United Nations and Human Rights
Nations Charter sets
forth the "inherent dignity"
and the "equal and inalienable
rights of all members of the human
family." Upholding these
human rights principles as "the
foundation of freedom, justice,
and peace in the world" is
fundamental to every undertaking
of the United Nations.
The UN General Assembly
Nations currently comprises 185
states, all of which
belong to the General Assembly.
The General Assembly controls
the UNs finances, makes
non-binding recommendations, and
oversees and elects members of
other UN organs. It is the General
Assembly that ultimately votes
to adopt human rights declarations
which are also called treaties
For example, in 1948 when the
Commission on Human Rights
had completed its draft of the
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, the General Assembly voted
to adopt the document.
Other UN Bodies
to the General Assembly, in which
all member states are represented,
there are five other main bodies
of the United Nations that deal
with different types of international
concerns and administrative tasks.
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 of
fifty-four members elected by the General Assembly is responsible
for coordinating all economic and social work of the UN
and its affiliated institutions.
The Economic and Social Council oversees
the work of many intergovernmental
organizations (IGOs) and certain UN commissions,
such as the UN
Commission on Human Rights.
The UN Commission on Human
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.
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
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 Childrens
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.
Other UN Bodies and Human
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
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.
Sources: "The United Nations at
a Glance," UNA-USA Factsheet; Frank Newman and David
Weissbrodt, International Human Rights: Law, Policy,
and Process: 9-12.
When you expand the civil rights
struggle to the level of human rights, you can take the
case of the Black man in this country before the nations
of the United Nations. You can take it before the General
Assembly. You can take Uncle Sam before the World Court.
But the only level you can do it on is the level of human
rights. Human rights are something that you are born with.
Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are
the rights recognized by all the nations of this earth.
Speech in Cleveland, Ohio
April 3, 1964