With this article we would like to introduce this remarkable contemporary international and inter-governmental body that aims at ensuring the respect for the Dignity and Rights of all. Most of the information compiled below has been taken from the official website of OHCHR (www.ohchr.org).

The recent reforms of the United Nations in the first decade of the new millennium show an important shift of priorities of the organization. The focus on the promotion and protection of Human Rights and Human Dignity is definitely a step in a direction whereby it becomes more and more difficult for governments and powerful institutions to choose inhumane means in order to achieve their goal of governance. The fact that the dignity of the human being becomes an essential point to consider for governments and powerful stake holders in state affairs, gives us hope that the dark ages of genocide and abuses of people, for whatever reason, will not continue to go on with impunity.

Furthermore, it surely is a hopeful sign that large superpowers and tiny states are somewhat represented on an equal footing in terms of respect for the rights and dignity of the human being. Given the international standards of good governance and the respect for Human Rights promoted by the Human Rights Council and its related mechanisms, there is an internationally recognized “good conscience” that scrutinizes large and small about the same issues and with the same measurement and no nation can be excluded from this process.

A point that needs to be addressed in the not too distant future, however, is the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t interfere so much in the debate about some basic core values that some of the major cultures and civilizations cherish. Especially the factor of religion hasn’t really been integrated much into the UN perspective. Some parts of the world do not see the Human Being in the same light as other parts. Also, there is still a an assumption made about the “superiority” of some civilizations that seem to try to teach others their core values and forget the dark times of “Western Colonialism”. Any new form of Cultural Imperialism can only be avoided if there can be mutual respect for the Human Dignity as well as Cultural Rights of all civilizations.

In this sense, the creation of an Interreligious Council at the United Nations that UPF’s Founder, the late Dr. Sun Myung Moon, promoted, would help to bring in the powerful means of the world’s religions and their core values and teachings that could contribute positively to the realization of a sustainable peace in the world . We hope that despite the “technicalities” of these important international institutions, the real hope for a better world can be realized.

Mr. Heiner Handschin

Author: Mr. Heiner Handschin

Director, UPF Office for UN Relations and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva

Mr. Heiner Handschin is the President of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification in Switzerland, and the Director of the UPF Office for UN Relations and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. He is the CEO of FPF Assistance, a company providing care and nursing for elderly and disabled people. He is married to Carolyn Handschin, a father of seven children and grandfather of three. Mr. Handschin graduated from the Teachers College of Zurich. He has a keen interest in Fine Arts and is a passionate painter.

In the UN System there are basically 3 key bodies that deal with the promotion and protection of human rights and human dignity:

  • The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • The UN charter based Bodies (HRC, UPR etc.)
  • The Treaty Bodies
  1. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

The Geneva based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has some key leadership role in the field of the promotion and the protection of “Human Rights and Human Dignity” and works to offer the best expertise and support to the different human rights monitoring mechanisms in the United Nations system: The UN Charter-based bodies and the Treaty bodies.

  1. The UN Charter-based Bodies

The UN Charter-based bodies, including the Human Rights Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, are called "Charter-based" as they were established by resolutions of principal organs of the UN whose authority flows from the UN Charter. (www.research.un.org)

Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights, held its first meeting on 19 June 2006. This inter-governmental body, which meets in Geneva 10 weeks a year, is composed of 47 elected United Nations Member States who serve for an initial period of 3 years, and cannot be elected for more than two consecutive terms. The Human Rights Council is a forum empowered to prevent abuses, inequity and discrimination, protect the most vulnerable, and expose perpetrators.

The New Mechanism provided by the Human Rights Council.

The Human Rights Council is a separate entity from OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). This distinction originates from the separate mandates they were given by the General Assembly. Nevertheless, the OHCHR provides substantive support for the meetings of the Human Rights Council, and follow-up to the Council's deliberations.

Special Procedures is the general name given to the mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights and assumed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures are either an individual -a “Special Rapporteur” or “Independent Expert”-or a working group. They are prominent, independent experts working on a voluntary basis, appointed by the Human Rights Council.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights s​situations are assessed.

The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council itself. It is a cooperative process which, by October 2011, has reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. The UPR is one of the key elements of the Council which reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ultimate aim of this mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur

Commission on Human Rights (replaced by the Human Rights Council)

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights was established in 1946 to weave the international legal fabric that protects our fundamental rights and freedoms. Composed of 53 States members, its brief expanded over time to allow it to respond to the whole range of human rights problems and it set standards to govern the conduct of States. It also acted as a forum where countries large and small, non-governmental groups and human rights defenders from around the world voiced their concerns. (This body has been replaced by the Human Rights Council which operates with much more authority than the previous commission.)

Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council                                       

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The system of Special Procedures is a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. As of 1 August 2017, there are 44 thematic and 12 country mandates.

With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), special procedures undertake country visits; act on individual cases and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States and others in which they bring alleged violations or abuses to their attention; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contribute to the development of international human rights standards, engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council; most of the mandates also report to the General Assembly. Their tasks are defined in the resolutions creating or extending their mandates.

Human Rights Council Complaint Procedure

On 18 June 2007, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 5/1 entitled “Institution-Building of the United Nations Human Rights Council” by which a new complaint procedure was established to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances.

The complaint procedure addresses communications submitted by individuals, groups, or non-governmental organizations that claim to be victims of human rights violations or that have direct, reliable knowledge of such violations. Like the former 1503 procedure, it is confidential, with a view to enhance cooperation with the State concerned. The new complaint procedure has been improved, where necessary, to ensure that the procedure be impartial, objective, efficient, victims-oriented and conducted in a timely manner. (for more information: Http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/ComplaintProcedure/)

  1. Treaty-based bodies

The Human Rights Treaty Body system

Treaty bodies are committees which monitor the implementation of human rights treaties that were ratified by the member states. They represent international legally binding norms. The implementation of those treaties happens through consideration of reports, petitions and the conduct of inquiries.

There are ten human rights treaty bodies that monitor the implementation of the ten core international human rights treaties:

How does the Treaty body process work?

First an initial report about specific issues is being presented, followed by some periodic reports about further development concerning those issues. The reviewing periodic reports have the purpose of assessing the level of compliance by states with the human rights treaties. This process ensures continuous efforts to implement human rights in each nation. At the same time it allows a public scrutiny of government legislation, policies and practices in all 192 member states throughout the world.

Each of the 10 committees is supporting and providing guidelines on how to create reports for member states (as a way ofcritical self-reflection) regarding the implementation of specific issues and the situation of human rights in general in the nations. What is remarkable is the fact that those report mechanisms have very constructive outcomes:                                                                                                        

  • The preparation of reports provides an opportunity to check how human rights are implemented on a national level.
  • The preparation of the reports should be a consultative process, meaning the different stakeholders in the nation should be included in the process.
  • Civil society should be actively involved.

(It is healthy to hear some other than the official governmental perspective on issues).

The Process of Reporting

  • Through the reporting process, committees interact with UN entities, national HR institutions, NGOs and others to gain the full picture of the implementation at the national level
  • The consideration of a report is a consultative dialogue between the state party’s delegation and the committee.
  • It’s an opportunity for state parties to seek guidance on how to implement a treaty.

The dissemination of the observations and recommendations of the treaty bodies within each member states, useful for state organs and different other stake holders. The backing of a document. Key guidance tools. Stimulate debate in each nation, among the parliaments as well as national HR organizations about a certain issue. Civil society, NGOs and the media have a very important role for keeping the debate going and promoting a consistant follow up on issues.

Follow up procedures:

  • Follow- up of the concluding observations is the responsibility of the state party.

Some committees have adopted follow-up procedures.

  • Follow-up is a platform for national dialogue.

The adoption of the concluding observations marks the end of the formal consideration of the report, but the reports continue with the purpose of supporting the member states efforts to implement some of the human rights obligations.

  • There are cycles of follow up procedures and each cycle builds on the previous one in order to guarantee a real follow up.
  • The cycles form a platform for the successful implementation of human rights procedures.

Complaint Procedures:

There are 5 committees that can receive complaints about the Human Rights violations of individuals, minorities or any vulnerable individuals or groups. These committees are the Committee against Racism, CEDAW, Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For the other committees such complaint procedures are on the way to be implemented.

  • Most treaty bodies can consider individual complaints.
  • Some treaty bodies can decide to conduct on in-country inquiries.

There are future plans to improve and to simplify the work of the treaty bodies in order to make their work more efficient and applicable.

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