Protect Human Rights

A group of children from the indigenous Ember people smiling.

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 lay down the principles that 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.


How does the UN promote and protect human rights?

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Headquartered in Geneva, with many regional offices, the has lead responsibility in the UN system for the promotion and protection of .

The office supports the of peacekeeping missions in several countries, and in addition to its regional offices, has HR Centres, Country/Stand-alone Offices and Human Rights Advisors .

The regularly comments on situations in the world relating to , and has the authority to investigate situations and publish reports on them.

UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Leilani Farha warns of widespread homelessness

OHCHR Regional Offices

The Americas
Asia and the Pacific
Europe and Central Asia
The Middle East
North Africa

Human Rights Council

The , which was established in 2006, meets in Geneva. It replaced the 60-year-old UN Commission on Human Rights as the key independent UN intergovernmental body responsible for human rights.


Human Rights Treaty Bodies

The are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the . Each State party to a treaty has an obligation to take steps to ensure that everyone in the State can enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

The treaty bodies are composed of independent experts of recognized competence in human rights, who are nominated and elected for fixed renewable terms of four years by State parties.

The Human Rights Treaty Body system

Special Procedures

The 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.


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.


What legal instruments help the UN protect human rights?


More than 75 years ago the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common human rights standard for everyone, everywhere.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two Covenants

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was the first legal document protecting universal human rights. It is generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law. In 2023 we marked its .

Together with the and the , the three instruments form the so-called International Bill of Human Rights.

Other instruments

A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since 1945 have expanded the body of .

In 2007, the General Assembly adopted the .

The Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs plays a leading role in the work of the UN to help countries hold credible, transparent and inclusive elections. Since 1992, the UN has assisted more than 100 of its Member States with electoral support.


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 C the three pillars of the United Nations mission as set forth in the UN Charter.

At the 2005 World Summit, all the world 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 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.


What other UN offices and bodies are responsible for protecting human rights?



The appoints special representatives, who advocate against major human rights violations:

The Highest Aspiration: A Call to Action for Human Rights

On 24 February 2020, a Call to Action for Human Rights. Human rights are our ultimate tool to help societies grow in freedom, he told Member States on the of the UN in Geneva, as he detailed a seven-point blueprint for positive change. Echoing the call for change, the then High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that although threats to human rights, development and peace were on the rise, so were the practical, actionable to these issues.

Security Council

The , 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 .

The Security Council may issue a ceasefire directive, dispatch military observers or a peacekeeping force. If this is not enough, 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 (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 , address a range of human rights issues.

The , the and their subsidiary organs make policy decisions and recommendations to 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 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 , , , and responding to . Human rights issues are also addressed in the context of the post-conflict UN peacebuilding support activities

UN Peace Operations

To celebrate International Day of UN Peacekeepers: Meet Nicole Ngoy, a human rights officer, working at the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many United Nations and political and peacebuilding 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 (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women.

, established in 2010, serves as its Secretariat.