The Human Rights Council was established by the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. Since its establishment, the Council has served as the primary global intergovernmental human rights body. According to the UN resolution establishing the Human Rights Council, the Council’s responsibilities include:
One of the Human Rights Council’s functions is to coordinate the work of independent human rights experts, known as the UN special procedures, appointed to examine thematic or country-specific human rights issues. In addition, the Council conducts the Universal Periodic Review, a recurrent review of each UN member state’s implementation of its human rights obligations. The Human Rights Council holds three regular sessions per year, in March, June, and September. Special sessions can also be held at any time to address human rights emergencies at the request of one third of the member states.
The Human Rights Council is composed of 47 member states. Seats are allotted to achieve equitable geographic distribution, with 13 seats reserved for African states, 13 seats for Asia-Pacific states, eight seats for Latin American and Caribbean states, seven seats for Western European and other states (which include Canada, Australia, and the United States), and six seats for Eastern European States.
Within these allotments, members of the Council are selected by the General Assembly through secret ballot. Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. In voting for members of the Council, states are instructed to consider the candidates’ contribution to the promotion of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments. According to the establishing resolution, members elected and serving on the Council “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and cooperate fully with its mechanisms.” In fact, a state’s membership may be suspended if a two-thirds majority of Council members finds that a state commits gross and systematic violations of human rights while serving as a Council member.
China was most recently elected to the Human Rights Council in 2013, and will serve until 2016. For its candidacy, China presented the following voluntary pledges: