The United Nations High Comissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has expressed concern over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and the communications blackout and detention of political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. Bachelet was speaking at the opening of the 42nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. Who are the UNHRC, and why were current developments in India being discussed?
On its website, the Human Rights Council decribes itself as “an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them”. The UNHRC has “the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year”. The Human Rights Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).
The Human Rights Council holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least 10 weeks. The meetings take place for four weeks in in March, for three weeks in June, and for another three weeks in September. The sessions are held at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland.
The first session took place from June 19-30, 2006, three months after the Council was created by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/251 on March 15 that year. If one-third of the Member States so request, the HRC can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies.
The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States, which are elected by the UNGA through a direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly takes into account the contribution of the candidate states to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.
Seats on the Council are distributed as follows:
African States: 13 seats
Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
Western European and other States: 7 seats
Eastern European States: 6 seats
Members of the Council serve for a period of three years, and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. As of January 1, 2019, 114 UN Member States have served on the HRC. Both India and Pakistan are on this list.
The HRC has a Bureau of one President and four Vice-Presidents, representing the five regional groups. They serve for a year, in accordance with the Council’s annual cycle.