How many members?

47 for the Council whereas the Commission had 53.

How are they elected?

Elections are open to all member states of the United Nations. Members are elected at the general assembly by direct, individual vote, with an absolute majority of 96 votes, for three years. They have to wait two terms to be re-eligible.

Seats are distributed according to geographical representation: 13 seats for African States, 13 for Asian States, 6 for Eastern European States, 8 for Latin American and Caribbean States and 7 for Western European and other States.

What’s the difference with the election of the Commission?

Council: absolute majority of the General Assembly. Commission: majority of Commission members present and voting.

What’s expected of member states?

That they themselves ensure the advancement and protection of human rights in their country.

Can a member state be suspended?

Yes, by the General Assembly, if during its mandate, this country greatly and systematically violates human rights.

What’s the relation between the Council and the United Nations?

It’s a subsidiary body to the General Assembly which directly depends on the United Nations, and no longer on ECOSOC.

Where does the Council meet?

Based in Geneva, it holds several sessions per year for a total of 10 weeks. It can also hold extraordinary sessions in the case of emergency situations upon request from one of its members and with consent from a third of the Council’s members.

What status do NGOs have?

The resolution guarantees the practices in force at the Commission. Accreditation, the right to submit written communications and to pronounce oral declarations shall be identical.

Possibilities for additional modalities of participation have been foreseen by the Council’s new functions such as the periodic universal examination mechanism, reinforced practices and interactive dialogue with Special Procedures.

What are the relations of the Council with the High Commissioner?

Identical to those of the Commission: it reports on the High Commissioner’s work.

What are the main goals of the Council?

To be a forum for dialogue and cooperation on human rights within the United Nations.

To help member states to promote and protect human rights through dialogue and technical assistance. To make recommendations to the General Assembly for the development of international rights in the field of human rights.

It is undertaking a complete overhaul of the system over a 5-year period.

What advantages does the Council have over the Commission?

The founding text gives the Council more power.


It is trying to break away from politics and nationalism.


It has more authority:

Human rights have been declared as one of the United Nations three pillars along with development, peace and security. The Council’s status is higher up in UN hierarchy since it no longer depends on ECOSOC as did the Commission, but rather directly on the General Assembly. It could even head all of this including development, peace and security within human rights.

It aims at universality:

Rights are based on “universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-discrimination” so as to go beyond the geopolitics of regional blocks; this is done by establishing a periodic and universal examination mechanism that is applicable to all states.

It conducts preventive measures:

It undertakes preventive activities and quickly responds to emergency situations.

It’s permanent:

The Commission only held a single 6-week session in the spring.

The Council functions in a permanent manner in Geneva and holds several sessions per year, 10-weeks in all, in order to streamline and shorten procedure times.

Furthermore, upon request from a member state and with consent from a third of the Council, an extraordinary session can be quickly convened.

It’s more selective:

Reduced from 53 to 47 seats, the seats are more in demand and elections more selective. Candidates have to present their program for the protection and advancement of human rights to the Council, just like in an election campaign. Member states will be periodically examined by the Council. Member states may be suspended if they greatly and systematically violate human rights.

It’s preventive:

It conducts preventive measures by offering assistance to requesting countries, through education, consultation, technical assistance and means for developing solutions to human rights violations.