Programming at the country level
32. Adopting a human rights-based approach to programming is a critical part of UN activities that can be taken to meet the responsibilities to promote the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. This in-line with the The Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation: Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies (2003), which called for the HRBA to be integrated into all programming work, including CCA and UNDAFs, and with the 2010 Guidance Note on Application of the Programming Principles to the UNDAF which sets out human rights as one of the five core UN programming principles.(15) Adopting the HRBA:
- Offers a distinct human rights lens through which to analyse a situation;
- Focuses on the most marginalized groups and individuals whose rights are regularly denied or ignored or violated;
- Seeks to bring laws, policies and social practices into line with international standards, addressing structural inequalities and patterns of discrimination;
- Encourages governments and other actors as duty bearers to meet the obligations they have voluntarily committed to under human rights law;
- Pays attention to not only the results of development but also the process of development through the principles of participation, non-discrimination, empowerment, transparency and accountability;
- Provides a set of international standards that helps ensure a consistent one-UN approach to sensitive issues, with a normative grounding in international standards.
33. Drawing on the reports and recommendations of the human rights mechanisms can help to identify priorities at the national level and provide a basis for an agreed framework for joint action by governments, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners, since governments have already committed to taking action. As experience from the field is demonstrating, UN Country Teams are increasingly using human rights commitments as an entry point and basis for setting strategic priorities, advocacy and capacity development and programming in a coordinated manner, across different country contexts and settings.(16)
- The UN HRBA Practitioners’ Portal on Human Rights-Based Approaches to Programming, includes country examples on integrating human rights into CCA and UNDAFs (UNDG);
- A Human Rights-Based Approach to Programming: Practical Information and Training Materials (UNFPA);
- Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation (OHCHR);
- Guidance Note on the Application of the Programming Principles to the UNDAF (UNDG);
- Mainstreaming Human Rights in Development – Stories from the Field (UNDG).
Addressing discrimination: Incorporating a human rights analysis into the design of UNDAFs
“Departing from a traditional common country assessment, which is organized around sectors or themes, the UN Country Team prepared a country analysis with people at its core,” says Robert Piper, the RC/HC in one country. The analysis found that in that country “the most fundamental socio-cultural root cause of vulnerability is the structural discrimination emanating from socio-cultural traditions, norms and practices developed over centuries”. The UN Country Team found that discrimination, and the related issue of stigma, has produced widespread social exclusion, highlighting the need for more inclusive development, in line with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the country’s Interim Constitution, the Three Year Plan, and the national Peace and Development Strategy.
The UNDAF used the HRBA to identify key outcome areas. One of the outcome areas is focused on addressing discrimination, and seeks four outputs:
The UN Country Team acknowledges that it will take more than five years to address the issue of stigma and discrimination. Even with dedicated resources, tangible results will take time. However, the UN Country Team is positioning itself to play its part in working with national counterparts to achieve a longer term goal: progressively ending long-standing disadvantage by addressing the deep-rooted causes of stigma and discrimination in the country, and making the HRBA central to its interventions.
Advocacy with governments and other actors
34. Advocacy for improving the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground is also a key responsibility of the RC under the current RC Job Description. Advocacy activities can range from written communications and discreet engagement with governments to more public advocacy, depending on the situation and the best means to raise issues and concerns with authorities. Advocacy can be strengthened through the coordination of activities and engaging with a common perspective and common objectives.
A United Nations Country Team “Common Viewpoint” on evictions and resettlement
In mid-2008, in light of human rights violations linked to the controversial issue of land tenure and forced evictions in one country, the UN Country Team came together to build a common understanding of the issues of land tenure, forced evictions and resettlement, and to strategize how to address them. The “UN Common Viewpoint on resettlements and evictions” was developed for this purpose with guidance from the OHCHR country office, setting out a clear framework for policy actions as well as advocacy in specific cases of evictions based on international human rights treaty standards. The Common Viewpoint proved an effective tool for dialogue with the government and other partners and raised awareness among diverse stakeholders of the relevant national and international laws and standards underpinning land and housing issues.
The UN Country Team’s joint advocacy had important impacts. A joint public statement on 16 July 2009, signed by 16 development partners, called for a halt to evictions of the country’s urban poor and urged equal recognition of the rights of all citizens. Partly as a result of this coordinated advocacy, the Government developed a Circular setting out minimum procedures governing resettlements in urban areas. In 2009, the UN Country Team also advocated and intervened in response to the eviction of a community of persons living with/affected by HIV, from the capital to a remote area with very poor living conditions on the outskirts of the city. The intervention of the UN Country Team (led by the RC, UNAIDS and OHCHR) turned the situation around. A resettlement plan was developed in cooperation with NGOs, the National AIDS Authority and the municipality of the Capital. UN agencies and NGOs supported the delivery of food and health care. With extra land donated by the Municipality, adequate housing was built, and the community was included in a larger community development plan. The UN Country Team acted as a principled advocate (behind closed doors as well as publicly) and convener of the parties involved, as well as service provider. In providing services and funding, the UN made it clear that it in no way condoned the evictions, and reiterated the human rights principles stated in the Common Viewpoint.
35. If difficult decisions have to be taken regarding whether or not to speak out publicly about particular human rights issues, the RC should seek support and advice from the Regional UNDG and OHCHR’s field presences or UNHQ if none is present. Where a strategic decision is taken to not speak out publicly on a sensitive issue at country level, the RC and UN Country Team should request support from UNHQ to address the issue. For example, it may be useful for the UN Secretary-General or High Commissioner for Human Rights to raise public attention to an issue from outside the country, accompanied by and complemented with quiet diplomacy and strategic national and local programmatic interventions by the RC and UN Country Team at country level. Alternatively, the Country Team could also engage with the international human rights mechanisms, including the UPR, the treaty monitoring bodies and the special procedures (Special Rapporteurs) (see Annex C for an overview of these bodies).17 For example, Special Rapporteurs can be strategic allies and can support advocacy by publicly speaking and reporting on sensitive situations and concerns when RCs and Country Teams might, at a given moment, determine this not to be the best approach for them to take themselves. By virtue of their legitimacy and special status, Special Rapporteurs may draw the authorities’ attention to sensitive political issues, without incurring political repercussions or impacting negatively on the relationship of the UN Country Team with the government. This can also help to build on the strengths and complementarities of different parts of the UN system, as RCs and UN Country Teams in turn can follow up on the recommendations of special procedures and offer any necessary support to national authorities.
Building on the visit of a United Nations Special Rapporteur to advance work on sensitive issues
In one instance, the RC and UN Country Team made strategic use of a country visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women to bring public attention to a very sensitive issue: the high rates of rape of a large proportion of girls in the country. The Special Rapporteur addressed this within the context of comparative experience gained from 30 other countries, emphasizing the widespread, universal nature of the problem and depoliticizing the issue in the local context. This created political momentum to confront the issue at the country level, and the RC and UN Country Team were able to use the political opening strategically to offer concrete support to the government to address the situation in line with international standards.
36. The UN’s role is to sensitively, but always consistently, promote the norms and standards established in international law, even if this appears to conflict with the position of the government or with locally distinct social and cultural attitudes, norms and values. The RC should lead on the common messaging of the UN system and encourage the UN Country Team to consistently promote international standards. Annex D provides some brief guidance on a catalogue of often sensitive and specific human rights issues, to help guide a common UN position that is grounded in the international normative framework.
Culturally sensitive approaches in advocacy on sexual and reproductive health rights
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) remain a sensitive issue in many countries, often as a result of ideological or religiously conservative influence. This requires a non-traditional approach and new partnerships when pursuing advocacy for their fulfilment. For many years, international development has been a field dominated by largely “secular” agents of development, with a preference for keeping faith and faith-related matters out of the picture. However, there is now more awareness of the need, within advocacy strategies, to engage directly in dialogue with traditional and religious leaders, as one community among many critical agents of change. If faith-based organizations and religious leaders are well sensitized and trained and are engaged in partnerships, they can have major social, behavioural and political impact. They can also foster an enabling environment for social change. They have the capacity to reach right down to the grassroots levels to deliver messages to change people’s lives, particularly those of groups most at risk. There is a growing number of successful partnerships with faith-based organizations, customary chiefs and religious leaders as an integral part of efforts to end violence against women and girls, child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), etc.
Engaging with the United Nations human rights mechanisms
37. All Member States are required to report regularly to the UN human rights mechanisms on their progress in meeting their human rights obligations, giving an important opportunity for public scrutiny of government progress on the implementation of the human rights treaties. The RC and UN Country Team should engage with these UN human rights mechanisms, as a strategic entry point for engaging in dialogue with governments on human rights issues. UN Country Teams can also make strategic use of recommendations emerging from the UN human rights mechanisms to support and strengthen their own positions when advocating for policy change with governments. This can be a particularly effective strategy where the government has voluntarily accepted to follow up on specific recommendations. The recent Secretary-General’s Policy Committee Decision on UN support to the UPR and Human Rights Mechanisms* also sets out the important role the RC and UN Country Team has to play in advocating and tracking at the national level the follow-up to recommendations of the international human rights mechanisms.
38. The relevant UN human rights mechanisms include the UPR, the human rights treaty bodies and the special procedures (Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups) (see Annex C for an overview of these bodies). These mechanisms all have different mandates, procedures and activities in which they engage, which will shape the ways in which the UN Country Team, in turn, engages with them. Some deal with early warning and urgent actions on imminent threats of human rights violations (e.g. rapid communications with governments to prevent or respond to violations), while regular reporting processes aim to contribute to encouraging longer term changes in legal frameworks and policies to create an enabling environment for the protection of human rights.
39. The preparation and follow-up at the national level of the regular reporting processes of the human rights mechanisms can help to generate powerful momentum to address difficult issues, with enormous potential to bring Member States, civil society and other stakeholders together around the same table to discuss human rights concerns. The UN Country Team can exercise its convening role, creating a platform for a national dialogue on human rights at the country level, bringing together various stakeholders, including different government agencies, line ministries, state entities, regional and local authorities, parliament, the justice sector, the media, NHRIs, ombudspersons, NGOs, representatives of minorities, traditional and religious leaders, and CSOs, among others. This can be a critical first step to bringing about legislative, policy and programmatic change. It can be useful to set up a national coordination mechanism for reporting and following up recommendations with the involvement of all key stakeholders. The government can also be encouraged to draw up a national human rights action plan to address the recommendations of the human rights bodies, setting out specific timelines, indicators and benchmarks for success.
Experiences Engaging with the Universal Periodic Review
In one country, following a request for technical and financial assistance by the government to engage in the UPR reporting process, the RC and UN Country Team made a strategic decision to use this opportunity to support an inclusive and transparent process with the full engagement of all stakeholders. Organizing consultative workshops through CSOs in the preparatory phase of the UPR, the UN used its convening role to ensure dialogue and feedback from civil society to the government on its national report and key issues facing the communities represented by the different CSOs. This permitted open discussion of long-standing issues of concern, such as freedom of the media and the abolition of the death penalty. Issues not traditionally perceived as human rights issues, including indirect discrimination, the right to an adequate standard of living, labour issues and the rights of indigenous peoples, were also discussed in a consultative, non-confrontational manner. These consultations influenced the national report, as well as the UPR discussion in Geneva and the follow-up at the national level, including informing the design and activities of the UN Development Assistance Plan.
In another country, engaging with the government on human rights issues had historically been difficult and attempts to do so by the UN Country Team had not been welcomed. However, when the country was reviewed under the UPR, the government accepted to take action on half of the 200 recommendations received. This provided a critical opportunity for the UN Country Team to constructively engage on human rights with the government, to assist it in meeting these recommendations.
As a first step to foster the government’s trust, the RC proactively engaged with the relevant government agencies and the NHRI to initiate a discussion on the UPR recommendations. The UN Country Team mapped all the human rights support being provided by the international community, which it then shared with the government. As a result of this proactive engagement, the government requested the UN to coordinate the international community’s assistance in strengthening the country’s NAP for supporting implementation of the UPR recommendations.
Under the lead of the RC, the UN Country Team began a process of substantive engagement with the NAP. First, drawing on its convening role, it organized consultations on the NAP with the participation of the international community and government representatives. The RC co-chaired round tables, which ensured high participation and visibility in the dialogues. This helped build trust among these new partners working together on human rights. As the next step, the UN, working closely with OHCHR, provided analytical and substantive inputs to the NAP. It clustered the recommendations into a few key areas to help focus the efforts of the government into achievable objectives. It worked to strengthen the “results-based” focus and, drawing on OHCHR’s Indicator Framework, identified baselines and indicators for the design of a joint (government and UN) national monitoring mechanism for the NAP. The UN also carried out studies examining the deep patterns of discrimination that lay behind some of the major issues raised by the UPR, to ensure that key institutional and long-term changes needed were identified, with the assistance of national human rights experts.
At the end of this process, the RC’s Office consolidated the inputs and comments from the UN agencies and international community agencies into a single set of inputs to the government on the NAP. In response, the UN received a stern letter from the NRHI, stating that its suggestions had been too far reaching. Nonetheless, the revised draft that was later released had incorporated many of the UN’s suggestions. This included creating a joint monitoring mechanism on human rights (to be carried out every six months) and 45 key areas of work for which the UN’s support was requested. The UN was now formally engaged, on a continuous basis, with the government on supporting the country’s human rights agenda.
40. While OHCHR has the main responsibility to support the human rights mechanisms (and can provide UN Country Teams with more information on their distinct roles and mandates), the Country Team itself can play a critical role in providing relevant information, facilitating the engagement of national stakeholders and facilitating inclusive national dialogue and collaboration on human rights. Such engagement can transform the regular reporting process into a dynamic tool for assessment and dialogue between Member States, the UN and civil society, and can provide an important entry point for dialogue and accountability with authorities. Engaging with the mechanisms can also provide a space for the UN Country Team to reflect on its own role in contributing to the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. In 2014, the UNDG HRWG, under the leadership of OHCHR, sent the first of what is intended to be an annual letter to each RC, outlining the upcoming opportunities to engage with the international human rights mechanisms—the UPR, treaty bodies and special procedures—in their country of residence, to facilitate the engagement of the UN Country Team.
41. The international human rights mechanisms (like the regional and national mechanisms, as well as OHCHR itself) can provide inputs and be key sources of guidance and support that can help to refine the UN Country Team’s strategy on the ground, including by providing technical advice. They can help to draw the attention of local and international media to particular situations and this, if used strategically, could help support the overall UN Country Team strategy.
Engaging with Special Rapporteurs for guidance on changes to national laws
In one country, a new draft law on peaceful assembly was inconsistent with the human right to freedom of assembly. The RC, in preparing a public statement for Human Rights Day, benefited from advice on the core elements of this right from the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of assembly, as well as from another public statement on the issue published by several UN Special Rapporteurs. Publicly raising this issue generated national dialogue over the new law, informed by international human rights standards and other countries’ experiences.
42. Because the UN human rights system is made up of various bodies with their own specific procedures, it can be useful to understand the human rights system as being comprised of different mechanisms that are complementary and mutually reinforcing, in that they can build on the work of one another. The timing and sequencing of interaction with the different bodies can therefore be a key component of a successful engagement strategy. For example, the raising of a particular human rights issue during the UPR process could generate an invitation from the country concerned for a Special Rapporteur to visit the country to conduct a more in-depth examination of the issue (which would provide important and deeper information for country analysis and programming), and this in turn could be followed up by the UN Country Team tracking subsequent progress on the issue.
UN Women, UNICEF and UNDP working together with CEDAW to challenge domestic violence
In one country, the UN Country Team was confronted with the challenge of tackling sensitive human rights issues such as birth registration and domestic violence. The RC and Country Team had reached a deadlock in trying to tackle these issues. Engaging with the country’s regular reporting process to the UN Committee reviewing the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the RC led a national preparatory process bringing together concerned agencies (in this instance UN Women, UNICEF and UNDP) to identify the key issues of concern, supporting the government to engage in the process and presenting the UN Country Team’s position clearly to the government and CEDAW experts. This had important impacts, with the Committee’s issuance of clear recommendations to the government on domestic violence. This subsequently opened the door for capacity development assistance from the UN Country Team. Similarly, the CEDAW dialogue opened up space that led to the invitation of a Special Rapporteur to move the human rights agenda further forward.
- UN Support to the Implementation of the Universal Periodic Review and other Human Rights Mechanisms Recommendations (Policy Committee Decision 2014/5);*
- Web-based Guide to Strengthening Engagement with the International Human Rights Machinery (forthcoming).
Building strategic partnerships at the national level
43. As well as engaging with the government, effective human rights work will require building strategic partnerships with other relevant counterparts at the national level, including parliamentarians, the judiciary, NHRI, civil society, the most marginalized or affected communities, trade unions, traditional and religious leaders, the private sector and the media. This might mean reaching out beyond the partners the UN Country Team usually works with, to engage with other counterparts, e.g. national human rights organizations and human rights defenders. Building new partnerships can ensure that the UN Country Team has a fuller understanding of the human rights situation on the ground, and that it has more effective entry points for its work. For example, building partnerships with non-state actors (while exercising due diligence), whether they be in civil society or the private sector, can also provide important opportunities to raise awareness, build capacities and promote a more enabling environment for the respect of human rights by all actors.
44. National human rights in situations (NHRIs) have been established in many countries to promote and monitor the effective implementation of international human rights standards at the national level, including through working with the parliament, civil society and the media. An accreditation system is in place for NHRIs to ensure they comply with the principles relating to the status of national institutions, commonly referred to as the Paris Principles, which define the role, composition, status and minimum standards for the functioning of NHRIs, to ensure inter alia their independence from government and effective working methods (an institution with “A” status is in full compliance with these standards). NHRIs with “A” status provide reports on changing patterns of human rights issues, as well as on the complaints that they have handled, which can provide a key source of information on human rights trends in the country. UN Country Teams should also work with NHRIs to support them to become effective and independent in their contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights at the national level – to achieve “A” status.
45. CSOs, organizations working with indigenous peoples or minorities, and other groups and individuals working to protect human rights: Engaging with these actors will be a key component of any strategy to promote and protect human rights. This means going beyond working with CSOs as service providers for development, towards supporting and building on their role as human rights advocates, given their closer links with people on the ground and greater awareness of changing patterns of violations, inter-community tensions or emerging themes warranting attention. Building the capacities of these organizations to engage with the UN human rights mechanisms can also be a powerful strategy to link national and international actors, in ways that empower rights holders and may provide some response and redress when advocacy at national level is insufficient.
- OHCHR’s series of practical guides for civil society;
- Working with the United Nations Human Rights Programme: A Handbook for Civil Society;
- Various funding sources support and facilitate the participation of CSOs or individuals in human rights work, e.g. the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Torture, UN Democracy Fund.
46. The humanitarian Country Team, including the protection and other clusters, will provide a platform for key strategic partnerships beyond the UN system to include national and international civil society actors, and national state and non-state actors, as well as the affected communities themselves.
Responding to individual petitions
47. The RC and UN Country Team might receive urgent actions, petitions or complaints from individuals or their representatives regarding possible violation(s) of human rights. In such an instance, the first step should be to transmit the petition or complaint to OHCHR, which has a special mandate to advise RCs and UN Country Teams on how to deal with human rights cases. OHCHR can advise the RC and Country Team whether the complaint(s) should be passed to a particular Special Rapporteur or human rights treaty body, or requires another type of intervention. Special Rapporteurs, for example, can respond to urgent situations instantly, by sending an urgent appeal or allegation letter to the state concerned. They can also issue public statements, which, in some cases, can prevent a human rights violation from occurring. OHCHR should ensure that the RC is kept fully informed of any follow-up measures taken by special procedures. OHCHR can also advise the RC and UN Country Team on procedures for submitting complaints to Special Rapporteurs or treaty bodies.
Submitting petitions or complaints
OHCHR can provide advice on the submission of petitions and complaints. The requirements are:
• The complaint should not be anonymous;
• It should present a clear and sufficiently detailed statement of the author’s claim;
• It should not contain abusive language;
• It should clearly indicate the country against which the complaint is made;
• It should explain how domestic remedies have been exhausted, or, alternatively, how they are unavailable, demonstrated to be ineffective, or represent unreasonable delay;
• If redress is expressly sought under a particular human rights treaty mechanism, (a) the author must be either the victim, or an authorized representative of the victim; (b) the country in question must be a party to the treaty and must have accepted the competence of the treaty body in question to deal with individual complaints; and (c) in principle, the right contained in the treaty alleged to have been violated should be cited.
48. Principles of accessibility, confidentiality and promptness: A key aspect, of which all members of a UN Country Team should be aware, is the need to ensure the principles of accessibility (i.e. channeling communications to the appropriate recipient), confidentiality (i.e. not revealing the identity of the complainant, or the existence and content of a communication) and promptness (i.e. avoiding delay). Following up individual cases, and the responses obtained, can together provide a useful entry point for the RC and UN Country Team, subject, of course, to the confidentiality of the information and taking account of lessons and guidance on the handling of sensitive information. Changing patterns in the nature of petitions might also be an indicator of escalating crisis and, thus, the number and types of petitions should also be taken account of in the human rights analysis carried out on the ground.
Responding to protect individuals in the context of reprisals and intimidation
49. Civil society actors and human rights defenders around the world face risks of threats, reprisals and even killings in speaking up on human rights or cooperating with the UN, including providing information to the UN human rights mechanisms. Addressing the risk of reprisals and protecting the safety of individuals requires a coordinated and unified response by the RC and the UN Country Team, including calling on the UNDG and OHCHR where necessary to raise attention to the issue. This response should take account of the operational capacity of agencies to respond, as there may be protection-mandated actors present on the ground who could undertake rapid intervention in specific cases to ensure a person’s safety.
A coordinated response to reprisals
In recent years, cases have been documented of alleged harassment, intimidation of, and reprisals taken against, human rights defenders, CSOs and others for submitting information, providing testimony and participating in meetings of the UN human rights mechanisms. These have included a journalist murdered for defending the rights of LGBT persons, a blogger whose site was shut down, an NGO prohibited from receiving funding, a whistleblower imprisoned for revealing corruption, students forbidden from peacefully demonstrating against misrule, and human rights activists spied on or having their computers confiscated (see A/HRC/27/38).
The Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the President of the HRC, and various UN human rights mechanisms, including Special Rapporteurs, have consistently raised concerns about reprisals and intimidation and called on the international community to ensure a stronger and more coordinated response. The HRC has adopted a series of resolutions to reinforce the importance of a positive, enabling environment for civil society and to urge States to prevent acts of intimidation or reprisal and ensure accountability for any that occur.
50. When the UN speaks up about human rights concerns, there may be implications for the safety and security of its own staff and their dependents. All UN staff should be mindful of their own security and safety at all times, as well as that of all those who come into contact with them. This necessitates their taking commonsense security measures and abiding by UN security rules, including country-specific rules established by the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). Particular attention needs to be paid to the safety and security of national staff, who are often more exposed than international staff to threats and reprisals as a result of their work. The RC and senior leaders should be aware that, every time circumstances evolve or the political and security environments change, the safety of national staff may be affected and thus their exposure and the nature of their work may need to be reviewed, taking into consideration the capacity of the UN to ensure their protection. This consideration should be built into the development of strategies to prevent and respond to human rights violations, including within the HRuF framework.
Responding to human rights crises
51. RCs and UN Country Teams might be confronted with such a situation as a sudden upsurge in violations or an acute crisis that requires immediate prevention and protection activities, including urgent intervention with the authorities or other actors.(18) Addressing these politically sensitive issues with the government can be a challenge for the UN Country Team, particularly when programming is highly dependent on good relations and/or the national resources controlled by the government. The experiences of RCs in these situations have highlighted the following useful strategies:
- Identifying and engaging with key national actors, including within government, that might be open and willing to address the issues or engage in reform with UN technical assistance and/or advocacy support, and adjusting programming priorities and activities as appropriate;
- Creating an inter-agency “crisis response group” to coordinate the UN Country Team’s response, ensuring a shared analysis of the human rights situation and common messages through Communicating as One. This should include UN entities with normative mandates, including non-resident entities;
- Seeking advice from lead agencies and agreeing on appropriate divisions of roles between agencies, taking account of different agencies’ mandates and comparative advantages. This should include, for example, calling on non-resident agencies, the Secretary-General or the High Commissioner for Human Rights to speak out publicly on the human rights issues, and coordinating with OHCHR and DPA where necessary to ensure coherence in public messaging and coordination of the response in the field with UNHQ priorities.
Rapid action by the Resident Coordinator and United Nations Country Team during a crackdown on public protest
In one country, during a crackdown on protestors, the RC took a number of quick actions. First, the RC supported urgent visits by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and a Special Rapporteur to engage directly with the authorities. Second, after consulting with OHCHR and other UN system counterparts on procedures for responding to human rights abuses and handling sensitive information, the UN Country Team established a hotline for victims and families of missing persons. This provided a basic but critical level of information and support to those affected and was carried out in consultation with relevant national authorities. Notwithstanding the difficult confidentiality constraints, the hotline soon evolved into a vital source of data on detentions, disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and served to anchor the establishment of a “protection” working group in the UN Country Team.
52. As outlined in the Secretary-General’s “Human Rights Up Front” Detailed Action Plan (updated March 2014) if the situation deteriorates or human rights risks or violations call for a comprehensive response—going beyond adjusting programming and advocacy at the country level—the RC is expected to lead the development of a strategy to prevent and respond to violations, seeking support and referring the situation to regional HQ or UNHQ where necessary. With support from UNHQ and the HRuF support mechanisms, the RC should contribute to the development of a system-wide response, leveraging the capacities of the entire UN system, not only at the country level. This will include the UN and humanitarian Country Teams, as well as the broader humanitarian community. The UN Country Team might also consider working to the Programme Criticality Framework to ensure the UN’s ability to stay on the ground and deliver on human rights and protection priorities.
Strategies for gaining access for human rights monitoring and reporting
In one country, the UN was prevented from access to a specific area where violent attacks infringed on the right to education. However, the advocacy of an external human rights mechanism—the SRSG on children and armed conflict, who made reference to this situation in her public report to the UN General Assembly as part of her regular monitoring of all country situations—facilitated a change in the dynamics within the country. The public advocacy in the form of the SRSG’s report, opened up space for the UN on the ground to push further at the national level. The UN managed to obtain access to the area to verify the accuracy of the allegations, opening up the area to international scrutiny and technical support.
Maintaining focus on the protection of human rights in humanitarian crises
53. In situations that deteriorate into crisis or conflict, simultaneously ensuring humanitarian access in order to provide life-saving assistance, and promoting and protecting human rights, can raise serious challenges for the UN on the ground—and are sometimes perceived as conflicting priorities. While humanitarians are negotiating access to areas where there are people with urgent humanitarian needs, human rights actors might be simultaneously trying to access the same areas to monitor and investigate human rights violations, and this can lead to the perception of a stark choice between these priorities. It is critical, however, not to draw such a stark dichotomy between human rights and humanitarian access, as human rights protection should be at the core of all humanitarian action. The provision of life-saving assistance can, in and of itself, contribute to the protection of human rights. A whole-of-system approach, carefully coordinated, and fully human rights-based, offers the best hope for marshalling the comparative strengths of the UN system to act together to ensure the protection of human rights at all times.
54. Guidance on this issue is provided in the IASC Human Rights Guidance Note for Humanitarian Coordinators (2009). Following up the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on UN Action in Sri Lanka (2012), OHCHR and UNHCR prepared a Joint Background Paper on The Protection of Human Rights in Humanitarian Crises. This reiterates that the IASC definition of protection (see footnote 10) places the protection of human rights at the centre of humanitarian action. It also highlights that the monitoring of the human rights of affected persons in humanitarian crises, including root causes of violations, is critical to inform and contextualize humanitarian strategies and responses. A core principle is that humanitarian actors should regularly share information with other relevant actors, while fully respecting principles of confidentiality and the safety of the people involved. In 2013, IASC Principals agreed to develop further guidance, through a ‘Comprehensive policy on protection in humanitarian crisis, including with a view to preventing and responding to international human rights and humanitarian law violations’.
55. It is critical that all UN entities work together to ensure that they can meet their mandates while maintaining the centrality of the protection of human rights. There are a number of practical options by which this focus can be maintained, even though particular strategies agreed upon will always depend on the particular context. These options include entities’ sequencing interventions or creating divisions of labour, and potentially relying on external pressure to shift the dynamics of the situation and facilitate access to areas for humanitarian purposes.
Leveraging comparative advantages for refugees: a creative division of labour
In one country in 2008, UNHCR and OHCHR developed a joint strategic intervention plan, with a division of labour that leveraged the comparative advantage and mandate of each agency to address key human rights and humanitarian concerns regarding the arrest, detention, ill-treatment and non-refoulement of refugees. While UNHCR ensured access and assistance to refugees, it provided real-time information on numbers of refugees and conditions to OHCHR, which in turn made the information and analysis available to the special procedures (the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on torture). Under its mandate, OHCHR used the information to remind the national authorities of their international treaty obligations, including issuing a public statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This helped to ensure the better protection of refugees in very difficult circumstances.
(15) Environmental sustainability, like HRBA, is one of the five programming principles that should be applied for effective UN-supported country programming that balances the pursuit of international norms and standards with the achievement of national development priorities. It is important to take account of environmental dimensions, including the duty to ensure the environmental protection needed to enable the fulfilment of human rights, particularly the rights to food, safe water, sanitation, housing and health. Procedural rights, such as access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, are essential. The intersection of these concerns means that development processes must pay attention to the legal, policy and institutional processes that determine access to, and control of, ecosystem resources, especially for vulnerable, excluded groups.
(16) ECOSOC Dialogue on the “longer-term positioning of the UN development system”, UNDG Perspectives on Functions, 20 March, 2015.
(17) Seeking alliances with regional organizations and their human rights bodies could also be effective.
(18) Human rights crises might also emerge in specific areas, such as access to health or the prevalence of HIV. For specific advice
in relation to such crises, see Preventing and Responding to HIV-related Human Rights Crisis: Guidance for UN Agencies and
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