Report of the Conference on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Acute Crisis

Conference on The Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Acute Crisis

London, 11-13 February 1998

Edited by
Co-Directors: Dr Mukesh Kapila (DFID) and
Professor Nigel S Rodley (University of Essex)
Rapporteurs: Professor Kevin Boyle (University of Essex)
and Ms Aisling Reidy (University of Essex)

Report links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Introduction - Recommendations - Opening Address - Papers Presented - Acknowledgements - Appendices
Papers Presented (by author):
1. Kate Mackintosh - 2. Nigel S Rodley - 3. FranÁoise Hampson - 4.Carlo von FlŁe - 5. Geoff Gilbert - 6. Nicholas Morris - 7. David Bassiouni - 8. Philip Wilkinson - 9. Emma Shitakha - 10. Ian Martin - 11. Colleen Duggan

Colleen Duggan1

UNDPís Role in Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in Crisis and Post-Crisis Countries2




2.1 At the Headquarters Level
2.2 At the Field Level




1. Overview of UNDP Involvement

In recent years, UNDP has been increasingly called upon to assist countries in the transition from crisis to post-crisis situations. During this same period, more than 40 per cent of the official development assistance managed by the United Nations has been dedicated to emergency relief operations resulting from crises whose roots often lie in religious or ethnic cleavages and the social exclusion of sectors of individuals from crucial decision-making processes which will affect their lives and the lives of their children. Clearly, most humanitarian emergencies, particularly those of the human-made variety, are often precipitated by, and are always accompanied by the widespread disregard of fundamental human rights.

By virtue of its large field presence, UNDP country offices are at the forefront of response to complex emergencies. These flashpoint countries not only pose a threat to international, regional or local peace and security; They provoke massive population dislocations and obliterate the results of years of Sustainable Human Development gains by destroying economic infrastructures, decapacitating legitimate political systems, undermining indigenous coping capacities and wreaking havoc upon the physical environment. Where violations of humanitarian and human rights law have been particularly egregious and widespread, chances for renewed nation building and reconciliation among the civilian population become remote.

Any effective development strategy for response to crises and the trauma of their aftermath must be cognizant of the cause and effect linkages mentioned above. By addressing the social, economic, political and at times, cultural human rights related causes of crises, development can often play a crucial preventive role before crisis breaks out. In the same way, an enhanced understanding of the complex interdependence between the strengthening of democratic structures, respect for human rights, civic participation, socio-economic development and peace building can prevent a reoccurrence of conflict. The conclusion is that a human rights based approach to development in countries undergoing or emerging from complex humanitarian emergencies (euphemistically known as "Countries in Special Development Situations" in UNDP) should prioritize initiatives for conflict prevention, recovery, rehabilitation and eventually, reconciliation. The promotion and protection of human rights is at the very heart of such a strategy.

The development problems posed by the complexities of pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis environments have lead UNDP to reflect upon the impact it can have in Countries in Special Development Situations. In order to tackle the particular challenges of these countries, in 1995 UNDPís Executive Board allocated five per cent of core resources towards a new programming arrangement. These resources (approximately US$ 150 million over a five year period) are meant to be catalytic in nature and are earmarked to help coordinate rapid response, promote reintegration and participatory processes, strengthen governance and launch recovery programmes.

In the area of preventive development, UNDP is learning to recognize signs of early warning such as parliamentary crises or discontent in pockets of minorities who are perhaps discriminated against by economic or social policies. Such cases merit immediate development initiatives; Protective mechanisms such as electoral or human rights commissions can be strengthened to backstop the overall national capacity for governance, thus reducing the chance of political instability. The human rights of vulnerable groups and minorities can be specifically addressed within national development strategies in order to guarantee that these groups do not look to alternate sources for protection.

During periods of crisis, UNDP activities are in themselves preventive in that they aim to avert the denial of the right to development. By sustaining livelihoods and seeking to strengthen local coping mechanisms and maintain social services, massive population dislocations, can be minimized or avoided, thereby reducing the scope and duration of the humanitarian emergency. In complex emergencies, the UN Resident Co-ordinator (not always, but most often the UNDP Resident) is often called upon to act as the Humanitarian Co-ordinator. This offers a unique forward-looking opportunity to bridge relief and development activities by ensuring that dependencies are not created and that a countryís development capacity for recovery and rehabilitation is not undermined by prolonged relief assistance.

In may cases, governments undergoing or emerging from conflicts have neither the time nor the capacity to plan for the future and to optimize the vastly increased assistance that is associated with impending peace. Strategic Frameworks for Recovery facilitate a holistic approach to relief and development by promoting the primacy of national ownership and complementing domestic resources with international support.

In the aftermath of war, through programmes of training and employment, UNDP affords ex-combatants the opportunity to trade in their weapons and become productive members of society. Area rehabilitation and development schemes are designed to address the social and economic rights of returning ex-combatants, internally displaced persons and returning refugees, by enabling or reinforcing the capacity of receiving communities to reintegrate these new residents. UNDP area development schemes start up in earnest when humanitarian agencies begin to wind down. By aiming at alleviating war-induced deprivation, they can be meaningful instruments of confidence building between estranged groups, thus advancing community stabilization, ethnic or religious accommodation and eventually, reconciliation. The above activities are often preceded by mine action programmes that raise awareness of the danger of landmines and strengthen national capacity for mine removal so that productive agricultural land does not remain idle.

Reconstruction, recovery and reconciliation cannot advance in the absence of basic human security and strong national institutions that protect and guarantee the most fundamental human rights. In most post-conflict societies, governance institutions charged with upholding the rule of law have been polarized and face severe financial and technical difficulties resulting from years of neglect. UNDP is instrumental in supporting countries in democratic transition by providing necessary assistance for judicial reform, prison administration and demilitarization through the training of civil police forces. The promotion of genuine reconciliation requires supporting countries in their efforts to come to grips with past history of human rights violations, either through investigative or "truth-telling" commissions, depending upon what mechanisms have been decided upon through democratic processes. The development of peaceful methods of conflict resolution, particularly at the local level and the inclusion of all actors in the development process are safeguards against exclusive policies, which often generate conflict. In the final analysis, the presence of a strong civil society that is aware of its human rights and expects its government to promote and protect them, is the greatest guarantee of all against crisis.


1 Emergency Specialist in UNDPís Emergency Response Division. The views contained within this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations Development Programme. [...back to main text]

2 With regard to the promotion and protection of civil and political rights - those of primary concern in a conflict situation - UNDP, as a development agency, concerns itself primarily with human rights capacity building. Although the present conference will focus upon protection issues amidst acute crises, it is hoped that this paper will make a contribution to the British governmentís efforts to take a human rights-based approach towards its development cooperation policies. [...back to main text]

2. Addressing Problems of Disconnect and Operability within the United Nations

In the most complex human right scenarios today, the principle dilemma of the UN is how to tackle the problem of disconnect between political, humanitarian, human rights and development objectives. Solving this problem is at the heart of current proposals for UN organizational reform best illustrated in the Secretary Generalís report "Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform".3

Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has been increasingly called upon to intervene in failing or failed States, which fall into essentially three categories:

i) Fractured or disintegrating states such as Somalia;

ii) States whose governments enjoy varying degrees of acceptance and legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, e.g. Afghanistan;

iii) So-called "rogue states" where power has been seized through undemocratic means, e.g. Sierra Leone.

In such states, intervention to end the worst war-related human rights atrocities becomes exceedingly difficult when different UN bodies are operating in function to their differing mandates. During complex humanitarian emergencies, particularly those of a protracted nature, effective conflict management becomes virtually impossible in the absence of ground rules and clear policy directives to guide the multitude of international actors involved (regional Organisations, international financial institutions, UN, NGOs and bilateral cooperants). As is well known, humanitarian assistance is often manipulated by parties to a conflict, an unfortunate occurrence when the targeted violation of the human rights of civilians is being employed as a method of warfare. For relief workers, any kind of human rights conditionality is overruled by the cardinal principles of humanitarianism. An equivalent divergence exists at the political level, where human rights protection often takes a back seat to the delicate negotiations surrounding a cease-fire. In this scenario, guaranteeing the protection of the most basic human rights becomes close to impossible as human rights concerns are eclipsed by what are considered to be more immediate and pressing needs for ending the conflict and the human suffering associated with it. It all seems to make sense. And yet...

Ironically, human rights protection is the linchpin to any effective political and humanitarian strategy for responding to, containing, managing or brokering a solution to conflict. There is an indisputable body experience being accumulated on the ground that is proving that the brokering of fragile political agreements at the expense of human rights objectives does not make for sustainable peace. Thatís not all; as these fragile agreements collapse in on themselves and violations recommence - often with increased virulence - the UN and the international community lose credibility. Each successive attempt to bring the situation under control becomes more difficult.

As conflict is contained or ends and when conditions are finally conducive to the resumption of "normal" development activities, human rights promotion and protection should been seen as the central component for preventing a relapse into conflict - better know as peace building. And even so, in the seemingly less complicated post-conflict environment, one can still note within the UN, an ongoing schizophrenia related to the compatibility of human rights monitoring and verification activities with capacity-building activities. The debate is well known in human rights circles. However, most people, particularly those in the human rights community and a growing number of humanitarian relief and development practitioners (although fewer in this last category) are realizing that the two are interdependent and must be carried out simultaneously. One cannot take precedence over the other.

There is also a growing understanding within the UN system that a belief in the so-called "continuum from relief to development" has done more harm than good. Complex emergencies cannot be neatly sequenced into various phases during which different actors of the UN System pass off the baton and then sit back to watch the rest of the race. Humanitarian assistance is not an effective instrument for response to complex crises when used in isolation. Emergency relief, peacekeeping, diplomacy, human rights and development activities must be carried out simultaneously and must be structured to be mutually reinforcing. The complexities of intrastate conflicts call for a carefully orchestrated, holistic approach which must go well beyond "business as usual" if separate UN entities are not to be played off against one another by parties to a conflict. The first challenge at hand, then, is to ensure the widespread acceptance, first within the UN system and then outside, of all of the above mentioned linkages. The second challenge relates to operability: How to put to into practice multi-faceted, system-wide responses that recognize the primacy of human rights and perceive their protection and promotion as a central and cross-cutting concern.

Within the UN, a number of mechanisms are presently being developed in order to tackle the problems of disconnect and operability outlined above. These mechanisms are the result of hard-learned lessons in the field and are by no means perfect. Still, they do represent significant efforts to address in a meaning way the many problems associated with co-ordination arrangements.


3 UN doc. A/51/950, 14 July 1997. [...back to main text]

2.1 At the Headquarters Level

2.1.1. Executive Committees

Within the framework of the Secretary Generalís strategy for reform, four Executive Committees were created in January of 1997 in order to create policy and strengthen decision-making processes in the main sectors of the UNís work - Peace and Security; Humanitarian Affairs; Economic and Social Affairs; Development Operations; and Human Rights. As a cross cutting issue in the work of the entire UN system, it was decided that the fifth sector, human rights, should be mainstreamed into all aspects of the Organisationís activities. As such, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has a standing invitation to participate in all of the Executive Committees. UNDP convenes the Executive Committee on Development Operations (now called the Development Group)4 and participates in the Executive Committees on Peace and Security5 and Humanitarian Affairs.6

The "Ex Coms" act as a critical nexus in the strategic planning processes in each of the concerned UN entities. They provide a forum for heads of entities to consult upon substantive and administrative matters which have implications for other members of the Committee or for the Organisation as a whole. The Ex Coms are intended to be more than a mechanism for information sharing and co-ordination arrangements. Although they endeavour to reduce duplication between entities, it is hoped that synergies between entities will be stimulated, thus sharpening the contributions of all to the overarching objectives of the UN.

2.1.2. Secretary Generalís Task Force on Relief, Reconstruction and Development

As a forum for information sharing and consensus building, the Task Force concept is receiving renewed attention within the United Nations. The SGís Task Force on Relief, Reconstruction and Development was created in May 1997 with the objective of developing a coordinated and strategic approach for building stability in the Great Lakes Region. The Task Force, under the chairmanship of the Administrator of UNDP, brings together the convenors of the three relevant Executive Committees (mentioned above), in cooperation with the World Bank and with participation from other agencies that wish to do so.

The primary function of the Task Force is to provide a headquarters forum to ensure coordinated action among UN agencies, funds and programmes, and other international organisations, in order to maximize constructive and effective collaboration with the countries of the Great Lakes region, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Not surprisingly, human rights issues are hotly debated within the Task Force, as they lay at the forefront of dialogue between the Great Lakeís governments and the international community. Setbacks in the area of human rights including slow progress being made in the Tribunal in Arusha and the many "false starts" of the human rights investigation team presently in the Democratic Republic of Congo have knock on effects upon progress on other fronts, namely reconstruction and development. Similarly, the system as a whole needs to define a threshold, the point at which human rights violations become so grave as to irreparably undermine humanitarian mandates and thus lead to a decision to suspend operations.

The general sense of malaise resulting from these unresolved issues has prompted the Task Force to begin developing a set of "Principles and Rules of Engagement", the underlying belief being that the UN can begin to make a significant contribution to the Great Lakes region, only when it is in a position to act in concert with a consistency borne out of shared principles and objectives. The definition of principles of engagement is not in itself a complicated task; Principles include the fundamental tenets of humanitarianism, neutrality and impartiality, in addition to principles laid down in the UN Charter, human rights instruments, the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols and customary international law.

The formulation of Rules of Engagement will prove more problematic since they will in essence forge parameters for what is acceptable behaviour and what are the "lines in the sand" for the Task Force members and for the governments in question. When the "Principles and Rules of Engagement" are system-wide, they should lay the ground for all agencies to speak with one voice when fundamental mandates and norms are compromised or activities are under threat. They will also help individual agencies to predict how other agencies will react to different pressures and threat to both collective and individual mandates.7

What remains to be seen is whether these rules, once formulated, will be applied by the separate UN agencies during the course of their operations on the ground. The existence of rules also implies the need for an enforcement mechanism. In addition, the Task Force will have to grapple with the issue of deciding whether these rules should be applied in other regions of the world undergoing similar dilemmas (the precedent having been set), or whether their application should be restricted to the Great Lakes region only.


4 Comprised of UNDP, UN Fund for Population, UNICEF, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), UNOPS, UNIFEM , UN/AIDS, UN Drug Control Programme and Habitat. [...back to main text]

5 Convened by the USG for Political Affairs and including the Department of Political Affairs, Department of Peacekeeping Operations - DPKO, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - OCHA (ex-DHA), UNHCR and UNRWA. UNDP participates regularly. [...back to main text]

6 Convened by OCHA and including UNHCR, World Food Programme, UNICEF, DPKO, DPA and UNRWA. UNDP participates regularly. [...back to main text]

7 Working Draft, Working Group of the Great Lakes Task Force on Relief, Reconstruction and Development, February 1998. [...back to main text]

2.2 At the Field Level

2.2.1 Field Co-ordination arrangements: The Resident Co-ordinator/Humanitarian Co-ordinator System

In existence since 1981, the Resident Co-ordinator System was set-up in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of UN operational activities for development at the field level. Bearing in mind the complementarity of the UN system, and the need for a division of labour within the respective spheres of competence of funds, programmes and specialized agencies, the Resident Co-ordinator provides leadership and promotes a multidisciplinary approach to development.

As mentioned earlier, in times of emergency, the Resident Co-ordinator is often called upon to wear a second chapeau, that of Humanitarian Co-ordinator.8 For such cases, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee - IASC9 has developed special terms of reference for Humanitarian Co-ordinators, and over the course of the last five years, has hammered out detailed field co-ordination agreements in order to ensure greater linkages between relief and development activities.

The primary function of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator is to facilitate and ensure quick, effective, and well-coordinated provision of humanitarian assistance to those seriously affected by the complex emergency in question. The Humanitarian Co-ordinator is directly accountable to the Emergency Relief Co-ordinator (who is also the USG for Humanitarian Affairs). If a Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) is appointed for the country in question, the Humanitarian Co-ordinator will function under the overall authority of the SRSG. In addition to coordinating humanitarian assistance on the ground, the Humanitarian Co-ordinator is also responsible for ensuring the protection of humanitarian mandates in conflict situations, for mobilizing necessary resources (through Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeals), and for disseminating information regarding humanitarian needs and operations to the wider community (through the production of situation reports).

2.2.2 Strategic Frameworks for Recovery and Support to Strategic Planning

In situations of crisis, government co-ordination of external assistance can be sadly lacking, particularly in failed or failing states. In view of this fact, the UN System has been increasingly obliged to itself coordinate complex humanitarian assistance and recovery programmes and somehow bring these initiatives into line with the activities of International Financial Institutions. In such circumstances, the UN has lacked an overall framework for its different interventions. Different planning and resource mobilization mechanisms covering different activities of the UN and its partners all too frequently contain overlaps or gaps, which betray the absence of a unitary approach. With the onslaught of complex emergencies in the early nineties, the UN perceived an urgent need to develop an inclusive agreement for a broad "framework" for international assistance in crisis countries, including inputs from the different elements of the system Ė humanitarian, political, human rights and development Ė as well as from the wider donor and NGO community.

In April of 1997, the Administrative Committee on Co-ordination (ACC), under the chairmanship of the Secretary General, endorsed a new approach for peace building entailing the elaboration of "strategic frameworks" for relief and development activities in countries undergoing complex emergencies. The UN thinking behind the concept dovetailed with similar discussions taking place in other forums including the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Within the context of the UN Reform, the Department for Political Affairs, as the designated focal point for peace building is in charge of overall leadership for strategic frameworks.

The Strategic Framework is foreseen as an evolving multi-party consensus on an overall plan for United Nations and other multilateral, bilateral and NGO activities. It is hoped that the Framework, together with the political negotiating strategy of the UN system and its partners, will form the foundation of more coherent, system-wide approaches to varying country situations. The Framework is not a blueprint for the disbursement of international assistance under difficult circumstances and it cannot itself be a resource mobilization mechanism, for this would render it partial and thus undermine its primary objective of providing a holistic assessment and plan of action for a given situation. Rather, it is a policy statement or recommendation that should inform the overall programme including any fund-raising instruments prepared for the consideration of donors.

Although much effort is being expended trying to define exactly how strategic frameworks should be structured, in most cases it is agreed that as a minimum, strategic frameworks should:

Seen in this light, it is clear that the process for formulating the framework is all important and the product will itself become a living document that will need to be reviewed and reshaped as changes occur over time. As a pilot experience, it has been agreed that the Strategic Framework will be tried in Afghanistan, Somalia and Sierra Leone. Similar strategic planning exercises are being planned for other countries including Georgia, DR Congo, Haiti and Tajikistan.


8 Although this is the norm, it is not always the case. In a situation where it would not be viable for the Resident Co-ordinator to carry out humanitarian co-ordination functions, the IASC can take the collective decision to designate the humanitarian co-ordination role to another agency if deemed necessary. [...back to main text]

9 The primary UN forum for improving the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee was created by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1992. All UN agencies involved in humanitarian activities participate in addition to the International Committee for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Organisation for Migration. Non-governmental Organisations are invited to participate on an ad-hoc basis. [...back to main text]

10 Bernt Bernander, ďFine-tuning Response Strategies: UNDP Programmes in Crisis CountriesĒ (Draft), 1998. [...back to main text]

3. Conclusion

International efforts to expand the protection of human rights during acute crisis do not depend solely upon improved standard-setting and strengthened enforcement. Until the international community, and in particular the UN, devise more preventive and holistic approaches to conflict management which succeed in balancing the converging demands of politics, humanitarianism, military considerations, and post-conflict recovery, avoiding the massive violation of human rights during conflict will remain a difficult goal. Nevertheless, current efforts within the UN system to address problems of disconnect and operability and their relation to the global human rights agenda, give cause for renewed optimism.

4. Diagram

Diagram: Current situation for crisis country management.


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Papers Presented (by author):
1. Kate Mackintosh - 2. Nigel S Rodley - 3. FranÁoise Hampson - 4.Carlo von FlŁe - 5. Geoff Gilbert - 6. Nicholas Morris - 7. David Bassiouni - 8. Philip Wilkinson - 9. Emma Shitakha - 10. Ian Martin - 11. Colleen Duggan
Report links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Introduction - Recommendations - Opening Address - Papers Presented - Acknowledgements  - Appendices
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