What we do: an overview

Cherif Bassiouni, Independant Expert on Human Rights in AfghanistanAs the principal United Nations office mandated to promote and protect human rights for all, UN Human Rights:

  • Works with and assists Governments in fulfilling their human rights obligations
  • Speaks out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide
  • Provides a forum for identifying, highlighting and developing responses to today's human rights challenges
  • Acts as the principal focal point of human rights research, education, public information, and advocacy activities
  • Works with a wide range of partners in order to widen the constituency for human rights worldwide.

Assistance to States, other entities, and individuals

Since Governments have the primary responsibility to protect human rights, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – OHCHR) provide assistance to Governments so they can implement the international human rights standards they've committed to. This assistance includes expertise and technical trainings in the areas of administration of justice, legislative reform, and electoral processes.

We also assist other entities with responsibility to protect human rights to fulfil their obligations and individuals to realize their rights. We support the establishment and strengthening of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), and collaborate with them to implement their mandates to promote and protect human rights. We also work closely with civil society actors to build their knowledge of human rights and promote their participation in UN decision-making processes.

Standard-setting and monitoring

Monitoring team COCAP, Nepal We work to offer the best expertise, and substantive and secretariat support to the different United Nations human rights bodies as they discharge their standard-setting and monitoring duties.

OHCHR, for example, serves as the Secretariat of the Human Rights Council. The Council is an intergovernmental body made up of 47 States nominated by the UN General Assembly. It is responsible for strengthening human rights globally and addressing human rights violations.

Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, with a woman

We also support the work of independent thematic and country experts, known as special procedures. These experts are appointed by the Council to monitor human rights in different countries or in relation to specific issues. We assist them as they carry out visits to the field, receive and consider direct complaints from victims of human rights violations, and appeal to governments on behalf of victims.

Finally, OHCHR provides legal research and secretariat support to the core human rights treaty bodies. These committees of independent experts are mandated to monitor State parties' compliance with their treaty obligations. They meet regularly to examine reports from State parties and issue their recommendations.

We have also developed a framework of indicators, which helps us measure progress in human rights. In the work of the UN human rights treaty bodies, for example, the use of appropriate indicators is a way to help States parties make precise and relevant information available to the treaty bodies, and to help them assess progress in the implementation of States' treaty obligations.

Implementation on the ground

Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur on the highest attainable standards of health in UgandaThrough our presence around the world, we ensure that international human rights standards are implemented on the ground. Our field presences play an essential role in identifying, monitoring, and developing responses to human rights challenges.

In the field, the technical cooperation component of our work aims to ensure human rights are protected under the rule of law. We work in close collaboration with Governments, the UN system, non-governmental organizations, and members of civil society. We conduct technical trainings and provide support in the areas of administration of justice, legislative reform, human rights treaty ratification, and human rights education, designed in cooperation with Member States.

As at the end of December 2019, we were operating in 85 field presences and providing support to other UN entities by rapidly deploying human rights officers in response to emerging situations.

Prioritizing human rights in all UN operations

Plenary Room 61st CommissionSince the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, one of its fundamental goals has been to promote and encourage respect for human rights for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion, as stipulated in the United Nations Charter. UN Human Rights is tasked with 'mainstreaming' human rights within the United Nations, which means injecting a human rights perspective into all United Nations programmes. This is to ensure that peace and security, development, and human rights -- the three essential pillars of the United Nations system -- are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

The world is facing global, interconnected challenges such climate change, migration, nationalist populism, pushbacks on women's equality and widening inequalities in income. Integrating human rights in multilateral and UN-wide approaches to such challenges can result in more sustainable and effective solutions.

Our Roadmap

The UN Human Rights Management Plan 2018-2021 sets out our priorities, expected results and strategies for the next four years.

View our thematic priorities

Annual Reports, Appeals and Plans

Every year, UN Human Rights publishes an annual report of its achievements over the last 12 months. It is mapped against the Management Plan.  We also publish an annual appeal for additional, voluntary funding in order to meet an ever-increasing demand for our support. 

View Annual Reports, Appeals and Plans