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High-Level Side Event on the Contribution of Human Rights to Sustaining Peace

37th session of the Human Rights Council

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

26 February 2018

Distinguished President of the Council,
President of the General Assembly,
Colleagues, Friends,

I hope this panel will mark the beginning of a deeper dialogue on sustaining peace between institutions in Geneva and New York.

Just as upholding human rights puts the sustainability into the 2030 Agenda, the UN's efforts to prevent conflict and build and sustain peace will succeed to the degree that they integrate, as a priority, work to promote justice and rights for all. Over 70 years, Member States have built on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to create a unique normative framework to sustain peace, namely international human rights law and human rights mechanisms which seek to uphold the norms that form the foundations of peace. And by adopting the 2030 agenda and the twin resolutions on peacebuilding and sustaining peace, Member States have reaffirmed their political commitment to strengthen the foundations of peace based on the premise of a three-pillar approach.

Human rights treaties often come under attack by those who simply feel they are inconvenient. But those rights were codified by Member States for a reason. They are the minimum requirements of life; when deprived of them, human beings will develop grievances and eventually, may resort to violence. They are critical to our humanity, and they also have inherent preventive power.

The UN human rights framework creates the space for the UN and Member States to address, within a framework of accepted legal norms, difficult prevention issues which can generate and escalate violence. In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the recent visit of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities offered a rare opportunity for detailed UN engagement and dialogue. This dialogue was made possible by the human rights legal framework, which also provides early warning and identification of root causes of conflict and crisis. And it provides solutions to address these causes early on, through rights-based development and justice. This should be at the core of the UN global shift in focus from a reactive to a pre-emptive posture – including as an integral part of the Secretary-General’s prevention platform.

Sustaining peace initiatives aim ‘to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict’. Within this context, measures to uphold human rights contribute very powerfully – to the resolution of conflicts; to the sustainability of peace agreements; and to long-term prevention. They result in often immediately actionable recommendations to resolve protection gaps, establish accountability and transitional justice, and support institutions that are transparent, accountable and participative.

Conversely, in Myanmar, the authorities have resisted taking on board our urgent human rights concerns – particularly regarding the decades of increasingly severe discrimination suffered by the Rohingya, and to varying degrees, other minorities. Failure to take measures to end institutionalized discrimination, and recurring violence, fuelled the appalling violence of the military's recent operations in northern Rakhine, and has generated threats to peace and security not only nationally, but also regionally.

I encourage consideration of stronger bonds between the Human Rights Council, the Peacebuilding Commission and other key UN bodies working on sustaining peace, with better use of the deep analysis produced by the Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, as well as the recommendations of my Office and those arising from UPR reviews.

There is also tremendous potential for better use of Human Rights Up Front, which was set up as an internal UN prevention tool following the disastrous failure to integrate a human rights approach into UN operations in Sri Lanka. Human Rights Up Front constitutes a comprehensive, coherent and practical plan of action that is just as useful to sustaining peace as it is to early warning, and I hope that we will see strengthened application in a number of areas in the coming months.

I am grateful to the Peacebuilding Fund for financing some of our work in the field. I would like to see the UN’s financial support to OHCHR for prevention and sustaining peace purposes further extended. For example, even where my Office does not have field presences, we can ensure that human rights capacity becomes a standing resource for Resident Coordinators, on a par with Peace and Development Advisers.

As the Secretary-General’s report unequivocally states, it is imperative that the peace and security and development pillars make better use of the work of human rights mechanisms. And it is of course equally imperative that the human rights mechanisms make better use of the information, decisions, resolutions and recommendations emanating from peace and security bodies.
Having had the chance to work on both sides of the ocean in very different capacities, it is my firm belief that Member States have not used the Human Rights Council's prevention mandate to its full potential. Together with the other key elements of the international human rights framework, it provides a critical foundation for sustaining peace – and should be at the core of the UN's efforts to focus much more pre-emptively on this area.

Thank you.