The Security Council, Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues. (Thinking Aloud)

By Ramcharan, Bertrand G. | UN Chronicle, December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Security Council, Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues. (Thinking Aloud)


Ramcharan, Bertrand G., UN Chronicle


There has been much discussion of the actual or potential role of the SECURITY COUNCIL in dealing with humanitarian emergencies and situations of gross violations of human rights. This essay draws on its practice, with a view to offering a distillation of principles that have emerged in the Council to address such issues.

The practice of the Security Council suggests that the following principles have influenced it in addressing human rights situations:

Threat to international peace and security. On 9 November 1996, the Council determined "that the magnitude of the present humanitarian crisis in eastern Zaire constitutes a threat to international peace and security in the region".

The integration of human rights in conflict resolution. In a presidential statement on Georgia, the Council expressed "its support for the Secretary-General's efforts to find ways of improving the observance of human rights in the region as an integral part of the work towards a comprehensive settlement". In a similar statement, it stressed "the importance of respect for human rights in Liberia". In a resolution, it urged "all Liberian parties to cooperate with the peace process, including by respecting human rights and facilitating humanitarian activities and disarmament". The Council also stressed "the importance of respect for human rights in Liberia, not least in the period leading up to elections, and emphasizes the human rights aspect of the mandate of UNOMIL" United Nations Observer Mission in Liberial.

In resolution 1217 (1998) of 22 December 1998, the Council reaffirmed its position that a settlement must be based on a State of Cyprus with a single sovereignty and international personality and a single citizenship, with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded, and comprising two politically equal communities as described in relevant Council resolutions, in a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation, and that such a settlement must exclude union, in whole or in part, with any other country or any form of partition or secession.

Democratic legitimacy. In a presidential statement, the Council declared its grave concern "at recent information on political developments in Burundi. It strongly condemns any attempt to overthrow the present legitimate Government by force or coup d'etat". Likewise, in a resolution, the Council expressed "its support for the resolve of the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] Ministers not to recognize any Government in Liberia that comes to office through the use of force". In the same vein, it "emphasized that the holding of free and fair elections as scheduled is an essential phase of the peace process in Liberia". In the case of Sierra Leone, the Council affirmed that it would "continue to support the development of peace and democracy" in that country.

The highest standards of human rights. The Council has on various occasions expressly come out in favour of the highest standards of human rights. In a 1996 resolution on Croatia, it reaffirmed "the importance of full compliance by the parties with their commitments as specified in the Basic Agreement to respect the highest standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to promote an atmosphere of confidence among all local residents irrespective of their ethnic origin, and in this context urges the Government of the Republic of Croatia to ensure respect for the rights of all national ethnic groups".

The rights of women. On 28 August 1998, the Council, deeply concerned at the continuing discrimination against girls and women and at other violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Afghanistan, reaffirmed that all parties to the conflict were bound to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and in particular the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and that persons who committed or ordered the commission of grave breaches of the Conventions were individually responsible in respect of such breaches. …

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