Functions of the Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the supreme organ of the intergovernmental human rights system within the United Nations.

Resolution 60/251 of the General Assembly describes the main features; including "promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner" (Article 2). The High Commissioner for Human Rights assists it in its work.

A Center for Dialogue

The Council is primarily a meeting place (Article 5.h) where the various actors in the international scene come together to discuss, define and explain what are human rights, as well as necessary measures to ensure their protection and promotion. It is a forum where issues ducked at the national and regional levels can be discussed, such as the use of armed drones in military operations, and themes with transnational implications such as multinational business and human Rights.

The Human Rights Council must first of all ensure control and monitoring of States for a lasting improvement in human rights. It may assist Member States in meeting their obligations (Article 5.d) in terms of the protection and promotion of human rights through dialogue, strengthening their capacity and technical assistance (Article 5.a).

The dialogue is created thanks to the possibilities of NGO participation in the Council. One possibility of formal participation, in addition to the opportunity of making an oral or written statement, is the organization and participation in side events. Issues discussed during the sessions of the Council may be re-discussed in depth, allowing NGOs to express themselves with less time constraints. The events organized by NGOs also allow media coverage of their cause and enables them to make contacts with other NGOs and State representatives.

Permanent Missions can also organize side events during the session of the Human Rights Council, to mobilize actors on a specific cause or goal, or to seek feedback on a resolution.

NGOs may also participate informally; this is called advocacy with delegates attending the Council. Informal meetings, which do not take place in a room of the Palais des Nations, are also organized in order to enhance the dialogue between actors.

The Council therefore provides an international forum where States (members and observers), international organizations and agencies specialized in human rights and civil society can share 'Best Practices' with regards to promoting Human rights and can formulate their concerns.

A decision-making center

The Human Rights Council allows the development of concepts and policies. It has a normative role on the international scene: resolutions passed will become guidelines for member countries, and will provide policy guidance in terms of human rights.

The Human Rights Council allows a debate on various topics, some being more 'traditional' and other 'new', i.e. which have rarely been treated at the international level in the past. For example, the theme of the status of women around the world is regularly set on the agenda, while new issues, such as LGBTI rights are also discussed.

Plenary sessions of the Council, where delegates will address violations committed and make recommendations, are the base of the decision-making system of the Council of Human Rights.

Council sessions strengthen the promotion and protection of Human Rights worldwide, including through the issuance of recommendations (Article 3) aimed towards the strengthening of Human Rights. These resolutions allow to make an inventory of Human Rights globally and to provide technical assistance to countries.

Resolutions and recommendations, once adopted, can be transmitted to the General Assembly (Article 5.c). In case of a sensitive or of a resolution addressing a high-conflict theme, the Security Council may decide to seize a violation discussed at the Council and put it in its agenda. The Human Rights Council has jurisdiction to refer an issue to the General Assembly, the Security Council or other councils and committees of the United Nations. The Council thus promotes the integration of human rights in all aspects of the UN's work and ensures effective coordination within the UN system.

Recommendations and resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council do not have binding measure. However, while there is therefore no legal obligation to respect those decisions, States are subject to some diplomatic pressure from the international community on behalf of the Council.

A Center for the protection of victims

The Human Rights Council’s goal is also to ensure the protection of victims of human rights violations.

Resolutions adopted during plenary sessions show a will in preventing violations. More particularly, the Council endows itself with a preventive responsibility with regard to violations of Human Rights thanks to the Universal Periodic Review (Article 5.e), which gives the Council a right to monitor internal activities of member countries. Many recommendations are issued for the safety of Human Rights Defenders and for the protection of civil society space.

The Human Rights Council is intended to address urgent cases of violation of Human Rights (Article 5.f) thanks to special procedures and their 'urgent calls', particularly the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders. The Council  also has its own complaint mechanism in case of gross and systematic violations.

Several other international complaint mechanisms are available to victims of violations; there are also regional mechanisms on some continents.