"Action 2"

Strengthening UN Support for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Worldwide

 “The High Commissioner for Human Rights will develop and implement a plan, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Group and the Executive Committee for Humanitarian Affairs, to strengthen human rights-related United Nations action at the country level.”
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

Introducing "Action 2"

The quest to place human rights at the centre of the activities of the United Nations system has been a consistent focus of the Secretary-General’s UN reform agenda, since its launch in 1997. 

In "Action 2" of his second report on UN reform in 2002, the Secretary-General identified the building of strong human rights institutions at the country level as a principal objective of the United Nations. In particular, he proposed that the UN system at the national level (UN country teams) enhance collaboration to respond to the needs and requests of Member States in establishing and strengthening national human rights promotion and protection systems.

Good progress has been achieved to date in integrating human rights throughout the United Nations system.  Human rights specialists are deployed as part of peacekeeping missions. A growing number of agencies and programmes have adopted human rights-based approaches to development cooperation.  Human rights have been incorporated into the analysis and planning frameworks of UN country teams. Increasingly, policies at the national level which are sensitive to human rights have been adopted, new operational tools developed, and stronger institutional linkages established between the UN human rights bodies and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the one hand, and the operational UN agencies on the other, under the frameworks of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA).

Taken together, these conceptual, policy and practical developments provide a firm foundation for action where it matters most – at the country level.  Already, many UN country teams support national human rights institutions and human rights education activities.  Further system-wide efforts are needed, however, to build the capacity of country teams and link their work with UN human rights mechanisms.  This is the focus of the Action 2 programme, based on the interagency plan of action adopted in September 2003 by the heads of OHCHR and UN agencies under UNDG and ECHA.

The Essence of "Action 2"

Action 2 is a global programme designed to strengthen the capacity of UN country teams to support the efforts of Member States, at their request, in strengthening their national human rights promotion and protection systems.  In order to achieve this, adequate national capacity, dedicated resources and expertise are fundamental prerequisites.

The Action 2 programme ensures that the UN will be ready to respond to these challenges by strengthening the capacity of its country teams with practical tools, training, advice, knowledge sharing and seed funding for capacity building and pilot programming. It also encourages closer interactions between UN country teams and UN human rights mechanisms such as treaty monitoring bodies and fact-finding missions of special rapporteurs and independent experts of the Commission on Human Rights. The ultimate aim of the Action 2 programme is to ensure that the rights of individuals are respected and protected, through strengthened national human rights protection systems.

What is a National Human Rights Protection System?

To ensure effective and sustainable human rights protection at the national level, it is crucial to have strong institutions that operate independently and adhere to international human rights standards. 

Important elements of a national protection system include:

  • Laws consistent with international human rights standards.
  • Effective functioning of courts, judiciary and law enforcement as well as independent human rights institutions or ombudsman.
  • Procedures for individuals to effectively claim one’s rights.
  • Good governance and accountable government institutions that promote and protect human rights.
  • Democratic, open, transparent and participatory decision making process.
  • Strong civil society, including a free and independent media.


One of the ways to strengthen national human rights protection systems is to ensure that UN actions at country level are grounded in human rights principles and are guided by international norms and standards.  Development cooperation and humanitarian operations should further the realization of human rights, as outlined in the treaties and conventions. The Action 2 programme will support UN country teams in adopting a human rights based approach, which seeks to strengthen the capacity of 'duty-bearers' to meet their obligations and of 'rights holders' to claim their rights by promoting, inter alia:

  • Equality and non-discrimination among all individuals in the enjoyment of their human rights, with a special focus on the disadvantaged and marginalized members of society.
  • Participation and inclusion of every person and all sectors of civil society in the enjoyment of civil, cultural, economic, political and social development in which human rights and fundamental freedoms can be realized.
  • Accountability and the rule of law by supporting the capacity of States and other duty bearers to develop laws, regulations, policies and budgets that comply with agreed standards and goals and clearly stipulate the reciprocal responsibilities of a State and its citizens, as well as avenues for redress.

“The promotion and protection of human rights is a bedrock
requirement for the realization of the Charter’s vision of a just and peaceful world.”
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General