In September 2015, Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UN, has been elected chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Considering that the human rights situation in Saudi-Arabia can be considered quite questionable, some media outlets questioned if a Saudi-Arabian is the best choice for this position.

What powers does the UN Human Rights Council in general and the chair in particular have and how could this power be used or abused?


1 Answer 1


The UN Human Rights Council (HRC)

The HRC's powers include:

  • Administering grant programs related to human rights. One such fund is the Technical Cooperation Program, which provides funds to help member states develop human rights policies and programs. They also administer many smaller, targeted funds such as the UN Torture Victim Fund and the UN Anti-Slavery Fund.
  • Maintaining human rights field offices across the globe. In 2014 they reported having 900 staff people organized into 12 regional offices. They also had missions in specific countries with systemic problems.
  • Working with national actors in the area of human rights. This appears to include offering policy-matter consultation and connecting disparate parties.

Although I couldn't find any details, HRC has some kind of regular review process in which it's staff and international peer nations visit a member state and review their human rights policies and outcomes.

The High Commissioner

Aside from being responsible for all these programs, the High Commissioner is also a kind of spokesperson for human rights internationally.

The High Commissioner of HRC reports to the UN Secretariat.

Possible Abuses

This is all speculative, but I could foresee some possible issues:

  • The High Commissioner could use their position as a bully-pulpit to focus the world's attention on certain nations' and certain problems (and to deflect from their countries own problems).
  • They could direct funding to their own country, or their supporters. Similarly, they could withhold funding from countries or de-fund campaigns related to issues they aren't interested in.
  • They could direct investigations into nations or subject areas based on their nation's interests or their own.

These are all somewhat theoretical. It's possible the UN has internal controls to prevent these kinds of things, but public documents are not likely to provide those details.

  • 1
    "They could direct funding" - you are missing another bad angle, corruption. Direct funding/contracts to companies that pay them a kickback.
    – user4012
    Oct 1, 2016 at 14:05

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