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UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (UNCHR) Printer Friendly Page

Human Wrongs
By Anne Bayefsky
April 28, 2003

The U.N. Human Rights Council Is Not Enough: Time for a New Approach to Human Rights
By Brett D. Schaefer
February 8, 2006

The U.S. Is Right to Shun the U.N. Human Rights Council
By Brett D. Schaefer
May 2, 2008

The Myth of Morality
By Michael Segal
February 6, 2007

The UN "Human Rights" Travesty
By P. David Hornik
July 10, 2006

Discrimination and Double Standards
By Anne Bayefsky
July 5, 2006

The Gulag of Saud
By Michael I. Krauss and J. Peter Pham
June 28, 2006

U.N.fit for Leadership
By Anne Bayefsky
May 22, 2006

Human-Rights Redux
By Brett D. Schaefer
May 11, 2006

The Human Rights Charade at the UN
By Joseph Loconte and Nile Gardiner
March 22, 2006

China Champions New UN Human Rights Council Model
By Patrick Goodenough
March 14, 2006

The United Nations' Shame, Cont.
By Rich Lowry
March 7, 2006

The Final Straw
By Robert T. McLean
March 6, 2006

UN, US on Collision Course over New Human Rights Body
By Patrick Goodenough
February 27, 2006

UN's Guantanamo Report Isn't Credible
By Nile Gardiner and James J. Carafano
February 27, 2006

A Commission By Another Name
By Anne Bayefsky
February 24, 2006

Sins of Commission - Human Rights Lose at the U.N. Again
By WSJ
February 21, 2006

Kofi Annan's Tortured Logic
By Joseph Klein
February 20, 2006

Relativism and Rights
By Joseph Loconte
February 2, 2006

NGOs and UN Reform
By NGO Monitor
January 17, 2006

Human-Rights Failure
By Joseph Loconte & Nile Gardiner
September 28, 2005

U.N. (Sins of) Commission on Human Rights
By Roger Bate
May 3, 2005

Selling out Civility in the Middle East
By Gerald Adler
April 27, 2005

U.N. Commission on Human rights Caves in to China
By FrontPageMagazine
April 25, 2005

NGOs Target Israel at UNCHR Meeting
By NGO Monitor
April 5, 2005

Human Rights NGOs and the Neglect of Sudan
By Don Habibi
July 2, 2004

Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness
By Irwin Cotler
February 16, 2004

To Beat the Axis of Evil, Confront the Axis of Anti-Semitism
By Jonathan Rauch
July 7, 2003

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Criticize the UNHCR for Growing Politicization
By NGO Monitor
May 5, 2003

Libya’s “UN-Human” Rights Record
By Tommy Calvert
January 31, 2003

For the U.N., a Sudanese Slave Is Not a Slave
By David G. Littman
November 22, 2002

 


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Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson
52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland


Phone :+41 22 917 9220
Email :
InfoDesk@ohchr.org
URL: Website
United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR)'s Visual Map


  • Now-defunct organization that monitored human rights issues worldwide from 1946 to 2006
  • Passed more resolutions condemning Israel than it passed against any other nation



The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) was created in 1946 by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in response to an international outcry over the human rights violations that followed World Wars I and II.

During its six decades as an active Commission, UNCHR met each year in regular session for six weeks in Geneva, Switzerland. At each session, the Commission typically adopted dozens of  resolutions, decisions, and Chairperson's statements on what it called "matters of relevance to individuals in all regions and circumstances." The Commission was assisted in this work by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, numerous working groups, and a network of individual experts.

According to UNCHR, its procedures and mechanisms were mandated to "examine, monitor and publicly report either on human rights situations in specific countries or territories … or on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide."

The first Chairperson of the Commission was Eleanor Roosevelt. Under her leadership, UNCHR and its original 18 Member States drafted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted on December 10, 1948 by the then-58 member states of the United Nations. With the representatives of two nations absent, the General Assembly vote was 48 nations in favor and eight nations abstaining. Those abstaining from support for this human rights document were Byelorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, Ukrainian SSR, the Union of South Africa, and Yugoslavia.

The yardsticks of "human rights" set forth in this 1948 document were based on compromises between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union. It stated that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights"; "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person"; "no one shall be held in slavery"; "no one shall be subjected to torture"; criminal defendants will be "presumed innocent until proved guilty"; all people have a right to "privacy" and "freedom of movement," including "the right to leave any country, including his own"; "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion ... freedom of opinion and expression ... [and] of peaceful assembly and association"; "everyone has the right to own property"; "men and women of full age ... have the right to marry and found a family"; government's authority is based on the will of the people in elections "by universal and equal suffrage ... held by secret vote"; every person "has the right to social security" and "the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality"; "everyone has the right to work" and to receive "equal pay for equal work," to "form and join trade unions," to "rest and leisure," and to "a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control"; "everyone has the right to education" that is "free ... and compulsory" and "directed to the full development of the human personality."  "These rights and freedoms," the Declaration added, "may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations."

In June 1993, representatives of 171 countries met in Vienna, Austria, at the World Conference on Human Rights. There they adopted a new "holistic" approach to the Declaration's vision of universal human rights, with the idea that a person's human rights vary with his or her "national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds." Thus the "rights" of a woman born in Saudi Arabia, for example, were to be defined not by the United Nations Universal Declaration but by the accepted norms of her nation, culture, and strict Wahhabist Islamic faith.

UNCHR wrestled with political as well as semantic problems in trying to enforce the Declaration, which among other things affirmed each human being's right to "freedom from fear," most notably the fear of terrorism. Terrorism, however, was never clearly defined by the United Nations. The reason for this, writes Columbia University law professor Anne Bayefsky, is that "members of the Organization of Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States have blocked consensus on any common understanding of terrorism. In the view of countries like Saudi Arabia, expressed again during the [2003 session of UNCHR], 'we should distinguish between the phenomenon of terrorism and the right of peoples to achieve self-determination.'" This was akin to the maxim that "one man's 'terrorist' is another's 'freedom fighter.'"

UNCHR's practical approach to terror was demonstrated in its resolutions condemning Israel -- which accounted for more than one-fourth of all the resolutions it passed over a 30-year period, and far outnumbered those passed against any other nation. On April 15, 2003, UNCHR adopted a resolution endorsing the use of "all available means including armed struggle" as legitimate Palestinian tactics against Israel. 

Chairmanship of UNCHR changed on an annual basis, sometimes going to nations that ranked among the world's most egregious human rights violators. For example, in 2002 the Commission was chaired by Syria, and in 2003 by Libya. In 2005, six of the fifty-three UNCHR members—China, Cuba, Eritrea, Saudi Ara­bia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe—were classified by Freedom House as some of the world's "worst of the worst" abusers of human rights.

In 2001, ECOSOC removed the United States, a founding member, for a year from the Human Rights Commission while welcoming Sudan as a new Vice-Chair. Because the enslavement and sexual exploitation of non-Muslims has been an accepted part of Sudanese Islamic culture for centuries, UNCHR guidelines -- which made allowances for culture-specific norms -- deemed Sudan worthy of a leadership position in the organization. 

On March 15, 2006, one hundred seventy United Nations member states agreed to establish a new Human Rights Council to replace UNCHR.

 

 

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