The Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system and a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. The Council is made up of 47 United Nations Member States, which are elected by the General Assembly for a period of three years, and holds responsibility for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. Its foundation in 2006 was the result of a reform process in the UN and represented the replacement of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Since then, it has been addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them.
Located in Geneva, Switzerland, its duty entails responding to urgent human rights situations by addressing issues regarding accountability and liability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as well as serving as a general forum for debate and dialogue on all human rights issues. In order to strengthen its efforts, the Human Rights Council cooperates with non-governmental organizations, national human rights organizations as well as other civil society actors.
Each year, the UNHRC holds regular sessions, with each annual series of sessions being referred to as “cycle”, and, at any time, a special session may be requested by one-third of the UNHRC Member States if an acute human rights violation or a similarly urgent event occurs. At the beginning of each regular session cycle, a new President is elected, a position that is currently being held by Vojislav Šuc. The President and his four Vice-Presidents constitute the so-called “Bureau”, which is responsible for the organization and procedures of the HRC.
Another important function the UNHRC is entrusted with is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, which is conducted in order to ensure the UN Member States’ conformity with human rights. Each Member State of the UN has to submit to the periodic review to assess the fulfillment of its human rights obligations, with each review cycle taking about four years to complete.
Topic I: Fighting Contemporary Forms of Slavery
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms” (Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
In the history of human rights, slavery was one of the first threats which was on international focus and which is formally abolished since the 19th century. However, it still continues in different forms. According to the Global Slavery Index (2016) 40.3 million people are in modern slavery around the globe. Slavery mostly affects victims which are in need and vulnerable. Women account for 71% of people living in slavery.
The impact of modern slavery goes across each level of society. The most affected group of victims are located in Asia with two-thirds of all victims. One of the biggest forms of slavery nowadays is forced labor, with 21 million victims. To prevent the exploitation, more transparency in supply chains is needed. Furthermore, there are 19 million people which are exploited by criminals and over 2 million by the government or rebel groups. More than 20% of them are sexually exploited. Victims of sex trafficking include an estimated 1.8 million children. In Africa and the Middle East children make up the majority of victims. In Europe and Central Asia, children are outnumbered by adults, mainly women.
In 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery (A/HRC/RES/6/14), including its causes and consequences, in order to better address the issue of modern forms of slavery within the United Nations system.
Slavery takes different forms, from forced prostitution and labor to debt bondage. The common denominator is poverty. Even if it’s 2018 and slavery is formally abolished some people are still born into slavery.
Topic II: The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples
According to UN data, there are currently more than 370 million people in around 70 countries worldwide which are considered to be indigenous. People are seen as indigenous if they live in a certain part of a country or region in which they have their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions and traditions, that differ from the majority institutions and traditions in the country and, furthermore, define themselves as indigenous. (Note: This is seen as the common understanding of the term “indigenous”, an official definition by the UN has not been made so far).
According to Article 2 of the Universal declaration of human rights, everyone is entitled to all human rights, also indigenous people. But in fact, they are often faced with discrimination. This can reach from discrimination in every day’s life up to arbitrary arrestment or even genocide.
One of the biggest current questions on this topic is: What if a state fails to protect indigenous people living in it or even supports their discrimination? The task for the UNHRC will be to observe and evaluate on violations of any human rights and to consider useful steps and recommendations in order to empower indigenous people. Furthermore, a general definition of the term “indigenous” is necessary to adequately address human rights violations of indigenous peoples.