Role of UN upholding Human Rights

Role of UN upholding Human Rights

The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945.  It is currently made up of 193 Member States.  The mission and work of the United Nations are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter.

The name “United Nations” was suggested by US President Franklin Roosevelt. It was first used in the Declaration of the United Nations made on January 1, 1942. At San Francisco Conference, it was unanimously adopted as the name of the new international organization as a tribute to the late President of the United States. India had not achieved its independence by then and yet it became one of the founder members of the United Nations.
All nations pledged themselves to the UN Charter. In the UN Charter they pledged “to save the succeeding generations from the scourage of war” They also promised to “promote social progress and better standards of life.” The Charter came into force on October 24, 1945 after a majority of the signatories deposited their instruments of ratification. Since then every year, 24th October is celebrated as the United Nations Day.

Due to the powers vested in its Charter and its unique international character, the United Nations can take action on the issues confronting humanity in the 21st century, such as peace and security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian and health emergencies, gender equality, governance, food production, and more.

The UN also provides a forum for its members to express their views in the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and other bodies and committees. By enabling dialogue between its members, and by hosting negotiations, the Organization has become a mechanism for governments to find areas of agreement and solve problems together.

A. The UN Charter
The Charter is the Constitution of the United Nations Organisation. It was made in October 1944 by the Dumbarton Oaks (Washington DC) Conference. It lays down the rules which govern the organisation and functions of the UNO and all its organs. The Charter has a Preamble, 19 Chapters and 111 Articles which explain the purposes, principles, organs, and operating methods of the UN.

B. Purposes of the UN
§  The purposes of the UN are defined in Article 1 of the UN Charter. These are:
§  To maintain international peace and security and to take adequate steps to avert wars.
§  To develop friendly relations among nations on the basis of equality.
§  To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character.
§  To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

C. Principles of the UN
The principles are the means to achieve the objectives of the UN. These are contained in Article 2 of the UN Charter:
§  All the member states are equal.
§  The member states shall fulfill their obligations to the UN honestly.
§  The member states shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means.
§  The member states shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against any other state.
§  The member states shall give to the UN every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the UN Charter.
§  The states which are not members of the UN, should also act in accordance with these principles for the maintenance of international peace and security.
§  No member state shall interfere in the internal affairs of any other state.

D. Activities of United Nations
1.      Maintain international peace and security: The united nations came into being in 1945, following the devastation of the second world war, with one central mission: the maintenance of international peace and security. The UN does this by working to prevent conflict; helping parties in conflict make peace; peacekeeping; and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish. These activities often overlap and should reinforce one another, to be effective. The UN security council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security. The general assembly and the secretary-general play major, important, and complementary roles, along with other un offices and bodies.

2.      Protect Human Rights: The term “human rights” was mentioned seven times in the UN's founding charter, making the promotion and protection of human rights a key purpose and guiding principle of the organization.  In 1948, the universal declaration of human rights brought human rights into the realm of international law.  Since then, the organization has diligently protected human rights through legal instruments and on-the-ground activities.

3.      Deliver Humanitarian Aid: One of the purposes of the united nations, as stated in its charter, is "to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character."  the UN first did this in the aftermath of the second world war on the devastated continent of Europe, which it helped to rebuild.  The organization is now relied upon by the international community to coordinate humanitarian relief operations due to natural and man-made disasters in areas beyond the relief capacity of national authorities alone.

4.      Promote Sustainable Development: From the start in 1945, one of the main priorities of the united nations was to “achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”  Improving people’s well-being continues to be one of the main focuses of the UN. The global understanding of development has changed over the years, and countries now have agreed that sustainable development – development that promotes prosperity and economic opportunity, greater social well-being, and protection of the environment – offers the best path forward for improving the lives of people everywhere.

5.      Uphold International Law: The UN Charter, in its preamble, set an objective: "to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained". Ever since, the development of, and respect for international law has been a key part of the work of the organization.  This work is carried out in many ways - by courts, tribunals, multilateral treaties - and by the security council, which can approve peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions, or authorize the use of force when there is a threat to international peace and security, if it deems this necessary.  These powers are given to it by the UN Charter, which is considered an international treaty.  As such, it is an instrument of international law, and UN member states are bound by it.  he UN Charter codifies the major principles of international relations, from sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations.

E. Weaknesses and limitations of UN
·         It lacks adequate funds to meet all its objectives.
·         The veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council has virtually left this powerful UN organ at the mercy of “Big-Five” ie USA, UK, Russia France and China. Hence, the need is to reform the UN system from within and outside.
·         The urgent need is to democratize the UN. Democracy and transparency must characterize the Working of all the organs of the UN. The Security Council needs to be expanded and restructured. Almost all countries now advocate the need for an increase in the permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.
·         There has been a big increase in the members of the UN. As such, the UN Security Council needs an expansion for giving due representation to all continents and major powers of the world.
·         The issue of Veto Power needs to be debated and amended.
·         The General Assembly should be made stronger. It should be turned into a forum for consensus on important global issues.
·         The voice of the smaller nations should carry equal weight in all UN decisions.
·         The rules and practices of the UN institutions need reform in the light of past experience.
·         The organisation and the functioning of the Economic and Social Council and the Secretariat demand a complete over-hauling.

·         The UN peacekeeping role needs to be restructured technically and financially.

F. How does the UN promote and protect human rights?
The term “human rights” was mentioned seven times in the UN's founding Charter, making the promotion and protection of human rights a key purpose and guiding principle of the Organization.  In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights brought human rights into the realm of international law.  Since then, the Organization has diligently protected human rights through legal instruments and on-the-ground activities..
High Commissioner for Human Rights: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has lead responsibility in the UN system for the promotion and protection of human rights.  The office supports the human rights components of peacekeeping missions in several countries, and has many country and regional offices and centres. The High Commissioner for Human Rights regularly comments on human rights situations in the world and has the authority to investigate situations and issue reports on them. 
Human Rights Council: The Human Rights Council, established in 2006, replaced the 60-year-old UN Commission on Human Rights as the key independent UN the intergovernmental body responsible for human rights.
Human Rights Treaty Bodies: The human rights treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties
Special Procedures: The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are prominent, independent experts working on a voluntary basis, who examine, monitor, publicly report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective.
UNDG-HRM: The UN Development Group’s Human Rights Mainstreaming Mechanism (UNDG-HRM) advances human rights mainstreaming efforts within the UN development system. 
Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide acts as a catalyst to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action; the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect leads the conceptual, political, institutional and operational development of the Responsibility to Protect.

G. What legal instruments help the UN protect human rights?
The International Bill of Human Rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was the first legal document protecting universal human rights.   Together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the three instruments form the so-called International Bill of Human Rights. A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since 1945 have expanded the body of international human rights law.
Democracy: Democracy, based on the rule of law, is ultimately a means to achieve international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights – the three pillars of the United Nations mission as set forth in the UN Charter. At the 2005 World Summit, all the world’s governments reaffirmed “that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives” and stressed “that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing”. Democratic principles are woven throughout the normative fabric of the United Nations. The 2009 Guidance Note on Democracy of the Secretary-General sets out the United Nations framework for democracy based on universal principles, norms and standards and commits the Organization to principled, coherent and consistent action in support of democracy.

H. What other UN offices and bodies are responsible for protecting human rights?
Security Council: The UN Security Council, at times, deals with grave human rights violations, often in conflict areas.  The UN Charter gives the Security Council the authority to investigate and mediate, dispatch a mission, appoint special envoys, or request the Secretary-General to use his good offices.  The Security Council may issue a ceasefire directive, dispatch military observers or a peacekeeping force.  If this does not work, the Security Council can opt for enforcement measures, such as economic sanctions, arms embargos, financial penalties and restrictions, travel bans, the severance of diplomatic relations, a blockade, or even collective military action.
Third Committee of the General Assembly: The General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) examines a range of issues, including human rights questions.  The Committee also discusses questions relating to the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedoms through the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the right to self-determination.  The Committee also addresses important social development questions.
Various Other UN Bodies: Different intergovernmental bodies and interdepartmental mechanisms based at the United Nations headquarters in New York, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, address a range of human rights issues. The General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)and their subsidiary organs make policy decisions and recommendations to the Member States, the United Nations system and other actors.  The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, has a mandate to discuss indigenous issues, including human rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights interacts with and provides advice and support on human rights issues to these bodies and mechanisms.
The Office also works to mainstream human rights in all areas of work of the Organization, including development, peace and security, peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs. Human rights issues are also addressed in the context of the post-conflict UN peacebuilding support activities
Secretary-General: The Secretary-General appoints special representatives, who advocate against major human rights violations:
·         Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
·         Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
·         Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children
The ‘Human Rights Up Front’ Initiative is an initiative by the UN Secretary-General to ensure the UN system takes early and effective action, as mandated by the Charter and UN resolutions, to prevent or respond to serious and large-scale violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. The initiative underlines a shared responsibility among the various UN entities to work together to address such violations. HRuF seeks to achieve this by effecting change at three levels: cultural, operational and political.  These changes are gradually transforming the way the UN understands its responsibilities and implements them. The initiative has been progressively rolled-out since late 2013. Through various presentations, letters and policy documents, the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General have presented HRuF to the General Assembly and to staff and UN system leaders. 
UN Peace Operations: Many United Nations peacekeeping operations and political and peacebuidling missions also include the human rights-related mandates aimed at contributing to the protection and promotion of human rights through both immediate and long-term action; empowering the population to assert and claim their human rights; and enabling State and other national institutions to implement their human rights obligations and uphold the rule of law. Human rights teams on the ground work in close cooperation and coordination with other civilian and uniformed components of peace operations, in particular, in relation to the protection of civilians; addressing conflict-related sexual violence and violations against children; and strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law through legal and judicial reform, security sector reform and prison system reform. 
Commission on the Status of Women: The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women.  UN Women, established in 2010, serves as its Secretariat.
The UN Commission on Human Rights
Although human rights are fundamental to all functions of the UN, human rights issues mainly fall under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This council is made up of fifty-three member states elected by ECOSOC the UN Commission on Human Rights initiates studies and fact-finding missions and discusses specific human rights issues. It has responsibility for initiating and drafting human rights declarations and conventions.
ECOSOC also supervises intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), which are specialized agencies that function independently with their own charter, budget, and staff but are affiliated with the UN by special agreements. IGOs report to the ECOSOC and may be asked to review reports from certain UN bodies that are relevant to their area of focus.
Some intergovernmental organizations that work to protect human rights include:
International Labor Organization (ILO) – Develops international labor standards and provides technical assistance training to governments.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – Works with other UN bodies, governments, and nongovernmental organizations to provide community-based services in primary healthcare, basic education, and safe water and sanitation for children in developing countries. Human rights are fundamental to its programming.
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) – Promotes economic and political empowerment of women in developing countries, working to ensure their participation in development planning and practices, as well as their human rights.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – Pursues intellectual cooperation in education, science, culture, and communications and promotes development through social, cultural, and economic projects.
World Health Organization (WHO) – Conducts immunization campaigns, promotes and coordinates research, and provides technical assistance to countries that are improving their health systems.
The UN Security Council, comprising fifteen-member states, is responsible for making decisions regarding international peace and security. It can make recommendations and decisions for action, including providing humanitarian aid, imposing economic sanctions, and recommending peacekeeping operations. The Security Council has been responsible for establishing international tribunals to prosecute serious violations of humanitarian law. For example, special tribunals have been set up to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and acts of genocide in Rwanda.
The Secretariat is the administrative arm of the UN, responsible for overseeing the programs and policies established by the other UN organs. The position of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, currently held by Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, is part of the UN Secretariat.

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