Strengthening a Rights-Based Approach to United Nations Peace Operations

Strengthening a Rights-Based Approach to United Nations Peace Operations

Strengthening a Rights-Based Approach to United Nations Peace Operations

By Charles T. Hunt and Adam Day


During a July 2020 open debate the United Nations (UN) Security Council highlighted the crucial roles human rights play in peace operations, including by providing early warning of issues or problems, supporting good offices, improving the protection of civilians, strengthening national rule-of-law capacities, ensuring due diligence/compliance for military operations, leading a range of protection-related activities and supporting efforts to protect political space in fragile settings. Despite this recognition of the important role of human rights, there has been relatively little research into how human rights support the implementation of the mandates of a range of peace operations, leaving the evidence base for understanding the contribution of human rights to peace operations very thin.

The purpose of this policy brief is to chart out key complexities linked to operationalising a rights-based approach to peace operations. It identifies and introduces critical challenges to mandate implementation through specific themes, including the contribution of human rights to the protection of civilians, stabilisation mandates, smaller-footprint field offices, the political work of special envoys and mission transitions.

The paper examines both theoretical and operational aspects of human rights in peace operations. In line with the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations report (2015), it discusses human rights considerations in relation to a range of UN peace operations, including peacekeeping and special political missions, regional prevention offices, and special envoys. The first section locates human rights components and concerns across a spectrum of UN peace operations, comparing how human rights contribute to a wide range of peace and security engagements. The second section highlights several challenges to realising human rights aims and objectives in field missions. The final section proposes a series of questions that warrant further discussion to elucidate and support a rights-based approach to peace operations that could help to respond to the call in the New Agenda for Peace for a reflection on the limits and future of UN peacekeeping and other ongoing policymaking within the UN system. The paper illustrates that in order to support the UN’s recommitment to its core principles and human rights pillar, there is a need for greater attention to the ways that human rights can support the analysis and strategic positioning of UN peace operations.

Dr Charles T. Hunt is Professor of Global Security at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He is also Senior Fellow (non-resident) at the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research in New York/Geneva and Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Security Studies in Addis Ababa. His research is focused on UN peace operations and peacebuilding in conflictaffected states with recent articles published in International Peacekeeping, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, Survival, Conflict and Cooperation, and Civil Wars. He is currently leading a thematic study on the role of human rights in UN peace operations for the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON). Dr Charles Hunt is Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly journal Global Responsibility to Protect and on the editorial boards of International Peacekeeping and the Journal of International Peacekeeping. His work combines academic rigor with practical engagement to improve policy and practice and he regularly provides expert policy research and advice to the United Nations Secretariat, foreign ministries and development agencies of a range of governments on how to respond to new and emerging challenges to peace and development. Dr Charles Hunt has worked extensively across Africa including most recently in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali.

Dr Adam Day is Head of the Geneva Office of the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research. He oversees programming on peacebuilding, human rights, peacekeeping, climate security, sanctions, and global governance, while also acting as co-lead on UNU-CPR’s support to the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism. Prior to joining UNU in 2017, Dr Adam Day served for a decade in the UN, including as Senior Political Adviser to MONUSCO (the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in the UN Special Coordinator’s Office for Lebanon, in the front offices of both UNMIS (Khartoum) and UNAMID (Darfur), and was a political officer in both the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. Dr Adam Day also has substantial civil society experience, including with Human Rights Watch’s Justice Programme and the Open Society Justice Initiative in Cambodia. Dr Adam Day was an international litigator in New York, where he also worked pro bono for the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Guantanamo detainees in their suits against former US officials for torture. He supported the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Dr Adam Day has published widely in the fields of State-building, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, mediation, conflict resolution, human rights, rule of law, transitional justice, climate security, the UN Security Council, and global governance.

Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this publication are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations, the GCSP or the members of its Foundation Council. The GCSP is not responsible for the accuracy of the information.