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An Introduction to the UN Human Rights Mechanism

The UN organs dealing with human rights issues include the Third Committee of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Commission on Human Rights, among which the Commission on Human Rights takes primary responsibility and has a subsidiary body composed of experts,known as the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

1. The Commission on Human Rights, a functional commission of ECOSOC, was established by an ECOSOC resolution in February 1946. Member states are elected by ECOSOC based on an equitable geographic distribution. On its establishment, the Commission had only 18 member states and the number increased to 43 in 1979. Since the 48th session of the Commission in 1992, the membership has reached 53 (12 from Asia, 15 from Africa, 11 from Latin America and the Caribbean area, 5 from Eastern Europe, and 10 from Western Europe and other regions). Each member state serves a three-year term.

The Commission holds its annual six-week plenary session in spring at Geneva. The sessions are attended not only by the 53 member states, but also by observers for other UN States Members, non-Members of the UN, the UN special agencies, regional organizations, national liberation movements recognized by the UN and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with ECOSOC.

2. The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the main subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights, was established by ECOSOC resolution 9(Ⅱ) of 21 June 1946. It was originally named "Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities" and was renamed "Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights" in 1999 pursuant to an ECOSOC resolution. The main functions of the Sub-Commission are to undertake studies and make recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights on important issues of human rights promotion. It now has 26 experts, including 7 from Africa, 5 from Asia, 5 from Latin America, 3 from Eastern Europe, and 6 from the West. Each member has a single alternate. All members and alternates act in their personal capacity. Pursuant to ECOSOC resolution 1986/35, half the membership is elected every two years. Candidates are nominated by governments before they are selected by the Human Rights Commission in a secret ballot. The four-year term starts from 1 January of the year following the election.


I UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) The post was established under resolution 48/141 adopted by the 48th UN General Assembly in December 1993. The resolution defines the mandate of the High Commissioner as to coordinate the human rights activities throughout the United Nations system under the authority of the Secretary-General. The incumbent High Commissioner for Human Rights is Mrs. Mary Robinson from Ireland.

II Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) In October 1997, the 52nd General Assembly adopted the proposal by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to streamline the UN Secretariat for Human Rights. In this connection, the Center for Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were merged into the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to take charge of human rights issues in the United Nations. It is headquartered in Geneva and has a branch office in the UN headquarters in New York.  

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