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UK Mission to the United Nations

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London 19:32, 02 Jan 2013
New York 14:32, 02 Jan 2013
Last updated at 18:49 (UK time) 1 Nov 2012

Human rights

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Navi Pillay

'Human rights is an indivisible part of our Government’s foreign policy, running throughout all our diplomacy.' - UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

On 30 April 2012 the Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the UK’s 2011 Human Rights and Democracy report.

Read the Foreign Secretary's full speech and view the report and comment online.

Our human rights work around the world

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The map above highlights some of our human rights work around the world. Click on one of the pins to open view our work in a particular country or view the map in a separate window. You will find the map easier to use by using the zoom and move functions.

The map is for used illustrative purposes only and does not represent the UK position on country borders.

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Human Rights at the UN

The UN has worked on the promotion and protection of human rights around the world since it was founded. One of its first major achievements was to pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in December 1948.

Since then, the UN membership has negotiated a number of legally binding instruments on specific areas of human rights, from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

In addition, numerous non-binding Declarations, Guidelines and other documents have been negotiated to give colour to the legally-binding rights and set standards in specific areas. 

Apart from the negotiation of legally-binding human rights treaties, the UN’s bodies dealing with human rights also negotiate non legally-binding resolutions which develop the standards set out in the treaties and look at how they are implemented.   

Human rights bodies at the UN

The main forum for substantive discussion of human rights in the UN is the Human Rights Council (HRC), a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, and the UK is represented there by our Mission in Geneva.  The Council was created by the General Assembly in its resolution 60/251 (3 April 2006) to replace the Commission on Human Rights which many states felt was failing to address human rights in an adequate way. Discussion in the Commission, particularly on the situation of human rights in individual countries, was often controversial. But the UK believes that the discussion on the implementation of human rights standards and obligations by individual states is vital to the promotion and protection of human rights globally.

Find out more about the Human Rights Council here.
You can also visit the UN Human Rights Council webpage here.

Although the Commission on Human Rights has been wound up, other Functional Commissions of the Economic and Social Council continue to look at related issues. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), for example, examines issues surrounding the advancement of women, equality and women's rights.

UN General Assembly: Third Committee

In the UN General Assembly human rights are dealt with in the Third Committee which meets annually in New York in October and November. All UN member states have the right to take part in the plenary sessions and to table and vote on resolutions. Resolutions are broadly divided into thematic issues such as torture, racism, and the rights of the child, and resolutions that concentrate on a particular country.  All new human rights instruments must be approved by the General Assembly. Negotiations on those instruments therefore take place in the General Assembly. The first new human rights treaty of the 21st Century was the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was mandated by the General Assembly in 1991 and completed in 2006. The Convention aims to acknowledge where disabled people have had difficulty in accessing their rights and commits States to measures in a large number of areas which will guarantee better observance of disabled people’s human rights in the future.

In 2011, at the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly, the Third Committee considered 56 draft resolutions, more than half of which were submitted under the human rights agenda item. Third Committee also adopted by consensus important resolutions on women’s and children’s rights, including a US-led resolution on women’s political participation, which paved the way for the work of UN Women in this area.

The UN General Assembly voted in favour of three human rights resolutions on Iran, DPRK and Burma. All were passed by a record majority of votes.

The Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

“The UN General Assembly has made a valuable contribution to human rights today, by drawing attention to three countries where serious abuses still take place and urging their Governments to take action.’

William Hague also welcomed the passage of a UK drafted human rights resolution on the repression in Syria. He said:

“This UNGA resolution sends a signal of united condemnation of the Syrian regime’s systematic human rights abuses. I welcome the wide support it received, including the fact that it was co-sponsored by Jordan, Morocco, Saudi  Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain  and Turkey. It calls on the Syrian government to end the appalling violence and implement the Arab League’s plan of action without delay.”

All of the resolutions and break downs of the votes can be found here along with all other third committee resolutions.

Other UN bodies

Increasingly, other UN bodies are also taking human rights considerations into account in their own work. The Security Council looks at human rights issues when deciding how to deal with some international crises, many of which see the civilian population suffering gross violations of their human rights. The UN Funds and Programmes and other bodies, such as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the World Bank, the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also examine the effect an improved respect for human rights can have on helping achieve their core concerns.