The United Nations Human Rights Council: What it is, What They Do, and Why it Matters

By Rachel Rochford (’23)

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Similar to both aerospace engineering and the reason words are assigned genders (in languages other than English and the fibonacci sequence), the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) may just be something that you’ve heard of, have wondered about or vaguely remember learning the purpose of a long time ago. No matter which category you fall into, it helps to start at the beginning. HRC was created fairly recently. The UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 established the HRC in 2006 in order to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights as they had received large amounts of criticism for allowing countries with notably poor human rights records to become members of the commission. 

As its name would suggest, the Human Rights Council is the United Nations’ human rights sector to put it simply. Anything that impacts or has the potential to improve human rights is discussed and debated by the council, made up of representatives from 47 different nations. Members are elected to the council by the majority members of the UN General Assembly through both direct and secret ballot. As nations are considered for election, the General Assembly pays close attention to the candidate country’s human rights record and the contributions they have made towards protecting human rights. Seats on the HRC are consistently distributed with 13 going to nations in Africa, 13 to Asia-Pacific nations, 8 to Latin American and Carribean nations, 6 going to Eastern European nations, and the remaining 7 going to Western Europe and other nations. Once elected to the council, members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.  

So why does any of this matter? The answer to that is really the same as the answer to the first question. The United Nations Human Rights Council helps to protect and promote human rights throughout the world. Quite frankly, this is one of the most important parts of the United Nations. It’s easy to forget about those who face incredible hardships that strip them of their basic rights when these situations often feel so far removed from our own. The HRC doesn’t forget though. The council aims to protect and promote human rights throughout the world and understanding the importance of this is vital. Without rights, we lose our voices in society, and without those, we lose our ability to make choices for ourselves which is precisely the reason why the HRC is such a valuable part of the United Nations.

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