Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2023, 15:20 GMT

The UN Human Rights System

This "Special Feature" deals specifically with UN international human rights treaties and several of the key human rights mechanisms within the UN system. It also contains a number of legal, policy and operational material relevant to UNHCR in the field of human rights.

United Nations International Rights Treaties

Key UN Declarations and Resolutions Related to Human Rights

United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies

The human rights treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties. Each State party to a treaty has an obligation to take steps to ensure that everyone in the State can enjoy the rights set out in the treaty. In addition to conducting periodic reviews of State compliance, several of the treaty bodies may also, under certain conditions, receive individual complaints regarding violations (or foreseen violations) of human rights. In such instances they may request interim measures (such as a stay of deportation) until they can issue a decision on the merits of the case, United Nations Treaty Collection website, for the ratification status by country.

Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council (UPR)

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR)is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years. States under review can declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries, and highlight the challenges and constraints they are facing. The other Member States then have the opportunity to acknowledge the positive achievements, express concerns and ultimately pose recommendations to the State for further improvement. Each year 42 States are reviewed, receiving an average of 180 recommendations each. The review is conducted on the basis of three documents:

  • The State’s Report
  • A summary of Stakeholder reports and
  • A compilation of UN information.
  • UNHCR regularly issues public submissions on States under review. These submissions contribute to the compilation of UN information. Once a State’s review (or “Working Group” session) has taken place, a Final Report of the Working Group is adopted which sets out all of the recommendations a State has received. States may then “note” these recommendations, or “support” them and commit to their implementation.

    Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council

    The Special Procedures mandate holders are made up of special rapporteurs, independent experts or working groups composed of five members who are appointed by the Council and who serve in their personal capacity. They may have either thematic or country-specific mandates. They undertake country visits; act/intervene with States on individual cases and/ or broader human rights situations; conduct thematic studies and issue annual reports; raise public awareness; and provide advice for technical cooperation. The experts report at least once a year to the Council on their findings and recommendations, as well as to the UN General Assembly.

      United Nations Independent Investigations

      United Nations mandated commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions and investigations are increasingly being used to respond to situations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, whether protracted or resulting from sudden events, and to promote accountability for such violations and counter impunity. These international investigative bodies have been established by the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    • Current and Past Mandates (OHCHR's Website)

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