Peace Operations and Human Rights
Expected Council Action
As one of the four signature events of its presidency, Germany is organising an open debate on “United Nations peacekeeping operations: Peace Operations and Human Rights”. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, German Federal Minister of Defence, will Chair the meeting. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Special Representative for South Sudan and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) David Shearer, and a civil society representative are expected to brief. An outcome is not anticipated; however, Germany is planning to host a side event following the debate to continue the dialogue. Because of extraordinary and provisional measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the debate is to be held as an open videoconference (VTC), and statements by non-Council members are expected to be submitted in writing.
Background and Key Recent Developments
More than half of the current peace missions created or authorised by the Security Council have human rights tasks in their mandates and include substantive human rights capacities or components. Those without a human rights component tend to be older missions with predominantly or exclusively military mandates.
An appreciation for the relevance of human rights in peacekeeping developed gradually. Though the first human rights component of a peace operation was established in 1991 as part of the UN Observer Mission in El Salvador, human rights components were rare in peace missions for the next decade or so. In March 2001, the Council held a two-day retreat outside of New York at the initiative of the UK to discuss human rights and the work of the Security Council, focusing on human rights and early warning, human rights in peacekeeping operations, and human rights in post-conflict situations. By the time then–Council member Portugal organised an Arria–formula meeting over a decade later, in February 2012, on the topic of “Human rights in the context of peacekeeping operations,” most missions had human rights components.
Since then, member states have often highlighted the importance of human rights as a key concept within peacekeeping. This was prominently reiterated on 28 March 2018, when Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the urgent need for “a quantum leap in collective engagement” and announced the launch of “Action for Peacekeeping” (A4P), an initiative aimed at renewing political commitment to peacekeeping operations. To date, over 150 member states have endorsed the A4P’s “Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations”. The declaration consists of eight thematic areas, four of which explicitly mention the role of human rights.
First, under the theme “To advance political solutions to conflict and enhance the political impact of peacekeeping”, the declaration notes that member states “affirm that the pursuit of sustainable political solutions should guide the design and deployment of UN peacekeeping operations, [while] recognizing that lasting progress in strengthening… human rights needs to occur in parallel”.
In the area of “strengthening the protection provided by peacekeeping operations”, the declaration “recognize[s] that host states bear the primary responsibility to protect civilians and stress[es] the contribution that peacekeeping operations, where mandated, can make to international efforts to protect civilians and to promote and protect human rights”, while under the theme “improving the safety and security of peacekeepers”, the declaration “commit[s] to support pre-deployment preparations of personnel and capabilities required for effective performance, and the existing human rights screening policy”.
Finally, the declaration notes that member states remain “committed to the implementation of the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy for all UN support to non-UN security forces, including reimbursements” under the theme of “strengthening the conduct of peacekeeping operations and personnel”. Members signing the declaration furthermore “commit to provide well-trained and well-equipped uniformed personnel” while emphasising “the need for increased funding to better support training”.
Key Issues and Options
The July debate offers an opportunity to discuss the impact of including protection of human rights in peace operations mandates on missions’ overall effectiveness. Members may explore topics such as the practicalities of integrating human rights in peace operations’ mandates, including child protection and the protection of women; what challenges the operations face; and how they can best collaborate with civil society organisations on the ground. Troop- and police-contributing countries (T/PCCs) may want to highlight in their interventions best practices and lessons learnt about integrating human rights aspects of the mandates into the work of an operation on the ground.
An important ongoing issue is how the UN can help improve human rights readiness through training mechanisms. While international human rights is a key element of UN training, the quality of pre-deployment training varies widely among T/PCCs, and, according to the International Peace Institute, “in-mission induction trainings are usually not well-tailored to specific missions…” and “methodologies…fail to integrate the practical training needs identified on the ground”.
The inclusion of human rights elements in numerous mission mandates established by the Council reflects its general acceptance of the relevance of human rights to peace and security efforts. While the Council has been able to agree on human rights tasks in specific situations, however, approaching human rights as a thematic issue has proven controversial. A 2017 initiative by the US to add a new agenda item, “Human rights and international peace and security”, was dropped because of opposition from China, Russia and members of the Non-Aligned Movement serving on the Council at the time. Eventually, a compromise was reached to hold a meeting, with a briefing by Guterres, under the existing agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. However, it appears that the present proposal to hold a debate on peacekeeping and human rights (under the agenda item “United Nations peacekeeping operations”) met with the members’ consent.
UN DOCUMENTS ON PEACEKEEPING
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 March 2020S/RES/2518||This was a resolution on improving the safety and security of peacekeepers.|
|21 September 2018S/RES/2436||This was a resolution on peacekeeping performance.|
|20 May 1991S/RES/693||This resolution mandated the UN Observer Mission in El Salvador to monitor the human rights situation in El Salvador.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|7 May 2019S/PRST/2019/4||This Presidential Statement was on peacekeeping training and capacity-building.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|9 September 2019S/PV.8612||This was a debate on peacekeeping reform, which featured a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix. Lacroix spoke of the efforts of UN peace operations to help facilitate the pursuit of political solutions, the importance of prioritised and sequenced mandates, and initiatives to improve the safety of peacekeepers.|
|7 May 2019S/PV.8521||This is a meeting record from the open debate on “Investing in peace: improving safety and performance of United Nations peacekeepers”.|
Useful Additional Resources
The Handbook for United Nations Field Missions on Preventing and Responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, Produced by the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Team; Policy and Best Practices Service; Policy, Evaluation and Training Division; UN Department of Peace Operations, 2020.
Protection of Civilians in United Nations Peacekeeping Handbook, Produced by the Protection of Civilians Team; Policy and Best Practices Service; Policy, Evaluation and Training Division; UN Department of Peace Operations, 2020.
Namie Di Razza and Jake Sherman, Integrating Human Rights into the Operational Readiness of UN Peacekeepers, International Peace Institute, April 2020.