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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Human rights will build peace, Türk tells Security Council

03 May 2023

Civilians fleeing the fighting in Sudan wait for food across the border, in Chad. © UNHCR

United Nations Security Council

High-Level Open Debate on “Futureproofing Trust for Sustaining Peace”

Briefing by Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr President,
Distinguished Members of the Council,

My thanks to Switzerland for organizing this important debate. I’m speaking from Nairobi where I attend the Chief Executives Board, after a visit to Addis and discussions with the African Union there.

History offers us a warning, but also a way forward.

The United Nations Charter aimed to “futureproof” the world against repetition of the devastating wars, global recession and imperialism that had preceded it.

Shortly thereafter, States adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underpinning the Charter, and recognising that “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Full compliance with human rights is the best antidote to the inequalities, unaddressed grievances and exclusion which are often at the root of instability and conflict. An unwavering human rights lens and strong human rights action – based on norms tried and tested – lead us away from chaos and conflict; advance development; and build trust.

Trust is the core of peaceful relations between and among human beings. It thrives on mutual respect and dependability; on truth; on justice; and on fair and equal treatment.

Trust is also at the core of the social contract between people and the institutions of the State. People trust the authorities when they can be relied upon to advance their economic, social, civil, political and cultural freedoms, their right to development and to deliver justice. Trust, no doubt, is the foundation of conflict prevention and of sustainable peace.

It is the comprehensive advancement of all human rights that builds trust. I have experienced this time and again when engaging with victims, human rights defenders and refugees. It is their voices that human rights seek to amplify and bring to the table.

No surprise – therefore – that human rights are essential at every stage of the peace continuum.

First, as this Council has acknowledged in Resolution 2171, the human rights lens provides early warning – and it also points to targeted preventive action.

Clear indicators are crucial to detecting the drivers of conflict and addressing them. My Office is strengthening its work on human rights indicators and data in relation to peace and security, developing solid indicators on killings and violence against human rights defenders; civil society and media; as well as conflict-related deaths. This work also draws on accessing and analysing open-source information – for example, to track Internet shutdowns and other issues of relevance to early warning.

Let me take as an example the crisis in Haiti, where early warning signals pointed persistently to the profoundly destructive impact of inequalities, corruption and exclusion on both trust and stability. This Council acted last year in relation to Haiti, with an arms embargo and targeted sanctions, among other responses. But more action is urgently needed now.

I visited the country in February. It is dangling over an abyss. The State's lack of capacity to fulfill human rights has completely eroded people's confidence. The social contract has collapsed. The current lawlessness is a human rights emergency that calls for a robust response.

There is an immediate need to support Haiti's institutions by deploying a time-bound, specialized and human rights-compliant support force, with a comprehensive action plan. The longer-term challenge is to build robust institutions that deliver on human rights.

Second, when conflict has broken out, the human rights perspective brings focus to the impact on people.

Human rights monitoring based on reliable, objective information and analysis also helps to establish the facts. It serves to counter misinformation and narratives that foster hostility and fear. The value of human rights monitoring and reporting during conflict and post-conflict is well recognized by this Council, including through the 11 human rights components in peace operations that you have mandated.

The latest country to move towards full-blown conflict is Sudan. The human rights impact of the current fighting has been catastrophic. It is heartbreaking. On Monday an airstrike by the Sudanese military reportedly hit the vicinity of a hospital in the East Nile area of Khartoum. The RSF has taken over numerous residential buildings in Khartoum to use as operational bases, launching attacks from densely inhabited urban areas. Civilians continue to be placed at acute risk and are prevented from accessing critical supplies and assistance. In short, the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution have been trampled by both parties, which I strongly condemn.

Trust has been obliterated. Sudan's future depends on building trust between the Sudanese people and the institutions that are supposed to serve them. Human rights, an end to impunity, and participation by the population – particularly women and young people – must be the driving forces out of the current crisis, so that Sudan can stabilise at last.

Let us not forget that in 2019 the people of Sudan rose up to claim their human rights and overthrow dictatorship, only to be dashed again by the October 2021 military coup. Even then, people's hope wasn't crushed. When I visited Sudan in November last year, I was moved by their courage as they worked - yet again - to ensure a transition to civilian governance. There was no question about human rights being a foreign or élite concept: the universality and power of the call to freedom, equality and justice was palpable. This makes the current situation all the more tragic.

Third, the full range of human rights standards are equally crucial in bringing conflict to a close and establishing sustainable peace.

In particular, the human rights principles of accountability, non-discrimination and participation are essential to build and maintain trust among and between people and the State – in short, to sustain peace.

Accountability addresses grievances, both through justice and the fight against impunity, and by promoting responsive and accountable governance, which serves people's real needs.

Equality and non-discrimination tackle persistent inequalities, ensuring no one is left behind. This Council has witnessed how addressing discrimination against minorities and the disenfranchised can help heal, and build more resilient societies.

Participation in an open civic space – importantly, by women and girls, by minority groups and by young people – builds deeper, broader trust in institutions.

The Council has heard many powerful witnesses of the contributions that women bring to ending violence and building peace. Their diverse voices, freely raised, bring important perspectives into a peace process, on key issues of economic recovery, security and resources – issues that extend well beyond the parties' focus on maximising their grasp of power. Women must also participate in the implementation of peace agreements.

Let me make a particular case, on today’s World Press Freedom Day, for the importance of press freedom and the protection of journalists in nourishing accountable governance. More broadly, any restrictions on the civic space exacerbate exclusion, hampering efforts to build sustainable peace, and laying the seeds again for instability and unrest.

By way of example, in Colombia, participation and other core human rights principles have been crucial to building trust.

The Havana process included strong elements of dialogue and inclusion. These ensured that the 2016 agreements were not simply terms for a ceasefire between armed actors but a comprehensive blueprint for long-lasting peace. In January this year, I observed the continuing efforts to make this a reality, including by addressing deep-rooted structural issues around land reform, discrimination, and inequality, to advance social and economic progress.

Countries that have undergone conflict or oppression have an enormous trust deficit stemming from the often-atrocious violations committed. These harmful ruptures need to be repaired, in a process that is often long and challenging. Transitional justice aims at increasing people’s confidence in each other and in State institutions.

In Colombia, as elsewhere, human rights and justice will be the best guides on the longer road towards reconciliation and sustainable peace.

Mr President,

As the United Nations prepares for the Summit of the Future, including a new Agenda for Peace, I hope this Council – and all Member States – will make effective use of the trust-building potential of human rights in addressing peace and security concerns.

Thank you.