Preventing or Settling Conflict Comes First, Says Russian Federation, as Ethiopia Cites Deep Splits on Even Critical Issues
Given their intrinsic link to peace and security, the Security Council must take human rights into account in all its deliberations, the Secretary-General said today, as the Council held its first-ever thematic debate on that issue.
Secretary-General António Guterres noted that, under Article 24 of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council had a major role to play in upholding human rights so as to prevent armed conflict. The question was not that violations of human rights undermined the Organization’s efforts and values, but how it responded when they occurred, he emphasized.
While peace, security and sustainable development were mutually dependent, the United Nations sometimes dealt with those three pillars separately, he continued, describing the consequent fragmentation as a major weakness. It was, therefore, critical to ensure better and less politicized action on human rights, which in turn would complement progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “If we are truly to address today’s challenges, we must make prevention our priority, tackle the root causes of conflict, help build and strengthen institutions, and react earlier and more effectively to address human rights concerns,” he stressed.
In the ensuing debate, many delegates recommended closer collaboration between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, as well as more frequent briefings by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Several speakers noted that the Council had folded human rights into the mandates of numerous peacekeeping and special political missions, but they disagreed over the degree to which the Council should tackle human rights questions.
The representative of the United States said human rights violations often triggered conflicts, and many issues currently before the Council involved human rights. The Council could not remain silent in the face of widespread violations, and it should be prepared to engage early and often, she added.
Uruguay’s representative emphasized that human rights were the primary responsibility of each Member State, and that there was no forum from which discussion of human rights could be excluded.
The Russian Federation’s representative pointed out that preventing and settling armed conflicts were the main prerequisites for correcting human rights violations, not the other way around.
Ethiopia’s representative warned that encroaching on the work of United Nations human rights bodies would lead to discord at a time when the Council could not even find common ground on the most pressing issues.
Also speaking today were representatives of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Sweden, France, Senegal, United Kingdom, Italy, Bolivia, China and Japan.
Taking the floor for a second time was the representative of Ukraine.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:25 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said large-scale human rights violations had caused terrible suffering while undermining prospects for sustainable peace and reconciliation. Upholding human rights was crucial for preventing armed conflict, he added. Under Article 24 of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council had a major role to play, he said, emphasizing: “The issue today is not that human rights violations undermine every aspect of our shared values and common work, but rather how the United Nations responds.” The quest for peace was one towards which all the Organization’s institutions and organs must work, in accordance with their mandates and responsibilities, he said.
Peace, security and sustainable development were mutually dependent, but the Organization sometimes dealt with those three pillars separately, he continued, describing such fragmentation as a major weakness. Stressing the need for a holistic and rational approach to human rights, he said cooperation between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and other competent bodies, including the Security Council, would raise awareness of potential crises and the ability to respond. Human rights were also intrinsically linked to peace and security, and it was a matter of great importance that the Council take them into account in its deliberations. Underlining the crucial importance of Council unity in addressing the most flagrant human rights violations, mass atrocities in particular, he called on the Council to spare no effort to end the Syrian people’s intolerable suffering.
He went on to state that there was growing awareness of the ways in which human rights violations could signal threats to security, and of how rights could contribute to peace. A total of 15 peace operations mandated by the Council included a human rights element, and systematic monitoring and reporting of violations had given voice to victims while advancing the fight again impunity. Encouraging close cooperation with his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, he said engagement with host States on human rights issues helped to build capacities and, in some circumstances, to preserve democratic space. Meanwhile, he noted, the Council had established international criminal tribunals and referred cases to the International Criminal Court, advanced the protection of children in armed conflict, taken action against sexual-based violence in armed conflict, and placed the human rights of women and children high on its agenda.
Underlining his deep commitment to the human rights agenda, he pledged to spare no effort to step up the Secretariat’s work and support in that regard. “If we are truly to address today’s challenges, we must make prevention our priority, tackle the root causes of conflict, help build and strengthen institutions, and react earlier and more effectively to address human rights concerns.” That was the lesson of so many conflicts, he said, adding that it was also why he had remained staunchly committed to the rights agenda. The world was facing unprecedented peace and security challenges resulting from the failure of prevention and insufficient implementation of human rights obligations, including social and economic rights, he said. Tens of millions of people, as well as entire regions, felt the consequences.
It was critical to ensure improved and less politicized action on human rights, as was the urgent need to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he emphasized, asking how many situations would still be on the Council’s agenda if the most acute human rights and development concerns had been resolved immediately. He said he had set in motion various Secretariat reforms that would enable the United Nations to better play its role, in keeping with the mandates and trust placed in it by Member States. Progress on human rights aspects would complement advances on sustaining peace and the 2030 Agenda, he said, expressing hope that in the months to come, Member States would engage — through the General Assembly and the Council — to support his reform proposals and strengthen them with their own recommendations.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, saying one of the purposes of the United Nations was to protect the human rights of all. Noting that the Council was dedicating its first meeting on how human rights abuses could lead to a breakdown of peace and security, she emphasized that such violations often triggered, and constituted a clear precursor, to conflict. Such warning signs could be seen in a number of countries, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria and Burundi. Real investigations of those and other similar situations must be launched, she emphasized. Pointing out that many issues before the Council involved human rights, she said it could not remain silent in the face of widespread violations, underlining that it should be ready to engage early and often.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said human rights were intrinsically linked to peace and security, noting that reports of abuses had often foreshadowed conflict. Recalling that the Council had made recommendations on the situation in Hungary during the 1960s, it had failed to respond effectively to the devolving Rwanda situation in 1994, he noted, emphasizing that the Council must, going forward, take prompt action in response to human rights violations. Noting that draft resolutions on Syria had been “immobilized” by eight vetoes cast by one member, he said that since the Russian Federation’s illegal occupation of Crimea, the occupying authorities were committing massive and systematic human rights violations. The human rights component should be part of the Council’s consideration of conflict resolution and management, an approach that should be applied when examining the occupation of Crimea and the Russian Federation’s military aggression in the Donbass region. Reports of human rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must also be investigated, he said, stressing that the Council must not repeat its failure in Rwanda, its continuing failure in Syria and its paralysis on Crimea and Donbas.
AKAN RAKHMETULLIN, Director-General for Multilateral Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kazakhstan, emphasized the inseparable nature of peace, development and human rights, expressing full support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to prioritize conflict prevention. All human rights — including the right to decent work, housing, health and education — were indivisible and interdependent, demanding equal attention, he said, emphasizing that human rights could not be fostered in an environment of continuous military action. Nor should they be used as a political tool, he said, adding that the Council’s credibility would only be enhanced if it addressed human rights in a balanced and equitable manner. However, Chapter VII of the Charter made no mention of human rights, he said, pointing out that the Human Rights Council and the OHCHR played a key role in monitoring human rights in all countries. They had the appropriate mandate and experience to help prevent conflict at an early stage, he added.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) emphasized that it was up to Governments to ensure the human rights of individuals within their respective territories, and there was no forum in which human rights could not be discussed. However, Uruguay did not accept sovereignty as a pretext for refusing to discuss human rights, he said. As the High Commissioner for Human Rights had stated, sovereignty was threatened when leaders responsible for committing crimes against humanity were not duly punished and impunity prevailed. The Council had so far responded only after the fact to grave human rights violations, he noted, saying he agreed with the Secretary-General’s focus on preventing conflict. It would be an excellent idea for the Council to hear regular reports on all situations, without distinction, in which serious human rights violations had been reported, he said, while underlining the importance of cooperation and exchange of information between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) expressed concern over attempts to expand the Council’s mandate to include issues that fell under the auspices of other organs, noting that some Governments had used human rights as a “back door” to interfere in sovereign State affairs. A comprehensive approach was needed to address relevant issues, using dialogue and the exchange of best practices, with the Human Rights Council being the best forum for those activities. The role of the United Nations in settling conflict and building bridges of understanding must be supported, he said, cautioning against bias, double standards and politicizing issues. The spread of conflict, terrorism, refugees and other crises stemmed from double standards, he stressed.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) called for the integration of human rights into Council discussions, as the body’s approach to those issues had evolved. With States holding the primary responsibility to protect human rights, he said responding early to violations and abuses could prevent conflict. During a conflict, respect for rights must be upheld, while monitoring and reporting on compliance was crucial. Further, the human rights components of peace operations should be strengthened through adequate and sustainable funding, as a lack of action only undermined the Council’s legitimacy. The Council must make better use of the Human Rights Council and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), he added, and use early-warning mechanisms and information from the ground in its efforts to assess, prevent and respond to conflicts.
EVGENY ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) said the United Nations had a broad range of human rights instruments, but the Security Council was not among them, and that must be borne in mind. The Council touched upon human rights during thematic and country-specific discussions, but was not responsible for ensuring compliance and could not transform into a forum for discussing human rights. Emphasizing that the Council enjoyed only those powers that Member States granted it, he said he shared the concerns of those who feared that human rights might be used as a means to exert power over other countries. He went on to say that it would be impossible to guarantee respect for human rights without first guaranteeing peace and security, stressing that preventing and settling armed conflicts were the main prerequisites for correcting human rights violations, and not vice versa. The main responsibility for preventing armed conflict and protecting and promoting human rights fell on States, with the United Nations extending cooperation in that regard, he said, underlining that the Council’s best contribution would be to work effectively in accordance with its mandate to guarantee stability, peace and security. Turning to Ukraine’s statement, he said it reflected a propaganda campaign against his country, emphasizing that Crimea was a Russian region with no human rights problem.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said it was self-evident that the promotion and protection of human rights did not fall under the Council’s purview. The Human Rights Council was the primary United Nations body for addressing human rights questions, together with the relevant Committee of the General Assembly, he said, stressing that the Council should remain focused on carrying out its mandated Charter responsibilities. He cautioned that encroaching on other United Nations bodies would create unnecessary division and discord at a time when the Council could not find common ground on the most pressing issues. While the need to improve the work of the Human Rights Council could not be ignored, the solution was not to replace organs and mechanisms, but to improve and strengthening them, he emphasized, while pointing out that the Council’s own track record was far from reassuring. The time for the Council to start being self-critical was long overdue, he continued, suggesting that it enhance its relations with other principal organs and take advantage of their tools and expertise.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the link between human rights and the maintenance of peace and security was obvious, as seen in Syria, where the conflict begun six years ago with Bashar al-Assad violating the human rights of young people in Dera’a city, and he continued to commit grave crimes. The Council had introduced a number of innovations in the area of human rights, including by authorizing mandates for peacekeeping and special political missions, as well as the use of sanctions regimes, he said, adding that it had also created mechanisms on the rights of children and women. Briefings by Special Representatives of the Secretary-General should more broadly incorporate human rights, with the High Commissioner able to address the Council as often as necessary. Special procedures of the Human Rights Council should have formal access to the Council, while the Security Council’s visiting missions should include contact with civil society and human rights defenders. The Council should also be able to consider humanitarian challenges, he said, suggesting that it consider that topic in an “Arria-formula” meeting in the coming weeks.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) expressed hope that the current discussion could lead to clarity on the links between human rights and peace and security, and on the roles of United Nations entities. The Charter guided the Council’s actions, and human rights protection had been a component of 9 out of 16 peace operations and five special political missions, as well as part of its discussions on the rights of women and children in conflict situations. Information that the Council could use in addressing human rights issues included the universal periodic reviews issued by the Human Rights Council, which could also report on security-related situations, he said. Promoting and protecting human rights was also a critical part of post-conflict efforts, he said, underlining the importance of the right to development and of upholding the principles of non-discrimination and transparency.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), describing human rights protection as a conflict-prevention tool, said that, as such, the Council had a clear role to play and there was in fact no encroachment on other United Nations entities. In hindsight, warning signs — some involving human rights violations — should have been heeded, as in Rwanda, he said, adding that today, similar warning signs were being reported in South Sudan. In Syria, warning signs had led to civil war, the rise of extremism, the refugee crisis and the use of chemical weapons. The repeated abuse of the veto to block Council resolutions against rights violations in Syria was unacceptable, he said, emphasizing that his country would continue to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable. Emphasizing the importance of the work of the OHCHR and the Human Rights Council, he commended their investigative mechanisms, saying they were providing objective and vital information on active or potential conflicts. The Council could not discharge its Charter responsibilities fully without addressing human rights, he stressed.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said peace, sustainable development and respect for human rights all reinforced each other. As for whether human rights fell under the Council’s purview, he said it was impossible to imagine deliberations that did not consider that issue. They were at the heart of a range of resolutions, including those addressing women in conflict situations, he said, adding that, together with the Human Rights Council, the Security Council should work towards establishing a more effective warning system. Expressing support for greater cooperation between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, he said the Security Council’s visiting missions should include a human rights component, emphasizing that violations were part of discussions on many of its agenda items and should remain a part of its work.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), emphasizing the importance of protecting human rights, said the Human Rights Council was the primary body to examine that issue. Expressing support for the Non-Aligned Movement’s position on the matter, he reiterated concern over the Council’s continuing encroachment on the functions and powers of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, stressing that all United Nations entities should carry out tasks within their established mandates. Urging the Security Council to confine itself to its mandate in accordance with Charter provisions, he rejected its practice of attaching human rights aspects to questions that did not threaten international peace and security, saying the practice provided cover for the pursuit of political objectives by certain States. Tackling human rights matters should not justify weakening the principles of respect for State sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, he stressed.
LIU JIEYI (China) said conflict prevention efforts must be promoted on the basis of the notion that no country could operate on its own and on the principle of building a global partnership through sustainable security dialogue and cooperation. Disputes between countries should be settled through dialogue based on Charter principles, he said, adding that the root causes of conflict — including extreme poverty, imbalanced development and tribal tensions — must also be addressed. Countries involved in conflict must take the lead in seeking solutions, with dialogue turning differences into the force driving progress.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) cited examples of both past and present violations of human rights, recalling Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Concerning the latter, he said the authorities in Pyongyang were pursuing nuclear weapons at the expense of their people’s needs and welfare. Discussions meant nothing without action and the Security Council must use all available tools to take appropriate decisions, he said, emphasizing the importance of intensifying exchanges between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. Most conflicts today were asymmetric, driven by non-State actors, with heightened risks that civilians would become victims of atrocious attacks, he said, adding that systematic rights violations had become part of various political systems, posing a serious threat to regional security. Focusing on the human rights aspects was essential to seeing the overall threat of looming conflict, he said, underlining that the Council must decide whether or not certain cases threatened international peace and security and, if so, how the international community should respond.
The representative of Ukraine took the floor a second time, pointing out that the Russian Federation’s delegate had referred to Crimea “as if it was its own”, thereby directly insulting at least 100 Member States that had voted in favour of a resolution supporting Ukraine. If the state of affairs in Crimea was so rosy, why was the Russian Federation preventing the entry of a monitoring team?