An overview of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), including details of how it works and updates on events, news and reports from the Council.
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In June 2006, the Human Rights Council replaced the Commission on Human Rights as the main UN body in charge of monitoring and protecting fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Human Rights Council (HRC) was created on 15th March 2006 with the almost unanimous adoption of General Assembly Resolution A/Res/60/251. It held its first session on 19-30 June 2006. The Commission on Human Rights was formally abolished on 16 June 2006.
The Human Rights Council was established with the hope that it could be more objective, credible and efficient in denouncing human rights violations worldwide than the highly politicised Commission on Human Rights.
See below for information on the Human Rights Council and background information on the transition from the Commission on Human Rights to the Human Rights Council, as well as on the involvement of child rights NGOs in the work of the Council.
The HRC holds three regular sessions are held at the Council each year (March, June, September). Special sessions are called on an ad hoc basis (see further information below).
How to keep updated
CRIN produce monthly "Child Rights at the Human Rights Council" CRINMAILs to update users on news and events from the Council, together with information on how NGOs can participate.
- Register to receive this free monthly CRINMAIL, here
- Read all previous CRINMAILs, here.
- View the UN's short introduction video to the Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council Review 2011
The five-year review of the Human Rights Council's work and functioning, and a review of the Council's 'status', were completed in 2011. You can read articles regarding the outcomes of each of the processes in ISHR's Human Rights Monitor Quarterly:
- Article on the General Assembly status review of the Council.
- Article on the outcome of the five-year review of the Council's work and functioning.
Archived news reports on the review process as it unfolded are available here.
Key changes include:
1. The period between reviews has lengthened from 4 to 4.5 years
2. The Working Group reviews have been extended to 3.5 hours.
3. A separate section in the Stakeholder compilation report will be attributed to the national human rights institution of the State under review.
The selection process for Special Procedure mandate holders will be adjusted, requiring nominated candidates to submit a motivation letter.
Methods of Work and Rules of Procedure:
The Council shall explore the feasibility of the use of information technology, such as videoconferencing or video messaging, in order to enhance access and participation for all stakeholders
- Read more about the changes here.
Key changes from the Commission on Human Rights include:
Membership: the number of members is down from 53 to 47 and members are elected by an absolute majority; candidates are elected based on their human rights commitment; members cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
Accountability: a new provision gives the General Assembly the ability, through a two-thirds majority vote, to suspend the membership of a Council member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights. In addition, all UN Member States, starting with members of the Council themselves, have had their human rights records examined through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
Sessions: the Council holds three sessions per year (10 weeks), with the ability to hold special sessions upon request of a Council member with support of one-third of the Council
Status: the Council is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly and thus has a higher institutional standing than the Commission.
The Commission on Human Rights held its last meeting in a three-hour session on 27th March 2006, and adopted a Resolution to transfer all its work to the Human Rights Council. Read the NGO Statement to the Last Session of the Commission on Human Rights (269 NGOs including CRIN).
On 9th May, the 47 members of the Human Rights Council were elected. The United States,which voted against the Human Rights Council Resolution, did not submit their candidacy, unhappy with the fact that the new membership modalities still allow human rights abusers to be elected to the Council. See http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/membership.htm.
A series of open-ended informal consultations followed, with Permanent Missions in Geneva, UN bodies, specialised agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations to discuss the modalities of the first HRC session.
To find information on past sessions, visit CRIN's news page on the Human Rights Council
Documents relating to the creation of the Human Rights Council
2005 World Summit Outcome (October 2005)
Secretary General's report "In Larger Freedom" (March 2005)
Report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (December 2004)
NGO commentaries on the Human Rights Council
Human Rights Council: No More Business as Usual, by Human Rights Watch
Children's Rights at the HRC
There are a number of avenues in which to promote children's rights in the HRC as will be explored throughout this document.
The NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child supports a number of thematic working groups. A working group for the HRC has been active for a number of years. The aim of this working group is to mainstream children's rights in all the work of the Human Rights Council. There are many ways to contribute to the work of this group; find out more about participating here: http://www.childrightsnet.org/NGOGroup/childrightsissues/HumanRightsCouncil/, alternatively, you can sign up to CRIN's monthly email newsletter on the work of the HRC here: http://www.crin.org/email/subscribe.asp
Regular Sessions of the Council
The Council holds three regular sessions every year in Geneva.
Dates for 2014 are:
- HRC 25th Session: 3 - 28 March 2014
- HRC 26th Session: TBC
- HRC 27th Session: TBC
Dates for 2013 are:
- HRC 22nd Session: 25 February - 22 March 2013
- HRC 23rd Session: 27 May - 14 June 2013
- HRC 24th Session: 9 - 27 September 2013
Read about the 2012 Sessions:
- HRC 19th Session: 27 February to 23 March 2012
- HRC 20th Session: 18 June - 6 July 2012
- HRC 21st Session: 12 - 30 September 2012
In addition the Council holds Special Sessions on country situations as and when they arise. CRIN provides comprehensive coverage of each of the regular and special sessions on the individual event pages (see above links).
The Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism under which the Human Rights Council will examine the human rights situation in every Member State of the UN. Each State will be examined once every four and a half years.
The UPR mechanism was set up largely due to the heavy criticisms against the Commission on Human Rights, which was accused of being selective and partial.
The UPR represents an excellent opportunity for making children’s rights central to the work of the Council. It is therefore crucial that children’s rights NGOs and advocates rise to the challenge.
CRIN has undertaken an analysis of the extent to which children's rights are addressed in the UPR to date, and interviewed children's rights organisations to gauge their experiences of using the mechanism.
These are a way for the Human Rights Council (as well as the public) to find out about human rights situations. They are the name given to ‘mechanisms’ created by the Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council) to address human rights situations in specific countries, or to address specific human rights themes e.g., the right to education.
Although the tasks given to Special Procedure mechanisms vary, their role is to examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories (called country mandates, e.g. Independent expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi), or on major themes (called thematic mandates e.g. Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children).
- Click here to see the schedule for 2013
Click here to view all the visits undertaken in 2012
Click here for a list of past Special Procedure visits
Click here for children's rights extracts from Special Procedure reports
Click here for further information on Special Procedures
Information for NGO participation
Pursuant to Resolution 60/251, the participation of NGOs in the Human Rights Council is based on that observed by the Commission on Human Rights, including Economic and Social Council Resolution 1996/31.
NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC wishing to accredit representatives can send requests to the Secretariat of the Council. Check information for each session.
NGO written statements
As under the Commission on Human Rights, NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC will be able to submit written statements relevant to the work of the Human Rights Council (in accordance with paragraphs 36 and 37 of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31). Check information on each session.
NGO parallel events
As with the Commission on Human Rights, NGOs can organise parallel events of relevance to the work of the Human Rights Council.
For more information on the Human Rights Council, contact:
The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, OHCHR – UNOG,
8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland.
Tel: +41 22 917 9000; Fax: +41 22 917 9016
For more information on NGO participation, contact:
Ms Laura Dolci-Kanaan
OHCHR’s NGO Liaison Officer
Tel: +41 22 917 9656
For any other enquiries, contact:
Child Rights Information Network (CRIN)
2, Pontypool Place, London, SE1 8QF, United Kingdom
+44 20 7401 2257
Previous Publication (general) items
- 06/12/2010: GLOBAL: Children and AIDS - Fifth Stocktaking Report 2010
- 06/12/2010: CRIN: CRINMAIL 1196- Inhuman Sentencing-Arabic
- 06/12/2010: MECANISMOS REGIONALES: Resumen de noticias
- 03/12/2010: EDUCATION: Civil and political rights in schools (Russian)
- 02/12/2010: Human Rights Council Review
Organisation Contact Details:
Child Rights International Network
2 Pontypool Place
Tel: +44 (0)207 401 2257
Last updated 06/11/2013 12:02:40