15. All UN entities and all UN staff are required to consistently uphold human rights, as part of meeting the core mandate of the UN set out under the UN Charter. However, the RC bears particular responsibility to lead the UN Country Team in ensuring that all operational activities of the UN at the country level are consistent with the purposes and principles of the UN and the policy framework on human rights. The RC, with the support of the Country Team, must play a critical role in strategically positioning the UN system at country level through supporting national efforts, upholding the rule of law (8) and contributing to the full realization of human rights.
The Resident Coordinator: Revised Job Description
16. The core human rights responsibilities of the RC are set out in the RC Job Description which was revised in 2014 to take account of new policy developments with respect to the mainstreaming of human rights, the exercise of human rights due diligence and the priorities set out in the Secretary-General’s HRuF initiative.
17. The role of the UN on the ground is not simply to support the government of the country where it is operating but to consistently uphold and promote the values and principles enshrined in international law, including international human rights law. Governments should always be aware that the UN will not contravene its own principles in any circumstances. Playing this role is not easy—as one RC has pointed out, it “takes determination and quite some courage to take the human rights message forward when facing challenging violations”. (9) Yet, despite the challenges, many RCs have shown great leadership in standing up for these values and supporting their staff in doing so.
2014 Resident Coordinator Job Description
Extract of key human rights responsibilities in the job description
The Resident Coordinator:
- Coordinates the work of the UN Country Team in: a) mainstreaming international human rights norms and standards into operational activities for development; b) facilitating access to knowledge and expertise on international human rights norms and standards available in the UN system; and c) ensuring a coordinated UN approach, in accordance with the relevant mandates and at the request of the government, to building national capacity to implement human rights and other universal UN norms and standards to which the government has committed itself;
- In situations of risk or actual serious violation of human rights and humanitarian law, in countries where there is no UN peacekeeping or special political mission/office, leads and coordinates the UN Country Team in developing and implementing a strategy to address such risks or violations, with support from OHCHR and, where present, the Protection Cluster, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) and the Situation Response Coordinator;
Ensures effective advocacy of human rights and other UN system values, standards, principles and activities on behalf of the UN Country Team with the highest level of government:
- Advocates fundamental UN values under its Charter, including respect for and protection of human rights;
- Promotes international human rights standards and principles and advocates for international human rights norms and standards as a common UN value in dialogue with national actors;
- Considers and acts upon information and analysis of principal human rights concerns and risk of serious violations provided by OHCHR as well as from other sources;
- Communicates, coordinates and promotes consistency in the implementation of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (Policy Committee Decision 2013/110) across the UN in-country.
18. In non-mission settings, the RC will usually constitute the first line of UN action at country level, engaging every day with national authorities, civil society and rights holders. As such, he or she is in a unique position to recognize changing events on the ground, to use their effective working relationships and alliances to understand and address the political context and the concerns of national counterparts, and to recognize the signs of human rights violations that might serve as early indicators of a deteriorating situation. RCs are thus a critical part of the UN system’s capacity not only to promote the realization of human rights but also to identify, prevent and respond to potential crises. The RC should seek support from UNHQ if the situation in the country is likely to deteriorate, as emphasized in the Secretary-General’s HRuF initiative. The RC also plays a crucial role in encouraging and coordinating the whole UN Country Team to take up this responsibility.
required, the RC may wear a “double hat” by also acting as the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC), or even a “triple hat” by further acting as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) if a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) is appointed.(10) In these contexts, the RC/HC retains important human rights responsibilities, including the duty to promote the respect of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties, including non-state actors where relevant. The protection of human rights is the ultimate aim of humanitarian action and this purpose should be central to the humanitarian strategy. (11)
2009 HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR TERMS OF REFERENCE
Human rights responsibilities
• Is guided by international humanitarian and human rights law, and by the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence;
• Ensures that a common strategic plan for realizing this vision (Common Humanitarian Action Plan [CHAP] or equivalent) is articulated, based on documented needs and integrating cross-cutting issues (e.g. age, gender, diversity, human rights, HIV/AIDS and the environment) and activities in support of early recovery, by leading and coordinating its development;
• Promotes the respect of international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties, including non-state actors, by coordinating the advocacy efforts of relevant organizations and using private and/or public advocacy as appropriate.
20. In mission settings, senior mission leaders also have specific human rights responsibilities.
2011 OHCHR/DPKO/DPA/DFS* Policy on Human Rights in United Nations Peace Operations and Political Missions
Senior mission leaders must:
- Uphold international human rights law in the implementation of peace operations and political missions’ mandates;
- Ensure that the promotion and protection of human rights is instilled as a fundamental principle of peace operations and political missions;
- Ensure that all UN staff of peace operations or political missions—whether military, police or civilian—are aware of and abide by international human rights and humanitarian law;
- Demonstrate by word and deed commitment to human rights and its implementation.
* Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights/Department of Peacekeeping Operations/Department of Political Affairs/Department of Field Support
The Human Rights Responsibilities of the UN Country Team and the Broader UN System
21. Carrying out the UN’s role and responsibility within its human rights mandate is not a task for the RC alone. The RC must be supported in this task by an engaged and supportive UN Country Team as well as by the UNDG regional team and relevant UNHQ entities. Ensuring coherent and coordinated responses to country-level challenges is critical, as fragmented approaches risk losing the UN’s legitimacy—which is based on upholding international norms, standards and principles—and consequent loss of credibility vis-à-vis national stakeholders. The UN Country Team has clear human rights responsibilities.
2014 Guidance Note on United Nations Country Team Conduct and Working Arrangements
The UN Country Team’s human rights responsibilities:
- UN Country Team members represent and advocate the goals, norms and standards of the UN system, including the promotion, protection and advocacy of human rights standards and principles, internationally agreed treaty obligations and development goals;
- UN Country Teams together with RCs, uphold and promote the UN’s responsibilities with regard to preventing and responding to serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law;
- In situations of risk or actual serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, in countries where there is no UN peacekeeping or special political mission / office, UN Country Team members support the RC in developing and implementing a strategy to address such risks or violations.
22. All UN entities—including the Secretariat, agencies, funds and programmes—have a duty to uphold the UN Charter and its commitments to human rights. Many UN entities have already developed their own guidance, tools and training on human rights-related aspects of their work at the country level. At the inter-agency level, UNDG HRWG provides coordinated and consistent support to RCs and UN Country Teams on human rights across agencies and between regional and UNHQ levels. It is critical that all members of a UN Country Team are aware of the latest policy guidance and available tools from their own HQ as well as from UNDG HRWG.
23. UN entities play distinct, but complementary, roles on human rights. OHCHR is the lead entity within the UN system for the promotion and protection of human rights. It coordinates all human rights-related actions under its broad mandate on human rights monitoring and technical assistance. OHCHR Human Rights Officers and UNDG Human Rights Advisers can provide assistance to UN Country Teams. Many other UN entities also have mandates focused on specific issues or improving the rights of particular groups. For example, UN Women works to promote gender equality and women’s rights, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works to protect the rights of children, UNAIDS works to promote human rights-based responses to HIV and AIDS and to address human rights violations that increase vulnerability to HIV, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) focuses on labour rights. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads the Global Protection Cluster and works to protect refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and stateless persons. Other entities similarly integrate and address human rights in their work. Other agencies also play an important role through their presence and activities on the ground aimed at respecting, protecting or fulfilling human rights, for example the right to adequate food, acting in accordance with their mandate, capacities and operational needs.
24. While each agency will develop its own approach in accordance with its specific mandate, joint analysis and strategic planning through a human rights lens is critical to ensure approaches that are complementary rather than competitive or contradictory. The aim should be to maximize agencies’ comparative advantages and enable the UN system to respond in a flexible, context-specific fashion, to maximize overall effectiveness. A conscious and strategic division of labour, and the use of a range of different tools in different contexts, can amplify the UN’s collective strength and moral authority, while avoiding negative impacts on any one agency.
25. The UN system as a whole also bears a collective responsibility towards upholding the UN Charter. The shared responsibility of all UN entities to prevent serious human rights violations is at the heart of the Secretary-General’s HRuF initiative. HRuF calls on all UN entities to contribute under their individual mandates to prevent or respond to serious violations, which are often too complex for a single UN entity to address on its own. A range of mechanisms and tools has been put in place to support the RC and UN Country Team. This includes support for analysis, planning and advocacy at the country level. If the situation escalates beyond the capacity of the RC and Country Team to address it, and the complexity of the situation requires the involvement of UN actors at the regional or global level, the RC should refer to the established support mechanisms, including the Regional Quarterly Review (RQR). The Joint letter from the Deputy Secretary-General and the UNDG Chair addressed to RCs clarifies that the responsibility to address the risk of serious violations will not fall on RCs and UN Country Teams alone.
(8) The “rule of law” in this Guidance Note is understood as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards”, as defined in the Secretary-General’s 2004 report ‘The rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies’ (S/2004/616).
(9) This quotation is drawn from feedback in 2014 from RCs to the individualized letters to RCs from the UNDG HRWG co-chairs setting out upcoming opportunities to engage with human rights mechanisms in their country.
(10) The RC’s role in coordinating humanitarian assistance is outlined in Section II and III of the UN Resident Coordinator Generic Job Description (Feb 2014).
(11) “Protection” in the humanitarian context is defined as encompassing “activities aimed at obtaining full respect for the rights of all individuals in accordance with international law – international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law – regardless of their age, gender, social, ethnic, national, religious, or other background” (Inter-Agency Standing Committee [IASC]). See also the IASC Principals’ statement on the “Centrality of Protection” in humanitarian action.