United Nations

The different UN human rights bodies

Founded in 1945, the UN’s principal aim is to ensure respect for human rights, peace and security, and world development. The main bodies specifically in charge of addressing human rights issues are:

  • the General Assembly (New York);
  • the Human Rights Council (Geneva);
  • the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Geneva).

The General Assembly

The UN General Assembly is divided into 6 commissions which are responsible for preparing its work. The third Commission addresses social, humanitarian and cultural issues and so traditionally those relating to human rights. It addresses human rights issues and the human rights situation in specific countries by means of adopting resolutions. The General Assembly also adopts new UN conventions. As opposed to the Human Rights Council, where only member states which have been elected may have a seat, all UN member states have a seat on the 3rd commission.

The Human Rights Council

Founded in 2006, the Human Rights Council replaces the former Human Rights Commission. Its aim is to ensure the respect and promotion of human rights in the different member states of the United Nations, as well as to prevent and respond to major crises. It is made up of 47 member states which meet in Geneva for a minimum of ten weeks, divided into three sessions a year. Special sessions may also be held to respond to crisis situations, upon request from a third of Council members. The Council also supports the mandates of Special Rapporteurs on countries or themes. These Rapporteurs are independent experts nominated to analyse and report on the human rights situation in a specific country, or relating to a particular a human right.

Belgium was elected to the Council in May 2009 and will have a seat until 2012. Our country supports the idea of an energetic and efficient Council, capable of responding to crises and challenges in human rights matters around the world.

The Council also meets for sessions dedicated to the Universal Periodic Review. Every four years, this mechanism gives an in-depth analysis of the human rights situation in every UN member country, irrespective of whether they are a member of the Human Rights Council. Belgium actively participates in this exercise by questioning many countries, as well as by formulating recommendations on issues which are particular to each of these countries. Belgium will undergo a Universal Periodic Review in May 2011.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

This body is attached to the UN General Secretariat and is directed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Its aim is to promote, control and inform the different players in matters of respect for Human Rights. Its mandate aims more specifically to:

  • promote the universality of human rights;
  • promote the coordination of initiatives on human rights matters within the UN;
  • promote the ratification and implementation of international standards in human rights matters and to assist in the development of new standards;
  • lead debates on the respect and development of human rights;
  • support the mechanisms monitoring states’ observance of conventional human rights obligations;
  • respond to serious human rights violations;
  • carry out human rights work in the field;
  • provide technical assistance to UN human rights projects;
  • provide human rights training and educational programmes.

Belgium supports this institution’s independence, which is essential to the improvement of the worldwide human rights situation. FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation also voluntarily finances the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Belgium is one of the 20 main donors to this body.

Belgian national report on the Universal Periodic Review

Report -  French (PDF, 191.65 KB) -  Dutch (PDF, 200.35 KB)

Belgian Initiatives

Belgium actively contributes within the UN and cooperates with other states to promote the respect and protection of human rights. More specifically Belgium supports:

  • The maintenance and independence of all Human Rights Council country and theme Rapporteurs.
  • A bi-annual resolution on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as a bi-annual resolution on regional human rights mechanisms.
  • The resolutions on the respect of human rights relating to combating terrorism.
  • The resolutions on violence against women and children, in particular in armed conflicts.
  • The resolutions on the abolition of the death penalty.
  • The resolutions on religious intolerance.
  • The work and monitoring of various world Conferences, including those on racism and women’s rights.

The UN General Assembly website 

Human Rights Council website   

Universal Periodic Review website 

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website