Expert panel rises to Annan’s challenge to create a ‘more effective’ UN
A new UN commissioned report on threats to international peace and security has been welcomed as a useful first step towards a more effective UN and a culture of conflict prevention within the institution. The expert report recommends root and branch change to the UN and its mechanisms to help it face global peace and security challenges and address divisions between Member States that have left it wanting. Yet according to Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the report still falls short in its consideration of the crucial role of minority rights protection in conflict prevention strategies. This is considered a missed opportunity in an otherwise valuable report which provides a comprehensive list of procedural and structural reforms incorporating initiatives to promote development, combat poverty and enhance peace-building programmes.
The report, ‘A more secure world: our shared responsibility’, launched on 2 December, comes as a strong endorsement of Secretary General, Kofi Annan’s call for a UN culture of prevention rather than reaction, a desire that led him to establish a high-level panel of 16 experienced diplomats and other experts in September 2003. The panel has used its mandate to urge the institution to build on knowledge accrued from both successes and failures of the past in order to become a more effective instrument of peace and security. More timely and effective preventive diplomacy and mediation on the part of the UN and its Member States is called for, as is greater attention to the expertise and experience of regional bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is noted for its experience in developing frameworks for minority rights protection and promotion.
MRG is critical however that no recommendations were made in the panel report to address discrimination exercised by states against communities within their own boundaries as a root cause of conflict. Pointing out that the majority of the world’s conflicts have an ethnic or religious dimension, MRG stresses the need to prioritise the rights of minorities and vulnerable and discriminated against communities as part of effective conflict prevention measures. ‘The lesson on conflict prevention and minority rights has been long learned but is still not being applied’, stated MRG Head of International Advocacy, Clive Baldwin. ‘Conflicts are still starting that could have been prevented by early non-military intervention to protect minority rights.’
In June 2004 MRG called on the panel for innovative new mechanisms to address such failings, which have resulted in conflicts such as Darfur. One such MRG proposal was the establishment of a special mechanism such as a Special Adviser on Minorities to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, or Special Representative to the Secretary General, to act as a focal point within the UN on urgent issues relating to the protections of minorities. Such a post could be essential in both recognizing violations of minority rights that are likely to lead to conflict and in recommending early action to address them. MRG fully endorses recommendations to assist economic and social development in order to promote stability, while cautioning that this would only result from non-discriminatory policies, responsive to the rights, needs and concerns of all communities.
The report has confronted difficult political issues in calling for more effective activities based on the principle of a ‘responsibility to protect’. When state governments are proven to be failing in their responsibilities, or even targeting their own citizens, as has been demonstrated in Darfur, the report suggests that the UN and the international community should increasingly be prepared to act at an early stage. MRG welcomed a proposal for a ‘Peace-building Commission’, stressing that its success would rely on a strong mandate, which clearly addresses issues of discrimination and minority rights. Equally a responsibility should fall to UN field missions to understand minority rights issues and monitor the ongoing situation of minorities. Reporting on systematic violations of minority rights and warning of indications of approaching conflict is crucial to the ability of the UN to act effectively, stated MRG.
According to MRG, the UN should not delay consideration and implementation of key recommendations if it is to effectively confront both existing crises such as Darfur, and respond to prevent future conflicts occurring. It stressed that the report should be considered the beginning of a process of reform that includes full engagement and consultation with NGOs, civil society and communities themselves, which have an important role to play in highlighting situations of serious concern. MRG calls upon the high-level panel to consider strengthening its recommendations in regard to minority protection and further examining the establishment of a special mechanism on urgent issues of minority protection.
Notes for editors
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