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Security Council Open Debate on “Peace Operations and Human Rights”

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Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

7 July 2020

Distinguished President of the Council,

Excellencies,

I thank the Government of Germany for convening this debate on peace operations and human rights, at a time of far-reaching challenges.

As COVID-19 continues to gather pace, its impacts on health, societies and economies threaten development, and amplify or create new grievances and tensions.

As you just mentioned, Madame President, this Council's resolution S/2020/607 rightly recognises the particularly devastating impact of the pandemic on countries affected by conflict and humanitarian crises. I welcome its strong call for a global ceasefire for all situations on the Council's agenda. I trust it will also spark broader and more coordinated global action to mitigate and prevent the pandemic's impact in the present and in the future.

The Council has often stressed that conflict prevention must be grounded in respect for, and protection of, human rights. In other words: human rights are central to the Council's mandate to maintain international peace and security. This principle has been consistently implemented, through the integration of human rights in the mandates of peace operations in the gravest crises threatening the world. Currently, 12 UN peace operations – six peacekeeping and six special political missions - have human rights components.

These human rights components on the ground powerfully contribute to better protection; they bring missions closer to the people they serve, and foster the capacities of governments to advance inclusive development, rule of law, and peace.

In this context, the importance of the Secretary-General's Call to Action for Human Rights cannot be over-emphasised. Drawing on the respective expertise of peace operations' different components, the Call to Action aims to strengthen their collective efforts to carry out mission mandates in increasingly complex environments. Its proposed "Agenda for Protection" will be an important element, ensuring that human rights serve as a shared, and effective, basis for the UN system's work, and reinforcing the collective engagement, contribution and responsibility of all components of peace operations to advance human rights.

Only action to address the human rights violations inflicted on people can prevent the recurrence of conflict. This is the work that human rights components of peace operations are mandated and trained to do – by detecting and addressing the inequalities and grievances that underlie specific conflicts.

As the COVID crisis deepens – challenging societies, economies and institutions in every region – this work by human rights components to support peace operations' delivery of their mandate, and to address root causes of conflict and instability, is becoming even more crucial.

Madam President,

Monitoring and reporting by human rights components shapes early warning of developments that threaten to destabilise specific situations. Today, this work includes assessment of the effectiveness and enforcement of COVID-19 containment measures; identification of the pandemic's impact on vulnerable groups – particularly internally displaced people, refugees, and women; and assessment of the impact on specific economic, social and cultural rights. Monitoring of increases in stigmatization, discrimination and hate speech related to the pandemic, as well as conflict-related violations by all parties, are also essential to efforts to highlight, address and prevent further human rights violations.

The impartial monitoring and reporting of human rights components, and their engagement with the parties to conflict, State institutions and civil society, underpin the political good offices of every Mission. In other words, human rights components have an essential role in contributing to the overall objectives of peace operations to support political and peace processes.

We see this dynamic in peace operations across the world.

In Afghanistan, the human rights component's reporting on the protection of civilians has helped to build the Mission's role as a credible and impartial interlocutor, and opened doors with parties to the conflict. The mission recently called on all parties to redouble efforts at protecting civilians and de-escalating the conflict, to save lives and create a conducive environment for the upcoming peace talks.

In the Central African Republic, human rights staff have demonstrated their importance to conflict prevention, notably through their work on hate speech and support for judicial and non-judicial mechanisms for accountability, including the innovative mechanism of the Special Criminal Court.

In Libya, accountability mechanisms for addressing past violations – and preventing ongoing ones – are essential to follow-up to the Berlin process, and to address continuing conflict and lawlessness. The adoption by the Human Rights Council of a Fact-Finding Mission is an example of the support that human rights mechanisms can bring to accountability and conflict prevention efforts.

In South Sudan, the human rights division's work to fight impunity helps to highlight crucial gaps in accountability – and the effect of those gaps in fuelling ongoing violence and impeding reconciliation efforts.

In Sudan, the 2019 Constitutional Declaration adopted by the Transition Government is centred on human rights. The recently established United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), and OHCHR's office in the country, will support the Government's efforts to build inclusive institutions that address the root causes of conflict and rebuild on stronger ground.

In Iraq, our monitoring and reporting on human rights violations committed since the start of the popular demonstrations, in October 2019, has called attention to cases of abductions, disappearances, torture and killings of demonstrators. Together with targeted advocacy, this has contributed to significant restraint by the security forces during the recent renewal of protests, and the planned establishment of a national fact-finding committee. Together with the Government's acknowledgement of the need for accountability, these are important steps towards the future prevention for similar acts – and the Iraqi people's confidence in the authorities.

Madam President,

Excellencies,

Human rights staff in peace operations also assist in strengthening the capacity of national human rights and rule of law institutions.

In Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN police and the human rights components of MINJUSTH and MONUSCO have jointly worked with national authorities to strengthen the offices of the Inspector General to address cases of human rights violations.

In the DRC, support to mobile courts have led to significant progress in tackling impunity, while mobile investigation teams provide key analysis of specific situations. In Ituri, this reporting has led the Mission to adopt Standing Combat Deployments, boosting protection of internally displaced people. More broadly, this work underpins the Mission's conflict prevention strategy, by shaping work to address the root causes of conflict and intercommunal violence.

Human rights components also work to assist management of risks related to mandate implementation, notably by supporting implementation of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy on UN support to non-UN security forces.This policy, with the Council's support, has significantly improved the UN's work on governance and security.

Excellencies,

This Council has been increasingly engaged in developments at the regional level, mandating region-wide engagements to counter security threats, including related to terrorism.

In these operations, there are often higher risks for the civilian population, and grounding operations in respect for human rights and international-law is crucial to their success.

In addition to the partnerships my Office is building with the African Union, the Compliance Framework approach we have developed constitutes a comprehensive package of prevention, mitigation, response and remedial measures that further operationalize the UN's work on protection of civilians. We have been supporting the G5 Joint Force operationalisation of this Framework since 2018, with the main objective of preventing harm to civilians during military and counter-terrorism operations.

I commend the G5 for being the first sub-regional armed force committed to implementing such a compliance framework. Further efforts are needed for full operationalization. These should include strong focus on the protection of vulnerable populations including women, children, and internally displaced people. These measures are crucial to ensuring that the Joint Force is effective in fulfilling its mandate and in inspiring confidence in the communities it serves.

Excellencies

As the Secretary-General's Call to Action states, there is no better guarantee for prevention than for Member States to meet their human rights responsibilities.

Conversely, unresolved human rights issues, and underfinanced implementation of human rights recommendations, result in a fragile, ultimately untenable, peace – and force prolonged UN engagement in the country.

At a time of multi-dimensional global and regional crisis, we need redoubled investment in rules-based international structures that serve the common good by identifying and addressing grievances before they fester into violence.

Adequate financing for Security Council human rights mandates for peace operations is among the soundest – and most cost-effective – investments, in the interests of all.

In addition to resources, robust political support for these components is needed, expressed through the voice of this Council.

The UN's peace operations are among the Organization's most signficant achievements, and a powerful tool to protect and promote human rights. They need resources – and your strong political support, to bind together all UN operations around a common effective approach to crisis, from prevention to recovery.

I thank you, Madame President.