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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization (2012)

D. Promotion of human rights

photo of a crowd surrounding a flag

Recent upheavals and protests in many countries and cities around the globe have exposed the fallacy that stability and economic and social progress can be achieved in isolation from human rights. Development cannot take hold in the face of political repression that thwarts fundamental freedoms. Similarly, addressing human rights is central to ending the cycle of violations and violence that threatens peace and triggers conflict.

During the past year, the Human Rights Council actively addressed human rights emergencies. Two commissions of inquiry were established and reported back to the Council on Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic, while a new international fact-finding mission was established to investigate the human rights implications of Israeli settlements throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. The spirit of the Arab Spring motivated thematic aspects of the Council’s work, with new initiatives on peaceful protest, democracy and the rule of law. Reprisals against people who use the United Nations human rights mechanisms continued to be an issue of great concern for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council.

The strong link between United Nations peace operations and human rights was further strengthened by the endorsement of a policy on human rights in United Nations peace operations and political missions. The policy provides operational guidance and will contribute to the effective delivery of mandates and more coherent approaches across operations. In July 2011, the Organization adopted the human rights due diligence policy, which sets out the principles and measures to mainstream human rights in the work of all United Nations actors supporting non United Nations security entities.

Over the reporting period, the General Assembly adopted the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances held its first session. Dialogue continued with all stakeholders on the implications of the growth of the treaty body system, which has doubled in size since 2000 without a proportionate doubling of its budget. On the basis of this dialogue, in June the High Commissioner published her report Strengthening the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body System.

Genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity lie at the extreme end of the spectrum of human rights violations. The responsibility to protect and genocide prevention are central concerns of the Organization. I called for 2012 to be the Year of Prevention, given the importance of early, proactive and decisive engagement to prevent mass atrocities.

The events in the Middle East and North Africa throughout 2011 have underlined the relevance of the responsibility to protect as a tool for prevention and response. In 2011, the Security Council referred to the concept in resolutions on Libya and Yemen, as well as in a presidential statement on preventive diplomacy. The protection of populations from crimes against humanity and the risk of other crimes and violations related to the responsibility to protect were the basis on which the Security Council authorized measures under Chapter VII of the Charter in the case of Libya. The Human Rights Council invoked the responsibility to protect to call for preventive action in its resolutions on Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic, as has the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Over the past year, Member States, regional and subregional organizations have taken steps to establish national and regional genocide early warning and prevention mechanisms. The use of an array of diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful measures by regional and subregional organizations to prevent and respond to threats against populations in 2011 has highlighted the growing role of those organizations in protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.