UN human rights chief hails role of independent experts in preventing abuses

23 October 2009

Alerting the international community to emerging humanitarian crises plays a key role in the prevention and management of violent conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies, the top United Nations human rights official said today, praising efforts by independent UN experts for sounding the alarm over rights abuses.

“Violations [of human rights] are often a root cause of conflict and human rights are always an indispensable element in achieving peace and reconciliation,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

“In other situations, such as financial, food and climate crisis, objective assessments of human rights enjoyment are indispensable in detecting underlying patterns and pointing to feasible and sustainable solutions,” Ms. Pillay said at an event highlighting the role of UN rights experts under their “Special Procedures” mandate.

Ms. Pillay said that Special Procedures – the general name for Special Rapporteurs, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Representative of the Secretary-General or Independent Expert – are well placed to function as early warning mechanisms.

“The full potential of Special Procedures in early warning and conflict prevention has yet to be fully tapped,” said Ms. Pillay, calling for enhanced measures to make better use of the information provided by these experts.

The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that in August 1993, the Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions published a report on Rwanda, flagging that violence against Tutsis might fall under the scope of the Genocide Convention. The warning was not heeded and eight months later some 800,000 people were killed.

More recently, in January 2009, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) warned that military operations against a rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could result in violent reprisals against the civilian population, which UN peacekeepers are currently trying to contain.

These independent experts are appointed by the Secretary-General to work on behalf of the UN on a pro-bono basis and with a specific mandate from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to investigate, monitor and recommend solutions to abuses.

Currently there are 38 Special Procedure mandates, focusing on human rights issues either in specific countries (eight), or particular themes (30), such as extrajudicial execution, the right to food or racial discrimination.

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