that international human rights standards are implemented on the ground;
  • a stronger leadership role for the High Commissioner; and
  • closer partnerships with civil society and United Nations agencies.

How does it work?


OHCHR has an office at United Nations headquarters in New York and offices in many countries and regions. In addition to the Executive Office of the High Commissioner and a number of units that report to the Deputy High Commissioner, OHCHR has two major divisions and four branches.

The Office employs more than 850 staff (last update in April 2007), based in Geneva and New York and in 11 country offices and seven regional offices around the world, including a workforce of some 240 international human rights officers serving in UN peace missions. Funding comes from the United Nations regular budget and from voluntary contributions from Member States, intergovernmental organisations, foundations and individuals.

In carrying out its mission OHCHR will:

  • Give priority to addressing the most pressing human rights violations, both acute and chronic, particularly those that put life in imminent peril;
  • Focus attention on those who are at risk and vulnerable on multiple fronts;
  • Pay equal attention to the realisation of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights, including the right to development; and
  • Measure the impact of its work through the substantive benefit that is accrued, through it, to individuals around the world.

OHCHR is guided in its work by the mandate provided by the General Assembly in resolution 48/141, the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent human rights instruments, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.


Who is the High Commissioner?


The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the principal human rights official of the United Nations. The High Commissioner heads OHCHR and spearheads the United Nations' human rights efforts.

The Commissioner is accountable to the Secretary-General, and is responsible for all the activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as for its administration, and carries out the functions specifically assigned to him or her by the General Assembly in its resolution 48/141 of 20 December1993.

He or she advises the Secretary-General on the policies of the United Nations in the area of human rights; ensures that substantive and administrative support is given to the projects, activities, organs and bodies of the human rights programme; represents the Secretary-General at meetings of human rights organs and at other human rights events; and carries out special assignments as decided by the Secretary-General.

How can NGOs work with OHCHR?

NGOs are often the best, and sometimes the only, conduit for the submission of complaints on alleged violations of human rights. They also provide the United Nations human rights system, as well as OHCHR, with valuable studies and reports. NGOs are often partners of OHCHR in training and human rights education, and play a key role in the follow-up at the country level of recommendations and observations made by the United Nations treaty bodies and special procedures. In particular, NGOs submit crucial ‘alternative reports’ to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Human Rights Council and other monitoring bodies. NGOs may, in special circumstances, benefit from funds managed by the OHCHR.

NGOs can be involved in the submission of individual complaints to human rights treaty bodies. Find out how to submit a complaint here. Find out more about complaints, and NGO involvement, here.

See the child rights toolkit for NGOs submitting report to the Human Rights Council

Learn about how to report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child


Read: Working with OHCHR: a handbook for NGOs

OHCHR NGO Liaison Officer
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Telephone: + 41 (0)22 917 9656
Email: [email protected]

Further information


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