“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.”
– Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 12 March 2007, Opening of the 4th Human Rights Council Session
What is the Human Rights Council? (2min. video)
Introduction to the UN 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. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.
The Council is made up of 47 United Nations Member States, which are elected by the UN General Assembly. The Human Rights Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
The Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251. Its first session took place from 19 to 30 June 2006. One year later, the Council adopted its “Institution-building package” to guide its work and set up its procedures and mechanisms.
Among them were the Universal Periodic Review mechanism which serves to assess the human rights situations in all United Nations Member States, the Advisory Committee which serves as the Council’s “think tank” providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues and the Complaint Procedure which allows individuals and organizations to bring human rights violations to the attention of the Council.
The Human Rights Council also works with the UN Special Procedures established by the former Commission on Human Rights and now assumed by the Council. These are made up of special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups that monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries.
The members of the UN General Assembly elect the members who occupy the UNHRC’s 47 seats. The term of each seat is set for three years and members cannot occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms. The seats are distributed among the UN’s regional groups as follows: 13 for Asia, 13 for Africa, six for Eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), and seven for the Western European and Others Group (WEOG).
The General Assembly can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. The suspension process requires a two-third majority vote by the GA.
The UNHRC holds regular sessions three times a year, in March, June, and September. The UNHRC can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies, at the request of one-third of the member states. To date there have been 20 Special Sessions.
Members of the UNHRC are elected to staggered three-year terms.
As of the current membership of the Human Rights Council, 1 January – 31 December 2016, Malaysia is not a member oft he UNHRC. Though Malaysia has been a member during the previous two periods of 2006-09 and 2010-13.