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Promoting conflict prevention: Empowering all actors including women and youth

This post focuses on relevant information on human rights for the open debate on “Promoting conflict prevention: Empowering all actors including women and youth” on Wednesday, 13 March 2024. It is organized based on the questions identified in the concept note for the meeting.

The Security Council has acknowledged that serious abuses and violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, including sexual and gender-based violence, can be an early indication of a descent into conflict or escalation of conflict [Security Council resolution 2171(2014), OP13].

The Knotted Gun
"The Knotted Gun" at UN headquarters by Carl Fredrik Reutersward. Photo: Tim Brakemeier/PA Images.

In his recent vision statement, the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated:

Human rights are at once a tool for prevention of violence, essential safeguards even amidst the conduct of hostilities, and a path to sustainable peace grounded in accountability and justice.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, Human Rights: A Path for Solutions, 2024

The Secretary-General had also spoken to that effect:

Perhaps the best prevention tool we have is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and the treaties derived from it. The rights set out in it identify many of the root causes of conflict, but equally they provide real world solutions through real change on the ground.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Human Rights Council, 27 February 2017

Key topics below

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  1. Human rights contribute to conflict prevention.

  2. Security Council called for a comprehensive approach.

  3. Several measures at Security Council's disposal.

  4. High Commissioner's call to include human rights in peacekeeping and SPMs.

  5. Lesson from Myanmar: Bring HRC report to attention of relevant UN bodies.

  6. Mainstream minority human rights perspective to prevent conflict.

  7. Accountability is critical to prevent recurrence of atrocities.

  8. Human rights-based approach to transboundary waters can help prevent conflict.

  1. SG: "False dichotomy between human rights and national sovereignty."

  2. Recommendations from UN-World Bank report focused on inclusion.

  3. Apply human rights due diligence policy across all UN counter-terrorism support to Governments.

  1. Human rights and the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.

  2. Call to Action for Human Rights: Need inclusive, networked, human rights-based multilateralism, including mechanisms' information-sharing with Security Council.

  3. Examples of Special Procedures information-sharing with Security Council.

  4. Some treaty bodies also have early warning procedures.

  5. Strengthen reporting to HRC by other entities reporting to the Security Council.

  1. Consider that human rights offer a comprehensive, long-term problem-solving formula.

  1. Security Council recognized need for inclusivity and civil society's role.

  2. Negative lessons from Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen.

  3. UN-World Bank report "Pathways for Peace" focused on inclusion offered several observations and recommendations, including related to youth and women.

  4. Youth: Opportunities for participation.

  5. Women: Benefits of women's participation, as well as protection gaps and reprisals.


Security Council's role and lessons learned [470 words]

  1. OHCHR states that there is clear evidence that countries where all human rights are respected and protected are less prone to conflict (World Development Report 2011, p. 82).

  2. The Security Council has called for a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention, including through strengthening the rule of law at international and national levels and promoting sustained economic growth, poverty eradication, social development, sustainable development, national reconciliation, good governance, democracy, gender equality and respect for, and protection of, human rights [Security Council resolution 2171(2014), PP9].

  3. The Security Council can take early and effective action to prevent armed conflict and to that end to employ all appropriate means at its disposal, including tools in Chapter VI of the UN Charter, such as negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional and subregional organizations and arrangements, as well as the good offices of the Secretary-General; Special Political Missions and Peacekeeping Operations; sanctions under the UN Charter; and giving prompt consideration to early warning cases brought to its attention by the SG, including of serious abuses and violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, including sexual and gender-based violence [based on Security Council resolution 2171(2014), OP6-OP15].

  4. The High Commissioner for Human Rights recently called to ensure a central role for human rights in shaping the future of UN Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions, and more generally in peace agreements [Human Rights: A Path for Solutions, 2024, p. 7].

  5. In an SG report focused on strengthening the UN's prevention capacity in follow-up to lessons learned from UN involvement in Myanmar in 2010-18, it is recommended to bring HRC reports relevant to prevention to the attention of the relevant UN bodies, as requested by the HRC in its resolution 45/31 [A/HRC/49/73, para 53].

  6. In his report on conflict prevention through the protection of the human rights of minorities, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues recommended the mainstreaming of a minority human rights perspective to enhance conflict prevention policies and practices that address and are sensitive to the actual main drivers of conflict – human rights grievances of minorities around claims of exclusion, discrimination and inequalities [A/HRC/49/46, March 2022, para 73]. Many more concrete recommendations for conflict prevention emerged from the HRC's Forum on Minority Issues [A/HRC/49/81].

  7. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence pointed out how critical accountability was to avoid the recurrence of atrocity crimes. States had an obligation to ensure accountability for past atrocities, and to implement the other pillars of transitional justice, namely, truth, reparation, guarantees of non-recurrence, and memorialization processes [A/HRC/48/42, para 48].

  8. The Special Rapporteur on safe water and sanitation noted that a human rights-based approach to transboundary waters can effectively support peacebuilding efforts by advancing water security and preventing conflicts associated with water scarcity, access or management [A/78/253, para 24].


Supporting States' efforts [384 words]

  1. The Secretary-General stated: “We must overcome the false dichotomy between human rights and national sovereignty. Human rights and national sovereignty go hand in hand. The promotion of human rights strengthens States and societies, thereby reinforcing sovereignty. And the best defenders of human rights are well-functioning sovereign States.”

  2. A UN-World Bank report focusing on inclusion, recommended devising national strategies for prevention [Pathways for peace: Inclusive approaches to preventing violent conflict, 2018, Executive Summary, pp. xi-xii].

    1. Monitor the Risks of Conflict Engaging early in preventive action requires a shift from early warning of violence and toward awareness of risk: >> Identify real and perceived exclusion and inequality, which requires strengthening the capacity for identifying, measuring, and monitoring SDG indicators. >> Strengthen national early warning systems and design systems that can effectively influence early response by national actors at various levels. >> Harness technology to improve monitoring, especially in remote and conflict-affected areas. >> Ensure that surveys and data collection measure inequality, exclusion, and perceptions and are conflict-sensitive and capacity-sensitive.

    2. Address Different Dimensions of Risk National actors often deal with multiple risks simultaneously with limited budgets, political capital and time: >> Bring institutions and actors together under a peace and development framework that prioritizes the risk of conflict. >> Target risk spatially with investments and other actions in border and peripheral areas where grievances and violence may be more likely to exist. >> Manage the impact of shocks when tensions are high. >> Target action and resources to identified risks in arenas where exclusion and grievances arise over access to power, resources, services, and security and justice, and manage contestation and conflict by redistributive policies, among other possible actions.

  3. In her report which addressed conflict prevention, the Special Rapporteur on terrorism referred to counter-terrorism and preventing of violent extremism support to Governments, and recommended that the UN human rights due diligence policy be immediately operationalized and consistent applied across all such UN activities, including by peacekeeping operations, special political missions and all UN offices, agencies, funds and programmes that engage counter-terrorism activities, including the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, the Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities [A/77/345, para 60].


Strengthening multilateral coordinated efforts [326 words]

  1. The concept note recognizes the need to ensure the Humanitarian-Development-Peace (HDP) nexus, with a long-term perspective, looking ahead to the post-conflict stage. As noted, this requires comprehensively addressing the root causes of conflict and the vulnerabilities in society. Resilience can be built through a stable social system supported by institutions which upholds human dignity for all. Therefore, as also noted by the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), the human rights dimension is integral to addressing humanitarian needs and advancing development and peace.

  2. In 2020, the Secretary-General stated in his Call to Action for Human Rights that stronger multilateralism must be more inclusive, more networked and place human rights at its very centre. He called to regularly provide human rights analysis and information to the Security Council [pp. 11-12]. A more detailed recommendation was offered by OHCHR, to invite the HRC President and human rights mechanisms to brief the Security Council on specific thematic or country situations [A/HRC/43/37, paras 37 and 75]. If this is not possible formally, it could be done informally, in accordance with previous practice, through Arria-formula meetings or at the invitation of members of the Security Council.

  3. Another example of the Security Council benefitting from inputs from the Special Procedures mandate holders is the annual letter sent by the Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures, sharing information about relevant work of the special procedures [A/HRC/48/21, para 76]. In addition, the Special Rapporteur on terrorism has established a working relationship with the Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate [para 77].

  4. Human rights treaty bodies may also draw the Security Council's attention through their early warning procedures, as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has done.

  5. Cooperation with the HRC should also be strengthened by the Security Council through other UN entities that report to it, such as the SRSG on sexual violence in conflict, by requesting them to report to the HRC [A/HRC/43/37, paras 38 and 75].


Managing withdrawal of peace operations [66 words]

  1. While this question proved more challenging for locating detailed advice, it may be best addressed with an understanding that human rights offer a comprehensive, long-term problem-solving formula – a blueprint for effective governance [Human Rights: A Path for Solutions, 2024, p.3]. This requires continued monitoring, reporting and support for human rights institutions and mechanisms, as well as promoting an open and inclusive civic and political space.


Promoting participation [698 words]

  1. The Security Council emphasized that inclusivity is key to advancing national peacebuilding processes and objectives in order to ensure that the needs of all segments of society are taken into account. It further stressed that civil society can play an important role in advancing efforts to sustain peace and prevent conflict [Security Council resolutions 2282(2016), PP9-PP10 and 2171(2014), PP8 and OP24].

  2. In his recent report, the Special Rapporteur on peaceful assembly and association highlighted the role of civil society in building sustainable peace, inter alia through early warning and ensuring transitional justice and accountability. He noted that the exclusion of civil society from peace processes can impede efforts to end cycles of conflict. He referred to Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen as negative examples [A/78/246, para 39].

  3. The UN-World Bank report "Pathways for Peace" focused on inclusion as the best way to prevent conflict: Youth

    1. For all countries, addressing inequalities and exclusion, making institutions more inclusive, and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis.

    2. Alongside institutional reform, in many cases, governments invested in addressing structural factors, launching programs targeting socioeconomic grievances, redistributing resources, and addressing past abuses even while violence was ongoing.

    3. Where people do not enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) – access to work, livelihoods, education, healthcare and social security, for instance – and where they have no means to seek to address their violations – through political participation or recourse to judicial process – the risk that they will resort to violence will increase [see also OHCHR report E/2016/58 on early warning and ESCR, 2016].

    4. Exclusion from access to power, opportunity, services, and security creates fertile ground for mobilizing group grievances to violence, especially in areas with weak state capacity or legitimacy or in the context of human rights abuses.

    5. Exclusion that is enforced by state repression poses a grave risk of violent conflict. Countries where governments violate human rights, especially the right to physical integrity, through practices such as torture, forced disappearances, political imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings, are at a higher risk for violent conflict.

    6. Security and justice institutions that operate fairly and in alignment with the rule of law are essential to preventing violence and sustaining peace. Accountability of security forces to the citizen, stronger community policing approaches, and improved efficiency of redress mechanisms are among the responses often needed.

    7. The more successful cases mobilized a coalition of domestic actors to influence incentives toward peace, bringing in the comparative advantages of civil society, including women’s groups.

  4. The Pathways to Peace report also found that societies that offer more opportunities for youth participation in the political and economic realms and provide routes for social mobility for youth tend to experience less violence.

  5. The Security Council stressed the importance of creating policies for youth that would positively contribute to peacebuilding efforts, including social and economic development, supporting projects designed to grow local economies, and provide youth employment opportunities and vocational training, fostering their education, and promoting youth entrepreneurship and constructive political engagement [2419(2018), OP13]. Women

  6. Similarly, cross-country studies find evidence that high levels of gender inequality and gender-based violence in a society are associated with increased vulnerability to civil war and interstate war and the use of more severe forms of violence in conflict. Prevention of violent conflict requires a strong focus on women’s experiences and on measures to ensure their participation in political, social, and economic life. Some evidence suggests that when women take leadership roles and are able to participate meaningfully in peace negotiations, the resulting agreements tend to last longer and there is greater satisfaction with the outcomes. The General Assembly and Security Council both recognized this in their twin resolutions on sustaining peace [2282(2016) and 70/262, penultimate PPs].

  7. The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders (HRDs) drew attention in her recent report to the lack of protection for HRDs, particularly women HRDs, for interacting with the UN, including the Security Council [A/78/131, para 6]. Aside from highlighting protection gaps, she detailed in her report the enormous contribution of WHRDs to peace and security, including through the provision of services, as well as monitoring, documentation and advocacy.


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