The United Nations and human rights

Creating a 'culture of human rights' throughout the world.

Convention on the Rights of the Child: Children hold up drawings at an event to mark World Children’s Day in the United Nations Headquarters, 2017.
UNICEF/UN0146051/Markisz

From the rights of women and children, to persons with disabilities and minorities and indigenous peoples, the creation of a body of international human rights law is one of the United Nations’ great achievements. 

Together, these treaties and declarations have helped create a ‘culture of human rights’ throughout the world, providing a powerful tool to protect and promote all rights.


Promoting respect for the law and protection of human rights 

The United Nations promotes respect for the law and protection of human rights in many ways, including:

There are 10 human rights treaty bodies, which are committees of independent experts, that monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Under the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review is a review of the human rights records of all Member States. This State-driven process provides an opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. 

The United Nations also has an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that is mandated to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization by all people of human rights.

The United Nations may also appoint experts (sometimes called special rapporteurs, representatives or independent experts) to address a specific human rights issue or particular country. These experts may conduct studies, visit specific countries, interview victims, make specific appeals and submit reports and recommendations.

These procedures include two child-specific procedures and many broader procedures which increasingly make reference to children's rights. Child specific procedures include the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Many broader procedures increasingly include references to children's rights in the context of their particular mandates. Such procedures include the Special Rapporteurs on the right to education; on torture; on the environment; on disability; on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; on violence against women; on freedom of religion or belief; and on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and also an Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty.

Violations of children’s rights have also been singled out by country-specific Special Rapporteurs (who focus on the human rights situations in particular countries and regions and can receive individual complaints) and thematic Special Rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment. Other relevant mechanisms include Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detention.

In addition, the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Violence Against Children utilize their specialized mandates to act as global independent advocates for and on behalf of children.