SECTION of DOCUMENT:
RESPONSES BY THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
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The international human rights movement, which had made the UDHR its principal reference point, has been in the forefront of the effort to make the individual a subject rather than an object of international law and the primary focus of security. The success of the movement has resulted in greater acceptance of involvement by the international community in what used to be regarded as the internal affairs of States and the private realms of societies. By adhering to human rights treaties, States place self-imposed limits on their sovereignty, as they commit themselves not only to respect human rights, that is, to refrain from violating them, but also actively to protect human rights, that is, to prevent violations by non-state actors, and to fulfill human rights, that is, to allocate the recourses necessary to ensure to people the capacity the exercise their human rights. States also place limits on the privacy of groups within their societies, as they commit themselves to protecting individuals not only in public life, but in private life. The notion of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States has been put to the test in recent years, as the international community has struggled to respond to intra-state wars entailing massive violations of human rights. Similarly, the notion of non-intervention in the private sphere has been tested, as the international community has endeavored to address systematic and widespread violence against women within the family.
Human rights lessons learned from the Bosnia War and the Kosovo crisis
The UN Security Council has been reluctant to embrace a conception of sovereignty based on the rights of the individual rather than the territorial integrity of the State. In its first Chapter VII resolution on the former Yugoslavia, for example, the Security Council labeled the outbreak of war inside the country a threat to international peace and security not because ethnic cleansing was taking place, but because borders were being forcibly altered. Responding to a request by the government of Yugoslavia, the resolution called for an arms embargo on Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was indicative of the Council's commitment to the principle of non-use of force at the expense of those suffering most of the human rights violations committed during the conflict. It was only after several European countries recognized the sovereignty of the seceding regions, making the border changes irrevocable and internationalizing the conflict, that the Security Council responded to the insecurity of individuals in the war-torn area. The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was dispatched to the region; but, as it was not permitted to intervene in the ongoing conflict, it offered little protection and no force to individuals on the ground.
Mounting reports of ethnic cleansing and death camps reminiscent of the Holocaust fueled public outrage and calls for the United Nations to intervene in the Balkan war.
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As the Security Council examined its options in accordance with humanitarian law, the UN's human rights machinery went into action for the first time in a concerted effort to get the Council to act to protect human rights. An emergency session of the Commission on Human Rights was convened to discuss the war's impact on human rights; a Special Rapporteur of the Commission was mandated to report directly to the Security Council on the situation; human rights monitors authorized to conduct inquiries were sent to the field; a war crimes commission was created and a joint mission by the country and thematic rapporteurs was undertaken. However, this series of firsts not only highlighted how unaccustomed the Security Council was to dealing with human rights issues, but exposed how unprepared the understaffed and underfunded Center for Human Rights was to respond to an emergency. Despite the flurry of human rights activity, the UN's overall response to human rights violations remained weak, which damaged its credibility in the area of human rights so much that it was not invited to the Dayton peace talks.
Responses to war in the former Yugoslavia show that the increased willingness on the part of the international community to investigate and discuss human rights violations is not matched by an equal willingness to act. Aware of the potential for conflict in Kosovo many years before it broke out, the international community took no preventive action. When a crisis did erupt, the same approach that had failed to stem the violence in Bosnia was used: an arms embargo was imposed and the need to maintain existing borders was emphasized. The High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the creation of a human rights office for Kosovo, but to no avail.
Responses by the international community to massacres and genocide in the Great Lakes Region
Still reeling from the debacle in Somalia, the international community failed not once but twice to take preventive action in response to early warning signs of impending genocide in the Great Lakes Region. Rwanda's genocide was predicted well in advance by the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions. When the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down on April 4, 1995it was easy to see that violence was imminent, but the international community chose to pull back the UN force that was already on the ground monitoring the Arusha Accords. The genocide had almost run its course by the time the Security Council authorized Operation Turquoise, which saved lives but allowed the génocidaires to escape into Zaire. As they rearmed and regrouped in refugee camps in Zaire, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees asked that the génocidaires be separated from the rest of the refugees, but her pleas to the international community went unheeded. Tension mounted and the government of Rwanda warned it would take things into its own hands, but the international community again took no action. Rwandan Tutsis then invaded Zaire and joined
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forces with Zairian Tutsis to massacre thousands of Hutu refugees in the camps and then go on to overthrow Zaire's dictator, Mobutu.
It soon became apparent that the newly installed president of Zaire (renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Laurence Desire Kabila, had little more respect for human rights than his predecessor, Mobutu. A UN human rights investigative team was sent to the DRC to determine whether genocide had in fact taken place against the Rwandan refugees. After preventing the team from carrying out its mandate for many months, Kabila eventually succeeded in restricting the scope of the investigation and dictating the composition of the team. When the team finally presented a report, confirming that crimes against humanity had been committed and recommending that an international tribunal be set up, the Security Council again proved unwilling to involve the United Nations and called upon the two governments in question to investigate the allegations. Not long after this final display of disinterest on the part of the international community a war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which now threatens to engulf the region.
International concern with violence against women
While human rights law challenges the state-centered orientation of traditional international law, women's human rights law challenges the andro-centric orientation of traditional human rights law. Since women's rights were stressed as human rights at the Vienna Conference on Human Rights in 1993, a broad-based international women's human rights movement has emerged and succeeded in lifting the silence about violence against women. By the time the Rome Diplomatic Conference was convened in June of 1998, the movement had heightened the awareness of the international community enough to lobby successfully for the inclusion of gender-based crimes, crimes of sexual violence, and witness protection mechanisms geared towards women in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
To ensure that women's rights are protected as human rights on the international and national levels, the women's international human rights community also works to focus international attention on de jure and de facto discrimination against women. To that end, NGOs succeeded in working constructively with governments in Vienna to obtain a commitment to draft an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Optional Protocol, which is likely to be completed by its Working Group in 1999, will establish an individual complaints procedure and, perhaps, an investigatory procedure. To be effective on the national level the Optional Protocol will need to include broad standing requirements that facilitate women's access. To ensure that women's rights no longer suffer discrimination on the international level, the Optional Protocol will need to be at least as protective as similar
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international enforcement mechanisms, such as that functioning under the Convention Against Torture. As the international community celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a document which has acquired the status of customary international law the Women's Convention remains severely burdened by reservations. Some countries insist that reservations also be permitted to the Optional Protocol to the Convention a purely procedural instrument further illustrating that women's human rights are still not taken seriously when it comes to enforcement.
Affirming the universality of womens human rights, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Secretary-General have called upon all UN entities to adopt a rights-based approach and a gender perspective. While human rights mainstreaming" refers to the process of assessing implications for human rights, gender mainstreaming" refers to the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action in all areas and at all levels. The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), has been one of the most successful UN agencies at conducting rights-based programming asking how discrimination and violence weaken women's ability to enjoy their right to development. Greater integration of a gender-perspective into the work of the human rights bodies and mechanisms is still needed. While joint missions of Radika Coomaraswamy (the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women: Its Causes and Consequences") and other Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights have been productive, mainstreaming means that every Rapporteur should conduct gender analysis on each of their missions to discover whether different types of violations are suffered by more women than by men and whether different remedies are less available to women than to men.
Conclusion: Are the boundaries of non-intervention shifting?
The only express exception in the UN Charter to the norm of non-intervention in the internal affairs of Member States, articulated in article 2(7), is that of enforcement action decided by the Security Council in response to a threat to international peace and security, as articulated in Chapter VII. Conference participants noted that since the end of the Cold War, the Security Council's conception of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security has evolved to include human rights considerations; though neither constantly nor significantly enough to suit most human rights advocates. Resolution 940 (1994), authorizing a multinational force led by the United States to restore the democratically elected government to Haiti, set a precedent as the first post-Cold War Chapter VII Security Council resolution to authorize international intervention in response to human rights violations, even though it contained language emphasizing the exceptional nature of the situation.
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The Security Council also invoked the enforcement provision of the Charter to create the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, illustrating that war crimes and massive violations of human rights threaten international peace and security and call for international legal responses. The General Assembly, which is mandated to initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with article 13 of the Charter, has also strengthened its response to human rights violations. Several participants pointed out that, whereas human rights concerns were addressed in the General Assembly without mentioning Member States by name during the first decades of the United Nations, the Third Committee now hears the reports of special country and thematic rapporteurs, calls upon the Secretary General to study country situations, and passes resolutions condemning human rights conditions in specific Member States.
During the early 1990s the Security Council engaged in a period of peacekeeping activism which reflected its belief that it possessed the right of humanitarian intervention". Since the bitter experience in Somalia, however, the Council has failed to take preventive action in the Great Lakes region and in Kosovo, as described above, demonstrating that it currently lacks the will to exercise its newly affirmed right to take forceful action to save lives. Participants noted that to ensure that its right to intervene does not become a duty to intervene, the council and its members resisted using the term genocide to describe events in the Great Lakes region and claimed that they did not know that such violence was looming. Its desire to avoid the financial, human and political cost of getting involved in internal wars has also led the UN to look increasingly toward regional organizations in accordance with Chapter VIII of the Charter to intervene in situations that threaten international peace and security.
Recent reforms such as the reconstitution of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her appointment to all four Executive Committees will help mainstream human rights at the UN and heighten pressure on Member States to take action on information received about human rights crises. Allowing greater access for NGOs to the UN was seen as a way to reduce the ability of states to ignore early warning signals, help redistribute power between States and civil society, and shift the boundaries of sovereignty in the direction of individuals. Some participants maintained that women stand to gain the most from increased access by human rights advocates and organizations to the United Nations system, as they face more obstacles to expressing their concerns on the international level than do men due to widespread and systematic discrimination. Participants also pointed out that women are the primary beneficiaries of expansions in the boundaries of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states and societies, as they are the primary victims of intra-state and domestic violence.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | März 2001