United Nations peacekeeping operations: Peace operations and human rights - PR UN New York

United Nations peacekeeping operations: Peace operations and human rights

Statement by Karel J.G. van Oosterom, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations.

NEW YORK, 7 July 2020

Mr. President,

We are grateful to Germany for organizing today’s debate. The participation of the German Federal Minister of Defence and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights shows the importance of this topic.

We are also grateful to Mr. David Shearer, Special Representative for South Sudan and head of UNMISS, for sharing his experiences and lessons learnt from the field.

We align ourselves with the statement of the European Union.

The UN Charter, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, shows us that promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all is central to the mandate of the United Nations.

Human rights are under pressure around the world. So today’s debate is very timely and relevant.

Earlier this year, the Secretary-General launched his Call to Action on human rights, in which he emphasised that respect for human rights is essential in crises. Beyond being the most effective conflict prevention mechanism, human rights are at the core of rebuilding stable and peaceful societies. In essence, ensuring respect for human rights is the ultimate prevention agenda.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to combat it are putting increased pressure on the enjoyment of human rights worldwide. While securing the right to health we must stand together to defend the other rights as well such as the freedom of expression. We must maintain the space for civil society and human rights defenders to voice their opinions and concerns. In addition, we must unite to protect groups in a vulnerable position, including LGBTI persons, religious and ethnic minorities, and women and girls; and also engage with them when shaping these policies.

Peace operations have a key role to play in the promotion and protection of human rights. Protection of Civilians is a mandate task in most peacekeeping missions and five out of thirteen Peacekeeping Operations have been specifically tasked by the Security Council to assist host nations in delivering human rights to their citizens.

Despite significant progress made since the establishment of the first human rights component in a field mission almost thirty years ago today, many challenges persist. 

In this statement, I would like to focus on the following three points:
  1. Achievable mandates and adequate resources
  2. Integrated approach and partnerships
  3. Training on human rights and related concepts

Achievable mandates and adequate resources

The Security Council is tasked with establishing the mandates of peace operations. Members of this Council have often highlighted the importance of human rights as key component of peacekeeping operations. However, human rights are often a contentious issue in mandate negotiations.

The conclusions from the Brahimi report, which called for properly equipped and resourced peacekeeping operations and clear, credible and achievable mandates remain as valid today as twenty years ago.

We therefore call upon members of the Council to step up their efforts to negotiate clear, focused, sequenced, prioritized and achievable mandates, as we promised to do when endorsing the Declaration of Shared Commitment on UN Peacekeeping Operations. As you know, the Declaration - endorsed by 153 countries – supported the Secretary-General’s initiative Action for Peacekeeping, which he kicked off at an event during the Presidency of the Kingdom of the Netherlands of the Security Council in March 2018.

Last week, the Fifth Committee adopted the peacekeeping budget for the year 2020-2021. Throughout the negotiations, there was a powerful pushback against human rights and gender components of peacekeeping missions. We do not view this as a matter of ideology. Rather, it is a matter of being effective.

It is important to apply both an analysis of the causes of any conflict and insights in the way forward to a sustainable peace. Then, it is upon member states to provide the tools a mission needs to assist in improving the life of the people concerned, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of these operations.

Peacekeepers too often lack the specialised knowledge, practical skills and time to effectively respond to human rights violations and abuses. Dedicated expertise is required to support all mission components in carrying out their human rights responsibilities. This is where human rights advisors come in. 

Integrated approach and partnerships

Mr. President,  

Most multi-dimensional peace operations nowadays have a human rights team tasked with, among others, monitoring and documenting human rights violations and assisting other missions tasks and national authorities in carrying out their human rights responsibilities and uphold the rule of law.

Let us take a look at what this capacity looks like in practice. Currently, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights employs no more than three dozen human rights advisors around the globe. Likewise, we cannot expect that the Human Rights and Protection Division of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is able to counter all violations and abuses in a country that makes up an area of over 1.000.000 square kilometres.

Thinking about the complex situations in which peace operations are conducted, it must be clear that the burden cannot be carried by dedicated human rights teams alone. An effective response to human rights violations requires involvement of all mission components, the wider UN system as well as external partners. 

First of all, an effective response to human rights violations requires a fully integrated, coordinated and comprehensive approach. Both the uniformed and civilian components of peace operations must play a role in human rights promotion and protection. This includes the UN police, in their operational and advisory roles.

In order to effectively carry out human rights responsibilities, all mission personnel must have an overall understanding of international human rights and humanitarian law and receive adequate training on prevention and response before deployment.

Second, the Netherlands is a strong supporter of enhancing cross-pillar cooperation for reinforcing the promotion and protection of human rights.

The UN system needs to work more coherently and in an integrated and comprehensive manner to effectively address human rights violations, prevent conflict and build peace.

The UNDP-DPPA Joint Programme on Building National Capacities on Conflict Prevention and Sustaining Peace is a signature example of successful cross-pillar cooperation. Peace and Development advisors play a crucial role in linking the work of the peace, development and human rights pillars of the UN.

Third, I want to underline that the scale and nature of human rights challenges can only be met through close strategic and operational partnerships with host governments, regional organisations, humanitarian organisations and local civil society groups and other key stakeholders.

Security Council Resolution 2447, which the Kingdom of the Netherlands initiated together with Côte d’Ivoire during our 2018 Membership of the Security Council, provides an ongoing mandate for UN support to strengthening the national machinery for the administration of justice in any given operation. The resolution stresses national ownership and the role civil society can play.

Training on human rights, protection of civilians and gender

This brings me to my third point.

The Action for Peacekeeping agenda shows the connectedness between the promotion of human rights and protection of civilians.

As an A4P champion on protection, one of our priorities is to contribute to making available context-specific, mandate-specific and scenario-based pre-deployment training.

For years now, we have been organising protection of civilians training in cooperation with USAFRICOM and Rwanda. Throughout these, we focus on improving knowledge and practical skills in the area of protection, human rights and gender.

The Netherlands uses the ‘Core Pre-deployment Training Materials’ of the UN as the core resource for our pre-deployment trainings. Therefore, among other subjects, human rights are integrated in our pre-UN-deployment training. After the pre-deployment training, the participants are able to identify human rights violations and abuses, can explain UN policies on human rights, can identify human rights-related roles in a mission and know which actions to take when human rights abuses and violations are being observed. This enhances the capacity of blue helmets to act when human rights violations and abuses occur in front of their eyes.

During our deployment in MINUSMA, we encountered a great concern for IEDs by the local population. In order to increase civilians’ ability to protect themselves from IEDs, an information campaign was initiated. It resulted in an increased number of reports on IED-locations, which has saved lives.

Furthermore, we believe that peace is sustainable only when women are actively involved in its formation. This is why we applaud the appointment of gender advisors in UN peace operations. By providing active guidance on gender to the missions’ military component, the protection of women and children is increasingly included on the operational and tactical level. The Netherlands actively contributes to this development, inter alia, by deploying a gender advisor to UNIFIL.

To further improve the inclusion and mainstreaming of gender in missions, it is paramount for troops to be trained on the subject. To facilitate this, the Netherlands and Spain have been organizing a ‘gender in operations' course since 2011. This international course is open to military, civil society and diplomats. It is held twice a year in Europe and twice a year – in cooperation with US African Command – in Kenya for participants from the African continent. 

Within pre-deployment training, practical tools for preventing and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse must be addressed.

Contributing to the training of peacekeepers in the areas of human rights, protection of civilians and gender is one of the most effective ways to counter threats to human rights and security in the volatile situations in which peace keepers operate.


To conclude, there are various ways in which we, as individual UN member states, can contribute to enhancing effective human rights promotion and protection by peace operations.

We believe that adequate resources, realistic mandates, strong partnerships and practical training on human rights and related topics are essential for securing an effective contribution by peacekeeping operations to the enjoyment of human rights by the local population.

In times of COVID-19, this has not become any easier for UN personnel on the ground; all the more reason to stand by them and give them the tools they need to effectively implement their mandate.

Thank you.