blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Jonatan Grinde (GYC Spring Intern from Sweden)
On January 22, 2015 GYC visited the UN to attend a briefing on the role of the official UN human rights components in UN peacekeeping operations. GYC’s goal in attending the event was to get a grasp of UN’s current strategy towards advancing human rights and justice in post-conflict scenarios and to promote the role of youth in this process.
Joining GYC’s Executive Director at the UN in my role as an intern was an enlightening experience. It gave me further understanding about how GYC’s unique approach fits in and is needed within the global human rights context.
The briefing was held by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and included several of the UN’s heads of human right components in their current peacekeeping operations. Scott Campbell, Head of Africa II Section and OHCHR, opened the briefing by outlining why a peacekeeping operation’s human rights component is an essential part of its mission. Not only is a clearly stated human rights agenda what anchors UN’s role in the international arena, it is also needed to mobilize a mission resources and personal. Mr. Campbell furthered this importance by highlighting how the promotion of human rights positively affects the overall functions of peacekeeping operations. By referring to an example from the DRC where Congolese soldiers stood accused of severe human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, it became evident that human rights advocacy also serves to assist in assuring military justice.
Several important topics were discussed throughout the briefing, among them were the political dimension of human rights. UNSMIL’s head Claudio Cardone illustrated this by explaining how ceasefires for humanitarian concerns had been be used to gain political influence and build trust and confidence between conflicting actors. During a situation in Libya, the request to forward the initial date of a ceasefire were framed as an effort towards reaching middle-ground between the opposing sides and gave them the opportunity to use the ceasefire in order to compromise on important disagreements in the negotiations.
Long-term political consequences of peacekeeping operation’s human rights components were also touched upon. The UN’s human rights components (representatives) are essential for gathering information and responding to past and ongoing atrocities but in addition through this process they have an indirect political influence on a country’s future judicial reforms and thus, the institutional capacity of the government.
The capabilities of a missions human rights component were further discussed when Giuseppe Calandruccio, head of MINUSTAH, shed light on a peacekeeping operation’s integrated structure. If a mission’s personal is decreased, it does not matter which department gets affected (military, civil or political) since the ability to monitor human rights conditions will inherently suffer in the end due to dependency between mission functions. Integration also needs to be considered in terms of geographical presence. A peacekeeping operation may cause a regions stability to depend its presence which may cause a rupture in security as well as political and economic stability when the operation is withdrawn.
The briefing was concluded by a panel discussion were topics like missions’ capabilities to adapt to address future human rights challenges and the positive and negative impact of political agendas on human rights advocacy were emphasized. Seemingly, a mission’s human rights component can earn both trust and confidence from political leaders if they prove commitment and capabilities to fulfil their mandate. However, several mission executives stressed that impartiality is a key element in this function that will undermine the overall outcome of the mission if not guaranteed. Even if mutual trust has been achieved between UN personal and relevant authorities, the universal language and values of human rights need to be used with utmost sensitivity as not to undermine a mission’s credibility. Peacekeeping operations are forced to navigate through layers of bureaucracy in unstable and politically sensitive environments. Using human rights to justify UN operations’ presence can dilute its inherent meaning if its done in an exhaustive manner. The importance of UN’s Human Rights Up Front initiative were discussed though this perspective. By referring to personal experiences with MONUSCO, Mr. Campbell stated that this would allow future operations to achieve such a mandate from the Secretary General instead of it being seen as promoted by the individual agenda of mission executives.
During the discussion GYC’s Executive Director, Jesse Hawkes raised a question related to GYC’s work with young refugees in Rwanda and put the focus on the widespread impacts of human rights abuse. He asked the panel what UN peacekeeping operations are doing in order to improve the conditions for internationally displaced persons and refugees living over the border in other countries like Rwanda. The implication of Jesse’s comment was that if civil society and human rights conditions are affected in areas outside of the country where peacekeeping operations are functioning, the UN’s human rights component’s mandate and resources should be adapted accordingly, rather than just saying “now that they are gone, they are no longer under the domain of this human rights component,” which was the response (essentially) that Jesse received. The question clearly enthused the people in the audience and by the participants on the panel who stated that such consequences are gaining more and more recognition but agreed that further efforts need to be directed towards addressing such challenges.
The briefing ended with different suggestions on human rights promotion in situations of offensive interventions. Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights stressed that human rights policies should be given the highest priority during missions’ initial and closing phases. This aspect is not only the base on which peacekeeping operations rely but might led to more efficient and successful missions if emphasized further. UNAMA’s Georgette Gagnon continued by outlining that peacekeeping operations use of force is able to work as a efficient mean towards promoting human rights and claimed that most times such an approach clearly reduced both the short and long-term suffering for civilians.
Listening to how leading professionals and practitioners within the field demonstrated their firm belief in the promotion of human rights in various ways was very inspirational. The knowledge and experience of the panel and the briefing participants made the discussions on working with human rights to touch upon underlying dimensions and aspects that are generally overseen in both media and academic debates. These people operate in an environment where realpolitik and rational decision-making processes leaves little space for human rights agendas and makes the advocacy of such values a constant up-hill battle. However, though many of the challenges and obstacles that UN and other NGO’s face in practice in this sense, emphasis in the discussions were instead put on the capabilities and potential that are inherited in the human rights framework. UN’s Human Rights Up Front initiative is an utmost example of achievements that can be made towards furthering the importance of human rights. That this has been given priority in UN peacekeeping operations show that strategic and moral values are not opposed concepts but may be mutually reinforcing, for example illustrated by the discussion on how human rights components can generate political benefits for conflicting parties and move negotiations out of a deadlock. However, irrelevant if caused by pragmatic concerns or not, what is most important is that this development is capable of improving the conditions for human rights advocacy in conflict and post-conflict scenarios, and in the end bring justice and equality for the single individual.
As an organization working with human rights, visits such as this one keeps GYC updated with in-depth knowledge on how the world’s foremost institution of human rights advocacy conduct their current operations as well as what their future plans are. Not only does this benefit GYC’s work but also helps us to see how our role aligns itself within the greater human rights community and how we can develop our organization further.
For me as a student, the briefing furthered my general understanding on human rights as a concept and made me realize what working with such issues in practice actually means. Most importantly is how this together inspired me to help GYC further but also how I may, through my position within the organization, contribute to the overall promotion of human rights within the international arena. Considering that the visit occurred during my first week of my internship gave me important insights on how I can contribute to GYC’s work and where in the organization my role is most suited.
Read Jonatan’s biography here.