International Bodies

There are several international bodies which also work to promote and protect human rights around the world. Here is a brief desciption of the major human rights organisations and their powers.

United Nations (UN)

The United Nations was founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries who were committed to maintaining peace, supporting social progress and promoting human rights.
It was established by the United Nations Charter, the most important piece of international law. There are now 193 countries which are members of the UN. In 2005, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set out his vision for the future of the UN stating, “we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.” His report, In Larger Freedom led to changes in the UN system, including the creation of the Human Rights Council.

Human Rights Council (HRC)

The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 as the primary human rights body in the UN. It is a political body, established under the UN Charter with the main purpose of addressing human rights violations and making recommendations on them.
It is made up of 47 countries which elected by their peers for three year terms. The Council’s activities include the Universal Periodic Review which reviews the progress of all members under their human rights obligations every four years. The Council also appoints experts such as Special Rapporteurs to address country situations or particular human rights issues. They examine, monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights and undertake country visits and respond to individual complaints. There is a news feed from the Human Rights Council online.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has a unique mandate from the international community to promote and protect all human rights.
The High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, is the UN’s principal human rights official and, together with her Office, spearheads the UN’s human rights efforts. Her Office works to educate and take action to empower individuals and assist States in upholding human rights. It also provides professional support to other UN human rights bodies.


International Coordinating Committee Of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection Of Human Rights (ICC)

The International Coordinating Committee (ICC) is a representative body of national human rights institutions established established to strengthen national human rights institutions which conform with the Paris Principles.
The ICC is structured into four regional groupings – Africa, Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe. Each regional grouping is represented by four elected representatives. The ICC encourages encouraging international coordination of joint activities and cooperation among these national human rights institutions.

In 2010 the Scottish Human Rights Commission was accredited by the ICC as being fully in compliance with the Paris Principles. Since 2011 the Commission has been the Chair of the European Network of national human rights institutions.


UN Treaty Bodies

Treaty bodies are committees of independent experts who monitor the implementation of UN human rights treaties. They consider state reports on progress made to realise human rights under the treaty they monitor and issue authoritative interpretations (usually called General Comments or General Recommendations) on states’ obligations under the treaty. Most treaty bodies can also review and make recommendations on complaints from individuals and groups where they feel that their rights under the treaty have been violated and they have been denied a remedy at the national level.

There are eight treaty bodies, each has responsibility in relation to one of the core UN human rights treaties. They are:

Human Rights Committee (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol s);

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol); Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(International Convention on the elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination); The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol); Committee Against Torture(Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and its Optional Protocol); Committee on the Rights of the Child (Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols); Committee on Migrant Workers(International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families)Committee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities(International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol).


Council of Europe

The Council of Europe was founded in 1946 to defend human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law. It has 47 member states.

COE Commitee of Ministers

Representatives of all COE member states sit on the Committee of Ministers, COEs decision making body. The Committee of Ministers is the guardian of the Council's fundamental values, and monitors member states' compliance with their undertakings, including the implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

The COE Commissioner for Human Rights

The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution to promote the awareness of, and respect for, human rights in all countries of the Council of Europe. The Commissioner engages in dialogue with states to encourage greater respect and protection of human rights, makes thematic recommendations on human rights, raises awareness, and promotes the creation of national human rights institutions. Nils Muižnieksis the current Commissioner.

COE Treaty Monitoring Bodies

Committees of independent experts monitor the progress of states to realise human rights under particular COE human rights treaties. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)visits places of detention to see how persons deprived of their liberty are treated and, if necessary, to recommend improvements to States. The European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR) reviews progress under the European Social Charter, and can consider collective complaints in respect of those states (not including the UK) which have accepted this. The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities reviews compliance with that treaty, and issues thematic recommendations on the rights it includes. Other bodies exist in relation to other COE human rights treaties.

The European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights was established in 1959, created by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Convention allows people who feel their rights have been violated by a state party (a national government) and who cannot get a remedy at the national level, to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Read more about the European Court in a special Guide.