What's In Blue

Posted Mon 6 Jul 2020

Open VTC on Peace Operations and Human Rights

Tomorrow morning (7 July) the Security Council will hold an open VTC under the agenda item “United Nations peacekeeping operations” on the topic of peace operations and human rights. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, German Federal Minister of Defence, will chair the meeting. Some Council members will also be represented at ministerial- level in the debate.

The expected briefers are 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 Senga Dismas Kitenge of Groupe Lotus, a human rights non-governmental organisation based in Kisangani, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). While the interventions of the briefers and Council members will be broadcast live and then archived on the UN website, non-Council member states will have the opportunity to submit their statements in writing. All briefings and statements will subsequently be circulated in a Council document.

This will be the first formal Council meeting on the theme of human rights in peace operations, though the Council has been including human rights components in the mandates of specific peace operations since 1991 and has discussed human rights aspects of individual missions’ work during their periodic reviews. In the last eight years, Council members have also held four closed Arria-formula meetings with heads of human rights components of peace operations, some with the participation of additional human rights and peacekeeping experts.

The aim of the open debate, according to the concept note prepared by Germany (S/2020/604), is to discuss in-depth how peace operations can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights more effectively.

Among the questions posed to generate discussion, the note asks:

  • How can peace operations promote and protect human rights more effectively and what untapped potential may exist?
  • What is the impact of the integration of human rights on overall mandate implementation?
  • What improvements are needed when peace operations collaborate with civil society organisations on the ground, for example, to monitor human rights violations and to address human rights-related grievances?
  • What are the key challenges for the promotion and protection of human rights posed by COVID-19?

Tomorrow’s debate will be Bachelet’s third formal briefing to the Council since taking her post as High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2018. She previously briefed the Council on Haiti in April 2019 (S/PV.8510) and on transitional justice last February (S/PV.8723).

In tomorrow’s meeting, Bachelet is likely to address the impact of missions’ human rights activities on the overall implementation of their respective mandates, the topic of an upcoming study by her office. The role that human rights monitoring and reporting plays in enhancing missions’ good offices work is likely to be an aspect of interest to members. Members will also probably be eager to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the work of mission human rights components, both in terms of their ongoing human rights monitoring and new monitoring of human rights violations potentially exacerbated by pandemic-related measures.

Shearer has briefed the Council regularly since he became the Special Representative for South Sudan and head of UNMISS in 2017. In his briefing on Tuesday, he is likely to describe the work of the UNMISS Human Rights Division, whose staff conduct human rights monitoring and investigations throughout South Sudan. There may be interest in how the mission is addressing the high rates of inter-communal violence in Jonglei state and other parts of the country. Members will also probably want to know about the human rights situation in the protection of civilians sites, where some 200,000 internally displaced persons currently live. These sites have offered protection to civilians under imminent physical threat ever since UNMISS opened its compounds across the country at the start of the civil war in South Sudan in late 2013. Shearer will also most likely address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UNMISS’s ability to conduct its human rights work. In this context, Council members may be interested in whether government restrictions on the mission’s movements within the protection of civilians sites in response to the announcement of cases of COVID-19 has had an impact on the UNMISS’s activities.

Members may be interested in Shearer’s perspective on how the UNMISS human rights component fits in the mission’s overall design, the training of its members, and the interaction between uniformed mission personnel and human rights staff. On this last aspect, interaction with respect to the protection of the human rights of children and women may be of particular interest to Council members.

Dismas Kitenge, representing Groupe Lotus, a human rights organisation that conducts human rights monitoring and aims to promote peace, is likely to address the human rights work of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and provide a civil society perspective on the impact of the work of the UN Joint Human Rights Office on the situation in the east of the DRC. Members may be particularly interested in hearing about interactions between MONUSCO’s human rights component and civil society in the region.

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