Representatives from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva were in New York on June 28th to speak about the linkages between violations of economic, social and cultural rights and the emergence of conflict. The meeting, hosted by QUNO, was based on the OHCHR’s recent report called Early warning and economic, social and cultural rights.
The findings in the report are interesting for anyone who wants to understand the various drivers of conflict, how they interact and - importantly - how they can be detected as early warnings signs that the international community and local actors can act on to halt the outbreak of violence.
The report mentions Rwanda and Sri Lanka as instances in which UN failed to act upon warning signs, and the experience in Sri Lanka led the UN to the create the so-called Human Rights Up Front Initiative in 2913. This initiative is meant to make all of the UN’s different agencies more alert to Human Rights violations as a potential precursor of violent conflict or even mass atrocities, and to strengthen the UN’s ability to respond to these warning signs.
In the report, OHCHR argues that the root causes of violence, social unrest and conflict often can be found in violations of economic, social and cultural rights. Therefore, analysis of violations of these rights should be at forefront of any national or international early warning effort. More concretely, the report points to several examples of violations that should be taken into account when the UN assesses whether conflict might be imminent:
● Severe Inequality, especially between groups (ethnic, political, religious etc.)
● Lack of access to effective grievance mechanisms that allow people can hold their authorities accountable and ensure a certain level of Rule of Law
● Lack of meaningful consultation and mechanisms for people to influence decision making
● Lack of democratic space for an active civil society. An active civil society is according to the report the foundation for ensuring accountability. Laws and practices that clamp down on and make it hard for CSOs to operate or criminalization of human rights defenders is therefore an important indicator to keep an eye on.
● Lack of media independence and severe restrictions on freedom of speech, which also makes it hard for civil society and media to hold decision makers accountable
● Unequal access to natural resources is especially risky in regions where people depend on land as a sources of livelihood and food
● Degradation in social services and unemployment.This factor includes austerity measures and cases where privatization makes it hard for parts of the population to access basic services
While many of these warning signs may not be new, the report suggests concrete ways to measure them and gives examples of prior cases where such signs were not acted upon. It also provides some interesting thoughts on how these factors interact with each other and lead to different situations in different contexts, and how the UN could become better at comparing and sharing such information and early warning analysis across the system.
Unequal access to natural resources is one of the social, economic and cultural indicators suggested by OHCHR's new report on early warning. (image source: International Indigenous People's Forum on Climate Change)