Human Rights

Promoting respect for human rights is a core purpose of the United Nations and defines its identity as an organization for people around the world. Member States have mandated the Secretary-General and the UN System to help them achieve the standards set out in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To do so, the UN System uses all the resources at its disposal, including its moral authority, diplomatic creativity and operational reach. Member States, however, have the primary responsibility for protecting human rights of their populations.

UN Photo/Marco Dormino
Students at a school in Bamako, Mali celebrate at the end of a friendly UN-themed quiz competition in 2013.

In November 2013, the Secretary-General renewed the commitment of the United Nations Secretariat, agencies, funds and programmes to upholding the responsibilities assigned to them by the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council and the General Assembly whenever there is a threat of serious and large-scale violations of human rights. That was a first step in implementing the “Human Rights up Front” action plan, which places better system preparedness and preventive action at the core of United Nations efforts to avoid future conflict. The action plan reaffirms the centrality of human rights to the work of the Organization and confirms that it will use the full breadth of its mandates to protect people at risk.

Events across the globe in the past year testified to the need for human rights to be integral to all that the United Nations does. The early warning role is fundamental to the Organization’s efforts to take preventive action to avoid conflict. The human rights responsibilities of resident coordinators have been strengthened, a new guidance note on United Nations country team conduct and working arrangements has clarified roles and responsibilities concerning human rights and additional human rights advisers have been deployed. Over the past year, human rights officers in the field have provided Member States with technical assistance and capacity-building to promote the implementation of the rule of law on the ground. They have also delivered critical information to alert Member States and United Nations bodies to situations of potential concern.

The United Nations system has made progress on far-reaching policy initiatives aimed at mainstreaming human rights throughout its work. Human rights standards and principles were taken into account in the design of  the post-2015 development agenda. The Organization has continued to take an active role in ensuring that the essential human rights dimensions of freedom from fear and freedom from want remain central to that discussion.

Many countries and subregions have experienced armed conflict involving a variety of non-State actors who spread terror across borders, were often implicated in organized crime and perpetrated gross violations of the human rights of children and women.  While Member States have reaffirmed important commitments and principles with respect to their collective responsibility to protect people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, we have a long way to go before they are fully upheld in practice.

Global human rights challenges, such as migration, disabilities, rights of women and children, sexual orientation, and the rights of various minorities, are being addressed through promotion of equality and countering discrimination. A higher number of ratifications in the past year of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities demonstrates that States are receptive to new approaches on this issue. There are more international migrants on the move now than ever before in human history, many of them facing unacceptable levels of human rights abuses throughout the migration cycle, in countries of origin, transit and destination. In response, the United Nations has appealed for protection of the human rights of all migrants and called on Governments to embrace migration as essential for inclusive and sustainable social and economic development. 

The United Nations human rights mechanisms continue to draw attention to a wide range of human rights issues, both thematic and country-specific, bringing new issues to the fore and providing early warning functions. The number of special procedures mandates have increased and an unprecedented number of commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions/investigations have been deployed, namely in relation to the Central African Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.


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