Freedom of expression and fundamental rights

What is the United Nations Human Rights Council?

Ajith Parakum Jayasinghe

Every year, the Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim national movements in Sri Lanka wake up and look to Geneva. To the people of Sri Lanka, Geneva is a word that has a political meaning that goes beyond just a Swiss city. The purpose of this article is to understand what Geneva is all about in relation to human rights, war crimes, disappearances, the national question, political solutions, and so on.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an intergovernmental organization of the United Nations. They have the right to discuss all human rights issues and themes. The Human Rights Council usually meets in March, June, and September each year. The March session lasts four weeks and the others, three weeks. At the request of one of the three-member states, an emergency session may even be held on a human rights issue. Accordingly, the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council will be held from February 22 to March 23, 2021.

The United Nations Human Rights Council was established in 2006 by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, replacing the UN Human Rights Commission that had existed since 1946. Its first meeting was held in June 2006.

The United Nations Human Rights Council is made up of 47 member states who are responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. These states are elected by way of a secret ballot at the General Assembly. It also takes into account the commitment of each country to promote and protect human rights. It represents 13 African countries, 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, eight Latin American and Caribbean states, seven Western European and seven other European states, and six Eastern European states. These states change every three years. As of January 2020, 117 UN member states, including Sri Lanka, have been members of the Human Rights Council from time to time. Sri Lanka’s neighbours India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Japan are also currently members.

The upper house consists of five members representing the five regions. The 2021 presidency will be held by the United Nations Representative to the Government of Fiji, Ms. Nashat Shamim Khan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was established in 1993. Its seventh commissioner is Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile. The Council works closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in conjunction with UN provisions. It is also considered as the Secretariat of the Human Rights Council.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a division of the United Nations Secretariat. Its role is to promote and protect human rights as enshrined in international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 3.7% of the UN’s Fixed Expenditure is allocated to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The offices in Geneva and New York employ about 1,300 professionals. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is officially a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group. It is made up of 36 UN agencies, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children ‘s Fund, and the International Labor Organization.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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