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OHCHR: Prevention and early warning

About prevention and human rights

The enjoyment of human rights by all implies that nobody should experience violations of their human rights. Much of the work the United Nations does to protect and promote human rights is therefore an effort to prevent violations of human rights in all their forms.

Human rights also have a role in preventing conflicts and crisis. Conflict and violence undermine sustainable development. Adhering to international human rights standards and protecting the human rights of all strengthens conflict prevention, peace-making, peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts so that sustainable development is underpinned by sustaining peace. 

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About early warning and early action

The Office’s work on early warning is primarily aimed at identifying the risk of human rights violations. At the same time, human rights violations are a significant indicator of conflict and crisis. Human rights monitoring and analysis can help to identify many of the issues that, if left unaddressed, can lead to conflict and crisis. Once the risk factors are detected, measures can be identified and taken by States and the international community to reduce the likelihood of conflict and crisis occurring. 

Violations of economic, social and cultural rights as well civil and political rights can all act as long-term drivers of conflict as well as short-term triggers of crisis. Human rights mechanisms can play an important role in helping not only to identify the risks, but in shaping early action to reduce the risks and prevent conflict from emerging.

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Our work on early warning and prevention

The UN’s renewed focus on prevention is aimed at sustaining peace but is also key to advancing sustainable development. OHCHR works to ensure that human rights are at the heart of United Nations prevention efforts because we believe that rights-based prevention leads to better, more sustainable outcomes for peace and development. We aim to show how applying human rights standards can address grievances, reduce inequality and exclusion, and build resilience. 

Prevention is a key part of OHCHR’s approach to our core mandate to protect and promote human rights. As the Secretary-General said in his Call to Action for Human Rights, the best form of protection is prevention. Prevention is therefore a priority within the Office Management Plan 2018-2023. Adopting a prevention approach to our work encourages more strategic engagement with Member States and other stakeholders before violations occur and before the onset of conflict and crisis are imminent.

Read more about the OMP and our roadmap

Protecting human rights through prevention is a system-wide responsibility. We work in collaboration with other parts of the UN engaged in prevention, including the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Peacebuilding Support Office and the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.

Human rights information and analysis can help to inform the work of the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Peacebuilding Commission in addressing current and potential crises and conflicts. OHCHR engages with these bodies through its New York Office under the leadership of the High Commissioner and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that crises result not only from conflict and violence but can derive from other sources, including pandemics and climate change. The preventive value of human rights in creating national protection systems, building resilience, and mitigating the worst impacts of crises on those most vulnerable, is also part of OHCHR’s prevention focus.