UN Peacekeeping Operations: Peace Operations and Human Rights - Security Council Open VTC

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07-Jul-2020 02:23:19
Integrating human rights into peace operations brings missions closer to people, advances inclusive development, High Commissioner tells Security Council.

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Addressing rights violations as warning signs of conflict is even more urgent in the COVID-19 era, the United Nations senior human rights official told the Security Council in a 7 July video conference meeting, as she spotlighted the role peacekeepers can play in monitoring virus-related stigma, hate speech and the impact of containment measures on vulnerable groups.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted the impact of COVID-19 on health, societies, economies and development gains around the globe, welcoming the 15-member Council’s recent adoption of a resolution calling for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic (see Press Release SC/14238 of 1 July). She also underlined the importance of human rights components in 12 of the organ’s peace operations, stressing that such work brings missions closer to the people they serve and helps Governments advance inclusive development, the rule of law and peace.

Pointing out that protecting human rights also prevents future conflicts by addressing the grievances that underpin them, she said COVID-19 has made tackling such drivers of instability even more critical. It is crucial to assess the effectiveness and enforcement of virus containment measures, monitor increases in stigmatization and address the pandemic’s impact on marginalized groups. The importance of the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights cannot be overemphasized, as its “Agenda for Protection” helps ensure that human rights serve as a shared — and effective — basis for the United Nations’ work.

Around the globe, she said, the human rights components of peace operations support good offices functions and help host countries pursue political and peace processes. In Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)’s reporting on civilian protection helped build the Mission’s credibility as an impartial interlocutor and opened doors to the conflict parties. In the Central African Republic, human rights staff work to counter hate speech and support the country’s innovative Special Criminal Court. Meanwhile, in Iraq, their monitoring efforts contributed to the significant restraint shown by security forces during recent protests.

Human rights staff also assist in strengthening national capacity and building up rule of law institutions, she continued. In Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations police and human rights staff have worked with national authorities to strengthen the inspector general, in order to better address cases of human rights violations. Such work also underpins the United Nations’ conflict prevention strategy by helping to curb intercommunal violence.

Drawing attention to the Organization’s human rights due diligence policy on support provided to non-United Nations security forces, she noted that the Council is increasingly mandating regional engagements to counter security threats. Alongside the African Union, her office developed a compliance framework comprising a package of prevention, mitigation, response and remedial measures to reinforce the protection of civilians. It has supported the Group of Five (G5) for Sahel joint force — tasked with combating terrorism — since 2018, she said, noting that human rights measures are crucial to inspiring confidence in the communities the force serves.

“There is no better guarantee for prevention than for Member States to meet their human rights responsibilities,” she said. Conversely, unresolved human rights issues and underfinanced implementation of human rights recommendations result in a fragile — and ultimately untenable — peace, as well as prolonged United Nations engagement. In that context, she called for redoubled investment in structures that identify and address grievances “before they fester into violence”, as well as adequate mandate financing and robust political support.

David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said human rights are one of the four pillars of his Mission’s mandate, but also occupy a crosscutting role across all its work. “We are often looked to to provide a definitive account of human rights issues and to speak out on behalf of others about what has happened, because others can’t or are unable speak out,” he said. He cited South Sudan’s poor human rights record — particularly after the 2013 conflict, which led to more than 2 million people becoming refugees — pointing to instances of sexual violence and the targeting and killing of civilians.

Against that backdrop, the Mission works to achieve sustainable behaviour change in observing human rights, he said. Its approach is grouped into three broad streams. The first is documenting human rights violations and holding perpetrators to account. Spotlighting the establishment of a rapid response team that quickly responds to victims and investigates allegations, he said such work helps violators understand that the Mission is watching, and they will be held to account. “Our reporting is conservative, and it is careful,” he said, underlining the importance of accuracy to building the population’s trust.

In addition, he said, the Mission has published reports on a range of related issues, including threats to freedom of expression in South Sudan and access to health for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Staff work to spotlight individuals that have carried out particular atrocities, as was the case with a man called Gordon Kong in 2018, who orchestrated a horrific programme of abuse — including mass rapes, hanging women from trees and burning people in their homes — in Unity state. Such individuals must be visibly held to account.

Describing a functional justice system as a hallmark of a functional society, he went on to note that UNMISS supports a system of mobile courts as a first step towards a more sustainable justice system across South Sudan. Those courts are seeing results and helping to end impunity. The Mission, with strong cooperation from the justice system, is also working to strengthen institutions from police to judges. While there is reason to criticize the Government, the Mission must also engage them. It currently has three actions plans in place — with the military, the police and the opposition military, respectively — aimed at creating the conditions to bring about respect for human rights within those forces.

He went on to note that the Mission’s human rights functions are dictated in a memorandum of understanding, which ensures continuity of standards among the peacekeepers who rotate every 12 months. “Our uniformed peacekeepers see and respect the work of the human rights component and assist them with it, and our human rights division has a better understanding of the working of our military components,” he said, also spotlighting the important role being played by women protection advisers and the child protection unit.

Dismas Kitenge Senga, President of the non-governmental organization Groupe LOTUS and Honorary Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, briefed the Council from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He recalled that the peaceful transfer of power to President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo in 2019 gave rise to new hope, as well as to an opening of the country’s political space. “But to this day, the behaviour of the security forces is characterized by the practices of the previous Government,” he said.

In State-controlled areas, he said, security and defence forces face unity-of-command challenges, dysfunction, a lack of resources and an inability to effectively defend territory against military forces from neighbouring countries. Describing grave atrocity crimes committed by some armed groups, he said that, in such a fragile context, human rights violations require urgent attention. Citing such challenges as impunity and difficulties in implementing necessary reforms, he described instances of arrests and illegal detentions, torture and inhumane and degrading treatment by the security forces. Around 50 human rights defenders have been arrested since a state of emergency was declared during the pandemic.

He said the fight against impunity and corruption — a priority of President Tshisekedi’s five-year plan — is also impeded by a lack of clear and coherent policy. “The economic and social rights of the population, which are already difficult to put into practice, have been made even more fragile by COVID-19,” he said, noting the downward revision of the national budget as well as infringements on the right to work, access health care and pursue education.

As part of its mandate, he said, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office — a component of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) — monitors human rights violations committed throughout the country. It also supports partners in Government and civil society as they conduct promotion and protection efforts, while helping to protect human rights defenders and advising on efforts to fight impunity. Despite facing resource challenges and a series of office closures, the Joint Human Rights Office continues to support non-governmental organizations as they seek to bring human rights violators to justice.

Noting that COVID-19 has affected the work of such non-governmental groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said information collection, training and advocacy have been declining as a result of resource constraints and travel restrictions. MONUSCO’s human rights component continues to provide logistical support, interface with the Government and — most importantly — raise awareness about fundamental human rights in the context of the coronavirus. He also described MONUSCO’s support to him, personally, when his life was threatened because of his human rights work.

Such support from MONUSCO have helped Congolese communities better understand the essential nature of human rights, he continued. Listing several recommendations, he called for more support for the good offices work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General; increasing the resources and presence of the Joint Human Rights Unit across the country; improving the professionalization of military and police officers through more human rights training; continued follow-up with the Government on protection of civilians; support to victims of human rights violations; and support for local elections and democratic reforms.

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