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Human rights through peacekeeping essential factor in beating coronavirus

The UN human rights chief is calling for greater investment in the human rights components of peace operations - not least to monitor the impact of efforts to contain the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Security Council on Tuesday that human rights are central to its mandate to maintain international peace and security.

Human rights are essential to maintain international peace and security. We need action to address #HumanRightsViolations to prevent the recurrence of conflict – @mbachelet at @UN Security Council debate on Peacekeeping & Human Rights.Full speech: https://t.co/9hTbe3Bxds pic.twitter.com/NefVAdeOlc

— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) July 7, 2020 ‘Powerful tool’

“The UN’s peace operations are among the Organization’s most significant achievements and a powerful tool to protect and promote human rights”, she told the Council as it debated the link between peace operations and human rights.

“They need resources – and your strong political support – to bind together all UN operations around a common effective approach to crisis, from prevention to recovery,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet recalled that six UN peacekeeping operations and six special political missions feature human rights components – and emphasized that as the COVID-19 crisis deepens worldwide, their work is ever more crucial.

Their tasks now include taking stock of the effectiveness and enforcement of coronavirus containment measures, identifying the pandemic’s impact on vulnerable groups such as refugees, internally displace persons and women, and assessing the impact on economic, social and cultural rights, she said.

Equally essential is the monitoring of pandemic-related stigmatization, discrimination and hate speech as well as conflict-related violations by all parties, she added.

Fragile outcomes

She warned, however, that unresolved human rights issues and underfinanced implementation of human rights recommendations can result in a fragile - and ultimately untenable - peace.  And that, in turn, could prolong the United Nations’ engagement in the country concerned, she explained.

“At a time of multi-dimensional global and regional crises, we need redoubled investment in rules-based international structures that serve the common good by identifying and addressing grievances before they fester into violence”, she said.

Providing the 15-member Council with a view from the ground, Dismas Kitenge Senga, President of Groupe LOTUS, a human rights watchdog in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that COVID-19 has rendered economic and social rights in her country even more fragile.

He explained how the pandemic is affecting the work of human rights defenders due to reduced financial, human and material resources as well as restrictions on travel and communications.  That in turn means less information gathering, training and advocacy.

In response, he said, the UN Joint Human Rights Office within the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is helping local NGOs in many ways, including – most importantly – by raising citizens’ awareness of their rights in the midst of the pandemic.

Cross-cutting theme of UNMISS operations

David Shearer, Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), said that human rights are a cross-cutting theme that runs across the Mission’s mandate.

“Our action and work are tied to what we can do to make a difference”, he said, emphasizing the importance of not only documenting violations and calling out abusers, but also acknowledging victims’ pain and ensuring their stories are told.