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General Assembly dialogue on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace

HIGH LEVEL MEETING Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace  Interactive Dialogue IV: UN Comprehensive and Integrated Approach to Peace
25 April 2018, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm, Conference Room 4

Mr. Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
[Guiding Question for this statement: How can sustainable development and the promotion of human rights be part of conflict prevention efforts?]


There is growing recognition that human rights are the necessary foundation , and a prerequisite for peace.

They are not to be treated as some luxury. They are not ideals that can be aspired to only once conflict has ended, or once development is finally achieved.

Rights are the drivers of development and the drivers of peace. By the same token, violation of rights are the drivers of poverty and the drivers of conflict. Virtually every internal conflict anywhere in the world has, at its roots, some form of denial or violations of rights. So since violations are a large part of the problem, human rights protection must be part of any solution. As the Secretary-General said earlier this month, our Human Rights Up Front strategy and several UN mechanisms aim to do just that – to protect people’s lives and sound an early warning before abuses turn into atrocities and before atrocities turn into wider conflict.

The thoroughly well-founded catchphrase of the 2005 World Summit was that there can be no peace without development, no development without peace, and neither peace nor development without human rights.

Human rights put the “s” into the SDGs and into sustainable peace. Development cannot be sustainable unless it is based on responsive and accountable government, unless it creates a social protection and economic system that ensures communities aren’t left behind, excluded and alienated, but rather benefit from development and growth.

Last year, the Secretary-General declared that ‘Perhaps the best prevention tool we have is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and the treaties that derive from it”. This year being the 70th anniversary of that extraordinary document, it is good to recall it – especially when we find that a growing number of Governments are challenging the universality and validity of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration, and indeed trying to roll back the progress achieved in recent decades. They are doing that not only by actions on the ground – closing civil society space and many other restrictions on individuals and populations – but also by their discourse here in this building, including efforts to reduce human rights funding and effectiveness.

For development and peace efforts to be successful, they need to address the core grievances and to remove inequalities, discrimination and persecution. In Myanmar for example, the exclusive focus on rising GDP did not take into consideration the massive and systematic discrimination faced by the Rohingya and others, thus did not promote equitable economic and social development. Nor did the positive economic statistics that came out of Tunisia a decade ago reflect the extraordinary sense of injustice and exclusion that exploded into the first salvo of the Arab Spring.

Indeed, the recent UN-World Bank report on “Pathways for Peace” concluded that economic development alone is not a guarantee for peace. This report clearly demonstrates the cost-effectiveness and urgency of upholding human rights commitments.

But the best preventive work is done when conflict is not yet on the horizon. The regular reviews of human rights situations undertaken by the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies, as well as OHCHR’s monitoring work and technical cooperation with many Member States around the world, provide a well-tested and accepted framework to assess which areas require attention to reduce the long-term risk of conflict and allow peaceful development.

The Human Rights Council Special Procedures have been able to open space for dialogue in demanding situations, for example in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and in Cyprus, and the Universal Periodic Review has contributed to moving forward key measures in Mali that will be vital to building peace in the Sahel.

Human rights mechanisms and peace and security bodies often deal with the same country situations and issues. Thus, there is a need to build even stronger cooperation between them. Sri Lanka is a good example of synergy, where issues of transitional justice and reconciliation, that were identified by the Human Rights Council, have been incorporated in the UN Development Assistance Framework and funded through the Peacebuilding Fund. OHCHR worked closely with the PBC on Sri Lanka. We hope this need for increased cooperation will be reflected in the 2020 Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture.

If it is true to say that inclusive, rights-based, sustainable development is the best defence against the risks of violent conflict, then strengthening the human rights capacities of Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams become all the more essential.

As Member States are considering financing options for peacebuilding and sustaining peace, we call for your support to ensure adequate resources are allocated to the human rights activities that contribute to peacebuilding. We are deeply appreciative of the support already provided by the Peacebuilding Fund, but more is required.

Despite being a core component of the mechanisms and the safeguards to prevent conflict, human rights (and attempts to promote rights) are presented in some quarters as a threat to national sovereignty and to security. A worrying trend is the way some Governments, while fighting terrorism in such a blunt way that they actually create even deeper resentments and more terrorists, now accuse those who point out this fact and who try to reduce violations as somehow being supporters of terrorism. In almost every case, the opposite is true.

On the other hand, the double standards that some Governments rather brazenly adopt has led to the growing perception that the cause of human rights is basically politicised, and this is to the detriment of the UN’s overall credibility. Double-standards, and selectivity when it comes to human rights are a magnificent gift for those who are fundamentally opposed to any human rights agenda.

Against this backdrop, during the past three days, we have repeatedly heard (and it is good to hear it) from Member States how important it is to place human rights at the centre of our efforts to sustain peace and prevent conflict. I hope we can use this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment – not only in words but also in practice - to the powerful framework that is represented by and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its 70th anniversary.