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Human rights in the context of the United Nations
One of the most important objectives of the United Nations (UN) is to promote respect for human rights and the basic freedoms of all human beings and peoples. Under the UN umbrella, the bodies responsible for the protection and development of human rights are the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council, both of which are based in Geneva, as well as the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Within the framework of the United Nations, Switzerland is actively committed to ensuring that every human being can live in dignity, safety, and peace. Switzerland has been uniquely committed to the creation of the Human Rights Council and strengthening the instruments at its disposal. After sitting as a member of the Council in the period from 2006-2009, Switzerland was elected in May 2010 for a further three-year mandate (2010-2013).
In recent decades Switzerland has ratified all of the most important Conventions with regard to the protection of human rights.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council of the United Nations, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights, opened its doors in June 2006. The Commission on Human Rights had been strongly criticized for the excessive selectivity and polarization of its activities. As a result, it lost much credibility, and its ability to act was increasingly called into question.
The creation of the Human Rights Council was an important milestone in the history of the UN. As a member of the new Council from 2006 to 2009 Switzerland was instrumental in laying down the rules by which it functions and has been a close collaborator in its efforts to perform the duties required of it. The fact that the Human Rights Council is based in Geneva further strengthens the international character of the city and its role as an international reference point in questions of human rights.
The Council’s mandate is to promote and protect human rights. It acts as a forum in which confrontation is expected to yield to mutual respect and understanding as well as dialogue between all concerned. Its main characteristics are as follows:
- The Council reports directly to the UN General Assembly.
- It holds at least 3 sessions a year for a minimum of 10 weeks total duration. Extraordinary sessions may be convened at the request of at least a third of its members.
- Its 47 member states are elected by an absolute majority of the General Assembly for a 3-year period, which is non-renewable after 2 consecutive terms.
- Candidates for a seat on the Council are required to make voluntary commitments concerning human rights.
- A new mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), enables the Council to monitor the extent to which UN member states are meeting their human rights obligations.
- On the basis of a two-thirds majority the General Assembly can suspend a member of the Council which has committed flagrant and systematic human rights violations.