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The Human Rights Council, established by General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, is the principal United Nations intergovernmental body responsible for human rights. It replaced the Commission on Human Rights, which, for over 60 years, was at the centre of the United Nations human rights system. The Commission met for the last time in March 2006, at its sixty-second session. Its normative and standard-setting achievements form the foundation of the work of the Council.

Transition from Commission on Human Rights to Human Rights Council

How does the Human Rights Council work?

Mandates and mechanisms, complaint procedures

While the Commission was a subsidiary organ of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Human Rights Council is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. This elevation emphasizes human rights as one of the three essential pillars of the United Nations, along with development, and peace and security. The Council’s creation also affirms the General Assembly’s commitment to strengthening the United Nations human rights machinery, with the aim of ensuring the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights—civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.

In its resolution 60/251, the General Assembly tasked the Human Rights Council with reviewing and, where necessary, improving and rationalizing all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities that it assumed from the Commission. The Council was required to complete this task within one year of holding its first session. The Council’s methods of work were also required to:

  • Be transparent, fair and impartial;
  • Be results-oriented;
  • Enable genuine dialogue;
  • Allow for follow-up discussions to its recommendations and their implementation;
  • Allow for substantive interaction with its mechanisms.

How does it work
Membership of the Council consists of 47 States elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly. The human rights records and voluntary human rights pledges and commitments of candidate States are to be taken into account when electing member States. The Council’s member States serve for three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.

If a member State of the Council commits gross and systematic violations of human rights, the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend its rights of membership in the Council.

Whereas the former Commission met only once a year for a total of six weeks, the Council meets at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, for at least three regular sessions a year, for a total duration of no less than 10 weeks. The Council’s main (four-week) session is normally held in March.

The Council may also hold special sessions at the request of a member State, where such a request is supported by at least one third of its member States. By September 2008, the Council had held seven special sessions.

The Council also organizes panel discussions and special events to enhance dialogue and mutual understanding on specific issues. By September 2008 the Council had held six of these events, including annual discussions on the rights of persons with disabilities and the integration of a gender perspective into its work and the work of its mechanisms.

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