FOUNDATION: Unit VI. International Implementation, Monitoring, and Enforcement 4 of 11

The United Nations: Subsidiary Bodies

Samina Naz, First Secretary of the Permanent
Mission of the People's Republic of
Bangladesh to the UN, 2003

United Nations subsidiary bodies do important work in setting the international human rights agenda and discussing human rights issues.

There are several UN bodies that act as diplomatic forums in which states come together to discuss and debate human rights issues, decide if certain situations around the world are particularly threatening to human rights, and make recommendations on what ought to be done to address human rights issues. Other than the UN Security Council, no other UN agency has legal authority to authorize coercive measures for human rights. The other agencies may pass resolutions about specific rights in specific places, but they are limited to diplomatic steps.

Click on each UN entity for a description.

Other than the UN Security Council, most of these UN bodies do not have the authority to take any substantive action to enforce human rights standards. The basic function of these UN bodies is to monitor whether states are abiding by human rights standards and norms in general. These bodies do not act as monitors or enforcers of specific human rights treaties. Their main role is to help solidify the international consensus on certain ideas and to further develop human rights norms.

What purpose does the UN have if it cannot enforce international human rights law? Should the UN be able to do more than “criticize” misbehaving countries?

What similarities do countries that are considered permanent members of the UN Security Council have? What makes a country a permanent member? How does a country become part of the rotating group?

How should UN members be handled if they violate any of the human rights laws?

UN Security Council
UN General Assembly
Reform of Human Rights Commission
"Annan says rights body harming UN"