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The International Human Rights Machinery refers to the different human rights monitoring mechanisms in the United Nations system, namely UN Charter-based bodies and UN Treaty-based bodies. These human rights mechanisms are supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, specifically its Human Rights Council and Treaties Division.
Charter bodies include the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures. The Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights, held its first meeting on 19 June 2006. This intergovernmental body is composed of 47 elected United Nations Member States who serve for an initial period of 3 years, and cannot be elected for more than two consecutive terms. The Human Rights Council is a forum empowered to prevent abuses, inequity and discrimination, protect the most vulnerable, and expose perpetrators. It meets 10 weeks per year.
The Human Rights Council is a separate entity from the OHCHR. This distinction originates from the separate mandates they were given by the General Assembly. Nevertheless, OHCHR provides substantive support for the meetings of the Human Rights Council, and follow-up to the Council’s deliberations.
Special Procedures is the general name given to the mechanisms assumed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures are either an individual –a special rapporteur or representative, or independent expert—or a working group. They are prominent, independent experts working on a voluntary basis, appointed by the Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures’ mandates usually call on mandate-holders to examine, monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories, known as country mandates, or on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide, known as thematic mandates. Click here for an overview of thematic mandates and click here for an overview of country mandates. All report to the Human Rights Council on their findings and recommendations. They are sometimes the only mechanism that will alert the international community on certain human rights issues.
OHCHR supports the work of rapporteurs, representatives and working groups through its Special Procedures Division (SPD) which services thematic mandates; and the Research and Right to Development Division (RRDD) which aims to improve the integration of human rights standards and principles, including the rights to development; while the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division (FOTCD) supports the work of country-mandates.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every four and a half years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.
By 2011, the UPR had concluded its first cycle and reviewed the human rights records of every country. The second cycle of the UPR will commence in 2012. The UPR is one of the key elements of the Human Rights Council which reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ultimate aim of this new mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.
Treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties.
There are nine core international human rights treaties. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, all UN Member States have ratified at least one core international human rights treaty, and 80 percent have ratified four or more.
The nine human rights treaty bodies are listed below:
For practical information on how to use the International and Regional human rights mechanisms and procedures, please see the Huritalk Guide on Strengthening Engagement with the International Human Rights Machinery. Also refer to the Huritalk Insights Series on the Universal Periodic Review process for an overview of how the UPR process works and experiences of countries that have participated in the process.