From tracking civilian casualties in Afghanistan and reporting on mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to giving advice and support on truth and reconciliation processes in Cote d’Ivoire, human rights components of United Nations peace missions constitute a vital part of the organisation’s peace efforts.
Working closely with military, police and other civilian components of peace missions as well as with UN Country Teams, the human rights components promote and protect human rights in accordance with the mandate given to the mission by the Security Council.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that through their presence, monitoring, documentation and reporting on human rights violations, human rights components play a critical protection role, especially in situations of imminent threat of physical violence.
“Timely human rights monitoring and engagement with potential perpetrators can save lives and is essential to broader mission efforts to prevent an escalation of violence,” she says.
According to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, sustained public reporting and advocacy by the human rights unit of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, for instance, saw a decline in the proportion of civilian deaths caused by pro-government forces from 26 percent in 2009 to 16 percent in 2010, although the overall number of civilian deaths increased.
Through their tried and tested methods for collecting and verifying information, human rights components provide timely, reliable and independent information that helps decision making both at the mission level and at the United Nations headquarters.
The heads of the human rights components are converging at the United Nations headquarters in New York 6 – 10 February to discuss means to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in peace operations. They will have exchanges with the United Nations Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the heads of Peacekeeping, Political Affairs and Legal Affairs, other senior United Nations managers and colleagues, and members of the Security Council as well as representatives of civil society.
Among other issues, they will discuss protection of civilians, combating sexual violence, combating impunity, transitional justice, and the lessons learned from more than 10 years of human rights integration in peace missions.
The United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador became the first mission to be given a human rights mandate when it was established in 1991.
There are 17 peace missions with human rights components: the missions in Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Republic of South Sudan, Dafur, Somalia, Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Timor-Leste, as well as the United Nations Office for West Africa and the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.