With the annihilation of six million Jews in fresh memory, the UN founding states after World War II saw it as a major task to prevent future human rights violations (MRI). The Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 today has great support among the states of the world. In 1966, the two basic conventions on the MRI Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Political and Civil Rights Convention were adopted. The regulations for MRI are today considered one of the UN’s greatest successes and have had a major impact on countries’ legislation worldwide.
The Convention on Political and Civil Rights covers classical rights such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and religion, legal rights relating to the rule of law and the rule of law, and the prohibition of torture and slavery. It had been ratified by 167 states in April 2013, while the corresponding figure for the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was 160. The latter includes, among other things, the right to work, education, medical care and acceptable living conditions.
Over the years, the UN has adopted a large number of other conventions and declarations to protect against torture and slavery or to protect the rights of particularly vulnerable groups, such as minorities, indigenous peoples and the disabled. One of the most talked about conventions in recent years is the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by 193 countries or autonomous territories (Niue and the Cook Islands). See whicheverhealth for definition of UNESCO.
At the September 2005 summit, UN member states decided to replace the former Commission on Human Rights with a Human Rights Council. The 47 members of the new council would be elected by the General Assembly, and not as members of the former Commission by Ecosoc. One of the reasons for forming the new Council was the widespread criticism leveled at the previous Commission. In recent years, it has been perceived as a growing problem that countries known for human rights violations, such as Libya, Sudan and China, could join the Council and work there to prevent action against their own regimes.
However, the 2005 summit could not agree to give the Council the power planned by the Secretary-General and other initiators. The council had more members than expected, which would be elected on the basis of a regional distribution contrary to what had been proposed, nor did it need the support of two-thirds of the General Assembly to appoint the council members. This made it more difficult to prevent countries with a lack of respect for human rights from being elected to the Council.
The Council took over the Commission’s task of monitoring the human rights situation in various countries and finding new ways of respecting human rights. But the Human Rights Council has also been criticized for allowing countries’ political interests to take precedence over the protection of human rights. Assessors have pointed out that cases of systematic and serious human rights violations have not come up in the council and it has been pointed out as a shortcoming that voluntary organizations have no greater opportunity to participate in debates. Some Council members have a negative attitude towards the Council criticizing countries and want to avoid such resolutions.
Under President George W Bush, the United States chose to stand outside the Human Rights Council in protest against the view that authoritarian states had gained too much influence. But when Barack Obama became the new US president, he and his administration chose to seek a seat on the council. The United States was elected in May 2009.
What stands out as one of the Council’s main trump cards is the review carried out in a special review process (Universal Periodic Review, UPR) by all UN members. Each state submits a report on what is being done to strengthen the human rights situation in the country, while two other reports report information from other UN human rights bodies and from non-governmental organizations. By the end of 2011, all Member States had been reviewed. In 2012, a second round was initiated where the focus would now be on how the states fulfilled the recommendations they received in connection with the previous round.
Since 1997, the work for human rights has been led by a so-called High Commissioner. The post was established as a result of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna.
The High Commissioner’s task is, among other things, to ensure that HR work within the UN system is coordinated and to conduct a dialogue with governments so that they can work for HR. The Commissariat also performs a wide range of tasks from reporting and gathering facts to administering HR assistance.
The monitoring of human rights is carried out in various ways within the UN. On the one hand, several conventions are monitored by special committees that review reports from the acceding states on how they comply with the convention. On the one hand, there is a special complaint procedure where individuals or groups can report serious and systematic violations of MRI to the Geneva Police Station. The complaints are investigated together with two special working groups.
The working groups select the cases that require the HR Council to take a position on them. The Council may choose to appoint an expert to further investigate the situation and submit a report. Particularly serious cases of systematic violations can also be published – a relatively effective punishment, as countries are reluctant to expose themselves to negative publicity and condemnation around the world.
For a long time, the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights lacked an additional protocol with a complaint procedure for individuals. But in 2013, such a protocol came into force, 37 years after the Convention on Civil and Political Rights was adopted.
The Human Rights Council can also appoint special rapporteurs to investigate the situation in countries or investigate a specific issue (Special procedures). These provide an annual report to the Human Rights Council and sometimes also to the General Assembly.
Countries accused of human rights abuses have traditionally countered by claiming that the UN is interfering in their internal affairs and thus violating the principle of non-intervention in the UN Charter. However, there is a growing international consensus today that serious violations of human rights threaten international peace and security and thus justify the UN interfering in, sometimes even with violence.
Since the end of the 1990’s, there has been an increasing effort within the UN for the work for human rights to permeate all activities. HR experts have begun to be included in the work of other UN bodies and have become an important part of both many peace missions and humanitarian efforts.