20 March 2006
Human Rights Council
Questions and Answers
How many members will the new Human Rights Council have?
The new Council will consist of 47 members, as compared to the 53-member Commission on Human Rights.
How will members be elected?
Membership to the Council is open to all Member States of the United Nations. Members would be elected by the General Assembly through individual and direct votes by absolute majority (96 votes). The distribution of seats would be in accordance with equitable geographical representation (13 from the African Group; 13 from the Asian Group; 6 from the Eastern European Group; 8 from the Latin American and Caribbean Group; and 7 from the Western European and Other States Group). The members of the new Human Rights Council will be elected on 9 May 2006.
How is this new election procedure for Council membership different from the Commission on Human Rights?
The new election procedure calls for an absolute majority of the entire membership of the General Assembly. Election to the Commission on Human Rights was by the 53 member Economic and Social Council through a majority of those present and voting.
What are the expectations of the members to the Council?
When voting for members of the Council, member states will take into consideration a candidates' contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. Upon election, new members will commit themselves to cooperating with the Council and to upholding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. Candidates to the Council would also submit voluntary pledges and commitments with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. These expectations did not exist for the Commission on Human Rights.
How will the Council ensure that its members are abiding by these human rights standards?
Members of the Council will undergo the Council's new universal review mechanism during their term of membership. The modalities and frequency of this universal periodic review mechanism will be adopted by the Council within one year of its first session.
Could a Member have its rights and privileges suspended in the Council?
The General Assembly would have the right to suspend the rights and privileges of any Council Member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. This process of suspension would require a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly.
How long are the terms of membership?
Members will be elected for three year terms. They would not be eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
Where will the Human Rights Council fit in within the United Nations system?
The Human Rights Council would be a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. This would make it directly accountable to the full membership of the United Nations.
Where and how often will the Council meet?
The Human Rights Council will be based in Geneva and will hold no fewer than three sessions per year (including a main session) for a total period of no less than ten weeks. The Commission met in one annual six-week session. The Council will also be able to convene to deal with urgent situations, and to hold special sessions when necessary through a request by a Member of the Council with the support of one-third of the membership of the Council.
Will non-governmental organizations and other observers participate in the proceedings of the Council as they did with the Commission on Human Rights?
Observers, including non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, national human rights institutions and specialized agencies, will participate in the Council through the same arrangements and practices that applied to the Commission.
How will the work of the special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights - independent experts, treaty bodies, and special rapporteurs - be affected by the establishment of the Council?
The Council will carry over all the Commission's mandates and responsibilities to ensure that there is not a protection gap in the transition. A review will be completed within one year from the Council's first session. This review will examine ways to rationalize and strengthen the special procedures and mechanisms including the Sub-Commission of Commission on Human Rights on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
What will the relationship be between the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council?
The new Council will assume the role and responsibilities of the Commission on Human Rights relating to the work of the Office of the High Commissioner.
How would you summarize the main objectives of the Human Rights Council?
The Council will serve as the main United Nations forum for dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Its focus will be to help member states meet their human rights obligations through dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance. The Council will also make recommendations to the General Assembly for further development of international law in the field of human rights.
What are the next steps?
It is envisaged that the election of the first members of the Human Rights Council will take place on 9 May 2006 and that the first meeting of the Council will be convened on 19 June 2006.
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