The United Nations Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations systemresponsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year.
The Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006. It replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) serves as the Secretariat of the Human Rights Council.
OHCHR is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
It is made up of 47 United Nations Member States which are elected by the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
The UNGA takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.
The Council’s Membership is based on equitable geographical distribution. Seats are distributed as follows:
African States: 13 seats
Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
Western European and other States: 7 seats
Eastern European States: 6 seats
Members of the Council serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
Procedures and Mechanisms:
Universal Periodic Review:UPR serves to assess the human rights situations in all United Nations Member States.
Advisory Committee: It serves as the Council’s “think tank” providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues.
Complaint Procedure: It allows individuals and organizations to bring human rights violations to the attention of the Council.
UN Special Procedures: These are made up of special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups that monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries.
Human Rights Council is a highly politicised body. State governments are political constructs, so institution made up of government representatives is inevitably political too. Hence, states will generally vote in favour of their national interests rather than human rights interests if the two should clash.
Disproportionate Focus:There are allegations of bias against Israel. The body has aimed a disproportionate number of resolutions against that country. The Human Rights Council’s regular agenda of 10 items contains only one item that focuses on a particular state, that state being Israel. Israel has been the subject of more special sessions than any other state (more than a quarter of the 28 sessions). This also implies corresponding lack of focus on other serious human rights violations. Recently, the United States has withdrawn from the United Nations’ top human rights body accusing it of “chronic bias” against Israel.
However, reform of Human Rights Council is necessary, and discussions and reform proposals are already in the works, with engagement by states and human rights organisations indicating a consensus building approach.
Related to the Membership: A key concern for some critics has been the composition of Council membership, which sometimes includes countries widely perceived as human rights abusers.
China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela, all of which have been accused of human rights abuses.
India and UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
India is a founding member of the Council and has served two terms from 2006-2007 and 2007-2010 respectively. It was elected by an unprecedented 181 votes to the Council for the term 2011-2014 and will seek re-election to the Council for the term 2015- 2017. Also, it is highly respected in the Council.
It believes that the promotion and protection of human rights are fundamental freedoms can be best pursued through dialogue and cooperation.
It has consistently and successfully pleaded for preserving the intergovernmental nature of the Council’s mechanism and encouraged strengthening of national efforts to realize human rights.
India has upheld respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of the States, impartiality, non-selectivity and transparency. It has abstained on one-sided or unbalanced resolutions on country specific situations since we believe that “finger pointing” cannot be an elegant or effective solution to such issues.
Recently, a group of Special Rapporteurs to the United Nations (UN) has written to the Indian government expressing concerns over the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020.
In 2020, India’s National Human Rights Commission submitted its mid-term report to the Council as a part of the third round of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.
India was elected to the Council for a period of three years beginning 1st January 2019.