UN Human Rights System

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There are a number of oversight mechanisms at UN level, which can broadly be divided into two categories:

  • UN treaty bodies monitor signatory States’ implementation of UN treaties.

  • UN Charter-based bodies review the human rights practices of all members of the United Nations.

UN Treaty Bodies

Each UN treaty establishes a monitoring Committee of independent human rights experts from the different Member States, known as a treaty body. Treaty bodies oversee the implementation of the relevant treaty. They do this by providing guidance on how the treaties should be interpreted generally, as well as by giving specific recommendations to countries on areas in need of further improvement. Similar to a court, treaty bodies can also take individual complaints.


Interpreting Human Rights Laws

The treaty bodies publish two publications which provide an authoritative interpretation of specific human rights in the treaty or specific challenges for certain groups in accessing their rights equally to others

Monitoring State Compliance

NI Executive and Departments have particular duties in feeding into the various reporting cycles under the treaties. Some Comittees can undertake country visits and conduct inquires to assess the human rights situation

  • Through a system of regular reporting and examination, States that have ratified a treaty must inform the treaty body about the human rights situation in their country

  • The treaty body then assesses the State's best practices and looks at the areas which improvement is still needed to comply with the treaty obligations

  • This is then provided as recommendations to Governments, known as 'Concluding Observations'

Individual Complaints 

Under the CEDAW and CRPD conventions UN treaty bodies can also take complaints brought to them by individuals claiming their human rights under a treaty have been violated by one of the States. These are formal complaints procedures and individuals must generally exhaust all domestic processes for their case to be accepted by a treaty body. The UK is assessing whether it will accept individual petitions for other UN treaties.

UN Charter-based bodies

Charter-based bodies have the authority to review human rights practices of all UN Member States. There are two main bodies with such responsibilities:

  • Human Rights Council

  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Human Rights Council

Created in 2006 by the UN General Assembly and consisting of 47 UN Member States who are elected rotationally.

The HRC has a broad mandate for promoting and protecting hunnan rights. This includes developing international human rights law and monitoring the implementation of international human rights obligations of all UN Member States through the Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures.


Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a peer-based review, through which UN Member States, including the UK, review each other in a four-year cycle. Unlike the treaty body monitoring system, the 'State under Review' must account for its performance on the full range of human rights issues.

  • Other States will give recommendations 

  • The State under review must respond

  • The NI Executive and Departments must feed into this process, so matters relating to Northern Ireland can be responded to appropriately

Special Procedures

The Special Procedures are the collective name for the various independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to undertake certain mandates. A mandate can relate to:

  • The human rights situation in a specific country (a 'country mandate')
  • General human rights issue (a thematic mandate')


These independent experts, also known as 'Special Rapporteurs' undertake visits to countries to examine the human rights situation in relation to the particular mandate and report back to the Human Rights Council.

The UK has issued a standing invitation to all Special Procedures, which means they are willing to receive any mandate holder who wants to visit. Country visits must:

  • Be negotiated based on mutually suitable dates

  • Involve the Special Rapporteur seeking meetings with the NI Executive and relevant Departments

  • Holding meetings with relevant community and voluntary organisations

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The OHCHR supports the UN High Connnnissioner for Human Rights as well as many of the treaty-based and charter-based nnechanisms in fulfilling their work. Its headquarters are in Geneva and it has field offices across the globe. It works to:

  • Promote and protect human rights for all people

  •  Assists countries in fulfilling their human rights duties