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Your guide to UN and UN documents and reports

Commission on human rights

Until 2006, the Commission on Human Rights was the main UN organ for the political surveillance of the human rights situation in the world. The Commission was established during the first year of the United Nations and has been its most important organ for human rights within the organization. The Commission was replaced by the Human Rights Council on June 1, 2006.

Members of the Commission

The 53 members of the Commission were elected by the Economic and Social Council for a period of three years.

Work of the Commission

A regular session for six weeks was held each year in Geneva. For urgent and acute human rights situations, the Commission met for special sessions between the regular sessions.

Suggestions from the Commission were discussed in the ECOSOC before being referred to the General Assembly for further action.

Procedure for complaints of human rights violation

The Commission was mandated to examine, monitor and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories. These investigations were referred to as country mandates and thematic mandates and were performed by special rapporteurs who served in their personal capacity and held an independent position crucial to their impartiality. The country reports and thematic reports were presented to the Commission and discussed during sessions.

Although these reports were considered to be an instrument for serious criticism from a global human rights forum, the Commission had no authority to force a government to change or improve the situation. However, the standpoint of the Commission often served as important background information for further resolutions by the ECOSOC and the General Assembly.

The 1503 Procedure - the possibility for individuals to submit a complaint

Through the 1503 Procedure - ECOSOC Resolution 1503 (1978) - individuals could submit their complaints to the Commission concerning "a consistent pattern" of gross human rights violations. This procedure was confidential, but the Commission publicly announced the countries considered.

2007, the Human Rights Council established a new and improved complaint procedure.

The Human Rights Council replaces the Commission

On 15 March 2006, the General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council to replace the Commission on Human Rights. The Human Rights Council has retained the special procedures and carries over all the Commission's mandates and responsibilities.

The Commission held its final meeting on March 27, 2006.

More on the Commission on Human Rights

The individual documents of the Commission on Human Rights carry the following symbols:

E/ Economic and Social Council

-/CN.4 Commission number 4 = Commission on Human Rights


-/current number

Ex. E/CN.4/2004/103 Economic and social Council, Commission on Human Rights, year 2003, document 103

  • Commission on Human Rights. Information about the structure and work of the Commission.
  • The Commission on Human Rights submitted an annual report to the ECOSOC in the documentary series Supplements to the Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, no 23.
  • Human Rights Council, Special Procedures. A list of country and thematic mandates and documents.
  • The research guide Charter-based bodies (by Dag Hammarskjöld Library, New York) offers more information about the Commission on Human Rights and relevant documents.
  • Human Rights Council responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

Human rights, conventions and declarations

UN documents and publications in catalogues and databases

  • United Nations Digital Library. UN official documents and open access publications, UN maps, UN voting data and speeches.
  • UN iLibrary. UN publications online covering different topics.
  • ODS. UN documents published from 1993 onward and scanned documents published between 1946 and 1993 in the official languages of the UN.
  • Daily list of documents (ODS). Documents published for the day, with full text links, can be found in the United Nations full text database ODS.
  • UNBIS Thesaurus is a multilingual database of the controlled vocabulary used to describe UN documents.
  • Index to proceedings is an annual bibliographic guide to the proceedings and documentation of the major UN organs. The index includes:
    • a list of all documents
    • a comprehensive subject index
    • an index to speeches
    • a voting chart of resolutions


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