International Organizations: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mandate: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is mandated to protect human rights, defined as “the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties.” This includes working with UN agencies to ensure that human rights are accommodated and protected by UN activities.

History: The organization was created out of the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which is a product of that year’s World Conference on Human Rights. Also, the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights supported the creation of this office. The commissioner herself, Louise Arbour, has the rank of Under Secretary-General. She is the fourth person to hold this office since it was established in 1993. Ms. Arbour was appointed following the death of her predecessor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed when the UN building in Bagdhad was bombed in 2003. She is aided by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mehr Khan Williams.

Activities: In the field, OHCHR works both independently, and with other UN agencies to carry out human rights activities. Their activities are usually carried out in a relatively short amount of time, with a discrete goal that usually involves the implementation of human rights observation and protection in the country in which they are working. They work to efficiently and carefully hand over human rights activities to local organizations or other actors. Many of their efforts are legal in nature, as they work to enforce Human Rights Law. They engage in monitoring, capacity building, education, and training at a local or country level. The main OHCHR offices are based in Geneva and in New York. The office sponsors International Human Rights Day (December 10), which is an educational and awareness campaign. They also work with other UN agencies to ensure that human rights are accounted for in all UN activities.

Funding: Roughly one third of OHCHR’s budget comes from the United Nations. OHCHR requested US$58.6 million from the UN general fund for the years 2004-2005. Donations from nations as well as other private donors supply the remainder of their funds. Private donors (including nations) supplied US$60 million in 2004. The USA is their highest individual donor, supplying US$10.8 million in 2005, followed by the UK, and Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden to make up the top five donors. Large donations were also received from other UN agencies: UNFPA, UNESCO, and UNAIDS.

Field activity:  Currently, the OHCHR is establishing an office in Uganda to conduct a variety of activities. They will be monitoring for human rights abuses, particularly related to conflict occurring in the northeast, where Uganda borders the volatile nations of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The OHCHR office will also engage in training and capacity building with the local community, working on a strategy for protecting the Ugandan people from human rights abuses.

University of Hawaii at Manoa; Center of Excellence in DMHA; ICRC

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