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. Françoise Hampson - 4.Carlo von Flüe - 5. Geoff Gilbert - 6. Nicholas Morris - 7. David Bassiouni - 8. Philip Wilkinson - 9. Emma Shitakha - 10. Ian Martin - 11. Colleen Duggan

Ian Martin1

A New Frontier:  The Early Experience and Future of International Human Rights Field Operations










See elsewhere: Author's Biography (appendix C)


1. The Development of Human Rights Field Operations

When the protection of human rights through the United Nations and other international organisations moved beyond standard-setting into implementation, it still took place mostly in the committee rooms of Geneva, New York and Washington. Country rapporteurs and experts and the thematic procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, began to make short visits to allow for in-country fact-finding and a more direct dialogue with the government concerned. These have become of increasing frequency, and occasionally the UN treaty bodies too have made their own country visits. But in the last six years, human rights has taken to the field in a radically different manner, as substantial human rights field operations have been established in a number of countries, by the UN, by the UN jointly with a regional organisation, or by a regional organisation alone.

he pioneering operation was in El Salvador: UN-brokered peace negotiations led to commitments by both government and armed opposition to respect human rights and invite UN verification of their observance: in July 1991 the human rights division of ONUSAL was established, with an international staff of 101, including 42 human rights observers. The huge UN Transitional Administration in Cambodia, established in February 1992, initially provided for 10 human rights officers (out of a total UNTAC deployment of some 20,000); this was later increased so that there was one human rights officer in each province and a substantial headquarters and training staff, but the Human Rights Component remained a relatively small one. The Organisation of American States established a small International Civilian Mission under military rule in Haiti in September 1992; from February 1993 this was absorbed into a large joint UN/OAS human rights mission (MICIVIH). The UN/OAS budget for MICIVIH provided for 280 international staff: at its peak before its first evacuation in October 1993, it reached around 200, the largest human rights presence in any single country up to that time. This was exceeded in Guatemala, where peace negotiations led to a human rights verification mission (MINUGUA) being established from November 1994, with an authorised strength of 245 international staff, including 10 military liaison officers and 60 civilian police observers.

These four human rights field presences had their origins in attempts to negotiate and oversee political transitions: they were part of a new generation of UN peace-operations. They were conceptualised and mounted by the UN's political departments in New York, in virtual isolation from its human rights mechanisms and supporting staff in the Centre for Human Rights in Geneva. In the cases of El Salvador, Haiti and Guatemala, the UN Commission on Human Rights had already mandated special country rapporteurs, representatives or experts: these had no formal relationship with the field operations, and both they and the field mission were left to work out a relationship without any consistent guidance from their respective headquarters in Geneva and New York. Still less was consideration given to any relationship with the Commission's thematic procedures or the treaty bodies.

The advantages of a field presence were quickly apparent, however, to the Geneva human rights milieu. In July 1991, Amnesty International proposed that a UN human rights monitoring presence should be imposed on Iraq. This was taken up by the special rapporteur on Iraq in his February 1992 report to the Commission on Human Rights, and although a presence in Iraq never became feasible, he was allocated staff able to travel more extensively and collect information in the region. The special rapporteur on former Yugoslavia was provided with field staff based in the territory of his mandate from March 1993. It rapidly became de rigueur for special country rapporteurs to recommend that they be similarly supported by in-country monitoring.

By the time the proposal to create the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was debated ahead of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, the disconnection between the New York initiatives and the Geneva-based system was well-remarked. Bridging that gulf was a major motive which led Amnesty International to advance the most detailed proposal for the post:

"While some of the most innovative and far-reaching human rights initiatives have been developed in the context of recent UN peace-keeping and peace-building operations, these have tended to be developed in an ad hoc and uncoordinated way and with little or no involvement of the Geneva-based human rights bodies...The task of the Special Commissioner would be to maintain an overview of all the UN's human rights activities and their relationship to other program areas; to take initiatives and co-ordinate UN action in response to human rights emergencies; to ensure that appropriate attention is given to human rights concerns in any country of the world; to develop programs in areas which have been neglected or insufficiently developed; to formulate and oversee the human rights components of other UN operations, such as in the area of peace-keeping and peace-building, and to facilitate the involvement of the UN's human rights mechanisms and experts in these activities; and to ensure the integration of human rights issues and concerns in the full range of other UN activities and programs."2

The World Conference itself addressed the exclusion of the Centre for Human Rights from the new operations in its Vienna Declaration:

"The World Conference on Human Rights, recognising the important role of human rights components in specific arrangements concerning some peace-keeping operations by the United Nations, recommends that the Secretary-General take into account the reporting, experience and capabilities of the Centre for Human Rights and human rights mechanisms..."3

The General Assembly resolution establishing the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights4 made no explicit reference to peace-keeping and human rights field operations, but gave the HCHR the responsibility "to co-ordinate the human rights promotion and protection activities throughout the UN system", and "to rationalise, adapt, strengthen and streamline the UN machinery in the field of human rights with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness".

The first High Commissioner, José Ayala-Lasso, took up his post on 5 April 1994. The next day, genocide was unleashed in Rwanda. The High Commissioner visited Rwanda, and called for a special session of the Commission on Human Rights. This mandated a special rapporteur on Rwanda, and requested the High Commissioner "to make the necessary arrangements for the Special Rapporteur to be assisted by a team of human rights field officers". Initially a small team was envisaged, but subsequently the High Commissioner appealed for funding for a team of 21, and during a second visit to Rwanda in late August he agreed with the government that as many as 147 officers would be deployed, corresponding to the 147 communes of the country. The dependence of this Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda (HRFOR) on voluntary funding (rather than the UN regular or peace-keeping budgets, from which the New York-run operations were funded), together with the lack of Geneva-based systems or experience for mounting a large field operation, resulted in deployment being painfully slow. The figure of 147 was never reached: by February 1995 there were 85 officers, and later that year the operation reached a peak of about 130 international staff.

HRFOR was the first large human rights field operation responsible to the High Commissioner in Geneva, rather than to the political or peace-keeping departments in New York. The High Commissioner became personally convinced that the future of human rights lay in the field. In his February 1997 report to the Commission on Human Rights he declared (shortly before his resignation):

"A human rights field presence, established with the consent of the authorities of the State concerned, is one of the major innovations introduced under the mandate of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the implementation of the United Nations human rights programme. Experience has proved that the effective implementation of human rights is greatly facilitated by activities in situ. In some countries, the human rights presence has been established as an autonomous project, in others it is part of a broader United Nations involvement as in the case of the United Nations human rights programme for Abkhazia, Georgia. Some operations integrate assistance and monitoring functions, whereas others are mandated exclusively in the area of technical assistance. The flexibility of the human rights field presence is one of its strongest assets. In 1992 there were no human rights field activities; the High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights now has offices in 11 countries in all regions."5

The office of the High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights (HCHR/CHR) in Cambodia is the only field presence whose funding has been fully incorporated in the regular budget of the Centre. The Human Rights Component of UNTAC lobbied for the continuation of its work beyond UNTAC's withdrawal, and this passed to the Centre - after a hiatus, since the Centre had had no involvement during the peace-keeping operation. As of mid-1997, it had an international staff of 17, including those engaged in a judicial mentor programme.

The office of the HCHR/CHR in Burundi is intended to be the largest of the Geneva-run field presences, after Rwanda. It began as a technical co-operation effort, intended as "preventive action", but in June 1995 the government agreed to the deployment of 35 human rights monitors. Due to funding delays, this deployment began only in April 1996: by mid-1997, 15 observers had been deployed, with the intention of further expansion towards the agreed 35.

The government of Zaire finally signed an agreement in August 1996 accepting a two-person human rights office, the functions of which include monitoring, technical co-operation and training, both for governmental institutions and NGOs; this had been recommended by the Special Rapporteur on Zaire and supported by the Commission on Human Rights. Its future in the Democratic Republic of Congo remains to be determined.

The November 1996 agreement on the Colombia office followed a statement by the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights in April 1996, requesting the High Commissioner to proceed "upon the initiative of the Government of Colombia" to establish an office in Colombia. This was widely seen as an alternative to the imposition of a special country rapporteur. It provides for the office "to observe the human rights situation with a view to advising the Colombian authorities on the formulation and implementation of policies, programmes and measures to promote and protect human rights...and to enable the High Commissioner to make analytical reports to the Commission on Human Rights", as well as to advise NGOs and individuals.6 It is staffed by a Director funded and nominated by the Spanish government, and five human rights professionals, funded by the European Commission through the International Commission of Jurists.

The Human Rights Field Operation in Former Yugoslavia is a misnomer, not only because it does not cover all the territory implied, but also because it invites inappropriate comparison of the role of its 12 international staff with larger field operations. Following the Dayton Agreement, the main human rights monitoring mandate for Bosnia and Herzegovina was bestowed upon the OSCE, leaving the High Commissioner to define for himself a threefold contribution: conducting human rights training for international personnel, making available human rights experts to the High Representative, and supporting the work of the Special Rapporteur and Expert on Missing Persons.

Two HCHR/CHR international staff are located in Gaza as part of a technical co-operation project aimed at developing a national plan of action for human rights under the Palestine National Authority, improving the administration of justice and developing the legal framework for human rights protection, with substantial training activities.

The office in Abkhazia, Georgia, consists of a single UN professional, working in tandem with a single OSCE official, but set an important structural precedent when it was decided that the office would report to the High Commissioner through the Head of the UN Mission, UNOMIG.

Meanwhile the case for the more consistent incorporation of human rights components in multi-dimensional UN peace operations was being pressed.7 Other such operations, including UNAVEM III in Angola, UNOMIL in Liberia and UNTAES in Eastern Slavonia, had human rights officers included in their staffing. UNTAES had failed to establish a human rights unit until the summer of 1997, UNOMIL had three human rights officers, while UNAVEM III had 14 officers in place in early 1997, when a major expansion of the human rights presence (to over 50 officers, nearly half of them UN Volunteers) was recommended for the follow-on operation. Elsewhere, the mandate for human rights monitoring was given to a regional organisation: in addition to OAS participation in the joint OAS/UN mission in Haiti, the OSCE became responsible for human rights monitoring in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and assumed joint responsibility with the UN in Abkhazia, Georgia.

Other UN operations have not been designated as human rights operations and have not operated within a human rights framework, but have carried out activities which had much in common with human rights field work. This applies to civilian operations paving the way for multi-party elections in Namibia and South Africa. (Many other election monitoring operations have however operated outside any international standards and have failed to provide for the monitoring of human rights relevant to a fair electoral process in the period before the poll; they have not been part of a sustained international effort to contribute to the development of democratic institutions and an active civil society before and after elections.) UN civilian police have a crucial human rights role to play wherever they are deployed, and UN human rights components have benefited from working alongside them, usually with difficulty on both sides in defining their respective roles and reconciling their organisational cultures, but with much to be gained from co-operation and joint action.8 UN civilian police operations have played major human rights roles in Mozambique and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where there were no or few UN human rights staff. MINUGUA in Guatemala is unique in incorporating police and military officers fully under the civilian direction of a human rights mission.

UNHCR's increasing emphasis on prevention and repatriation, and growing involvement with the internally displaced, has led it further into human rights monitoring and promotion in the country of origin. As the High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, wrote recently:

"For many years, UNHCR and its operational partners waited for refugees to cross an international border before providing them with protection and assistance. The subsequent search for solutions to their plight focused primarily on the question of the refugees' physical location: whether they should repatriate to their homeland, integrate in the society where they had found asylum, or move on to a third country and settle down there. The limitations of these traditional solutions, coupled with the growing scale of the refugee problem and the changing nature of the international political and economic order, have prompted UNHCR to develop a new approach to the question of human displacement. This approach is proactive and preventive, rather than reactive. Instead of focusing purely on countries of asylum, it is equally concerned with conditions in actual and potential refugee-producing states. And as well as providing protection and assistance to refugees, it seeks to reinforce the security and freedom enjoyed by several other groups: internally displaced people; refugees who have returned to their own country; war-affected communities and those who are at risk of being uprooted."9

This welcome emphasis on human rights protection raises a major question of the respective mandates and roles of the two High Commissioners. In Tajikistan, UNHCR mounted what was in effect a human rights field operation to monitor and intervene on behalf of returnees, and Rwanda offers an important case study in the co-operation of a major human rights field operation with substantial UNHCR protection activities. Another UN refugee agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), quietly played the role of a human monitoring mission to provide some protection to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories through its Refugees Affairs Officers and Research Officers; and a weak form of human rights monitoring was established outside any inter-governmental organisation when the governments of Norway, Denmark and Italy, in agreement with Israel and the Palestinians, provided the Temporary International Presence in Hebron in 1994.10


1 previously Secretary General, Amnesty International, 1986-92; Director for Human Rights/Deputy Executive Director, UN/OAS International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH), 1993 and 1994-95; and Chief, UN Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda (HRFOR), 1995-96. The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author: they do not represent the official views of the United Nations. The author wishes to thank the Ford Foundation for support during the writing of this paper, which was presented at the International Diplomatic Seminar of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Austria, 28 July - 1 August 1997. [...back to main text]

2 Amnesty International, World Conference on Human Rights -Facing Up to the Failures: Proposals for Improving the Protection of Human Rights by the United Nations, December 1992, p.4-6.[...back to main text]

3 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights, 25 June 1993, para.97. [...back to main text]

4 A/RES/48/141, 20 December 1993 [...back to main text]

5 Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Commission on Human Rights, "Building a partnership for human rights", E/CN.4/1997/98, 24 February 1997. The countries were: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (managed together as the Human Rights Field Operation in the former Yugoslavia, HRFOY); Abkhazia (Georgia), Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Gaza (Palestine), Rwanda and Zaire. [...back to main text]

6 The Agreement as well as the Statement by the Chairman of the Commission are in UN document E/CN.4/1997/11, 24 January 1997. [...back to main text]

7 see Amnesty International, Peace-Keeping and Human Rights, January 1994; and Alice Henkin (ed), Honoring Human Rights and Keeping the Peace: Lessons from El Salvador, Cambodia and Haiti, Aspen Institute, 1995. [...back to main text]

8 see the comments by Diego García-Sayán, "The Experience of ONUSAL in El Salvador", in Alice Henkin (ed.), Honoring Human Rights and Keeping the Peace: Lessons from El Salvdor, Cambodia and Haiti, Apsen Institute, 1995, p.35-36; and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Improvising History: a Critical Evaluation of the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador, 1995, p.28-39. [...back to main text]

9 Foreword by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to The State of the World's Refugees 1995. [...back to main text]

10 see two papers by Lynn Welchman, "International Protection and International Diplomacy: Policy Choices for Third-Party States in the Occupied Territories", and "Consensual Intervention: A Case Study on the TIPH", in International Human Rights Enforcement: The Case of the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the Transitional Period, The Centre for International Human Rights Enforcement, Jerusalem, March 1996.[...back to main text]

2. Towards an Evaluation of Human Rights Field Operations

It would be too early to reach any definitive or overall evaluation of even the first generation of human rights field operations, while only El Salvador and Cambodia are concluded. However, it is certainly not too early to regret the absence of on-going evaluation within the UN system which would contribute to an eventual assessment, while in the meantime enabling some clear lessons to be learned and applied in later phases or operations.11 An interim evaluation can currently be informed by comparative assessments made outside the UN12, writings by those who have participated in such operations13 and external studies by NGOs.14 Most of the existing literature is focused on the early phases of operations and thus already somewhat outdated; only the studies of El Salvador have been able to assess the completed period of the human rights field presence.

Despite a difficult beginning and some criticisms of its functioning, there appears to be a consensus that ONUSAL in El Salvador was a success as well as a pioneer, although its longer- term impact remains to be evaluated. It was part of an overall political strategy and operated within a clear framework, not only of international human rights law but of an agreement negotiated between parties. Its deployment ahead of a cease-fire and comprehensive peace agreement, while not originally envisaged by the UN negotiators, contributed to an improvement in the human rights situation, which in turn helped to create a positive climate for overall agreement. Its legacy in the development of the judicial system, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the National Civilian Police seems also to have been significant. This rationale was explicitly followed in Guatemala, where the deployment of MINUGUA from November 1994 similarly is seen to have contributed to the climate in which an overall peace agreement was concluded in December 1996. The success of MINUGUA in a period during which its verification responsibilities have extended into new areas remains to be seen.

The human rights component within UNTAC was much less central to the overall UN operation in Cambodia, and had a less clear mandate under the Paris Peace Agreements than the verification mandates of ONUSAL and MINUGUA. The director of the component subsequently characterised it as the "poor cousin" of the operation in both staffing and administrative support.15 As well as its monitoring during pre-election violence, attention to detention conditions, and extensive human rights training and education, it played an innovative role in encouraging the growth of national human rights NGOs where none had existed, involving Asian and western human rights NGOs in this task. It secured support for UN human rights work to continue beyond the peace-keeping mandate.

When the UN joined the OAS in deploying the International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH), it hoped that here too an amelioration of the human rights situation would contribute to the success of negotiations for a return to constitutional government. But these broke down,16 and the mission was twice evacuated before the Security Council authorised military intervention to force the restoration of President Aristide. In its first phase, in 1993, MICIVIH was able to achieve three things: without its presence, human rights abuse would have been worse than it was; many individual victims were aided as a result of its intervention; and where it could not check human rights violations, it drew them to international attention. But its evacuation put its contacts at risk, and it was sent back in early 1994 at a time when the de facto authorities gave it zero co-operation and it could do little beyond speak out publicly: nevertheless, its findings were well-publicised internationally and played an important role in the US and UN debates which preceded a tougher policy to oust the military regime. Its third phase under restored constitutional government, still continuing, has focused on monitoring the human rights conditions for successive elections, support for institution-building (the civilian police force, justice system and prisons) and human rights education.

The High Commissioner's first Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda was much criticised. The initial commitment to deploy human rights officers stemmed from the resolution of the Commission of Human Rights in late May 1994. In the immediate aftermath of genocide, effective deployment was both more urgent than in the cases of earlier UN human rights field operations, and more difficult because of the devastation of the country. To these hurdles were added the inexperience of the Centre for Human Rights in mounting a large field operation, the absence of established procedures for logistical support, and the dependence on voluntary funding: whereas the New York operations were funded by assessed contributions through the UN's regular or peace-keeping budgets, the High Commissioner depended on voluntary contributions from governments and his appeals produced promises, many of which were only slowly fulfilled. Recruitment was slow, and the procurement of vehicles and other essential support was even slower, so that the operation was soon being criticised for the inadequacy of its response to an urgent situation. It was November 1994 before offices were open in most prefectures; by February 1995 there were 82 field officers; and from March/April 1995 they were strengthened by the arrival of a contingent of 34 European Union officers, which brought additional logistical support but also fresh managerial difficulties.

Much of the early focus of HRFOR was on investigating the genocide. Although its UN field officers were initially supplemented for this purpose by special teams seconded by governments, it was not well equipped for this task. Once the International Tribunal for Rwanda was established in November 1994, information collected by HRFOR was handed over to it, and the Prosecutor made clear that future investigation for the purposes of prosecution should be done by the Tribunal's investigators. However, there was a hiatus of almost a year before the Tribunal had an effective investigative presence in Rwanda, and for some months after that its field investigators did not have available to them the information collected by HRFOR.

The mandate of HRFOR was extremely broad: to investigate the genocide and violations which had already occurred; to monitor the ongoing human rights situation and maintain a preventive presence; to help re-establish confidence, the return of refugees and displaced persons, and the rebuilding of civic society; to implement programmes of technical co-operation, particularly in the administration of justice; and to report to the High Commissioner and through him to the Special Rapporteur. A dual controversy raged inside and outside the mission over relative priorities, between investigating the past and monitoring the present, and between monitoring and technical co-operation. The view of the first Chief of HRFOR was that:

"...monitoring in the field, whether humanitarian or human rights, is essentially a bottom-up process, in which the first operational priority is to get field teams out on the ground. This was particularly the case in a highly politicized ground situation of such daunting complexity as post-genocide Rwanda. Only then was it possible for human rights field officer teams to establish relations and interact with the local authorities and other actors, to observe situational dynamics closely and, in consequence, to formulate appropriate pragmatic responses inductively."17

The view of the second18 was that the elements of the mandate were mutually reinforcing, but that HRFOR's objectives and strategy within that mandate needed to be given further definition in order to apply its limited resources effectively and set priorities for the work of staff, paying due regard to complementarities with the roles and capacities of other organisations.

The positive effects of HRFOR's presence were offset by the worsening security situation, as Hutu insurgency penetrated further into Rwanda from the camps in Zaire, with killings of Tutsi civilians and local officials, and killings of unarmed Hutu civilians in the army's counter-insurgency response. Similarly, progress in the creation of a judicial system and some limited amelioration of indescribable prison conditions were overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of persons accused of involvement in the genocide, especially after mass returns of Hutus at the end of 1996. HRFOR became the first human rights field presence to have staff murdered in the course of duty in February 1997, and thereafter its presence outside the capital became severely restricted. However, the second evaluation commissioned by the European Commission found that the large majority of its interlocutors in the Government of Rwanda, human rights NGOs and international agencies were positive about HRFOR's impact.19

The HCHR/CHR presence in Burundi raises even starker questions regarding the role of a human rights presence in a situation of acute current conflict. Its technical co-operation activities appear naive in the absence of a political context in which respect for human rights could be institutionalised. When a substantial monitoring presence was first agreed to in 1995, it could have been deployed outside the capital and played some role at least in providing reliable information on the killings of civilians by both sides to the conflict, but funding constraints meant that the moment was lost, and the security situation had so deteriorated by the time monitors were deployed that their role could only be a severely limited one.

Notwithstanding the strong stated commitment in the Dayton Agreement to human rights observance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a central weakness in the implementation of its civilian aspects has been the failure to give a strong human rights monitoring mandate, together with the necessary resources, to a single international organisation able to implement it. It was envisaged that, while an International Police Task Force (IPTF) would be deployed by the UN, the main human rights monitoring role would be played by the OSCE. Two closely-related functions were thus placed under different international organisations. The OSCE was also given the responsibility of supervising the electoral process. The OSCE had little prior experience of mounting a substantial human rights monitoring presence, and appears not to sought advice from international organisations which do have such experience. Its staffing resources were never adequate for an effective monitoring presence throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina: initially it was proposed that it would have about 65 human rights officers, but the actual number has never exceeded 40. In mid-1997 there were 34 human rights posts, in addition to a similar number of staff with responsibility for democratisation activities, separated in the OSCE mission's structure from human rights. Dependence on secondment by governments did not allow it to recruit a strong core of staff with professional human rights experience. Priority was given to its electoral function in the allocation of personnel, and there is a widespread consensus that its human rights monitoring function was in 1996 subordinated to the political determination to proceed with and certify the elections. Meanwhile the most substantial non-military international presence, the UN civilian police of the IPTF, whose mandate is in essence a human rights mandate, has operated largely without professional human rights guidance. The European Community Monitoring Mission, first established in 1991, focuses on political reporting, including reporting on aspects of the human rights situation; its 81 monitors are diplomats, military officers and NCOs, with no specialised capability in human rights investigation and reporting. All this is supposed to be co-ordinated by the High Representative, through periodic meetings of a Human Rights Task Force and a Human Rights Co-ordination Centre established within his Office, but with no senior official with an exclusive human rights responsibility reporting directly to him. The consequence of these arrangements is that there is substantial duplication of first-order reporting of human rights incidents, but further investigation remains weak, as does follow-up with the authorities and public reporting. Much time has to be devoted to efforts at co-ordination, which are only partially successful. The degree of professional human rights experience being applied through the different organisations is seriously inadequate.

In Angola, the UN was asked to monitor the Angolan national police, but not explicitly to verify the parties' human rights commitments. The Security Council however welcomed the intention expressed by the Secretary-General to include human rights specialists in the political component of UNAVEM III, and this became the starting-point for a human rights unit which by early 1997 had 14 officers; six of these were employed by AWEPA, the Association of Western European Parliamentarians, with funding from the European Commission and individual EU governments. It has emphasised promotional activities in collaboration with the Government and UNITA, while taking an extremely cautious approach in relation to the investigation of human rights violations. The human rights unit is to become a sizeable component of the follow-on operation, MONUA, mandated by the Security Council at the end of June 1997: it will have 55 officers, including 26 UN Volunteers. In Eastern Slavonia (Croatia), the UN Transitional Administration (UNTAES) established at the beginning of 1996 had a strong human rights mandate and human rights officers were included in its budget, but no human rights unit was established until mid-1997. Both operations were managed by the Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO), and the human rights professionalism available to them was weak or non-existent. There was no involvement of the HCHR/CHR until early 1997, when it was agreed that the HCHR/CHR should take on the role of giving professional direction and support to these human rights units: the precise organisational arrangements are not yet clear.20

From the experience of these missions, three main sets of factors can be seen to be relevant to the performance of different human rights field operations: the clarity of their mandates, the quality of implementation and the funding arrangements.


11 The Lessons Learned Unit in DPKO undertakes evaluations of DPKO-managed peacekeeping operations only. The European Commission has commissioned two evaluations of the European Union participation in HRFOR, carried out in mid-1995 (by Roel von Meijenfeldt) and late 1996 (by Ingrid Kircher and Paul LaRose-Edwards). [...back to main text]

12 Alice Henkin (ed.), Honoring Human Rights and Keeping the Peace: Lessons from El Salvador, Cambodia and Haiti, Aspen Institute, 1995, is the outcome of a comparative assessment which had the participation of UN human rights directors from the three country operations. It is being extended in 1997 to include experience from Guatemala, Rwanda and Bosnia, as well as later experience from El Salvador, Cambodia and Haiti. See also studies commissioned or supported by interested governments: Stephen Golub, Strengthening Human Rights Monitoring Missions: an Options Paper prepared for the Office of Transition Initiatives, Bureau for Humanitarian Response, USAID, December 1995; Paul LaRose-Edwards, UN Human Rights Operations: Principles and Practice in United Nations Field Operations, for the Human Rights and Justice Division, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, May 1996; Karen Kenny, Towards Effective Training for Field Human Rights Tasks, International Human Rights Trust, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dublin, Ireland, July 1996. [...back to main text]

13 in addition to the papers by Diego García-Sayán (El Salvador), Dennis McNamara (Cambodia) and Ian Martin (Haiti) in Alice Henkin (ed.), op.cit., see: William O'Neill, "Human Rights Monitoring vs. Political Expediency: the Experience of the OAS/UN Mission in Haiti", and Reed Brody, "The United Nations and Human Rights in El Salvador's Negotiated Revolution", both in Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol.8, Spring 1995; and William Clarance, "The Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda: Protective Practice Evolves on the Ground", in International Peace-Keeping, Vol.2 No.3, Autumn 1995, and "Field Strategy for Human Rights Protection", in International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol.9 No.2, 1997. [...back to main text]

14 see two studies by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Haiti: Learning the Hard Way - The UN/OAS Human Rights Operation in Haiti 1993-94 and Improvising History: a Critical Evaluation of the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador, both 1995; African Rights, Rwanda, "A Waste of Hope": The United Nations Human Rights Field Operation, March 1995; and Amnesty International, Rwanda and Burundi: A Call for Action by the International Community, September 1995. [...back to main text]

15 Dennis McNamara, "UN Human Rights Activities in Cambodia: An Evaluation", in Alice Henkin (ed.), op.cit., p.62. [...back to main text]

16 I have argued elsewhere that not only the impact of the human rights mission, but also the political process would have been better served if the Haitian Armed Forces' lack of cooperation and the deteriorating human rights situation after the Governors Island Agreement had been more strongly taken up by the UN and US negotiators and the international community: Ian Martin, "Paper versus Steel: The First Phase of the International Civilian Mission in Haiti", in Alice Henkin (ed.), op.cit., and "Haiti: Mangled Multilateralism", in Foreign Policy, No.95, Summer 1994.[...back to main text]

17 William Clarance, "The Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda: Protective Practice Evolves on the Ground", op.cit., p.292. [...back to main text]

18 The author. The view summarised here was developed in a paper circulated to the Government of Rwanda and donors entitled "The Strategy and Priorities of HRFOR in 1996". [...back to main text]

19 Ingrid Kircher and Paul LaRose-Edwards, Evaluation of the European Union Contingent to the UN Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda, for DG VIII Development (External Relations and ACP Unit) of the European Commission, January 1997, Executive Summary. [...back to main text]

20 but see footnote 32, below. [...back to main text]

3. Mandates

The most obviously successful human rights field operations have been those in El Salvador and Guatemala, where the mandate established for each mission was clearest and was related to an overall political strategy on the part of the international community which proved to be feasible. Conversely, the lack of definition of the mandate of HRFOR in Rwanda, and the proliferation of human rights mandates of weakly-co-ordinated international organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, have contributed to their difficulties.

This should not however be taken to imply that human rights field operations should be attempted only in the most favourable of conditions. In Haiti, the mandate was clear but the political strategy initially failed: this is not to say that it should not have been attempted. The acceptance of a human rights field presence and its mandate depends upon the government or the parties to a conflict: in Angola, the attitude of the government may have precluded a clear human rights mandate, and it may thus have been necessary to proceed from a modest beginning.

The mandates of previous operations can usefully inform negotiators, and all mandates should be founded upon relevant international human rights standards, especially those by which the state is bound. But each mandate must be shaped according to the specific country situation. In Rwanda, the genocide and scale of internal and external displacement were special factors. In Guatemala, the situation of indigenous people was a central issue. In Haiti, it was right to exclude technical assistance until such time as constitutional government was restored.

In general, however, human rights field operations should be conceived as integrating preventive, monitoring (verification) and assistance (technical co-operation, institution- or capacity-building) functions. This has not been the view of all analysts: a USAID study21 argued that "attempting to reform a legal system may not be well-suited to transitional bodies such as human rights monitoring missions". Others have suggested, with some justification, that in the case of Rwanda the operation initially attempted to usurp functions properly those of UNDP. But in relation to the administration of justice, there is a complementarity between UNDP's long-term project management capability, the criminal justice expertise of the UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division, and the capacity of a human rights field operation to make available professional human rights expertise and to utilise its unique outreach to identify needs and be supportive at the local level: this has enabled field operations to play an important role in developing justice systems.22 In an integrated operation, the monitoring identifies needs for training and resources, the technical co-operation ensures that those needs can be addressed, and the monitoring again provides feedback on the effectiveness of technical co-operation projects in improving aspects of the human rights situation to which they are directed. Certainly in a situation where institutions have been destroyed or have never existed, such as post-genocide Rwanda, to point to human rights violations while offering no linkage to assistance is to invite dismissal, and to pursue technical co-operation while ignoring serious on-going violations is naive and unacceptable. As one human rights director wrote of the El Salvador experience:

"...human rights monitoring and institution-building were inextricably linked. This relationship is, without doubt, the key to an operation of this kind which goes beyond the mere proving and denouncing of violations or of traditional technical assistance programs which often have no relation to practical results or people's daily lives."23

Human rights field operations of international organisations will and should always have a limited life, while the task of developing institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights is a long-term one, in which the role of civil society as well as government is crucial. Such operations must consciously seek to avoid displacing indigenous human rights activity, and do all they can to support and encourage it. The extent to which non-governmental organisations can be directly associated in their work will vary, according to the political and security context, and according to different areas of activity. Human rights promotion is usually best implemented by local actors, with international operations playing only a supporting role; while the international and local actors should normally maintain the autonomy of their respective monitoring and investigation. The international operation should plan for the sustainability of human rights protection beyond its own withdrawal; this will be facilitated if a UN human rights presence is not completely withdrawn at the end of a peace-keeping operation, but a limited presence can be sustained under the mandate of the High Commissioner.


21 Stephen Golub, op.cit., p.17. [...back to main text]

22 For example, in Haiti MICIVIH developed a prison reform project in collaboration with UNDP and the UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division. [...back to main text]

23 Diego García-Sayán, "The Experience of ONUSAL in El Salvador", in Alice Henkin (ed.), op.cit., p.38. [...back to main text]

4. Implementation

The three human rights field operations launched by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) - El Salvador, Haiti and Guatemala - were each preceded by planning missions, involving human rights professionals from outside the Secretariat.24 These contributed significantly to the conceptualising, planning and budgeting for the operations, and could usefully become standard practice where such an operation is envisaged.

Both the speed and quality of recruitment of staff for the operations have been criticised, to different degrees but in all cases. To some extent this is associated with the novelty of the type of operation, and now with the experience of five major UN operations it is possible to see a cadre of human rights field officers developing, able to bring field experience from one operation to another. However, neither New York nor Geneva yet has procedures in place able to evaluate the human rights credentials and field orientation of large numbers of recruits. It is particularly difficult to recruit senior managers with the experience appropriate to such operations, and the difficulty is exacerbated by the absence of arrangements for rotation between field and headquarters posts, such as exist in a large field agency like UNHCR. So far, no senior officer from the Centre for Human Rights has gone to work in any of the large field operations, and no senior officer who has worked in one of them has subsequently worked in the Centre for Human Rights. While the processing of recruits for the field can be located in any administrative unit, the professional judgement to be applied in the recruitment of human rights field staff, and the capacity actively to search for the best candidates, should be developed in the Centre for Human Rights.25 Directors of field operations should have the final say in the acceptance of the staff they will manage.

Recruitment of human rights field officers by regional organisations - the OAS for Haiti, the OSCE for Bosnia, the European Commission for Rwanda - has been no more satisfactory, and has been carried out largely without any professional human rights assessment of the qualifications and experience of candidates. The dependence of OSCE recruitment on secondment by governments poses a particular obstacle to identifying appropriate personnel for human rights field work, and the OSCE was resistant to adequate human rights training for its staff in Bosnia. Recruitment by the UN Volunteer Programme has been generally satisfactory, but closer collaboration between the Programme and the Centre for Human Rights, when the latter develops its field recruitment capability, could further improve UNV recruitment for human rights field posts.

The training arrangements for human rights field officers have also been justifiably criticised.26 Training cannot be separated from the clarity of the mandate of the operation and the development of its own guidance to its officers on how to carry out their work: it is not simply a matter of familiarisation with international human rights standards. In Haiti, the first UN observers were deployed in February 1993 without training, but from May 1993 observers received a 3-week induction course, covering an introduction to the Haitian environment and legal system; the human rights law context of the mission's mandate; techniques of investigation and reporting; special issues such as prison visits, demonstrations and internal displacement; and essential orientation information (including security). Haitian speakers were invited to present the Haitian context, and role play was used to develop practice in interviewing victims, witnesses and authorities. Observers were taught Creole, the local language. A field guidance manual was developed by July 1993. In El Salvador, a methodological guide was not developed until the mission had been in the field for well over a year, and even longer elapsed before field guidance was developed in Rwanda. However, there has begun to be cross-fertilisation across the efforts of different operations, and the Centre for Human Rights has belatedly undertaken a project to develop generic training materials and guidance for human rights field operations.

In November 1996, the High Commissioner entered into an agreement with the Norwegian Resource Bank for Democracy and Human Rights (NORDEM), jointly operated by the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights and the Norwegian Refugee Council, for NORDEM to establish a roster of staff for rapid deployment to support activities of the High Commissioner. The Canadian and other governments are committed to or considering similar stand-by arrangements. These are seen as helping to overcome some of the problems both of rapid recruitment and inadequate training, since those on the roster will undertake pre-training. Such rosters could indeed contribute to the capacity to mount a field operation speedily and effectively, but expectations of them should not be too high: they are certainly not an alternative to the need to develop the direct recruitment and training capacity of the UN. The balance of nationalities within a field operation should not be unduly weighted by such arrangements, the most important training must be mission-specific and undertaken by staff together in-country, and the good management of a field operation requires that national or regional teams should not maintain a separate identity or separate administrative and logistical arrangements within an integrated operation.

Human rights field operations have experienced serious administrative and logistical difficulties impairing their functioning. These were probably most serious at the beginning of HRFOR in Rwanda, since Geneva lacked both experience and established procedures for administering and providing logistical support to a field operation. But MICIVIH in Haiti, administered from New York, also faced acute difficulties. In both cases, logistical support from outside the UN - the OAS in the case of Haiti, and the European Commission in the case of Rwanda - mitigated the UN's deficiencies. Problems of slow recruitment and inadequate logistical support cannot however be separated from the issue of funding.


24 The report submitted to the Secretary-General by the team of human rights experts on Haiti was published in UN document A/47/908, 24 March 1993. [...back to main text]

25 An official of the Centre for Human Rights was the first head of the post-UNTAC office of the HCHR/CHR in Cambodia, and subsequently returned to the Centre, but not with any responsibility for field operations. [...back to main text]

26 Most recently and comprehensively by Karen Kenny, op.cit. [...back to main text]

5. Funding

There are four current methods of funding UN human rights field operations: funding within a peace-keeping operation mandated by the Security Council; funding as a civilian mission mandated by the General Assembly from the regular budget; funding from the regular budget of the Centre for Human Rights; and funding from voluntary contributions. Currently, human rights posts in Angola, Liberia and Eastern Slavonia are funded within peace-keeping operations mandated by the Security Council; MICIVIH in Haiti and MINUGUA in Guatemala are mandated by the General Assembly and funded from the regular budget; the office of the HCHR/CHR in Cambodia is funded within the regular budget of the Centre for Human Rights; and the operations/presences of the HCHR/CHR in Rwanda, Burundi and elsewhere are funded by voluntary contributions.

Difficulties are associated with each of these. Funding within a peace-keeping operation encounters the resistance of some members of the Security Council to any human rights (as distinct from humanitarian law) mandate flowing from that body, and this may run counter to the appropriate mandate and involvement of the High Commissioner. Funding from the regular budget is most appropriate to a civilian human rights operation, but has become difficult in view of the determination of member states to maintain an absolute ceiling on the regular budget, without a substantial contingency from which one or more sizeable operations can be funded: it is not rational or realistic for a substantial but short-term field presence to be funded by cuts in the core budget of the UN. Thus on 12 March 1996 the Secretary-General addressed a letter to the President of the General Assembly27 expressing deep concern that the Assembly's request for the continuation of the human rights field operations in Haiti and Guatemala, hitherto funded out of the regular budget, stood in danger of not being secured if requisite financial resources were not provided. He noted that on a number of occasions, for example in his Supplement to an Agenda for Peace28, he had drawn attention to the need to establish agreed procedures for the financing of "a class of field missions which are neither peace-keeping operations nor the kind of recurrent activity which is normally funded out of the regular budget". He pointed out that "the human rights missions whose future is at stake...have been designed in a way that responds to the frequently expressed wish of the Member States that higher priority should be given to preventive and peacemaking activities, which are a less costly remedy than peace-keeping operations".

By far the greatest difficulties are associated with trying to mount and sustain a large human rights field operation on voluntary funding, as in the experience of HRFOR. Pledges in response to his August 1994 appeal encouraged the High Commissioner to mount the operation, but these were slow to be paid over. Under UN financial procedures, commitments can only be entered into once funds to cover them have actually been received. The launching of the operation was bridged by a $3 million loan from the revolving fund managed by the Department of Humanitarian Affairs: repayment of this loan became a major funding hurdle. UN contracts were often issued only from month to month, and in mid-1995, although the operation remained below its intended strength, some staff knew they were on a list for retrenchment. The consequences for morale, efficient management and recruitment of much-needed professionals were obvious. The High Commissioner noted in his reports on HRFOR that:

"Contributions have been unforeseeable, and have therefore not provided a basis on which sound planning could take place. It has only been possible to give staff contracts of an abnormally short duration, even for a field mission; this has posed difficulties in both recruitment and retention of staff, and the very high turnover experienced has been disruptive of sustained relationships of co-operation with the authorities and other organisations, as well as of the professional standards of the Operation."29

Such difficulties have not been confined to the large operation in Rwanda: they have been similarly experienced by the HCHR/CHR operations in Burundi, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. While UN Volunteers have a place in human rights field operations and have performed well in Rwanda, as well as in Guatemala, Haiti and elsewhere, the pressure to contain costs has sometime resulted in their use where more experienced human rights professionals, and/or recruits with previous field experience, would have been more appropriate.

In his annual report to the 1996 Commission on Human Rights, the High Commissioner proposed that a human rights fund for field activities be established to ensure that his Office could conduct its work in those countries where such initiatives and co-operation were necessary and welcome, based on a predictable source of funding that allowed for proper planning and management of the operation.30 One government subsequently made a major contribution which was not earmarked for a particular operation, but in general substantial voluntary contributions have continued to be tied to individual operations. The High Commissioner has felt it necessary, in order to secure funding from the European Commission and individual governments, to resort to a series of arrangements which are unsatisfactory in relation to the good management of integrated operations under his authority.


27 UN document A/50/891 [...back to main text]

28 UN document A/50/60 [...back to main text]

29 UN document E/CN.4/1997/52, 17 March 1997. See also UN documents A/50/743, 13 November 1995, and E/CN.4/1996/111, 2 April 1996. [...back to main text]

30 UN document E/CN.4/1996/103 [...back to main text]

6. Structures

It has already been indicated that a series of different organisational structures have applied to UN human rights field operations or components. Some (El Salvador, Haiti, Guatemala) have primarily been managed by DPA in New York; others (Cambodia, Angola) have been fully part of a peace-keeping operation; while in Rwanda the High Commissioner mounted a human rights field operation alongside, but completely outside, an already-established peace-keeping operation. In October 1996, the Security Council authorised and funded a human rights office in Abkhazia, Georgia, which reports to the High Commissioner through the Head of Mission of UNOMIG.31 Similar arrangements have been proposed by the Secretary-General for the follow-on operation to UNAVEM III in Angola, MONUA32, and agreed between DPKO and the High Commissioner for the human rights unit within UNTAES in Eastern Slavonia.

Where the UN has a political mandate, and especially where there is a UN peace operation or political office in the country, the organisational arrangements for human rights operations or components need to meet a number of criteria:

(i) a UN human rights field presence must be part of the overall UN strategy for building peace and accomplishing a political transition;

(ii) the integrity of UN human rights monitoring and reporting must be seen to be independent of political pressures;

(iii) UN activities in-country must be effectively co-ordinated, and close working relationships established between the human rights field presence and others with closely connected mandates, who may be inside (eg CIVPOL) or outside (eg UNDP, UNHCR) the peace-keeping operation;

(iv) a UN human rights field presence must receive professional human rights guidance and support, benefit from the experience of similar operations elsewhere, and be co-ordinated with the different mechanisms of the UN human rights system;

(v) administrative and logistical support to UN operations in the field must be provided in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, with a human rights presence receiving equal priority to other components.

It is increasingly recognised that the High Commissioner should have substantive reporting responsibility and give professional direction to any human rights presence in the field, whether it stands independently of or is within a peace-keeping operation. It is inconsistent with the High Commissioner's mandate for this not to be the case. The current lack of capacity and experience in the Centre for Human Rights in Geneva to support this role must be addressed. At the same time, human rights activities should not be pursued in isolation from wider UN strategies, as has tended to be the case with the High Commissioner's own initiatives, in Rwanda and elsewhere. The High Commissioner should be the link between human rights operations and mechanisms and overall UN political, peace-keeping, humanitarian and development activities: to play this role effectively requires a major strengthening of the High Commissioner's representation in New York. The central recommendation of the Aspen Institute's study, formulated in September 1994 and published and put to Secretariat decision-makers in April 1995, largely holds good two years later:

"There is a pressing need for greater co-ordination and planning within the UN system concerning human rights field work...

"A specialised unit within the UN system should be established for these purposes. Such a unit should be able to assess missions during and after their service. It should debrief out-going mission staff in order to benefit from their experience and begin building an institutional memory within the system. The unit would develop policies and guidelines for mission operations, and organise pre-deployment field assessment missions.

"The unit should be responsible for initiating professional recruitment. It would create pools of competent and trained personnel available on short notice; develop and disseminate codes of conduct, training manuals, and handbooks; and organise special training programs, including induction training. In addition, it would design standard reporting formats; establish administrative structures ready to give logistical support, and establish effective communications."33

Administrative and logistical support should be provided from the Field Administration and Logistics Division of DPKO, since the Secretariat should most economically operate a single service for such support to its field operations - subject however to the important condition that the human rights presence should receive equal priority with other UN field presences.

The model agreed for Abkhazia (Georgia), Angola and Eastern Slavonia, whereby the Chief of the human rights presence reports to the High Commissioner through the Head of Mission or Special Representative of the Secretary-General, provides for co-ordination of UN strategy and activities in-country, while ensuring professional human rights direction and support, and affording a substantial degree of independence of the human rights monitoring through reporting to the High Commissioner. (Before the creation of the post of High Commissioner, the Director of the Human Rights Division of ONUSAL reported on the human rights situation direct to the Secretary-General, while operationally responsible to the Chief of Mission.) The involvement of the HCHR/CHR during the peace-keeping phase should ensure that regard is had to the continuation of human rights work after the peace-keeping mandate is terminated. The hiatus that existed between the withdrawal of UNTAC from Cambodia and the establishment of the human rights office there should be avoided. The experience in Rwanda, where a separate human rights agreement between the High Commissioner and the Government helped to ensure that the human rights operation's mandate was unaffected by the withdrawal of an unpopular peace-keeping operation, was unusual but may also have relevance to some other situations in future.

Some rationalisation of the organisational structures for human rights presences in the field should also allow for a rationalisation of public reporting and relationships to other human rights mechanisms. Wherever the UN has a human rights presence with a monitoring/verification mandate, there need to be clear arrangements, understood by the government concerned, for public reporting. As a matter of good human rights practice, such arrangements should always include the prior submission of reports to the government for discussion and response within a reasonable time-frame. The major operations mandated by the Security Council or the General Assembly have had their reports made public, although not always as promptly or frequently as would have been desirable. There have not however been satisfactory and consistent procedures for the reporting of human rights components within peace-keeping operations (Cambodia, Angola) or the HCHR/CHR's field operations/presences (Rwanda, Burundi). The latter have not had their reports published as formal UN documents, although their information has been made public or semi-public in other ways. Their reporting has been partly inhibited by mandates implying that the public reporting based on their monitoring is the responsibility of the special country rapporteurs. If field operations and special country rapporteurs are to report on the same country, a policy should be established regarding the relationship between the reports of each, especially where a field office of the High Commissioner is explicitly mandated to support the special rapporteur and thus to be his/her main source of information. No-one - including NGOs pressing for more public reporting by UN operations - has yet grasped this nettle, which may call into question whether there should continue to be a special rapporteur on a country where there is a substantial human rights field operation.34


31 China abstained, maintaining that "it is beyond the Security Council's competence to authorize the establishment of the afore-mentioned office". [...back to main text]

32 These arrangements were described in the Secretary-General's report (UN document S/1997/115, 7 February 1997, p.10-11) as follows: "The unit would report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights through the head of the follow-on mission. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights would select and train qualified human rights personnel in consultation with UN Headquarters in New York. He would further ensure that the Human Rights Unit received all necessary guidance to enhance its capacity to carry out effective human rights work. The High Commissioner would further support the Unit by providing assistance in formulating, developing and implementing advisory services and technical cooperation projects aimed at strengthening national human rights institutions and the administration of justice." [...back to main text]

33 Alice Henkin (ed.), op.cit., p.28-9. [...back to main text]

34 The arrangements laid down in the Agreement on the establishment of an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia (where there is no special country rapporteur) are of interest in this context: "The High Commissioner shall present publicly to the UN Commission on Human Rights detailed analytical reports on the activities of the Office..., as well as on the human rights situation in Colombia, bearing in mind the climate of violence and internal armed conflict. He shall also make any observations and recommendations he deems necessary. For the discharge of their respective mandates, the High Commissioner shall make the relevant information gathered by the Office available to the various bodies established under human rights treaties to which Colombia is a party, as well as to other UN human rights mechanisms and programmes. The Government may express its views on the above-mentioned High Commissioner's reports and make any observations it deems necessary on their content, and may request the High Commissioner to transmit such observations to the Commission on Human Rights, without prejudice to the right of the Government to address the Commission itself when it deems necessary." [...back to main text]

7. Conclusion

Notwithstanding the difficulties experienced by the early operations, they are in most cases outweighed by their positive contributions: human rights work in the field is indeed the frontier of effective human rights protection and promotion today. The appointment of the second High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a new Secretary-General's commitment to UN reform based on better integration of the work of the UN system, offer a moment when more effective arrangements can and must be made to carry this work forward.

Improved arrangements need to be based on a recognition by the New York departments and UN agencies of the central role of the High Commissioner, and by the High Commissioner of the need to link human rights to overall UN political, peace-keeping, humanitarian and development strategies.

The High Commissioner must be supported by a unit which identifies clearly within the organisational structure the responsibility to plan, support and provide an institutional memory for human rights field work, and personnel who bring human rights field experience to this task. Her New York representation must link human rights, and especially human rights field presences, into the Executive Committees, other Secretariat departments and UN agencies.

Planning missions, involving outside human rights expertise where appropriate, should be undertaken when a major operation is first conceptualised. There should as a matter of routine be periodic evaluations during the life of an operation and when it is concluded. At least senior field staff, and as far as possible all field staff, should be de-briefed. The development of training and field guidance materials, drawing upon those developed in the early and current operations, should be completed as soon as possible and thereafter updated.

Member states should agree upon funding arrangements which allow human rights field operations to be mounted and managed effectively. It is doubtful whether there is any satisfactory alternative to a route to assessed contributions for major operations. Operations should be mounted or continued on the basis of voluntary contributions only if these are delivered up-front and sufficient to cover realistic planning periods.

Administrative and logistical support should be provided from the single Secretariat unit equipped to support field operations, the Field Administration and Logistics Division, on the clear understanding that equal priority attaches to the needs of field operations whatever their managing department. The unhappy experiences of both New York- and Geneva-managed operations should be reviewed to arrive at a clear understanding of the needs of such operations and how they can be more quickly and effectively met in future.

The arrangements agreed for Abkhazia (Georgia), Angola and Eastern Slavonia, whereby the Chief of a human rights unit reports to the High Commissioner through the Head of Mission/SRSG, should become the provisional model for a human rights field presence where there is a peace-keeping operation. The actual experience with these arrangements should be subject to early review.

UN experience of human rights field operations should be available to regional organisations, and drawn upon by them when undertaking human rights mandates in the field.

Publication Details

Number 19 (ISBN 1 874635 18 8) in the Human Rights Centre Series - ‘Papers in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights’

© The author and the Human Rights Centre.

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