United Nations Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council was established by the Geneal Assembly resolution 60/251 of March 2006 as a substitute of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Council is constituted of 47 States that serve three-year terms each, with memberships being based on geographical distribution.

The Council’s meetings occur at least once a year in the United Nations Office at Geneva. The discussions are set around recurring and important topics on the international agenda relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms protection and promotion. Moreover, it has the responsibility of addressing, analyzing and making recommendations about violations of human rights across the globe. Within the United Nations system, it has also the duty of promoting the effective coordination and mainstreaming of human rights.

Although resolutions of the United Nations Human Rights Council are not binding, they are of great social and political importance for the international community. Being the main organ concerning human rights as well as one of the most important institutions of its kind, the discussions held by the Council as well as its resolutions carry great weight on issues relating to fundamental rights. This year, the delegates of UFRGSMUN’s Human Rights Council will be debating about xenophobic and racist legislations and the impact of arms transfers in regions in conflict.


TOPIC A: Xenophobic and Racist Legislations

Issues relating to cultural, ethnical, religious and racial discrimination have recurrently been topics of discussion within United Nations organs. However, the roots of these socially-based problems are deeply set in nations among their people, thus solutions to them tend to consist in long-term planning. Although the international community has repeatedly expressed its concerns with cultural intolerance within populations, various UN member States have implemented legislation and public policies in contradiction to such worry.
There is a major interest in building successful coexistence among ethnically diverse members of the same community. Yet, in many situations authorities have set obstacles to such goals. One of the most famous examples of this issue is the recent French legislation that bans the use of the hijab in public schools, which is justified by the country’s policy of prohibition of religious symbols in public buildings. Even though it is expected to encounter natural social hindrance in the construction of harmonious coexistence, the implementation of governmental policies that are clearly counterproductive to that purpose is gravely worrying. Today, laws and public policies reflecting racism and xenophobia are in force mostly in Europe, North America and Muslim-majority countries.

On the other hand, these laws are rarely unjustified or illegitimate, since they reflect a certain social and cultural reality that must not be ignored. At the same time that they may affront basic principles of human rights, such as equality and freedom, they echo the concrete social situation of a country, having, therefore, legitimacy within its own judicial system. In addition to questions regarding justification and legitimacy, there is the issue of sovereignty. Although international treaties must be respected by signatory states, these must find a way to manage, along with their socio-political context, international agreements with their legislative body. Accordingly, the main challenge in this respect is maintaining nations’ legal, juridical and political independence while honoring signed conventions. North-American controversial immigration laws and public policies, for example, generate a debate in which questions of ethnic discrimination face those concerning national security. Additionally, in countries that adopt the Sharia, a legal adequacy to a specific cultural and religious scenario may present a violation of basic rights such as freedom of expression.

The United Nations Human Rights Council calls upon delegates to identify situations such as the aforementioned, to debate about specific cases as well as, and to better discuss the problematic of xenophobia and racism inside nations’ legislations as a whole and its relations to important matters of independence and self-determination and even, in some cases, internal security. The main goal of these discussions is to find ways to ensure freedom to both states and their people through a thorough analysis of the situation, counterbalancing issues of respect to basic human rights and national sovereignty, moving closer to the ever desired eradication of xenophobia, racism and cultural, ethnical and religious intolerance.


TOPIC B: Arms Transfers and Human Rights: The Impact on Regions in Conflict

The so-called “conventional weapons” have, since 1945, directly caused the deaths of more than 30 million people (Sidel 1995). These weapons arrive at the regions in conflict, usually, through transfers made by other countries or even through illicit trading. Sometimes countries can demonstrate their support to one of the parts of the conflict through the supply of weapons, which consists of a legal transfer. In many cases, however, when support from foreign governments has dried up, or is occurring by illegal means, rebel groups tend to acquire their weapons from what are usually referred to as the ‘black market’ (Wezeman 2003).

Two relevant aspects can be pointed out regarding this issue: the role of superpowers, such as United States of America, China and Russia, in the world trade of weapons, considering that they are the world’s biggest suppliers; and also the supply of weaponry to insurgent groups. In Mali, for instance, poorly regulated international arms transfers continue to contribute to the recruitment and use of children by armed groups and, in some cases, government forces (Amnesty International 2013). States in sub-Saharan Africa have received major arms from a wide variety of countries all over the world – the same states that have also suffered with political oppression, food insecurity and lack of respect for women’s rights. Along with African countries, the Middle Eastern nations have greatly suffered with this problem, since the region has been the stage of most of the contemporary conflicts.
Another angle to the discussion is that when nations invest in armed conflicts, they can easily lack on the support that their people need and many civilians may remain without water, food or proper health assistance (Sidel 1995).

In an effort to mitigate the consequences of arms trade, the United Nations General Assembly has signed the first Arms Trade Treaty in history last March, whose main objective is to prevent human rights violations. Accordingly, the countries are, indeed, in the path towards a better regulation of the arms trade, yet there is still a lot to be discussed and decided regarding this topic. There is an undeniable need to establish even more specific mechanisms of regulation to ensure human security, considering the importance of transparency and responsibility related to the global arms trade.



Amnesty International. Global arms trade contributes to use of child soldiers”. Available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/global-arms-trade-contributes-use-child-soldiers-2013-02-11. Last access: March 19, 2013.
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Lüttmann, Janna. 2006. The German Anti-Discrimination Law of 2006 – A small step? Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag.
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Schiek, Dagmar; Chege, Victoria. 2009. European Union Non-Discrimination Law. Comparative Perspectives on Multidimensional Equality Law. New York: Routledge-Cavandish.
Sidel, Victor W. The International Arms Trade and Its Impact on Health. British Medical Journal, v. 311, 1995, 23-30.
Wezeman, Pieter D. Conflicts and Transfers of Small Arms. Sweden: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2003.
Wezeman Pieter D.; Wezeman, Siemon T.; Béraud-Sudreau, Lucie.  Arms flows to Sub-Saharan Africa.  Sweden: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2011.