Human rights

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 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 (1999): "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.

List of Human Rights issues.

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

Human Rights, conventions and declaration

More on UN and Human Rights

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)

Websites and research guides

Literature

  • The question of intervention : statements by the Secretary-General report by the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, published 1999 by United Nations Department of Publication information. Contains statements delivered by the Secretary-General over a period of 16 months (26 June 1998-19 Oct. 1999), which are intended as a contribution to the debate on the question of intervention.

UN documents and publications in catalogues and databases

  • United Nations Digital Library offers UN documents and open access publications, UN voting data and speeches, UN maps, Content in 6+ languages
  • UN iLibrary UN publications online covering different topics.
  • ODS full-text UN documents published from 1993 onward and scanned documents published between 1946 and 1993 in the official languages of the UN.
  • Daily list of documents (ODS). Documents published for the day, with full text links, can be found in the United Nations full text database ODS.
  • UNBISnet. Catalogue of UN documents and publications from 1979 onwards. Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council from 1946 onwards are continuously added. Links to full text documents when available. Including speeches and voting records.
  • Index to proceedings is an annual bibliographic guide to the proceedings and documentation of the major UN organs. The index includes:
    • a list of all documents
    • a comprehensive subject index
    • an index to speeches
    • a voting chart of resolutions
  • United Nations Documents Index (UNBISnet) References to all documents by subject area are published. A collection of indexes is held by the Dag Hammarskjöld and Law Library, Uppsala, and the Libraries at UN Headquarters in New York and Geneva.