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Rupert Colville
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Security Council Open Debate on Maintenance of International Peace and Security

21 August 2014

Mr. President
Distinguished members of the Council,

Thank you for this opportunity to interact with the Security Council a few days before the end of my term.

Conflict prevention is complex, but it can be achieved. In many States, democratic institutions de-escalate disputes long before they reach boiling point. Even after violence has broken out, international actors can help broker and enforce peace. In my own country, South Africa, the United Nations helped end 300 years of injustice when it declared apartheid a crime against humanity and imposed sanctions; and democratic institutions were installed to resolve future disputes.

In Nepal, following almost a decade of armed conflict, my Office's efforts included, deployment of both short- and long-term strategies. They included support for Constituent Assembly elections; and capacity-building for police, civil society, and important government initiatives such as addressing caste based discrimination.

Following the 2007 massacres in Guinea – a country at high risk of violence and civil war – OHCHR's work demonstrated the criticality of early engagement, notably in building civil society’s capacity to investigate and document human rights violations. There was coherent action by national, regional and international actors; and this Council established a Commission of Inquiry. Today OHCHR’s country office continues to support stronger institutions, transitional justice and reconciliation.

None of these crises erupted without warning. They built up over years – and sometimes decades – of human rights grievances: deficient or corrupt governance and judicial institutions; discrimination and exclusion; inequities in development; exploitation and denial of economic and social rights; and repression of civil society and public freedoms. The Council’s interest in human rights has increased markedly during my tenure. But despite repeated briefings regarding escalating violations in multiple crises – by OHCHR and other human rights mechanisms – there has not always been a firm and principled decision by Members to put an end to crises. Short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of – and long-term threats to – international peace and security. I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this Council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Recommendations

State sovereignty is often invoked to deflect UN action to prevent serious human rights violations. But as I have often said to the representatives of Governments, "You made the law; now you must observe it". Sovereign states established the UN, and built the international human rights framework, precisely because they knew that human rights violations cause conflict and undermine sovereignty. Early UN action to address human rights protects States, by warding off the threat of devastating violence.

This Council can take a number of innovative approaches to prevent threats to international peace and security. Within Rights Up Front, the Secretary-General can be even more proactive in alerting to potential crises, including situations that are not formally on the Council’s agenda. To further strengthen early warning, the Council could also ask for more regular and comprehensive human rights reporting by protection actors; for example my successor as the High Commissioner could provide an informal monthly briefing.

The work done by Commissions of Inquiry to establish clarity, and prepare accountability, should be followed by implementation by this Council of many more of their recommendations for follow-up. And I trust that in the future they too will benefit from regular, official channels of communications to this Council.

Finally, the Council could adopt a standing consensus on a menu of possible new responses to such alerts violations, such as rapid, flexible and resource-efficient human rights monitoring missions, limited in time and scope. Another innovative option could build on the new Arms Trade Treaty, which requires arms exporters and importers to confirm that weapons will not be used to commit violations. States Parties could agree that where there are concerns about human rights in States that purchase arms, one condition of sale would be that they accept a small human rights monitoring team, with deployment funded by the Treaty's Trust Fund.

Thank you. It has been an honour to serve the United Nations.