United Nations Human Rights Commission

For the first twenty years of its existence (1947-1966), the UN Commission on Human Rights concentrated its efforts on standard-setting (believing that generally it had no legal competence to deal with complaints about violations of human rights). Together with other UN bodies such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, it has drafted human rights standards and prepared a number of international human rights instruments. Among the most important of these have been the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights together with its first Optional Protocol (1976). Collectively known as "the International Bill of Human Rights," these three instruments serve as, among other things, touchstones for interpreting the human rights provisions of the UN Charter (see below). Also central have been the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), each elaborating on provisions of the International Bill of Human Rights.

The Commission continues to perform this standard-setting role. Beginning in 1967, however, it was specifically authorized to deal with violations of human rights, and, since then, has set up elaborate mechanisms and procedures to investigate alleged violations of human rights and otherwise monitor compliance by states with international human rights law. Thus, much of the work of the Commission is now investigatory, evaluative, and advisory in character. It annually establishes a working group to consider and make recommendations concerning alleged "gross violations" of human rights referred to it by its Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (on the basis of communications from individuals and groups, pursuant to ECOSOC Resolution 1503, and sometimes on the basis of investigations by the Sub-Commission or one of its "working groups"). Also, on an ad hoc basis, it appoints "Special Rapporteurs," "Special Representatives," "Special Committees," and other envoys to examine human rights situations, country-oriented and thematic, and report back to the Commission on the basis of reliable information submitted in good faith, interviews of interested persons, and/or on-site inspections with the cooperation of the governments concerned. During the 1970s and 1980s, these fact-finding and implementation mechanisms and procedures became the focus of the Commission's attention. In the 1990s, the Commission increasingly turned its attention to the need of states to overcome obstacles to the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living. Increased attention has been given also to the protection of the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples and to the protection of the rights of women and the rights of the child.

Encyclopedia Britannica
Human Development Report 2000 page 45