The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) is the central UN agency in respect to human rights, while the Human Rights Council is the central intergovernmental body, i.e. a committee composed of states, of the UN system dealing with the issue. OHCHR was established in 1993, after the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.
The head of the OHCHR is the High Commissioner for Human Rights (since 1 September 2008 Navanethem Pillay from South Africa). She, as the principal UN human rights official, is assigned to coordinate the human rights activities of all the UN system.
The OHCHR supports several UN human rights mechanisms, like the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies and the special procedures. Thus, the OHCHR administratively manages the most important UN individual complaints’ procedures.
The OHCHR’s work has three dimensions:
- monitoring; and
- implementation on the ground.
The OHCHR therefore also has an important analytical dimension supporting individual complaints against violations of human rights, which by far transcends a pure administrative role for the procedure. For example, the human rights branches of UN peacekeeping missions to some extent report to the OHCHR. OHCHR also coordinates United Nations human rights education and public information activities, and strengthens human rights across the United Nations system (‘mainstreaming’ human rights).
Besides the OHCHR headquarter in Geneva and a New York office, there are seven regional offices. Four of them are in Africa, which underlines the attention paid to the continent by OHCHR. Regional offices are established in Yaoundé, Cameroon, for Central Africa; in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for East Africa; in Pretoria, South Africa, for Southern Africa; and in Dakar, Senegal, for West Africa. OHCHR country offices are located in Angola, Togo and Uganda.
The OHCHR offices provide assistance to national governments such as expertise and technical trainings in the areas of administration of justice, legislative reform, and electoral process, with a view to strengthen human rights across the board and to implement international human rights standards on the ground.
More information: www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/AfricaRegionIndex.aspx