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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Human rights are powerful tools that address the root causes of conflict, Türk points out

20 November 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


New York Roundtable – Human Rights, Prevention and Peace


New York

This discussion comes at a very difficult moment. On the one hand, we want to commemorate the achievement of 75 years of the UN human rights system – and there are many achievements.

On the other, we are faced with global tensions, more armed conflict and mounting human rights violations in all parts of the world. Obviously, the situation in the Middle East is at the forefront of all our minds.

I think if there is one lesson to be learned from the current situation it is precisely that the human rights ecosystem should find ways to address these crises much earlier.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was conceived in the aftermath of two World Wars, and in fact in the aftermath of some of the worst examples of inhumanity that we have ever seen. But it still, and precisely because of the history, it still stands as a testament to humanity's shared aspirations for a world where the inherent rights of every individual are recognized and protected. It’s also clear that human rights are more critical than ever in finding collective solutions to our problems. With the UN Charter, peace & security, the quest for peace must be one of the foremost amongst those.

There has been a lot of talks about the interconnection between human rights, prevention, peace, security, and they are very deep and fundamental. In fact, the UDHR was always meant to be a blueprint for addressing the risk factors that led to the Second World War, including the economic and social pressures that facilitated the rise of fascist governments in Europe and the techniques that allowed them to stay in power and wage total war.

If you go back to the very important study of Pathways for Peace in 2018 – and I think we see it in every conflict situation today as well – there are essentially three main factors that drive conflict: unaddressed grievances, inequalities and exclusion. And if you look at the UDHR, the text has actually reached pretty much the same conclusions, which is why accountability, including responsive and accountable governments, non-discrimination and participation, are the core principles of the human rights-based approach that underpins the UN’s development work.

We know that human rights violations are often among the root causes of conflict when it comes to social inequalities, severe discrimination and injustice and we know that if you address them, you actually prevent the escalation of tensions, and you can start building trust between and among communities. So, prevention is not only about averting crisis but it’s also about fostering societies where the scenes of conflict find no fertile ground. So, human rights promote social cohesion because they emphasize equal dignity and worth of each and every human being, regardless of their background, identity, and as a result they are truly universal. We know that countries that invest in human rights, including rights-based development, are less prone to conflict and violence and much better able to withstand the shocks of an unstable and an uncertain world.

In situations where conflict and violence have broken out, the human rights framework can help to prevent the escalation of violence and mitigate the impact of civilian populations, in addition to international humanitarian law. And I think it’s important to point that out, because both international humanitarian law and international human rights law apply in conflict situations. The UN, as we will hear later from Jean Pierre Lacroix, invests millions of dollars and provides incredible expertise in peace operations, in supporting counter-terrorism operations, and promoting conflict resolution. If you compare it with what we invest in human rights work – it is only a fraction of it. But we also know that human rights are powerful tools for addressing the root causes of conflict.

For me the question is how much more can we do to make human rights, a core component of peace/security strategies, of conflict prevention strategies, and support of Member States. I know that especially with the Peacebuilding Fund and Commission we have done a lot of work in that regard and including the human rights components in each and every special political mission and peace operations, so that is really a key component and a key ingredient of human rights work in the peace and security architecture.

But it’s also clear we need to look at the future. We know the challenges are incredible when it comes to climate change and the unprecedented disruptions brought by technological advancements including in the peace and security area. All of them have a human rights component and we know that human rights can provide an answer and a solution to some of the dilemmas and tensions that we face.

This discussion is an important one because, as the ASG Brands Kehris said, it’s also in preparation for the Summit of the Future. We know that, and we expect and hope, that there will within the Pact of the Future be a chapter on peace and security. And we know that human rights will be a cross cutting theme across all chapters. We really hope that the Summit of the Future outcome document will strengthen the human rights pillar of the organization. Because if one looks at past crisis and conflicts situations, we know that if that pillar had been stronger, it would have perhaps averted or mitigated some of the crisis that we face today.

We will have an important event on 11 and 12 December in Geneva, linking it up with other hubs around the world as well, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the UDHR. We really hope that during the roundtable on peace and security, we will also hear creative new ideas on how to bridge much more the human rights peace and security continuum on which to build further so that we can really learn from the past, from the failures, from the successes, and build a solid foundation for the future. I am pleased that we can also have this discussion in New York, and we look forward to the outcome of your discussion today.

Thank you very much.