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Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)I. Core Areas

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) works to promote and protect the human rights of everyone, everywhere. It is carried out through different United Nations human rights institutions and agencies, and includes the various human rights bodies and mechanisms, all of which have the common aim of promoting and protecting internationally agreed human rights –civil, cultural, economic, political and social – rights.

As the global authority on human rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is responsible for leading the United Nations human rights programme and for promoting and protecting all human rights established under the Charter of the United Nations and international human rights law.

OHCHR is part of the Secretariat of the United Nations and is led by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a position created in 1993. It collaborates with an ever-wider range of actors, including Governments, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and civil society actors, to instil as broad a commitment to human rights as possible.

As the United Nations principal human rights official, the High Commissioner acts as a moral authority and a voice for victims. The High Commissioner guides the Office’s mission and values, identifies its priorities, and drives its activities. The High Commissioner makes public statements and appeals on human rights situations and crises; engages in dialogue with Governments to strengthen national human rights protection; and travels widely to ensure that human rights messages are heard in all parts of the world, to listen to those whose rights have been denied and to engage with duty bearers.

The High Commissioner works to mainstream human rights standards throughout all United Nations programmes to ensure that peace and security, development, and human rights – the three essential pillars of the United Nations system – are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, and that human rights form the bedrock of all United Nations activities.

The current High Commissioner, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, assumed office in September 2008. Ms. Pillay was preceded by Ms. Louise Arbour (2004-2008), Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello (2002-2003), Ms. Mary Robinson (1997-2002) and Mr. José Ayala Lasso (1994-1997). Mr. Bertrand G. Ramcharan was Acting High Commissioner from 2003 to 2004.

OHCHR is headquartered at Palais Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland, and has an office at United Nations headquarters in New York. Comprising more than 1000 staff members, over half of whom work in the field, its presences include country teams and offices, regional offices, human rights advisers, and human rights components in United Nations peace missions.

II. Activities

OHCHR seeks the implementation of human rights standards in the daily lives of all people everywhere. Working towards this goal, it collaborates with Governments, NHRIs, a broad range of other civil society actors, in addition to United Nations partners, to build awareness of and respect for human rights. OHCHR empowers individuals to claim their rights and assists States in upholding their human rights obligations.

Local, national and international civil society actors are a vital part of the international human rights movement and an essential partner for OHCHR. They alert the world to human rights violations. They defend victims, promote rights through education, and campaign for improvements and advancements. The relationship between OHCHR and civil society is a dynamic and collaborative one, which infuses all parts of OHCHR.

OHCHR areas of work span the full spectrum of human rights. Each activity is interrelated and complementary, and forms an integral part of its mission.

Its thematic work identifies and targets gaps in the existing human rights system, leading protection and research and addressing contemporary issues, such as climate change and gender-based violence, from within a human rights framework.

In its standard-setting work, OHCHR contributes to the development of new international norms to advance human rights protection and entitlement. OHCHR seeks to offer the highest quality research, expertise, advice and administrative services to the main United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms as they discharge their standard-setting and monitoring duties, contributing to the development of international human rights law and jurisprudence, and working to ensure the implementation of agreed human rights standards. These bodies and mechanisms include: the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms (e.g., the special procedures, the universal periodic review mechanism, the complaint procedure, the Advisory Committee, the Social Forum, the Forum on Minority Issues, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples); and human rights treaty bodies.

Its monitoring work aims to ensure that these standards are implemented in practice and thus contributes to making human rights a reality.

Through its work on implementation in the field, OHCHR looks for early warning signs of human rights crises and deteriorating situations, offering technical assistance to Governments and ready to deploy staff and resources when crises develop.

OHCHR also works to increase human rights education and awareness. It seeks to empower people to access their rights and, by using United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms effectively, to become agents of change.

OHCHR has established fellowship and training programmes for indigenous and minorities fellows, for example, to help increase the role and participation of civil society in human rights mechanisms.

United Nations funds and grants, some of which are managed by OHCHR, directly benefit NGOs, grass-roots organizations, professional associations and other civil society actors. These funds and grants included: the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture; the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations; and the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

OHCHR produces an extensive range of publications related to human rights which provide information of interest to Governments, NHRIs, civil society, the general public and the media. Many publications and resources are available for downloading on the OHCHR website or may be requested from the OHCHR Publications and Information Desk.

OHCHR activities are funded from the United Nations regular budget and from voluntary contributions from Member States, intergovernmental organizations, foundations and individuals.

III. Resources

Civil society actors are encouraged to consult the OHCHR website for updates and information on OHCHR work and activities, including information on the various human rights mechanisms.

The Civil Society Section is the main entry point for civil society actors wishing to contact OHCHR. Its flagship publication, Working with the United Nations Human Rights Programme: A Handbook for Civil Society is a user-friendly guide which explains what United Nations human rights mechanisms are, how they work, and how civil society actors can contribute to their work. The Handbook and other resources are available.

Contact the Civil Society Section:
OHCHR, Palais Wilson, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Telephone: +41-22-917-9334
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.

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