6: Important monitoring bodies
In an ideal world, all people have their human rights safeguarded. The reality is that there are many gross violations of human rights in a number of countries where the authorities have neither the will nor the ability to safeguard the rights of the population.
This means that the UN and the regional monitoring mechanisms, the international and national human rights organizations and the media have a very important task in reporting when human rights are violated. In this way, they can contribute to those responsible being punished and the victims receiving fair treatment.
Within the UN, there are three bodies in particular that are important in the work of monitoring human rights, namely:
- UN Human Rights Council
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- UN Security Council
7: Three global bodies within the UN
UN Human Rights Council
According to acronymmonster, the Human Rights Council is the UN’s main body for dealing with human rights issues. It is an intergovernmental body under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. It consists of 47 states elected for three years at a time. Norway has been a member of the Human Rights Council since June 2009.
The Council was established by the General Assembly on 15 March 2006. The most important tasks of the Council are to deal with situations where human rights are violated, adopt recommendations to put an end to such violations and to promote human rights globally in various ways.
The Human Rights Council replaced the Human Rights Commission, which was disbanded after strong criticism for being ineffective and politicized. Countries that committed serious and widespread human rights violations gained great influence and succeeded far in avoiding criticism. Violations in one country were often criticized, while similar violations in another country did not.
Political horse trafficking and cooperation between groups of countries to avoid criticism led to the Commission on Human Rights losing authority. A big question is whether the Human Rights Council will work better. The Council has implemented some measures to tighten the requirements for the countries elected as members. On 18 June 2007, a comprehensive package of such measures was adopted. Among the most important is the so-called universal periodic treatment of the human rights situation in all 192 UN member states. In the course of four years, the situation in all countries must have been addressed, and a new round can begin. In December 2009, the human rights situation in Norway will be reviewed by the Human Rights Council.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Since 1982, the UN Center for Human Rights in Geneva has been the most important UN human rights office. In 1993, more than 40 years after the idea was launched, the General Assembly decided to appoint its own High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN. He was to coordinate the UN’s activities in the field of human rights and lead the center in Geneva.
The Center for Human Rights has long had a leading role in conducting studies on how human rights are respected. The thousands of reports of human rights violations sent to UN agencies each year are handled by the center, which filters out or forwards complaints. It also obtains documentation, conducts surveys and provides advice.
The UN human rights system has several problems to contend with. One important problem is that there are too few resources. The number of positions at the Center for Human Rights is low in relation to the tasks. Another problem for the UN’s work is the tension between political pragmatism on the one hand and moral principles and human rights on the other. This may mean that the UN, in order to maintain a good relationship with the authorities in a country, may feel compelled to tone down criticism of their abuses.
UN Security Council
The UN Security Council consists of five permanent member states and ten who are elected for two years at a time. The permanent members are the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and the United States.
The UN Charter gives the Security Council the main responsibility for maintaining peace and security. It can discuss any disagreement that could lead to international conflict. It is often massive and persistent human rights violations that lead to such conflicts. It is mainly from this perspective that the Security Council engages in human rights issues.
In extreme cases, the Security Council may determine that a situation of particularly serious abuse constitutes a “threat to peace”. Then the UN can intervene along a scale from attempts at mediation to direct use of coercion, such as an intervention. The Security Council has the final say in such matters. The term “threat to peace” can be difficult to interpret in specific situations. Different states can interpret situations differently depending on their own traditions and interests.