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FAQ's on the Human Rights Council

1. What is the Human Rights Council?

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations structure, with a membership consisting of 47 states. The Council is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. It was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 with the overall objective of addressing human rights violations.

2. How are members elected?

Council members are elected by the 192 member states of the UN General Assembly. Any UN member state can be elected to the Council if it receives an absolute majority of votes. The 47 Council seats are designed to ensure equitable geographical representation: 13 members are elected from the African Group; 13 from the Asian Group; 6 from the Eastern European Group; 8 from the Latin American and Caribbean Group; and 7 from the Western European and Other States Group.

The first members of the Human Rights Council were elected on 9 May 2006. The last Council elections were held on 12 May 2009, and the next elections will be held in 2012. Members are elected for three-year terms. They are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

3. What are the expectations of the members to the Council?

When voting for members of the Council, member states take into consideration a candidates' contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. Upon election, members commit themselves to cooperating with the Council and to upholding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. Candidates to the Council also submit voluntary pledges and commitments with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights.

4. Can a Member have its rights and privileges suspended in the Council?

The General Assembly has the right to suspend the rights and privileges of any Council Member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. This process of suspension requires a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly.

5. What is the difference between the Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?

The Human Rights Council consists of member states or governments, and is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, directly accountable to the full membership of the United Nations.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office (OHCHR) are part of the Secretariat structure, reporting to the UN Secretary-General. The OHCHR works closely with governments and civil society partners around the world to ensure that international standards of human rights are implemented on the ground, and to promote human rights education and international law.

Although OHCHR is a completely distinct entity from the Council, it supports the Council’s work, as well as that of the treaty-monitoring bodies which review states’ compliance with the international human rights treaties they have signed on to.

6. What does the Human Rights Council do?

The Council serves as the main United Nations forum for intergovernmental cooperation and dialogue on human rights issues. Its focus is to help member states meet their human rights obligations through dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance. The Council also makes recommendations to the General Assembly for further development of international law in the field of human rights.

Through what is called a “Universal Periodic Review,” the Council assesses the situation of human rights in all 192 UN member states. It also has an Advisory Committee, which provides expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues which pertain to all parts of the world. Another element of its work is a “Complaints Procedure,” which allows individuals and organizations to bring complaints about human rights violations to the attention of the Council.

The Council addresses specific country situations or thematic issues through a system called ‘special procedures.’ Currently, there are 33 thematic and 8 country mandates.