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Updated 10/24/2006

U.N. Human Rights Council

The U.N. General Assembly voted on March 15, 2006 to create the Human Rights Council to replace the widely criticized Human Rights Commission, established in 1946, which had a history of electing abusive governments as members and failing to criticize serious human rights offenders. The chief aim of the council is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. In addition to addressing and preventing violations, it seeks to promote human rights education, help develop international human rights law and serve as an international forum for dialogue on human rights issues.

Unlike old commission, whose members were selected during closed-door meetings, the new Human Rights Council requires candidates to compete for seats and win support from a majority of the U.N. member states, who vote via secret ballot. The 47 members of the new council, who will all serve three-year terms, were elected on May 9, 2006. Some countries with poor human rights ratings, including Russia, China and Cuba, won seats on the council; however, all members are required to commit to promoting and upholding human rights in their respective countries.

The new council differs from its predecessor in that it possesses a ”universal periodic review mechanism” enabling it examine the human rights records of all 191 U.N. member states. It meets at least three times throughout the year—with a minimum total of 10 weeks annually—rather than in one annual six-week session, thus allowing it to respond faster to emerging crises. In addition, any council member can call a special session, with the support of only one third of council members.

The Human Rights Council completed its first session on June 30, 2006, during which it adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

For more information

Web site of the U.N. Human Rights Council

“Human Rights Council concludes first session.” U.N. Human Rights Council; June 30, 2006.