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Frequently Asked Questions

What are human rights?

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, without distinction as to race, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. All human rights, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression, or economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to work, social security and education are indivisible and interdependent. Universal human rights are expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law.

What does the United Nations do in promoting and protecting human rights?

The promotion and protection of human rights is one of the fundamental goals of the United Nations, which works actively in defining, helping implement, and monitoring international human rights standards.The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has lead responsibility within the UN for the promotion and protection of human rights, and has been given a unique mandate by the international community, through the General Assembly, to do so. Human rights mechanisms established by the UN, such as the Human Rights Council and numerous bodies of independent experts, in their capacity as members of the core human rights treaty bodies or Special Procedures with thematic or country-specific mandates, monitor the implementation of human rights standards worldwide.

How does OHCHR work?

OHCHR has over 900 international civil servants who work across the globe on a wide range of human rights activities, and is headed by High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. The independent role of the High Commissioner as the principal UN human rights official comes from a direct mandate given by the General Assembly. (Note that OHCHR, which is part of the United Nations Secretariat answering to the Secretary-General, is a distinct entity from the Human Rights Council, which is the main UN intergovernmental body responsible for human rights and consists of 57 Member States.) OHCHR supports the United Nations human rights mechanisms, such as the Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures and the expert committees monitoring international human rights treaties. With a number of field presences, it assists Governments in strengthening their human rights capacities, and promotes ratification and implementation of international human rights treaties. The Office works with Governments and other partners such as national institutions to ensure all human rights are fully respected. OHCHR engages with civil society organizations and assists them in promoting and protecting human rights more effectively. To fulfil its comprehensive human rights mandate, OHCHR speaks out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide. It provides a forum for identifying, highlighting and developing responses to today’s human rights challenges worldwide, and acts as the principal focal point of human rights research, education, public information, and human rights advocacy activities in the United Nations system.

What does OHCHR’s Regional Office for Europe do?

OHCHR’s Regional Office for Europe is mandated to promote and protect human rights in EU Member States, the candidate and potential candidate countries of the Balkans, as well as Iceland, Norway and Turkey. It also acts a liaison office between OHCHR and the EU. On the one hand, the office seeks to address human rights challenges through integrating the UN’s human rights standards into the EU’s internal policies and legislation. On the other, it seeks to ensure that these same standards are integrated in EU’s external policies, including development, peace-keeping and peace-building as well as trade initiatives.

What are OHCHR’s priorities in Europe?

The Regional Office focuses on increasing participation of rights-holders in the design and implementation of policies. Its thematic priorities for 2014-2017 are: human rights in development and the economic sphere - including public policies related to the rights of Roma and persons with disabilities, in line with a human rights-based approach; trafficking; countering discrimination - with a focus on Roma, older persons, migrant workers, and persons with disabilities; and promoting engagement with international human rights mechanisms.

How can I get information about OHCHR’s activities in Europe?

This website, as well as OHCHR's general website, www.ohchr.org, is a good source of information about OHCHR’s work in Europe as well as about the UN human rights system, different human rights issues, international human rights law and the work of the human rights bodies that monitors the implementation of the legal obligations. You can also find human rights information on most countries in Europe, such as their status of ratification of international human rights treaties, their cooperation with OHCHR and Special Procedures, Government’s reports on their implementation of the core international human rights treaties and recommendations on state reports by the treaty bodies.

How does international law protect my human rights?

International human rights law lays down obligations which States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of human rights. Through ratification of international human rights treaties, Governments undertake to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties. The domestic legal system, therefore, provides the principal legal protection of your human rights guaranteed under international law. Where domestic legal proceedings fail to address human rights abuses, mechanisms and procedures for individual complaints or communications are available at the regional and international levels to help ensure that international human rights standards are indeed respected, implemented, and enforced at the local level. Regional human rights protection systems, such as the Council of Europe and its human rights mechanisms, including first and foremost the Strasbourg-based European Court for Human Rights, also have a crucial role in enforcing international law.

How can OHCHR help promote and protect my human rights?

OHCHR represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity and has been given a unique mandate by the international community to promote and protect human rights. It can also take up individual human rights cases presented to it. Through its unique access, OHCHR works with Governments to ensure that all human rights are fully respected.