United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR)


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has asked UN member states to support the US for its re-election to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).


Trump regime had taken the U.S. out of the Council in 2018, saying it was biased against Israel and had members who were human rights abusers.


  • The United Nations is an international organization founded in 15 March 2006. 
  • The UNHRC has 47 members elected for staggered three-year terms on a regional group basis.
  • The headquarters of UNHRC is in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) was a functional commission within the overall framework of the United Nations from 1946 until it was replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006.
  • It was a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and was also assisted in its work by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR).
  • It was the UN’s principal mechanism and international forum concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights.
  • On 15 March 2006, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to replace UNCHR with the UN Human Rights Council.


  • The UNCHR was established in 1946 by ECOSOC, and was one of the first two “Functional Commissions” set up within the early UN structure (the other being the Commission on the Status of Women).
  • It was a body created under the terms of the United Nations Charter (specifically, under Article 68) to which all UN member states are signatories.
  • It met for the first time in January 1947 and established a drafting committee for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.
  • The body went through two distinct phases. From 1947 to 1967, it concentrated on promoting human rights and helping states elaborate treaties, but not on investigating or condemning violators. It was a period of strict observance of the sovereignty principle.
  • In 1967, the Commission adopted interventionism as its policy.
  • The context of the decade was of Decolonization of Africa and Asia, and many countries of the continent pressed for a more active UN policy on human rights issues, especially in light of massive violations in apartheid South Africa. The new policy meant that the Commission would also investigate and produce reports on violations.
  • To allow better fulfillment of this new policy, other changes took place. In the 1970s, the possibility of geographically-oriented workgroups was created.
  • These groups would specialize their activities on the investigation of violations on a given region or even a single country, as was the case with Chile. With the 1980s came the creation of theme-oriented workgroups, which would specialize in specific types of abuses.
  • None of these measures, however, were able to make the Commission as effective as desired, mainly because of the presence of human rights violators and the politicization of the body.
  • During the following years until its extinction, the UNCHR became increasingly discredited among activists and governments alike.
  • The Commission held its final meeting in Geneva on March 27, 2006 and was replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council in the same year.


At the time it was extinguished, the Commission consisted of representatives drawn from 53 member states, elected by the members of ECOSOC. There were no permanent members; each year (usually in May) approximately a third of the seats of the Commission would come up for election, and the representatives were appointed for a three-year term.

Seats on the Commission were apportioned by region, using the mechanism of the United Nations Regional Groups. During its last year of service in 2005, the representation by region was as follows:

  • 15 from the African Group:
    • Burkina Faso, Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Zimbabwe
  • 12 from the Asian Group:
    • Bhutan, People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka
  • 5 from the Eastern European Group:
    • Armenia, Hungary, Romania, Russian Federation, Ukraine
  • 11 from the Latin American and Caribbean Group:
    • Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru
  • 10 from the Western European and Others Group:
    • Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States

The Commission would meet each year in regular session for six weeks during March and April in Geneva, Switzerland. In January 2004, Australia was elected as chair of the 60th Session. In January 2005, Indonesia was elected chair of the 61st Session. Peru was elected chair of the 62nd Session in January 2006. The Commission held its final meeting in Geneva on March 27, 2006.

Human Rights in India

  • Enunciated in the Constitution:
    • Since inception, the Indian Constitution incorporated most of the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration in two parts, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy.
    • Fundamental Rights: Articles 12 to 35 of the Constitution. These include the Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, Right Against Exploitation, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural & Educational Rights, Saving of Certain Laws and Right to Constitutional Remedies.
    • Directive Principles of State Policy: Article 36 to 51 of the Constitution. These include ‘right to social security, right to work, to free choice of employment, and protection against unemployment, right to equal pay for equal work, right to existence worthy of human dignity, right to free & compulsory education, equal justice & free legal aid and the principles of policy to be followed by the State.’
  • Statutory Provisions:
    • Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (as amended in 2019) provided for the constitution of a National Human Rights Commission at the Union level, which steers State Human Rights Commission in States and Human Rights Courts for better protection of Human Rights and for matters connected there with or incidental thereto.
  • Recent Events:
    • The human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) following the dilution of Article 370 and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) have brought renewed international focus on India’s human rights practice.
    • Since 2014, the government has cancelled the registration of more than 14,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It has also mainly targeted its own critics.
    • Scores of hate crimes against Muslims and other religious groups, ethnic groups, including Dalits and Adivasi (an indigenous tribal people), as well as caste and gender-based crimes, took place across the country in 2019.
    • The Freedom in the World 2020 report ranked India at the 83rd position, along with Timor-Leste and Senegal. India’s score fell by four points to 71, the worst decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies this year.
    • Measures Taken by Government during the Pandemic:
      • During the Corona pandemic, the government ensured the right to food of every person through the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, so that no one would go hungry.
      • Apart from this, wages have been increased under MGNREGA for the empowerment of workers in rural areas. The government directly transferred money to the accounts of migrant labourers affected by Covid-19, to ensure the protection of their rights.

Criticism on UNHRC

The Commission was repeatedly criticized for the composition of its membership. In particular, several of its member countries themselves had dubious human rights records, including states whose representatives had been elected to chair the commission. Countries with records of human rights abuses like torture, extrajudicial killings, political imprisonment, and disappearances likely sought election to the Commission to project a positive international image. Commission membership also provided some political shelter from criticism of these abuses.

Another criticism was that the Commission did not engage in constructive discussion of human rights issues, but was a forum for politically selective finger-pointing and criticism. The desire of states with problematic human rights records to be elected to the Commission was viewed largely as a way to defend themselves from such attacks.

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