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
Recommendations: section links...
1. International preparedness for effective responses to situations of acute crisis - 2. Field Operations - 3. Funding - 4. Strengthening international accountability for the protection of human rights - 5. Arms Sales - 6. Enterprises and Human Rights Violation


Previous debates on the supposed problems posed by human rights as an element of international response to emergency situations, have been superseded. Any comprehensive response to addressing and redressing these situations is now acknowledged as requiring a human rights dimension as a central element of that response. Without that approach, the response is likely to be disconnected from the causes of the emergency (all too often including the failure to ensure respect for human rights) and ill-adapted to resolving it on a durable basis (axiomatically requiring respect for human rights), as well as risking undermining the very legitimacy of the response.

All the recommendations should be read from the perspective of this central policy conclusion.

1. International preparedness for effective responses to situations of acute crisis

A. The need for early warning

1.1 Situations of political and ethnic conflict, which may develop into acute crisis, will continue to require a capacity in the international community to ensure effective, timely responses, including through more specific and better co-ordination of early warning mechanisms, such as by more effective monitoring of states of emergency, and even more importantly through creating machinery designed to collate and interpret information already available, with a view to stimulating action by the international community.

1.2 An international mechanism for monitoring states of emergency, and measures taken under the state of emergency, should be developed. The mechanism should ensure that more robust international supervision of human rights accountability under emergency legislation will be applied, where there are inadequacies in national supervision of emergency powers. The monitoring mechanism should use standards available under international human rights and humanitarian law, for example, the non-derogable provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the standards contained in Article 3 common to all Geneva Conventions, when evaluating the legitimacy of norms, measures or practices in a state of emergency.

1.3 The United Nations Commission on Human Rights and its member states should ensure that there is effective debate and action on situations of threatening or acute crisis, notably on the basis of information which has been reported by its own machinery. In particular it should have as a special agenda item to follow up those situations which have been the subject of concern expressed by that machinery. It should also ensure that its rapporteurs have timely access to a country of concern, that they are afforded facilities to undertake their missions, and that personnel mandated to respond to situations of actual or threatened acute crisis, are defended as to their independence and integrity in pursuit of any mandate given by the Commission.

1.4 The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should ensure that reports from human rights operations in situations of actual or threatened acute crisis, received by the office, are brought to the attention of the Commission and other human rights bodies.

B. Co-operation and co-ordination between international agencies and donor governments

1.5 Effective response requires the establishment at UN and regional levels, as well as within countries, of structures for co-operation and co-ordination, capable of devising and executing effective and timely intervention, based on an agreed strategy. Many of the elements of such co-operation already exist, but require more systematic co-ordination to produce the essential agreed strategies for international support or involvement.

1.6 The Executive Committees (EX COMMS), established by the Secretary-General of the UN, to develop policy and strengthen decision-making, within which the promotion and protection of human rights will be a integral part, is a welcome initiative in improving the effectiveness of the UN in dealing with acute crises. The Office of the Co-ordinator of Humanitarian Affairs and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, should be encouraged to develop systematically this initiative in respect of international responses to emergencies.

1.7 The capacity for effective response to acute crises may require the commitment of military forces to protect civilians and help secure peace. The role of such deployment of forces is to create the conditions in which other agencies and organisations can operate. If resort to military force is potentially necessary, then the ability of the other components of the peace operation on the ground to call on that force, must be credible. Over- or under-deployment of forces needs to be avoided. The decision to deploy military forces requires the provision of an appropriate and clear mandate to the military forces and the necessary military resources to carry it out. Without both, such deployment carries substantial risk of failure.

1.8 Countries should create civilian stand-by mechanisms, such as have been developed in Norway (NORDEM) and in Canada (CANDEM), in areas such as human rights and peace building, to facilitate UN and regional rapid responses to acute crises.


C. Strategy formation and preparation

1.9 The principal goal of intervention is to assist the settlement of the conflict, on a long term basis, in a manner that is consistent with human rights. Human rights protection is therefore central to any strategy of involvement, and should provide the framework for the development of a strategy, as well as its implementation. Humanitarian assistance and a human rights framework are mutually re-enforcing, especially where the relief agencies are part of the strategy formulation.

1.10 The preparation of a strategy for intervention, based on a thorough policy analysis of all the relevant information available in respect of the particular local situation, is an essential pre-requisite to any such intervention. The strategy should include both entry and exit arrangements and address what the longer term policy commitment to co-operation and assistance with the country is to be. In this regard a strategy should set itself objective bench marks by which it can be judged, and the scale or focus of the operation adjusted.

1.11 The development of a strategy should involve consultation with all relevant actors including, where possible, the state and government undergoing the crisis, as well as with NGOs and others within the country in question. To the extent feasible, consultation with the actors in the host society should inform an assessment of what strategy will be most sustainable and what commitment in terms of resources will be required of the international community and donor states.

1.12 Strategy formation in advance of presence should proceed on the basis of respect for the different mandates of the actors who are part of the co-operation. That means devising strategy that takes account of the mandates of leading, experienced organisations such as the ICRC and UNHCR, as well as of relief agencies. It means respect for their experience with principles such as neutrality and impartiality. Military and police, who may be called upon to become engaged later, should also be involved in planning from the outset. An agreed basis for involvement should mean that agencies, as far as possible, are not expected, without support, to face the dilemmas which, for one example, were faced by UNHCR in having camps in the Great Lakes region of Africa intimidated by armed ‘génocidaires’, who could not be separated out from the genuine refugee population by unarmed relief workers.

1.13 Existing training programmes for preparation and implementation of peacekeeping, peace support or military operations should be identified and evaluated with a view to clarifying which of them should be supported and, if necessary, improved and expanded.

1.14 Donor governments should commit themselves to programmes of human rights education and training for their military, police, civilian (including human rights field officers) and other involved personnel. Programmes of effective training directed at creating professional capacity to operate in acute emergencies, encompassing guidance on how to operate within a human rights, humanitarian and/or refugee law framework, should be established through donor co-operation. Such training initiatives should include:

a) collaborative training involving the military and those NGOs prepared to be involved, regarding the planning and conduct of such operations in general and contingency planning for specific situations at the first sign of crisis;

b) training of the military, aimed at all levels of personnel which may be involved, including the incorporation of human rights in operational planning exercises. This may suggest the need for a civilian human rights adviser to the armed forces who should be involved in operational planning (eg training exercises) and training.

1.15 Training should contribute to ensuring that different national contingents and different components of an operation can work together, that is, it should facilitate ‘inter-operability’. Preparation, not only on a purely national basis or for armed forces and civilian components separately, is necessary, so that the military and other agencies (IGOs and NGOs) can collaborate effectively in the field. Governments should ensure that such training is established at the level of the United Nations, and regional bodies. The requisite capacity must be built up within both political (eg EU) and military (eg NATO) regional bodies.

2. Field Operations

2.1 Peacekeeping, peace enforcement and peace building operations should be governed by the agreed strategy, and should always include the promotion and protection of human rights. Human rights should normally be a central component of such operations. The mission should have a human rights advice facility, which should be attached to the Head of Mission, to any military component and to any CIVPOL component. The personnel for such a facility should be selected by a competent authority such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

2.2 Human Rights work in the field, such as fact finding, monitoring or providing technical assistance, should be entrusted to a separate component. This human rights component should report to the OHCHR, or the appropriate analogous authority of the organisation responsible for the mission. Human rights monitoring functions and national capacity building tasks should not be treated as alternatives nor as exclusively sequential tasks, but should reinforce each other.

2.3 Human rights training should be given to local police services. Resources for training and reintegration of civilian police forces are central to a successful human rights strategy.

2.4 In situations of acute crisis in which states, the UN, or multilateral bodies have a presence or responsibility, there is a duty to ensure respect for international human rights obligations and humanitarian principles towards the local population, especially civilians. This requires respect, in particular, for international human rights and humanitarian law, international law on refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as the law applicable to particularly vulnerable groups (such as children).

2.5 Each intervention and each component of an intervention should be governed by a code of conduct enshrining ethical principles, such as the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations in Disaster Relief.

2.6 Each intervention should be governed by an agreement amongst the various components designed to ensure the maximum co-ordination and co-operation, based on agreed principles in the implementation of the involvement strategy.

2.7 Implementation handbooks for humanitarian workers incorporating previous experience should be prepared.

2.8 Relief is part of international co-operation contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights, and to the application of the standards of international humanitarian law. Regular collaboration between relief, humanitarian law and human rights organisations should exist in the field, with a view to ensuring an appropriate and effective division of responsibilities, based on the specific competences of the organisations involved. A lead human rights protection agency should, if possible, be identified to promote such collaboration.

2.9 Personnel from all agencies should have basic training in the corpus of international human rights and humanitarian law.

2.10 A system for the independent monitoring of the activities of those in the field should exist. A mechanism of complaint, for example, a humanitarian ombudsman, should also be available to the local population, without prejudice to complaint mechanisms created by national military contingents.

2.11 Debriefing programmes for the various components of the mission, with a view to identifying failures and successes, need to be established. Lessons learned should be thoroughly and systematically drafted. This should be done with the assistance of an independent evaluation body, with the task of with objectively assessing the progress of field missions.


3. Funding

3.1 Funding needs to be available within the UN regular budget, to ensure that there can be a swift and efficiently managed human rights protection response, within the overall international operation, as well as to support the standing international human rights machinery.

3.2 Funding for the operation should be sufficiently secure to permit the most effective recruitment, deployment and functioning of its various components, in particular, its human rights component. Funding should not be used to interfere with the operational autonomy of agencies.


4. Strengthening international accountability for the protection of human rights

4.1 States should commit themselves to fulfilment of existing commitments in the promotion and protection of all human rights, in particular, through full implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action agreed at the World Conference on Human Rights 1993.

4.2 To this end, states should:

a) undertake the universal ratification of all human rights treaties, avoiding, as far as possible, resort to reservations, and reviewing of existing reservations with a view to withdrawing them;

b) recognise that all human rights are universal, interdependent and interrelated, within the framework of the promotion of democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;

c) observe international accountability, through the relevant organs of the United Nations, and bodies established under human rights treaties, in compliance with their human rights obligations .

d) provide an effective system of remedies to redress human rights grievances and violations at the national level. This requires proper funding for the institutions concerned with the administration of justice, including law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies, and especially an independent judiciary and legal profession, in full conformity with applicable standards contained in international human rights instruments.

4.3 The international community should contribute an increased level of technical and financial assistance, and the United Nations should use special programmes of advisory services, to ensure the achievement of strong and independent administration of justice at national levels.

4.4 In the context of situations of acute emergency, state responsibilities include respect for the principles of international human rights law relating to the resort to derogation from human rights commitments, and to the principles of international humanitarian law. These include the duty,

a) to protect the lives, security and integrity of non-combatants or persons in the hands of the parties to the conflict;

b) to ensure the humane treatment of detainees;

c) to ensure accountability for the control over who is armed and the use of force.

4.5 In the context of situations of acute emergency and without prejudice to any pre-existing obligation in international law, states should allow access by the ICRC to those detained in connection with the conflict, and allow the ICRC to monitor compliance with common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

4.6 Steps to counter the existence of impunity need to be taken, including by offering full support for the adoption and speedy ratification of the proposed statute on an International Criminal Court, and promoting, adopting and implementing legislation aimed at exercising universal jurisdiction in respect of perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


5. Arms Sales

5.1 Arms exporting countries should not promote sales which undermine the public finances and economy of recipient countries, or to destinations where purchasers might use such arms for internal repression or external aggression. States should agree on the proposed European Code of Conduct on Arms Sales and work to strengthen it, as well as support the European Union Programme for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Weapons.


6. Enterprises and Human Rights Violation

6.1 Businesses which are in countries experiencing acute crises should be encouraged to adopt principles that would contribute to the promotion of respect for all human rights in their relations with governments and opposition force.


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Table of Contents - Search - Introduction - Recommendations - Opening Address - Papers Presented - Acknowledgements  - Appendices
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