Human rights are at the centre of the work of the United Nations. The mission must maintain a strong partnership on human rights issues with UN bodies. But an MLT may also need to make hard choices between peace and justice when promoting human rights. This illustrates a core leadership consideration on polarities. A mission must promote both peace and justice at the same time.
What are human rights principles?
Human rights are one of the three reinforcing pillars of the UN system. The other two pillars are development, and peace and security.
Human rights principles should inform a UN peace operation’s strategic planning. All personnel should ensure that they promote, respect and protect human rights. The HoM and the MLT must ensure that all staff are aware of their human rights responsibilities.
UN personnel who commit human rights abuses must face investigation. Such investigations are the responsibility of the HoM and/or the MLT. They should share any allegations of abuse with the Conduct and Discipline section.
Before supporting a non-UN security force, the mission must assess risks and benefits. This is set out in the UN’s HRDDP. The assessment must examine the human rights record of the recipient of support. It should also address the adequacy of measures to prevent human rights violations.
Human Rights sections in missions
The Human Rights section helps mainstream human rights across all mission activities. It conducts monitoring, investigations, assessments, reporting, advocacy and interventions; gives human rights advice; and provides support for institutional reform and capacity building to host governments.
The Head of the Human Rights section acts as the human rights adviser to the HoM. They are also the UNHCHR’s representative in the area of operation.
The MLT should engage with relevant actors in dialogue on the human rights situation. This should include human rights organizations, civil society and host-state authorities. It is now standard operating practice to issue joint reports on issues of concern.
Several other sections play a significant role in promoting and protecting human rights. One example is the Child Protection section. It usually coordinates with the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF.
Other relevant sections include Gender, and Rule of Law. Some operations also include dedicated components that address specific aspects of transitional justice.
The mission must maintain a strong partnership on human rights issues with the UN. The same is true for other humanitarian, development, political and related actors. But promoting human rights may lead to difficult choices. A mission must support peace and justice at the same time, and neglect neither.
Conflict and post-conflict situations often increase women’s exposure to risks. But women also play a role in promoting human rights and achieving sustainable peace. Although understood and accepted, these issues are not always acted on. A mission may even overlook them based on faulty “gender-blind” human rights approaches.
Conflict-related sexual violence
Ill-disciplined security forces and other groups often believe they can act with impunity. Sexual violence is common in armed conflict and in fragile states. CRSV consists of violent acts of a sexual nature. This includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and forced pregnancy. It also includes any other form of sexual violence against women, men, girls or boys.
CRSV is a crime against international human rights law, criminal law and refugee law. Perpetrators can orchestrate CRSV in deliberate campaigns of terror against specific groups. As such, it can be part of a genocidal effort or mass atrocity. It may also occur in a more decentralized manner. This may be due to a general lack of discipline within units, or to a general lack of security and stability.
The mission should always ask for women’s views about CRSV. Women’s groups, NGOs, the media and CSOs can provide insights on CRSV and other issues. If women’s groups do not already exist, it may be possible assist in their creation.
It is important to remember that even discussing CRSV and SBGV is a cultural taboo in many cultures. Working in such cultures can be particularly challenging. The mission should practice context awareness and adopted local approaches to prevention methods.
Preventing and combating CRSV and SGBV are multi-dimensional activities. As such, they depend on the integrated capacity of the mission and the UN system.
The UN system usually sets up a sub-cluster or working group to address SGBV and CRSV in a specific response. Deploying enough uniformed women in the Military and Police components is a prerequisite. UNPOL may also deploy specialized teams with skills in investigations and SGBV.
The UN itself must never compound the situation through ill-discipline or predatory behaviour. On this issue, the MLT and the mission’s Conduct and Discipline section must remain vigilant.
Children have particular needs as a consequence of conflict. Several peace operations mandates include provisions for the protection of children.
Mainstreaming the protection, rights and well-being of children affected by armed conflict within UN Peacekeeping Operations
Armed forces may have recruited children at a young age. They may be victims of sexual violence, or parties to or victims of killings, maiming or abduction. They may also lack access to humanitarian relief or child-sensitive DDR programmes.
The mission may need to address abuses committed against children by armed groups. This might involve humanitarian support, relocation or reunion with family members. It could also include reintegration programmes, education and other forms of support.
Child-protection advisers will help the MLT identify child-protection priorities in a mission area. UNICEF, the UNCT and national actors may also play a role as appropriate.
Key Operational Activities
- Regular monitoring of the human rights situation.
- Incorporating human rights and protection concerns into mission planning processes.
- Preventing human rights violations through mission-wide early-warning mechanisms.
- Conducting threat and vulnerability assessments (e.g. for women, children, IDPs and minorities).
- Establishing joint-protection teams consisting of military, police and civilian components.
- Conducting in-depth investigations into serious human rights violations and/or specific cases.
- Deploying human rights or multidisciplinary mobile teams to remote areas.
- Conducting regular proactive patrols.
- Ensuring appropriate security conditions to guarantee temporary demilitarized zones.
- Undertaking advocacy and intervention actions at local, national and/ or international levels.
- In conjunction with the OHCHR, issuing reports on human rights issues in the country.
- Monitoring and reporting on grave violations of children’s rights.
- Supporting institutional reform and capacity building within the host government and civil society.
- Monitoring and obtaining access to all detentions by UN personnel.
- Human rights principles, information and analysis inform mission strategic planning and policies.
- Main roads and volatile areas such as markets, water points and schools patrolled.
- Monitoring and reporting mechanisms and processes for grave violations established.
- Strategic communications plan formulated and implemented.
- Cross-cutting protection concerns mainstreamed in mission activities.
- Integrated coordination mechanisms on cross-cutting protection issues established within the mission.
- Strategies to prevent and respond to CRSV and SGBV devised and put in place.
- Accountability for violations and remedies for CRSV and SGBV victims ensured.
- Civil society’s ability to track human rights situation supported and developed.
- Host population empowered to assert and claim its human rights.
- State and other national institutions enabled to fulfil their human rights obligations.
- Human rights training provided to state authorities, schools and teachers.
- Development and implementation of National Human Rights Action Plans assisted.
Challenges and Risks
- Local expectations exceed the mission’s ability to prevent violence against civilians.
- The scope of the required mitigation measures reduces the likelihood of local consent.
- Poor local capability to internalize mapping and vetting processes might reduce their credibility.
- Host-country decision makers’ low engagement in M&E mechanisms could hamper effective benchmarking.
- Corruption and political affiliations could hamper reforms.
There will always be a tension between the duty to speak out and the need to advance a peace process. Peace and justice are two important objectives in any mission. The mission must choose between silent diplomacy and long-term “light” advocacy.
The mission must always follow its own HRDDP. But the host government must also exercise its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. This can create tensions between the mission and local forces. There should be a balance between expediency and mapping and vetting. This reinforces the legitimacy and credibility of the process among civil society. The mission should engage with representatives from the local forces at all levels. Likewise, it should also engage with minorities and women.
The host government and civil society groups may sometimes be in conflict. The mission must always strive to maintaining good relationships with both. This is essential for realizing the mission’s own human rights benchmarks. It is also worth remembering when initiating new cooperation or activities.
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