United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) | IAS Target IAS Target

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a United Nations body. The UNHRC was established by the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006, to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights that had been strongly criticized for permitting countries with poor human rights records to be members. The UNHRC works with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and engages the UN's special procedures. It is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible 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. Russia, facing allegations of war crimes in relation to its policies in Syria, lost its seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

Formation 15 March 2006
Headquarter Geneva, Switzerland
Members 47 (elected for three-year terms on a regional group basis)
Parent organization United Nations General Assembly

UNHRC Mission

  • To promote and protect human rights around the world
  • Investigates allegations of breaches of human rights in UN member states

  • Addresses important thematic human rights issues such as:
    • freedom of expression
    • freedom of association and assembly
    • freedom of belief and religion,

  • Women's rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities
  • The council also carries out the Universal Periodic Review of all UN member states, which allows civil society groups to bring accusations of human rights violations in member states to the attention of the UN.


  • The members of the General Assembly elect the members who occupy the UNHRC's 47 seats
  • The term of each seat is three years, and no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms

  • The seats are distributed among the UN's regional groups as follows:
    • 13 for Africa, & 13 for Asia
    • six for Eastern Europe,
    • eight for Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC),
    • seven for the Western European and Others Group (WEOG).

  • The General Assembly can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights.
  • The suspension process requires a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly.


The UNHRC holds regular sessions three times a year, in March, June, and September.

Criticism of UNHRC

  • Human Rights NGO, Human Rights Watch has criticized the election saying that the election was devoid of any competition and countries with the worst Human rights records like Philippines, Eritrea, Bahrain etc. have been elected in UNHRC.
  • UNHRC accused of keeping mum on grave issues like Russian occupation of Ukraine, human rights violation in Cuba among others. Recently, one of the founding members of the commission, US withdrew from UNHRC citing its ineffectiveness and bias

Challenges facing by UNHRC

  • Many members of the UN are themselves systematic human right offenders.
  • Extra-territorial jurisdiction and Intrusion into the sovereignty of the states.
  • Failures on implementation of its own decisions and recommendations.

India and UNHRC

India has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for a period of three years beginning January 1, 2019.

Significance of India election UNHRC

  • India's election with the highest number of votes reflects India's standing in the international comity.
  • Bias against Israel
  • The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern for the promotion and protection of human rights.
  • It recognizes India's commitment towards the protection of Human Rights.
  • Confusion between OHCHR and HRC and their mandates

Reacting angrily to a submission from the Human Rights Council (HRC) on alleged violations in Jammu and Kashmir, India has informed the United Nations body that India will no longer entertain any communication with the HRC’s Special Rapporteurs on its report. A report from two NGOs in Jammu and Kashmir on alleged cases of HR violations was released, which was endorsed by a former UN Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Executions had referred to a previous June 2018 report of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and written to the government in March 2019, asking about steps taken by New Delhi to address alleged human rights violations mentioned in the report.
In addition, the Special Rapporteurs had listed cases where civilians were killed by members of the security forces.” Rejecting all the claims, the Indian Permanent Mission to the United Nations replied to the OHCHR on April 23, saying that “India does not intend to engage further with these mandate holders or any other mandate holders on the issue,” whom it accused of “individual prejudice”.

UNHRC's role

Global reach
Special Procedures Special Procedures of UNHRC are a universal source of knowledge on human rights themes and country-specific conditions which aids to improve the understanding of human rights law.
Universal Periodic Review: The Universal periodic review (UPR) mechanism reviews all 192 UN member states every four years to "ensure universality of coverage and equal treatment of all Member States."
Condemning the violations In the recent past, the resolutions adopted by the UNHRC have highlighted and condemned distinctive violations despite the efforts to the contrary by some members of the HRC. For example, amid the Arab Spring, the Human Rights Council voted unanimously to suspend Libya’s membership. More recently, the Council did not permit Syria to bid for a seat on grounds of human rights violations and appointed an investigation there.
No consensus on Controversial subject LGBTIQ rights and religious prejudice. South Africa’s efforts to acknowledge the rights of LGBTIQ faced strong opposition from neighbouring countries but it was supported by distant countries like Brazil, Colombia, the United States, and so on.
Special Rapporteur The titles Special Rapporteur, Independent Expert, and Working Group Member are given to individuals working on behalf of the United Nations (UN) within the scope of "special procedure" mechanisms.
Special Procedure 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: economic, cultural, political, civil, and social.