Human Rights

© United Nations

The United Nations (UN) was the first international organization to address the issue of human rights.

The UN Charter, adopted in 1945, contains several references to human rights, and states that human rights are universal, without distinction of any kind such as race, sex, language or religion and national or social origin.

UN and the Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1948, is the only common standard covering the full range of human rights. It is not legally binding but provides guiding principles for all peoples and nations, stating that the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

The United Nations is at work on many fronts in promoting and protecting human rights, and its role and scope of action continue to expand. This is elaborated by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his report The Question of Intervention: "As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have made human rights a priority in every programme the United Nations launches and in every mission we embark upon. I have done so because the promotion and defence of human rights is at heart of every aspect of our work and every article of our Charter".

Except for the Human Rights Bodies, there are a large number of UN bodies involved in the protection and promotion of human rights, so when seeking information, it is essential to have narrowed down and specified the sort of questions you need answered.

The UN structure of Human Rights

The United Nations has developed a system to monitor the implementation of respect for human rights. The UN structure of Human Rights consists of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN committees, which monitors the compliance of the core conventions.

Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council (HRC) was created by the General Assembly and replaced the former Commission on Human Rights in June 2006. HRC is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights through different mechanisms. The Council evaluates the fulfilment of all states of all their human rights obligations. It inherited the so called "special procedures" from the Commission, which is the mechanisms to address either specific country mandates or thematic mandates in all parts of the world.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has the principal responsibility for UN human rights activities including the coordination of UN human rights activities, the promotion of international cooperation for human rights and the development of new human rights standards. The High Commissioner also responds to serious violations of human rights and undertakes human rights field activities and operations. The administrative centre is based in Genèva.

Expert committees and the core treaties

There are nine core international human rights treaties (conventions). Implementation of these treaties by the State parties is monitored by human rights treaty bodies. The conventions are the United Nations' main tools for the protection of human rights. Countries that have ratified the conventions have undertaken to act in accordance with its contents.

To the monitoring bodies there is a Special Rapporteur attached, who is appointed by the Human Rights Council. This is an independent expert who examines and reports back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The Special Rapporteurs are part of the "special procedures" of the Human Rights Council. More on Special Rapporteurs Fact Sheet N° 27: Seventeen Frequently Asked Questions about United Nations Special Rapporteurs.

Read more about conventions at DagDok : Human Rights Conventions and Declarations.

Core convention

Date

Treaty body

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Adopted 1965, 
in force 1969

CERD

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Adopted 1966,
in force 1976

CCPR

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Adopted 1966, 
in force 1976

CESCR

Convention on The Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Adopted 1979, 
in force 1981

CEDAW

Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Adopted 1984, 
in force 1987

CAT

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Adopted 1989, 
in force 1990

CRC

International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families

Adopted 1990, 
in force 2003

CMW

International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance

Adopted 2006, 
in force 2010

CED

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Adopted 2006, 
in force 2008

CRPD

Documentation

At the OHCHR website there are more background information, documents and reports.

U.N. document symbols

The U.N. document symbols for documents from the major U.N. human rights bodies:

E/CN.4/

Commission on Human Rights (defunct)

A/HRC/

Human Rights Council (supercedes Commission on HR)

E/CN.6/

Commission on the Status of Women

CCPR/

Human Rights Committee (treaty body for ICCPR)

E/C.12/

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (treaty body for International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)

CERD/

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (treaty body for Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination)

CEDAW/

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (treaty body for Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women)

CAT/

Committee against Torture (treaty body for Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment)

CAT/OP/

Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (treaty body for Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture)

CRC/

Committee on the Rights of the Child (treaty body for Convention on the Rights of the Child)

CRPD/

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (treaty body for Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol)

CMW/

Committee on Migrant Workers (treaty body for International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families)

CED/

Committee on Enforced Disappearances (treaty body for International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance)

Databases and Indexes

  • Charter-based Body DatabaseDocuments and reports of the Human Rights Council, its predecessor and their subsidiaries and parent organs. Maintained by OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights).
  • Treaty Body Database. Full text documents from the UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies.
  • Universal Human Rights Index - UHRI - Search human rights recommendations from all parts of the UN system: the UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies, the Human Rights Council mechanisms Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures. Each document links to other related information in the database.
  • UNBISnet. The UN Library online catalogue contains reports, documents and articles related to UN activities with links to full texts for recent years. Subject search can be performed using relevant terms from the UNBIS THESAURUS.
  • Official Document System (ODS). United Nations official document system: provides full text search of documents issued since 1993; resolutions of all principal organ & Security Council plenary documents since 1946 ; older documents are added regularly.
  • UN Documentation : Human Rights. A research guide by the Dag Hammarskjöld library, New York, with more databases and information.
  • UN Pulse #human rights. The blog of UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library, New York.

See also the United Nations website on Human Rights.

Read about UN and human rights at UNA Sweden website. (In Swedish)


Printed Indexes

In the subject index of the United Nations Documents Index (Online version: UNBISnet) references to all documents by subject area are published. A complete collection of indexes is held by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, Uppsala, and the Libraries at UN Headquarters in New York and Geneva.

Copyright © 2014 | Dag Hammarskjöld Library | Latest update: 20/01/2017