6. What is the role of the United Nations for the monitoring of human rights?

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What is the role of the United Nations for the monitoring of human rights?

At the international level, various bodies within the United Nations system monitor the compliance of states with their human rights obligations. A short overview:

These are in particular the so-called treaty bodies, but also the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and the Security Council. International human rights NGOs are likewise essential for monitoring human rights practices. On the regional level, the organs of the European, Inter-american, and African human rights protection system are important since the rulings of regional human rights courts are binding for the member states. 

Treaty bodies in the international system of human rights protection

The treaty bodies are expert panels created on the basis of the respective human rights treaty. They examine and evaluate the state reports about states’ implementation of treaty obligations and subsequently issue their comments in so-called Concluding Observations. (see question: “What are Concluding Observations”). Most treaty bodies also decide upon individual complaints and some may take the initiative to initiate themselves inquiries into human rights violations.  

The Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council (HRC) is the most important political human rights body of the United Nations. Its 47 members are elected by the UN General Assembly. Since 2006, the Human Rights Council is tasked with the regular examination of the human rights situation within all UN member states (Universal Periodic Review) In addition, the Council follows up on the situation in individual countries - in the form of country reports and resolutions. It also appoints Special Rapporteurs for specific topics. 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, General Assembly and Security Council

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is in charge of the coordination of human rights work within the system of the United Nations. Besides the head office in Geneva, it maintains regional and country offices and offers technical support for the implementation of human rights. 

The UN General Assembly (GA) adopts human rights treaties by resolution. Furthermore, the General Assembly discusses and decides on many human rights issues. 

Last but not least, the UN Security Council (SC) can impose political, economical or military sanctions against states that systematically violate human rights, as it has done in 2011 against Libya in Resolution 1970.  

Further Reading

Reading Tip

Deutsche Geschellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) (2013): Promising Practices - On a human rights-based approach in German development cooperation. GIZ, 26 p.

Deutsche Geschellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) (2011): National Human Rights Institutions. GIZ, 10 p.