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Statements Special Procedures

Human rights protection must gain new momentum at World Humanitarian Summit – UN experts

Humanitarian Summit

20 May 2016

Statement by Special Procedures mandate holders* of the Human Rights Council in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit

GENEVA/ISTANBUL (20 May 2016) – We, a group of concerned Special Procedures mandate holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council urge all participants to ensure that human rights are prominent in the discussions at the World Humanitarian Summit and integrated into all aspects of the conference. They should be reflected fully in the outcomes, targets, and high level national commitments aimed at better protecting and meeting the needs of all those affected by conflict, disaster and displacement - some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The Summit, a landmark international event taking place in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May 2016, offers a unique and timely opportunity to address major global humanitarian challenges, devise new and collaborative approaches to humanitarian action, and forge essential national commitments to improve responses. Among the outcomes of the Summit should be greater attention to human rights by all national and international actors during all phases: from prevention and preparedness, to emergency response and recovery, and helping to shape essential peace-building, justice and development measures aimed at mitigating against future humanitarian crises.

A strong emphasis of the Summit should be on preventing conflict and forced displacement and we stress the essential role of human rights in this respect. Many conflicts could have been avoided through greater attention to human rights at an early stage before violence breaks out. Many more could be prevented in the future if human rights-based approaches to prevention are adopted - potentially saving countless lives and avoiding the need for costly humanitarian action. Human rights principles - participation, justice, equality, non-discrimination and accountability - are key conflict prevention and peace-building measures. Implementing them for all as well as understanding and addressing the adverse impact on human rights of both domestic policies and external international action are effective ways to address the root causes of humanitarian crises.

It is in crisis and conflict that individuals and communities are most at risk and in need of protection. Yet it is at precisely these times that we most often see human rights violations taking place with impunity and attention to human rights weakened or neglected. Humanitarian protection measures need to adequately address the specific issues and protection concerns of some who find themselves made particularly vulnerable in times of crisis. Humanitarian action that places human rights at its center provides a strong formula to ensure protection for all. The Summit provides a unique opportunity to also promote international cooperation and solidarity in the pursuit of effective solutions and better implementation of international law and standards in all humanitarian contexts.

In numerous recent conflicts we have witnessed civilian populations that have been targeted by all sides to the conflicts, forcibly displaced or besieged and who have experienced many gross violations of their human rights. Failure to prevent the targeting of civilians and protect human rights has meant loss of life and harm that can take decades to redress. This demonstrates the massive challenges and the need to better enforce international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law and standards as never before. Ensuring accountability for violations of international law must be a higher priority for States and the international community. 

States have an unequivocal duty to respect and protect the right to life of all, in particular civilians, without discrimination, and they must also comply with this non-derogable duty in emergencies, crisis and conflict situations. Moreover they have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the full spectrum of civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights. International human rights law provides States and other stakeholders with a valuable resource helping to inform humanitarian responses and laying the foundations for ongoing human rights fulfillment. Those whose lives and homes have been shattered must have their immediate needs met, but they are given hope for the future in their own countries through the knowledge that their rights and dignity will be fully respected during and in the aftermath of crisis.  

To achieve the objective to “leave no-one behind” we remind all States of their role as primary duty bearers, responsible for ensuring the protection, human rights and provision of assistance to all affected persons. This requires special attention to those who may be in particular situations of vulnerability, including children, youth, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees, stateless persons, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTI community, older persons, and women and girls exposed to multiple threats and intersectional discrimination. It requires identifying who is at risk, how and why, and appropriate action to close protection gaps where they exist. Human rights-based approaches help to ensure that all voices are heard and the rights and needs of all are met.

In some humanitarian emergencies, responses that fail to uphold human rights, including the rights of those belonging to groups in vulnerable situations, can put lives at greater risk. Some face restrictions on their freedom of movement and access to safe locations, are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention, or are deprived of essential assistance due to factors including their nationality, ethnicity or religion. Women and children are made highly vulnerable to a range of human rights violations including trafficking in persons, sexual violence, forced prostitution or sexual slavery, in situations where they should have heightened protection and guarantees of safety. Those who are charged with protection must never be allowed to become the violators themselves.  

We applaud the essential and courageous role of humanitarian actors in the delivery of vital, life-saving assistance and acknowledge their commitment to assist and protect. We urge greater access and resources to be made available to them. We also believe that enhancing the presence and access of dedicated human rights actors at such crucial times – working closely with governments, humanitarian and other partners, would help to ensure human rights-based approaches are integrated fully into humanitarian responses. National Human Rights Institutions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders among others have important roles in this respect. We call for greater support to them so that they may carry out their functions freely and in safety.

The Special Procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council making this call stand ready to support and provide assistance to member States, the United Nations system and all other partners in this essential work and to use the tools available to them to support the protection of human rights in humanitarian settings.  


For information about the World Humanitarian Summit, see 

* 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. Learn more, log on to: 

This statement is endorsed by the following Special Procedures human rights mandate holders:

Working Group of experts on people of African Descent
Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism
Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises
Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons
Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination
Special Rapporteur on minority issues
Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences
Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights
Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation & guarantees of non-recurrence
Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan
Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / [email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])   

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