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Major rethink needed on conflict prevention work, UN rights expert finds

NEW YORK (27 October 2017) – The UN’s conflict prevention processes are in need of radical reform to ensure they start earlier, don’t merely react to existing crises, and take human rights fully into account, a UN human rights expert has said.

Current efforts to prevent conflict were “reactive, ineffective, often incoherent, and neither holistic nor strategic in preventing violence or avoiding recurrence”, and lacked any “significant links” to human rights, said the Special Rapporteur on transitional justice, Pablo de Greiff, presenting proposals for change to the UN General Assembly.

The proposals aim to contribute to the debate on how the UN can work more effectively to prevent conflict and other gross violations, declared by the Secretary-General to be the priority for the organization.

“Prevention is not a form of crisis response. It goes much further than early warning efforts,” Mr. de Greiff said. “There are good reasons to make sure that countries on the brink of violent conflict do not fall off that particular cliff. If an ’early warning’ system has been triggered, it shows that prevention work has started (far) too late.”

Prevention work needed a wider focus and had to be brought into processes earlier, said the Special Rapporteur.

“We live in critical times – times which do not allow the United Nations any longer to think and act primarily from an inner perspective,” he said, highlighting that it was crucial to add substance and meaningful content to the work of preventing violence.

“None of the efforts thus far illustrate what prevention would mean in terms of content; none puts flesh on the bones of the links between prevention and human rights,” he said.

The fragmentation of knowledge was one of the main problems to be tackled, and processes such as forming States, institutional reforms to strengthen judicial independence, or establishing civilian oversight over security forces or changes in policing strategies all had to be thought of as “preventative tools”, which was not currently the case, the expert stressed.

“A comprehensive framework provides incentives to break down some of the barriers that have constrained prevention work,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“We should stop talking abstractly about links between prevention, human rights, and sustainable peace without having some concrete notion of what these involve.”


Mr. Pablo de Greiff (Colombia) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 as the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. He has extensive professional and academic expertise on transitional justice issues, including on the four measures under this mandate. He is currently Director of the Project on Transitional Justice of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the NYU School of Law. Mr. de Greiff has worked with different transitional justice bodies across the world and has provided advice to a number of Governments and multilateral institutions on international policy, transitional justice, and on the linkages between justice, security and development. He has also collaborated with numerous NGOs working with victims in many countries. He was the Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice from 2001 to 2014

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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