About the UN

United Nations General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS -New York City

United Nations General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS -New York City

© APGraphicsBank

The United Nations (UN) is the world’s biggest, most important and only universal International Organization with a membership of 193 countries.

The protection of human rights, alongside peace and security, and economic and social development, has been one of the three pillars of UN’s work since its creation in 1945.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – one of the UN landmark documents – the UN has developed a broad range of international human rights standards.

Some of those standards are enshrined within a number of international treaties, which include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the seven other core international human rights instruments.

Amnesty International’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In pursuit of this end, Amnesty International has been working for many years at the UN and has contributed to many important developments in human rights protection, including:

  • adoption of the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • establishment of the High Commissioner for Human Rights;
  • creation of the Human Rights Council;
  • adoption of resolutions by the General Assembly calling for a universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

The UN has established a range of mechanisms to promote and protect internationally recognized human rights and to assist governments in meeting their human rights obligations.

Amnesty International works with different parts of the UN system to help achieve its human rights objectives:

  • General Assembly
    • The main deliberative body of the UN, where all 193 Member States are represented and each has one vote. It meets throughout the year although most of its meetings are between September and December. It adopts around 300 resolutions each year on a broad range of issues. The resolutions are not legally binding on governments, but represent the moral authority of the world community.

  • Human Rights Council
    • Created in 2006 as the principal human rights political body of the UN, in place of the former Commission on Human Rights, it is composed of 47 Member States. It meets in sessions throughout the year and can address the full spectrum of human rights issues and make recommendations to States. The Council also undertakes a review of the fulfilment of the human rights obligations of every UN Member State through the Universal Periodic Review.

  • Security Council
    • The most powerful body of the UN, it has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security and can authorize the use of force. Some of its decisions are legally binding on all UN Member States. It has 15 members, including 5 permanent and 10 elected countries.

  • Treaty Bodies
    • Committees of independent human rights experts mandated to monitor the compliance by States with the international human rights treaties to which they are parties. At the moment there are nine committees in place.

  • Special Procedures
    • Independent human rights experts mandated by the Human Rights Council to monitor a particular country or thematic issue. Currently there are around 40 procedures, including individual experts (Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General) and Working Groups.

  • Secretariat and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
    • The UN Secretariat is the civil service of the United Nations. It is headed by the UN Secretary-General (currently Mr. Ban Ki-moon) and its main office is in New York. The UN human rights programme is led by the High Commissioner for Human Rights whose office is in Geneva.

What Amnesty International is doing at the UN

  • Amnesty International regularly campaigns on selected country and thematic issues and organizes lobbying of governments, in capitals and through their permanent missions in Geneva and New York to get human rights concerns included in the work of the UN and ensure effective action.
  • Amnesty International also makes regular submissions of information and briefings on both country specific and thematic issues, e.g. to Special Procedures, Treaty Bodies and the Human Rights Council.
  • Amnesty International campaigns for the universal ratification and effective implementation of international human rights treaties and standards, and for the adoption of new ones.
  • Amnesty International is also active in lobbying for institutional reform of the UN to achieve a strong and effective UN for the promotion and protection of human rights, e.g. reform of the Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, and creation of a stronger UN agency on women’s rights.
  • Amnesty international’s work around the UN is carried out by Amnesty International’s membership in more than 55 countries as well as by its representatives to the UN in New York and Geneva.

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