Human Rights

  • Human Rights

    Human Rights Photo: Predrag Stakic

The work with human rights at the Swedish Mission in Geneva consists of promoting and defending human rights in general and Swedish priorities in particular at the UN human rights mechanisms in Geneva.

The protection and promotion of human rights is integrated into all areas of the Swedish foreign policy. It characterizes Sweden’s actions in global and regional forums and pervades in bilateral contacts with other states and civil society. The basis of all work with human rights consists of the government's eight priorities for human rights: democracy-building, strengthening freedom of expression, abolition of death penalty, combating torture, combating summary executions and arbitrary detentions, protecting the principles of the rule of law, protecting human rights and international humanitarian law as well as fighting against discrimination. Examples of focus areas are the promotion and protection of human rights, especially freedom of expression, on the internet, combatting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, gender equality as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights.

OHCHR – United Nations office for human rights
OHCHR is the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and has the mandate to promote and protect all human rights in close cooperation with governments, other bodies in the UN system, civil society and other actors. Governments have the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights in their country, but OHCHR assists states in their compliance with their human rights obligations. The office also supports the UN human rights mechanisms such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and the treaty bodies, promotes the right to development, coordinates UN human rights education and information activities, as well as strengthens human rights across the whole UN system. The headquarter is situated in Geneva and the office which is part of the UN secretariat, was founded in 1993. The High Commissioner for Human Rights is since 2014 Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein from Jordan. Sweden is one of the largest donors and has regular and close contact with OHCHR.

UN Human Rights Council
The UN Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body that was set up in 2006 when the UN discontinued the Commission for Human Rights. The Human Rights Council holds three sessions a year, but can decide to hold special sessions tp address human rights sessions to address human rights violations and emergencies. The Human Rights Council has 47 members that are elected on a three year basis. All UN member states can run for membership to the Human Rights Council and the seats are divided among the five regional groups of the UN. The Western European and others group (WEOG), where Sweden belongs, has seven seats. The states that are not members serve as observers in the council, among them Sweden. States take part in discussions and negotiations regardless if they are members or observers. However, only members can vote if an issue is put to the vote. The Human Rights Council’s mandate is to promote universal respect for human rights, address situations where human rights are violated and provide concrete recommendations and follow up. Mandates for special rapporteurs are set up and prolonged through decisions in the HRC. The HRC also contributes to prevention of human rights violations through promotion of education, technical assistance and capacity building.

UPR (Universal Periodic Review)
The UPR (Universal Periodic Review) is a mechanism in the Human Rights Council where UN member states periodically examine all countries' situation of human rights. Each state is reviewed approximately every fourth year. During the UPR-sessions the state under review presents the situation of human rights in the country. Thereafter a dialogue is held where other states can make recommendations, provide comments or ask questions. The state under review can choose to accept or note received recommendations. The recommendations offer a basis for continuing dialogue and follow-up in a concrete way.

Special rapporteurs
A particular mechanism that the Human Rights Council has at its disposal is the so-called “special procedures”, which are the different special rapporteurs, independent experts and Commissions of inquiry. There are now 38 thematic (e.g. regarding freedom of expression, freedom of religion and summary executions) and 14 country mandates (for example Iran, North Korea, Eritrea and Belarus). The special procedures consist of independent human rights experts who report to the Human Rights Council at least once a year from their respective thematic or country specific perspective. It is a central part of the UN human rights machinery that with the support from OHCHR undertake country visits and acts on individual cases or issues of a broader structural nature by sending communications to states and others to bring their attention to possible violations of human rights.

Treaty bodies
The treaty bodies are created to monitor the implementation of key international human rights treaties. They consist of independent experts and are supported by OHCHR. The treaty bodies are: 

-        Human Rights Committee (CCPR)

-        Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)

-        Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

-        Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

-        Committee against Torture (CAT)

-        Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)

-        Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

-        Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW)

-        Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

-        Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)

All states that have ratified the convention in question are required to report regularly to the treaty bodies on the state’s compliance with the respective conventions. Hearings then take place between the treaty body and state. Sweden has ratified all except CMW and CED.