INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISTS ROUNDTABLE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
United Nations, New York
Executive Director, MICIVIH
FIELD MISSIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS MONITORING
Field offices and field missions are relatively recent additions to
the set of tools and mechanisms available to the United Nations system for the protection
and promotion of human rights. In many respects they highlight a double evolution - the
passage from the conference room and the emphasis on normative considerations to the
practicalities of implementing human rights in the field. The use of experts, special
rapporteurs, in situ visits and missions, etc, was a critical development in this
process. Secondly, to the extent that field offices and particularly field missions
represent an intrusive presence, they also underline the very real transformations that
have taken place in international relations since the end of the Cold War with regard to
the hitherto sacrosanct notion of sovereignty.
If I am to be guided by the literature of the office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the oldest field office in operation was set
up in Cambodia in October 1993. Since then field offices have been established in Burundi
(June 1994), Malawi (January 1995), Mongolia (1995), Georgia (1996), Gaza (1996),
Democratic Republic of Congo (Dec. 96), and Colombia (April 1997).
The first human rights field mission was set up by the UN, New York,
in El Salvador in July 1991. This was followed by Haiti (February 1993) and Guatemala
(November 1994). The UN Transitional Administration in Cambodia included a small human
rights element (February 1992). These four human rights field missions had their origins
in attempts to resolve conflicts and to negotiate and oversee political transitions. As
such they are part of the so-called "second generation" peace-keeping
operations. The office of UNHCHR has human rights field missions in Burundi, Rwanda and
the former Yugoslavia. This division in authority and responsibility between New York and
Geneva does create some institutional problems which will not be addressed here.
Using the joint OAS/UN International Civilian Mission in Haiti
(MICIVIH) as an example I will describe the multiple activities of a field mission in its
contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights and the consolidation of
democratic institutions and constitutional democracy. MICIVIH and the peace-keeping
mission have separate mandates. This has facilitated clarity of focus. In order to fulfil
this mandate, the activities of MICIVIH fall into three major categories:
i) monitoring and verification
ii) institution building
iii) human rights promotion and civic education
Monitoring and Verification
In order to verify the compliance of Haitian authorities with the
human rights safeguards of the Haitian Constitution and the provisions of international
treaties ratified by the Haitian state, the observers of MICIVIH organized in regional
teams undertake the following responsibilities
- investigate allegations of human rights violations
- collect testimonies in the field from victims of violations of
human rights, and from local, civil, police, judicial and prison authorities
- visit the main detention centres to assess regularly the
conditions of detention and to ascertain the judicial situation of detainees.
- provide indirect judicial assistance to detainees by bringing
arbitrary situations and due process violations to the attention of judicial authorities
and prosecutors in order to speed up the judicial process
- visits to police lock-ups for the above mentioned reasons
- visit courts, judicial officials, prosecutors and registrars to
assess the functioning of the administration of justice
- provide medical assistance to victims of human rights violations
- make representation to the pertinent institutional authorities and
the government regarding specific issues, egregious violations
- report regularly to the government and its two oversight
organizations (OAS and UN) on a weekly and fortnightly basis on the human rights situation
and the activities of the Mission.
During the coup d'état period (1993-1994), MICIVIH carried out what
it called "active observation", not just collecting information and documenting
human rights violations but making strong representation to the authorities to have
persons arrested illegally and arbitrarily released. At the outset the Mission was quite
successful. In addition to provide medical assistance, a medical unit was set up within
the Mission, and, with the help of WHO/PAHO, a network of doctors, nurses and clinics
willing to help victims was established. A legal assistance fund for victims was set up. A
system of safe houses for those being actively hunted down by the repressive forces was
Following the restoration of constitutional order, monitoring is no
longer an end in itself but has become the support for institutional reform and the
consolidation of the rule of law ("monitoring for change"). In this regard
particular attention has been paid to the new institutions - the Haitian National Police,
the Prison Administration (APENA), the Ombudsman's office and the Truth Committee. The
Mission has also been called upon to monitor elections on three occasions.
The information on needs and deficiencies provided by observation
and monitoring feeds directly into the Mission's efforts to revamp and consolidate the
institutions crucial to the protection and promotion of human rights, due process and the
rule of law. This aspect of the Mission's work is absolutely vital in view of the context
of discredited, eviscerated or non-existent judicial and public security institutions.
Institution-Building activities take various forms:
i) technical assistance and advice (e.g. initiating prison reform;
drafting of circulars on specific aspects of the law; conceptualization of the judicial
reform process; commenting on jurisprudence; technical support of ad hoc commissions and
committees such as the Truth Committee, the Judicial Delay Committee, the Judicial Reform
Preparatory Committee; clarifying points of law and procedures for justices of the peace,
judicial officials and prosecutors) in the course of visits to courts.
ii) practical proposals and initiatives to improve the respect for
individual rights by the institutions (e.g.. devising/standardized prison detention and
police custody registrations procedures and records keeping systems; giving training on
their use; monitoring their upkeep; monitoring the case tracking system instituted in the
prosecutors offices). Special attention was given to the situation of juveniles and women
iii) training on human rights standards, human rights law, reporting
and criminal investigation procedures. The Mission has undertaken pioneering work in
transmitting conflict resolution techniques to police/judiciary/prisons officials, peasant
groups/human rights ngos.
iv) facilitating the establishment and emergence of new human rights
protection institutions and mechanisms (e.g. Ombudsman's office, police and prisons
internal oversight procedures). The ratification of human rights treaties not yet ratified
by Haiti and the improvement of the current system of protection (proposing for instance
the recognition of the jurisdiction of The Inter-American Court of Human Rights).
v) strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations, in
particular human rights NGOs, to monitor the human rights situation and institutions,
through theoretical training and practical experience with our regional teams; also
developing the human rights capacity of the mass media and the legal community through
training and presentations on human rights and judicial themes.
vi) building bridges between institutions and between
officials/authorities and civil society/NGOs, through workshops, seminars, meetings
bringing together a wide spectrum of officials and representatives. Also between
journalists and police.
vii) documentation and information. Detailed thematic studies -
police, criminal justice system, the judiciary, prisons, rehabilitation of victims, fight
against impunity and compensation for victims of human rights violations. Public
conferences, presentations, articles to stimulate public debate. Facilitating South-South
cooperation (Bolivia, Argentina) on judicial reform issues, and comparative approaches to
viii) contribution to good governance through election observation,
civic education for elected officials and civil society, and encouraging public support
for democratic institutions.
ix) collaborating with the other international cooperation actors,
both bilateral and multilateral (OAS, UN Specialized Agencies, UNDP, donors, International
human rights NGOs).
Because of their beneficial consequences, institution-building
activities counter-balance the negative perceptions that monitoring and verification
responsibilities can awaken in the scrutinized officials.
Human Rights Promotion
"There can't be viable democracy without an authentic
democratic culture. Such a culture is the synthesis of four concepts: civic-mindedness,
tolerance, education and the free and open circulation of ideas and people"
(Frederico Mayor, Director General, UNESCO). Human Rights promotion and civic education
are seen not only as a means of strengthening the technical capacity of institutions and
civil society organizations, but also as a vehicle of change which contributes to the
strengthening of a democratic culture by raising public awareness of human rights, by
imparting knowledge on the nature and functions of democratic institutions and by
empowering those who were previously powerless. The underlying theme of the Mission's
campaign has been "the rights and duties of citizens in a responsible state".
Particular attention has been paid to women's rights in addition to civil and political
The observers of the Mission carry out the following activities
in this area:
- developing of teaching materials and manuals adapted to local
- distribution of OAS and UN human rights reference materials
- training trainers in order to multiply the impact and consolidate
local capacity in preparation for the end of the Mission's presence.
- implementation of educational and human rights sensitization
campaigns through presentations, workshops, radio and TV spots and programmes.
- production of didactic radio and TV programmes as well as
information programmes on the activities of the mission.
- supporting local initiatives, state or civil society, in the areas
of human rights and civic education.
- use of cultural vehicles puppets/theater/dance/murals/art
- organization of high-profile commemorative events on important
human rights and constitutional anniversaries (e.g. The International Colloquium on Human
Rights and the Constitution to mark the 10th anniversary of the Haitian constitution).
- building bridges between institutions and sectors.
- Importance of recourse to the media for advocacy, for information
purposes, for educational purposes, and as a form of pressure as an
ultimate recourse. Sensitive nature of the latter. Difficulty of reconciling
public denunciation and the sensitivities of the governmental authorities. Fortunately
the Mission operate in a cooperative environment.
MICIVIH has integrated preventive, monitoring and assistance
functions in its activities. The multiplicity of these activities illustrates human rights
in action, i.e. the implementation of human rights in the field. To quite an extent the
battle for the protection and promotion of human rights has focused on holding accountable
those who share final responsibility for violations (governments, officials and political
elites), and using public and international opinion to achieve this objective. Field
missions and field offices can and do play an important role in this respect. However, one
of the major advantages of field missions is the capacity to intervene directly with the
actors who are responsible for violations of human rights and due process, the men and
women who comprise the security forces and the judiciary, and to bring about improvements
in their conduct. In this as in other respects, field missions represent an innovative,
far-reaching and effective human rights mechanism.
It is still too early for a definitive evaluation of the Mission's
presence. During its first phase, the coup d'état period, it did have initially a
deterrent effect, mitigated the situation of victims through representation as well as
medical and other forms of assistance, and drew a worsening human rights situation to
local and international attention. Since the return to constitutional order it has
maintained its deterrent effect through its watchdog activities and remains an important
source of information on the human rights situation. It has contributed to heightening
public awareness of human rights, improving the human rights situation, facilitating the
creation of key human rights institutions, and imparting new skills, techniques and
knowledge. In a word it has contributed to laying the foundations, institutional and
cultural, of the rule of law and of democracy.