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Promoting human rights

  • Inventory of cases of violations of human rights and collection of testimonies by the team of the Law Division of the regional office of the MINUSMA in Timbuktu.
    UN Photo/Harandane Dicko
Human rights is a core pillar of the United Nations. All staff in peace operations have the responsibility to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights through their work.

Most multi-dimensional UN peace operations have a human rights team. The teams implement the human rights-related mandates given to missions and they help to mainstream human rights across all mission activities.

The goals of human rights teams are:

  • To contribute to the protection and promotion of human rights through both immediate and long-term action;
  • To empower the population to assert and claim their human rights;
  • To enable State and other national institutions to implement their human rights obligations and uphold the rule of law.

We have human rights teams in our peacekeeping operations MONUSCO (DR Congo), MINUSCA (Central African Republic), MINUSMA (Mali),  UNAMID (Darfur), UNMISS (South Sudan), UNMIL (Liberia) and UNMIK (Kosovo), as well as in UN special political missions such as UNAMI (Iraq), UNSMIL (Libya), UNIOGBIS (Guinea Bissau), UNSOM (Somalia) and UNAMA (Afghanistan).

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) provides expertise, guidance and support to these human rights teams. The head of the human rights team is the most senior human rights advisor to the Head of Mission and is also the representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in-country.

Human rights work

Some of the core activities undertaken by the human rights section include:

  • Conducting human rights monitoring, investigations and analysis;
  • Issuing public reports on human rights issues of special concern;
  • Preventing human rights violations, including through mission-wide early warning mechanisms;
  • Responding to violations of human rights by providing human rights advice, supporting institutional reform and building capacity, supporting the creation and strengthening of accountability mechanisms, and working closely with host governments, national institutions and civil society;
  • Advising and assisting other mission teams in integrating human rights in their mandated tasks.

Human rights teams work in close cooperation and coordination with other civilian and uniformed components of peace operations. In particular, in relation to the protection of civilians; addressing conflict-related sexual violence and violations against children; supporting transitional justice and accountability mechanisms; strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law through legal and judicial reform, security sector reform and prison system reform.

Stories from the field

Some examples of our work in peacekeeping and special poltiical missions clude:

Kosovo

The Human Rights Section (HRO) of UNMIK has closely worked with different actors and local authorities in Pristina and Belgrade to clarify the fate of 1658 persons still missing in relation to the conflict in Kosovo in 98-2000. In March 2017, the Human Rights Section supported the establishment of the first multi-ethnic Resource Centre on Missing Persons and in June 2017 it organized, in cooperation with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, a Roundtable on Missing Persons in Geneva. The Human Rights Section also organized in June 2017 a two-day workshop to equip local stakeholders with skills to monitor and address cases involving violations of human rights in relation to counter-terrorism and measures for prevention of violent extremism in Kosovo.

Haiti

Over thirteen years, the human rights component of MINUSTAH supported Haitians with the protection and promotion of human rights. With the support of the component, police and justice oversight bodies, as well as the national human rights institution, increased their capacity to investigate allegations of human rights violations. The Government’s capacity to respond to international human rights mechanisms such as Universal Periodic Review was also strengthened. The human rights component has worked to empower Civil society organizations to act as guardians of the respect of human rights and the Haitian constitution.

Afghanistan

Persistent advocacy and sustained dialogue by OHCHR/UNAMA resulted in the adoption of civilian casualty prevention and mitigation measures including development of the National Policy on Civilian Casualty Prevention and Mitigation by the Government of Afghanistan in 2016. OHCHR/UNAMA advocacy and technical support also led to the establishment of a dedicated entity within the Office of the National Security Council to document conflict related civilian casualties. OHCHR/UNAMA also provided support to Government with the implementation of protection of civilians strategies and policies, and in preventing conflict-related harm to civilian property, schools and hospitals.

Guinea-Bissau

UNIOGBIS' Human Rights Section has supported efforts to enable authorities sustained engagement with international human rights bodies and mechanisms, including by facilitating their participation in a regular session of the Human Rights Council, and by supporting technically and financially the undertaking of the first ever stocktaking exercise on the status of the implementation of recommendations made to Guinea-Bissau by international human rights mechanisms in the first semester of 2017.

Mali

The Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) of MINUSMA supports a multi-layered approach in the fight against impunity as part of the peace process. HRPD has established joint mechanisms with the Ministry of Justice and the Army Chief of staff to periodically review and respond to human rights violations documented by human rights officers throughout Mali, and a tracking mechanism to follow up on the status of conflict-related detainees, including those detained by the State during counter-terrorism operations. HRPD has also supported the establishment of the national Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and provides ongoing technical support to all of its regional branches. Additionally, HRPD has fostered the development of grassroots associations to defend victims’ rights across the northern regions of Mali. As part of this demarche, a coalition of national NGOs emerged to promote access to justice for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Created in 2008, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) is comprised of MONUSCO’s Human Rights Division (since 2000) and of the former Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC (since 1996). UNJHRO supports the efforts of national authorities to improve the human rights situation in the country and to fight against impunity. UNJHRO facilitates access to justice through technical and financial support for the setting of mobile court hearings and through advanced protection measures for victims and witnesses of human rights violations. Cooperation between UNJHRO and the Congolese authorities has been particularly productive in combatting sexual violence by State agents and bringing perpetrators to justice. Since 2015, UNJHRO supported 22 legal aid clinics, which heard, oriented, provided advice to 7.216 persons, resulting in the convictions of 585 perpetrators for sexual violence crimes. Through its protection unit, UNJHRO also provides individual protection measures for victims, witnesses, human rights defenders and journalists under imminent threat, as well as members of their families. From January to September 2017, UNJHRO dealt with 275 cases of threats and other human rights violations against 182 human rights defenders, 24 journalists and media workers, 53 victims and 16 witnesses of human rights violations throughout the whole DRC territory. On 15 May 2017, upon the initiative of the National Human Rights Institution (CNDH) and the support of UNJHRO and other partners, the Senate unanimously adopted a bill on the protection and responsibilities of human rights defenders in DRC, in line with the principles of the Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly on 8 March 1999.

Central African Republic (RCA)

MINUSCA Human Rights Division (HRD) has been ensuring the integration of human rights and transitional justice into the peace and political process in CAR through a technical support, advocacy, as well as monitoring, analysis and reporting on the human rights situation in the country. The coordinated efforts of the Division and other international actors resulted in the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission, gradual operationalization of the Committee on the prevention of Genocide, as well as creation of the Special Criminal Court. In the area of transitional justice, MINUSCA HRD advocated the launch of a Steering Committee on establishment of a truth seeking commission, which has subsequently been adopted by the Presidential Decree on 11 September 2017. Following the May 2015 Bangui Forum that had recognized addressing long-standing impunity as key to reconciliation in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA Human Rights Division initiated and led the finalization of a comprehensive human rights mapping report. The report documented serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law during the period 2003-2015. The mapping report has galvanized national and international attention to protect and bring justice to the victims of these crimes and its recommendations will guide the efforts of MINUSCA, as well as newly established Special Criminal Court, in the area of fight against impunity and transitional justice.