These children from the indigenous Emberá people had been displaced by armed conflict in Colombia by 2006. Forced displacement is doubly catastrophic for indigenous communities closely linked to the land. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law. UN Photo/Mark Garten
The term “human rights” was mentioned seven times in the UN's founding Charter, making the promotion and protection of human rights a key purpose and guiding principle of the Organization.
In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lay down the principles that brought human rights into the realm of international law. Since then, the Organization has diligently protected human rights through legal instruments and on-the-ground activities.
How does the UN promote and protect human rights?
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
The office supports the human rights components of peacekeeping missions in several countries, and in addition to its regional offices, has HR Centres, Country/Stand-alone Offices and Human Rights Advisors all over the world.
OHCHR has a Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa in Beirut, Lebanon.
OHCHR's Regional Office for North Africa is in Tunis.
Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council, which was established in 2006, meets in Geneva. It replaced the 60-year-old UN Commission on Human Rights as the key independent UN intergovernmental body responsible for human rights.
The treaty bodies are composed of independent experts of recognized competence in human rights, who are nominated and elected for fixed renewable terms of four years by State parties.
The Human Rights Treaty Body system
The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are prominent, independent experts working on a voluntary basis, who examine, monitor, publicly report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective.
UNDG Human Rights Working Group
The UN Development Group’s Human Rights Working Group advances human rights mainstreaming efforts within the UN development system.
Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect
The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide acts as a catalyst to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action.
The Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs plays a leading role in the work of the UN to help countries hold credible, transparent and inclusive elections. Since 1992, the UN has assisted more than 100 of its Member States with electoral support.
Democracy, based on the rule of law, is ultimately a means to achieve international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights – the three pillars of the United Nations mission as set forth in the UN Charter.
At the 2005 World Summit, all the world’s governments reaffirmed “that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives” and stressed “that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.”
Democratic principles are woven throughout the normative fabric of the United Nations. The 2009 Guidance Note on Democracy of the Secretary-General sets out the United Nations framework for democracy based on universal principles, norms and standards and commits the Organization to principled, coherent and consistent action in support of democracy.
What other UN offices and bodies are responsible for protecting human rights?
The Secretary-General appoints special representatives, who advocate against major human rights violations:
On 19 January 2018, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres established the International Commission of Inquiry envisioned by the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. He appointed Lena Sundh (Sweden), Vinod Boolell (Mauritius) and Simon Munzu (Cameroon) to serve as Commissioners and selected Ms. Sundh as Chair. Established at the request of the signatory parties to the Agreement, the Commission of Inquiry was to advance national reconciliation and support the Malian authorities’ efforts in the fight against impunity. The Commissioners, who are serving in their personal capacities, investigated serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Mali since January 2012 and submitted a report to the Secretary General.
The Highest Aspiration: A Call to Action for Human Rights
The UN Security Council, at times, deals with grave human rights violations, often in conflict areas. The UN Charter gives the Security Council the authority to investigate and mediate, dispatch a mission, appoint special envoys, or request the Secretary-General to use his good offices.
The Security Council may issue a ceasefire directive, dispatch military observers or a peacekeeping force. If this is not enough, the Security Council can opt for enforcement measures, such as economic sanctions, arms embargos, financial penalties and restrictions, travel bans, the severance of diplomatic relations, a blockade, or even collective military action.
Third Committee of the General Assembly
The General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) examines a range of issues, including human rights questions. The Committee also discusses questions relating to the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedoms through the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the right to self-determination. The Committee also addresses important social development questions.
Various Other UN Bodies
Different intergovernmental bodies and interdepartmental mechanisms based at the United Nations headquarters in New York, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, address a range of human rights issues.
To celebrate International Day of UN Peacekeepers: Meet Nicole Ngoy, a human rights officer, working at the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Many United Nations peacekeeping operations and political and peacebuilding missions also include the human rights-related mandates aimed at contributing to the protection and promotion of human rights through both immediate and long-term action; empowering the population to assert and claim their human rights; and enabling State and other national institutions to implement their human rights obligations and uphold the rule of law.
Human rights teams on the ground work in close cooperation and coordination with other civilian and uniformed components of peace operations, in particular, in relation to the protection of civilians; addressing conflict-related sexual violence and violations against children; and strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law through legal and judicial reform, security sector reform and prison system reform.
Commission on the Status of Women
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women.
UN Women, established in 2010, serves as its Secretariat.