Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is a UN inter-governmental body with 47 members elected by the UN General Assembly. The mandate of the Human Rights Council is to promote “universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

For torture prevention, three areas of work of the Human Rights Council are particularly relevant:

Universal Periodic Review

Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process in which the human rights records of all United Nations member States are reviewed by other States. Each State is reviewed once every four years. The review is based upon:

  • Written information provided by the State under review as well as information supplied orally.
  • A report compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) containing information from UN sources.
  • A report compiled of information provided by NGOs, NHRIs, academic institutions, regional organisations, etc.

Each State is reviewed during a three hour session of the Working Group on Universal Period Review. Following oral presentation by the State, other States make concrete recommendations. The report of the Working group is adopted by the Human Rights Council during its next session. The State under review adopts or rejects the recommendations either during the adoption of the report of the working group or during the adoption of the outcome in the Human Rights Council.

The APT participates in the UPR process by providing background information to States and by asking them to make recommendations related to the prevention of torture. NGOs are able to make statements when the report of the working group is adopted in the Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur on Torture

The fact-finding and investigatory mechanisms established by the Human Rights Council are known as “Special Procedures”. These include Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups aimed at documenting human rights on particular themes or country situations.

For torture prevention, the most relevant procedure is the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, created in 1985. The Special Rapporteur on Torture engages in three main activities:

  • Transmitting urgent appeals to States with regard to individuals reported to be at risk of torture, as well as communications on past alleged cases of torture.
  • Undertaking fact-finding country visits.
  • Submitting annual reports on activities, the mandate and methods of work to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

To visit a country the Special Rapporteur must be invited by the government. During a fact-finding visit, the Special Rapporteur meets with representatives of the government, civil society, etc. and visit places of detention. After a visit, the Special Rapporteur issues a public report with conclusions and recommendations to the government. In the annual reports to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur usually addresses a particular theme.

Thematic resolutions

The Human Rights Council traditionally adopts an annual thematic resolution on torture that focusses on a particular aspect of the fight against torture. The Human Rights Council also adopts resolutions on topics closely related to torture prevention and on the situation in particular States which may also address torture.