The role and future of the Human Rights Council

Authored by: Allehone M. Abebe

Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  August  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415620734
eBook ISBN: 9780203481417
Adobe ISBN: 9781135055943


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The UN Human Rights Council was established by General Assembly Resolution 251/60 on 19 June 2006, replacing the former Commission on Human Rights (the Commission), an institution that had been widely criticised by governments, the UN, academics and civil society organisations alike. The Commission, established in 1946 as a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), was the central inter-governmental platform within the United Nations to take action on emerging human rights situations. It was criticised for its ‘selective and political’ approaches to human rights situations where developing countries were subjected to the Commission’s severe scrutiny and criticism. Others also challenged the effectiveness of the Commission’s response to human rights situations in various countries. The membership of states with questionable human rights records was often cited as one of the Commission’s significant weaknesses — an example of how the Commission was used by states as a means of shielding themselves from human rights scrutiny and criticism. The fact that the Commission was not created as a principal organ of the United Nations (or a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, for that matter) was also identified as an institutional weakness which denied the Commission the opportunity to bring human rights concerns to principal organs of the United Nations. These criticisms were reinforced by the report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel, which noted that ‘the Commission’s capacity to perform these tasks has been undermined by eroding credibility and professionalism’. 1 1

Report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, ‘A more secure world: Our shared responsibility’ (2004) UN Doc. A/59/565, para. 283.

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