What is the United Nations Human Rights Council?

By   May 21, 2015

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a United Nations System intergovernmental body whose 47 member states are in charge of encouraging and protecting human rights around the world. The council works closely together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and engages the United Nations’ special procedures.

The UNHRC has addressed conflicts including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also addresses rights-related situations in countries like in Burma, Guinea, North Korea, Cote d’Ivoire, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Libya, Iran, and Sri Lanka. The UNHRC also addresses significant thematic human rights issues like freedom of assembly and association, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women’s rights, LGBT rights, as well as the rights of ethnic and racial minorities.

Secretaries General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, former president of the council Canada, the European Union, Doru Costea, along with the Usa have accused the council of focusing disproportionately on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States boycotted the Council through the George W. Bush administration, but reversed its position on it during the Obama government. Starting in 2009 however, together with the Usa taking a leading part in the business, American commentators began to claim that the UNHRC was becoming increasingly relevant.


The members who occupy the UNHRC’s 47 seats are elected by the UN General Assembly. The General Assembly considers the nominee States’ contribution to protection and the promotion of human rights, as well as their voluntary assurances and commitments in this regard. The term of each seat is three years, and no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive periods. The General Assembly, via a two-thirds majority, can freeze the rights and prerogatives of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed systematic and gross violations of human rights during its duration of membership. The resolution establishing the UNHRC states that members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

On 18 June 2007, one year after holding its first meeting, the UNHRC adopted its Institution-building package, which gives elements to direct it in its future work. One of the elements was the Universal Periodic Review. The Universal Periodic Review evaluates the human rights situations in all 193 UN Member States. Another component is an Advisory Committee, which functions as the UNHRC’s think tank, and provides expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues to it, that is, problems which pertain to any or all parts of the planet. A further element is a Complaint process, which allows organizations and individuals to bring charges about human rights violations to the attention of the Council.

On 11 July 2013, envoys from both Iran and Syria announced that they would try to run to get a seat in 2014. It has ignited controversy.