The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is an integral section of the United Nations. The agency was created by the General Assembly through resolution 48/141 in 1993 during the wake of the World Conference on Human Rights that was held the same year (UNGA, 1993). The OHCHR is seen by many as evidence of international community’s commitment to upholding, respecting and protecting universal tenets of human dignity. These human rights are guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The agency was created to protect and promote human rights on a universal scale. The agency employs well over 1000 staff members in Geneva, and New York. The agency also has staff members in 13 regional offices across the globe as well as 13 country offices. Furthermore, the agency has a workforce of nearly 700 international HR officers who work in political offices or the UN peace missions.
MISSION OF THE OHCHR
a) Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Before delving into the mission of the OHCHR agency, it is imperative to provide a brief background on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from which the OHCHR derives its core mandate and mission. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was signed as a direct result of the atrocities that occurred during and following the Second World War (Bailey, 1998). The Holocaust in Europe and the cruelty against prisoners of war detained in both Asia and Europe catalyzed the formation of international standards regarding human rights.
According to the UDHR, every human being is inherently entitled to enjoy the rights enshrined in the Declaration. The Declaration is made up of 30 different articles that have been embodied in several international treaties, national constitutions, the International Bill of Human Rights, economic engagements, as well as in the constitutions of human rights instruments. The Declaration has become an extension of the UN Charter as it sets out the content for the rights protected under the United Nations.
The mission of the OHCHR is to guarantee the respect and protection of human rights for all human beings (Ramcharan, 2004). Furthermore, the agency is mandated to train and educate individuals of their human rights regardless of their economic, racial, national, or social backgrounds. Lastly, the agency was created to provide institutional support to governments and other international institutions to ensure that human rights are promoted and implemented.
HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES THAT OHCHR DEALS WITH
The OHCHR has a wide array of human rights issues that it has been mandated to deal with as a member of the United Nations. These issues include the following:
i. Adequate Housing – The OHCHR believes that adequate housing is a fundamental aspect of the right to an adequate standard of living. Furthermore, the agency also asserts that all human beings have a right to non-discrimination when it comes to adequate standard of living/ adequate housing. This belief stems from the assertion that housing provides stability, well-being, and security for individuals and their families.
Adequate housing refers to possessing secure tenure where an individual does not have to worry about his home or lands being taken away or being wrongfully evicted from his house or property. In addition, adequate housing also means that individuals have the right to live somewhere that is in line with their culture, and that individuals have proper access to social amenities including schooling, as well as employment.
ii. Administration of Justice- Administration of justice also has elements of human rights issues. Some methods of administering justice around the world contravene human rights or border on violating these inherent human rights.
iii. Albinism – Albinism is highly misunderstood both from a medical and social context. The human rights of people who suffer from the genetic condition are often unnoticed and contravened, an occurrence that has been going on for centuries. The result is deeply entrenched stigma against these individuals, violence against them as well as discrimination. These experiences significantly touch on different facets of human rights violations, prompting the OHCHR to provide mechanisms of protecting the rights of the individuals suffering from the condition. People suffering from albinism need to be guaranteed their full human rights, as well as freedoms without discrimination.
iv. Business and Human Rights – Globalization has resulted in business having an ever-increasing reach and impact in different parts of the world. This has led to discussions on the role of these private enterprises in regards to the protection of human rights. Corporate institutions need to be held accountable for the impact that their activities have on the enjoyment of human rights.
v. Children- Children are a very vulnerable group subject to having their rights and freedoms violated especially in situations of economic turmoil or political unrest. The children’s rights that OHCHR fights for include the right of a child to enjoy the highest standard of health, and the protection of the rights of the children living or working in the streets. Violence against children is another major issue that the agency has to contend with as well as eliminating child prostitution, FGM, child trafficking, early and forced marriages and preventable mortality and morbidity of children under the age of five.
vi. Coercive Measures- Unilateral coercive measures have a significant impact on the enjoyment of human rights. Economic, financial, and commercial embargos on countries by other states has resulted in violation of human rights in the nations affected.
vii. Death Penalty – The globe is moving steadily away from capital punishment. Most members of the international body agree that the death penalty undermines human dignity.
viii. Democracy- The advancement of all human rights including social inclusion, rule of law, and economic development relies heavily on the tenets of democracy.
ix. Detention- The right to protection from arbitrary and unwarranted detention should be guaranteed in national and international constitutions.
x. Development (Good Governance and Debt) - Development is a fundamental human right and the international community should strive towards guaranteeing that all human beings are free from want.
xi. Disappearances- It is a humanitarian requirement to assist families whose loved ones have disappeared.
xii. Environment- Government and cooperate actors make choices that affect the environment on a daily basis. The state of the environment has a direct impact on the full realization of human rights because it provides human beings with sustenance as well as opportunities for economic, spiritual, and intellectual growth. The right to good health also relies heavily upon the state of the environment.
xiii. Executions- Human beings have a right to be protected from arbitrary, summary, or extrajudicial killings.
xiv. Food- According to the OHCHR, the right to food essentially means the right for every human being to have unrestricted, regular, and permanent access to food that is quantitatively and qualitatively adequate.
xv. Forced Evictions- Millions of people are forcefully evicted from their homes and property leaving them in destitution, and poverty. Forceful evictions can hamper the enjoyment of human rights of those affected especially if they belong to a marginalized group. Furthermore, forceful evictions violates other fundamental human rights including freedom from cruel, or degrading treatment, right to proper housing, and freedom of movement.
xvi. Freedom of Opinion and Expression
xvii. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
xviii. Freedom of Religion and Belief
xix. Health- It is the OHCHR’s stand that every human being has the right to enjoy the highest accessible standard of health, both mentally and physically. In addition, a human rights based approach needs to be applied to maternal and child health because these are vulnerable groups of people.
xx. HIV/AIDS- HIV/AIDS is perhaps the most devastating scourge to ever afflict human beings. More than 60 million people have become afflicted with the disease since the start of the epidemic, with approximately 30 million of them succumbing to HIV-related diseases. HIV/AIDS is statistically the sixth largest cause of death in the world. HIV/AIDS and human rights are linked in that the spread of the scourge is exponentially increased with human rights violations. The disease disproportionately affects vulnerable groups whose economic, political, and social rights are compromised.
xxi. Human Rights Education and Training- All human beings are entitled to receive training on their fundamental human rights. Educating people on their human rights is paramount to furthering the cause of human rights protection universally. Human rights education and training encourages individuals to learn and understand their rights so that they can individually uphold their own rights and those of others (UNGA, 2014). Education and training on human rights issues is an essential mechanism of preventing human rights abuses and contributes significantly to the establishment of a just society.
xxii. Human Rights Indicators- These indicators are essential in measuring the implementation of human rights across the world. The indicators also offer support to the formulation of policies, assessment of transparency of human rights implementation and the impact that the policies have on people on the ground.
xxiii. Humanitarian Action- Global partners need to reaffirm their commitment to supporting and protecting individuals and families affected by humanitarian crises. Such crises exacerbate human rights violations resulting in individuals’ diminished ability to exercise their rights (UNHR-OHCHR, 2016).
xxiv. Independence of Judiciary- An independent judiciary is vital for human rights to be exercised and enjoyed to the maximum without discrimination, prejudice, or fear. In many nations, members of the judicial system including lawyers, court officials, and judges are attacked if they attempt to promote the proper administration of justice. A compromised and threatened judiciary denies citizens their rights to fair trials and impartial administration of justice.
xxv. Indigenous Peoples- Indigenous peoples are a vulnerable group in most parts of the world. Egregious crimes have been committed against indigenous people throughout history, and currently, their rights are severely diminished. Moreover, most of these communities live in isolation, prevented from participating in major societal activities. Their rights need to be protected and enshrined in national constitutions and reparations need to be made for the historical injustices that these communities have faced over the years.
xxvi. Internal Displacement- It is no surprise that internally displaced persons have an almost impossible time accessing and exercising their fundamental human rights. Their right to adequate housing, right to peace and security, as well as the right to economic and social development are compromised due to their status as internally displaced persons.
xxvii. International Order- The promotion of an equitable and democratic international order is an essential element in the full enjoyment of all the human rights that all human beings are entitled to. Most importantly, democracy is viewed as a global principle that allows all human beings to determine their own cultural, social, political, and economic destinies (UNGA, 2011). Government authority should stem from the will of the people. In addition, the right to a democratic and equitable global order is interlinked with the right to peace, to self-determination, and the right to development.
xxviii. International Solidarity- Individuals have the right to international solidarity, which is an essential instrument to the protection of human rights.
xxix. Land and Human Rights- Land is an issue that has a direct impact on the ability to enjoy human rights. Land is a source of livelihood for millions of people, a link to people’s identities, and it is also tethered to the cultural and social rights enjoyed by these people. Land disputes are often at the center
xxx. Mercenaries- Mercenaries are an important human rights issue because they are often used to impede people’s ability to exercise their fundamental right to self- determination. The recruitment, financing, use, and training of mercenaries needs to be prevented in order to promote people’s right to self-determination.
xxxi. Migration- Migrants are also a vulnerable group and usually have their rights and freedoms significantly diminished owing to their migrant status. There is currently a human rights crisis for migrant workers and families across the world. These individuals, especially illegal migrants, are disproportionately at risk for facing exploitation, discrimination, and marginalization.
xxxii. Minorities- Minorities all over the world continuously face egregious violations to their human rights including discrimination and racism. These individuals are often excluded from participating meaningfully in economic, cultural, social, and political affairs of the state.
xxxiii. Nationality- Human beings have the right to belong to a nation, to change his nationality, and to retain his nationality. Countries are required to observe human rights obligations when granting or rescinding nationalities to individuals.
xxxiv. Older Persons- The number of people aged 60 and above has continued to increase at an extraordinary rate owing to better and more affordable health care facilities and improved nutrition. The increase in numbers of older individuals has highlighted the chronic lack of adequate protection accorded to these members of the society. Many face homelessness, isolation, and lack of adequate care.
xxxv. Plans of Action for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights- Here, states are mandated to come up with national action plans that focus on improving the protection and promotion of human rights within their borders.
xxxvi. Poverty- Poverty should not only be viewed from the context of economic deprivation but should also be seen as a violation of human rights because it leads to a loss of dignity for those affected. The situation leads to the erosion of the right to education, food, safe water, health services, fair trials, security of the individual, and participation in governance (UNGA, 2011). The quality of life is significantly diminished for individuals who live in poverty.
xxxvii. Privacy- The right to privacy in the digital age is a contemporary human rights issue. The digital movement has resulted in technologies that are vulnerable to surveillance, which contributes to the violation of people’s rights to privacy. People’s right to privacy should be upheld in digital communication as they are in offline communication.
xxxviii. Racism- Racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance have caused significant violations of inherent human rights for the communities being targeted. Racism in developed nations is still a menace and the effects can be felt even today. Racism and xenophobia has contributed to the economic, social, and political detriment of people with color. All forms of racial discrimination should be systemically abolished for all human beings to enjoy their rights.
xxxix. Rule of Law- There are several instances whereby the rule of law has been used to deny certain individuals their human rights. Such instances include government impunity, armed conflict, and weaknesses in the democratic systems.
xl. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity- Sexual orientation and gender identity remain the main bases of discrimination against individuals of the LGBTQ community. Homophobic attitudes remain entrenched in most societies leading to the violation of a series of rights that should be accorded to members of the LGBTQ group. These individuals are discriminated against in schools, hospitals, governance, housing, employment, as well as being ostracized in their families and communities. Discriminatory laws in different countries especially low wage nations expose members of these groups to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and even the death penalty. The LGBT community needs protection from discrimination and violence, impairing their ability to enjoy their human rights and freedoms.
xli. Slavery- Contemporary forms of slavery continue to violate the inherent human rights of the victims of modern slavery. Slavery and slave-like practices continue to persist in the modern day and age. Contemporary forms of slavery include forced labor, traditional slavery, sexual slavery, servile-like marriages, serfdom, and debt bondage. These types of slavery occur in mostly remote areas making prevention and countering difficult as access to these areas is nearly impossible.
xlii. Social Security- Every human being has the right to social security, which means that human beings have the right to access and maintain benefits in monetary form or otherwise, in order guarantee protection from lack/loss of income, unaffordable access to health care services, and insufficient family monetary support especially for children and adult dependents. The right to social security means that social security should be accessible, affordable, adequate, and available.
xliii. Terrorism- Terrorism has become one of the biggest global security concerns of the century. The aim is to ensure that human rights are protected while the relevant agencies are busy countering terrorism.
xliv. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development- The recognition of upholding of human rights is crucial to the achievement of the sustainable development goals. The Millennium Development Goals focused on certain social and economic rights at the expense of other crucial human rights. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims at ensuring that human right principles are a pinnacle in the accomplishment of development goals.
xlv. Torture- Torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are all violations of human rights. These activities need to be prevented to guarantee that every human being exercises full enjoyment of their rights and freedoms. The victims of these human rights violations as well as their families also need to be provided with physical and psychological treatment to restore their dignity and sense of purpose in the society.
xlvi. Trade and Investment – Human rights need to be a guiding consideration when multilateral trade negotiations are being conducted. The present systems of international trade and investment should not only be viewed as economic factors of growth but as an engine for holistic and people-driven development.
xlvii. Traditional Values- Traditional values can have a significant impact on the ability of different people to enjoy and exercise their inherent human rights. There needs to be a way for people to continue holding on to their traditional values without impeding others’ ability to access and enjoy their rights and freedoms.
xlviii. Trafficking in Persons- This is a human rights issue specifically affecting women and children. The rights and freedoms of potential and actual victims need to be upheld and protected especially after they have been rescued from the traffickers.
xlix. Transitional Justice- The promotion of truth, justice, and reparation is an important human rights issue because this is the major avenue where gross violations of human rights can be addressed, rectified, and the victims compensated for their losses. The elements of the mandate also include ensuring accountability for the perpetrators of the violations, promoting healing, and reconciliation, promoting the rule of law, and establishing independent oversight over the situation on the ground to ensure that it does not happen again.
l. Treaty Body Strengthening- The treaty bodies work together to ensure that states and other entities uphold the tenets of various human rights treaties that have been signed by nations over the years since the inception of the United Nations. The issue here is to strengthen these bodies to ensure that human rights violations are prevented in the future.
li. Urbanization and Human Rights – Urbanization is a rapidly growing global trend that affects the ability of human beings to enjoy their rights and freedoms. The trend has resulted in the proliferation of slums, and other inadequate housing structures, which impedes individuals from enjoying their right to adequate housing. However, urbanization has the potential of transforming people’s lives in a positive manner whereby all the stakeholders’ rights are protected and upheld.
lii. Violent Extremism- Violent extremism is not exclusive to specific regions, religions, or nationalities. The rise of terrorist groups such as ISIL and Boko Haram has contributed significantly to the rise of violent extremism around the world. Their acts have led to a litany of human rights violations. Respecting and upholding human rights is the only way that violent extremism can be prevented and countered.
liii. Water and Sanitation- The right to water and sanitation is considered a paramount human right that should be enjoyed by all humans. Having access to safe water for drinking is paramount to living a life with dignity. However, billions of people across the world do not have access to this central need. It is required that access to clean water and sanitation are affordable, accessible, safe, and affordable to everyone without discrimination.
liv. Women- Women are a vulnerable group with many of their rights often being violated. Most importantly, women are often victims of violence especially in their homes. Violence against women constitutes a violation of inherent human rights and makes it difficult for women to enjoy their rights and freedoms to the maximum. Furthermore, millions of women across the world face laws and policies that impair women’s ability to gain equal access to housing and property. Women are also vulnerable to trafficking and abuse owing to lack of gainful economic opportunities. The role of women in creating and ensuring peace and security is also often overlooked and majority of women in some nations are denied the opportunity to participate in leadership and governance. In addition, women in both developed and developing nations are often denied their reproductive and sexual rights.
lv. Youth – It is apparent that youth across the globe find it difficult to exercise their inherent human rights owing to their age. The youth face multiple discrimination on the basis of social status, immigration status, gender, and disability. Furthermore, the youth face discrimination because they are denied their political rights (UNHR-Office of the High Commissioner, 2013). The youth also have a problem in accessing the right to education once they reach the age of 15. In most countries, education is no longer mandatory after the age of 15. In addition, youth are also at risk of recruitment into military services as many countries allow people below the age of 18 to enlist in the military. The OHCHR is working towards developing an international instrument aimed at protecting the human rights of the youth.
OHCHR is responsible for leading international human rights efforts that speak out against human rights violations worldwide. The agency provides a platform whereby human rights violations are identified, assessed, and solutions are researched on and implemented. The agency also acts as the main source of public information on human rights and a variety of statistics on the same. Advocacy activities are also organized from this agency as well as providing education on pertinent human rights concerns to the different stakeholders. The agency works tirelessly to inform individuals across the world about their human rights and how to safeguard these rights.
The OHCHR provides assistance to national governments on issues surrounding human rights. The agency provides educational material to the governments, as well as providing expertise to and training of the relevant governmental bodies. The agency works with governments in a variety of areas that include electoral processes, legal reforms, and the administration of justice to ensure that international standards of human rights are promoted, respected, and upheld.
Furthermore, the OHCHR mainstreams human rights across the entire UN system by ensuring that human rights protection is part and parcel of every UN program or initiative. The purpose of this activity is to ensure that the three pillars of the UN system, that is, development, peace and security, and protection of human rights are mutually reinforced throughout the globe through the UN’s programs.
Other than partnering with the government, the OCHCR also works together with other UN entities such as the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to protect human rights of marginalized and minority groups. The agency also works with the International Labor Organization to ensure the protection of the rights of workers. In addition, the agency also collaborates with the International Criminal Court and other criminal tribunals, as well as the World Bank to effectively guarantee the human rights of all human beings.
Another major activity of the agency is to set standards for human rights protection and monitor how these standards are being implemented on the ground. The agency provides secretariat and organizational support to the human rights bodies under the UN to ensure that standard-setting, implementation, and monitoring activities of these bodies are streamlined. The OCHCR is the Secretariat for the Human Rights Council, which is the main intergovernmental agency in the UN overseeing human rights.
The OHCHR also provides expertise, training, and personnel to special procedures appointed by the Human Rights Council. Special procedures include special working groups, experts, and rapporteurs that work in different countries monitoring human rights standards and situations on the ground. The OHCHR also acts as the secretariat and legal research body for the human rights treaty bodies in operation under the UN.
The agency also has field offices in different parts of the world that play a crucial role in identifying, assessing, and tackling different human rights issues on the ground. The field presences have different and sometimes complex mandates that include both promotional and protective missions. Some field presences focus solely on assisting the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations with technical assistance (Broecker, 2013). Others function as regional or sub-regional agency officers while others advise and offer secretariat support to the various UN Country Teams across the world. The presence of these field offices greatly increase the effectiveness of the OHCHR in carrying out its mandate on a global scale.
The OHCHR is divided into different sections to enable it to perform its duties more effectively. These sections include:
ü The High Commissioner for Human Rights
The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the most superior human rights official of the UN and he is the head of the OHCHR. He is mandated with the task of spearheading and coordinating the human rights efforts of the United Nations. The office is a part of the UN Secretariat and has its headquarters housed in Geneva. The current holder of the post is Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad of Jordan. He has been in charge of the agency from September 1 2014.
The previous holders of the position include:
o Jose Ayala-Lasso – an Ecuadorian national that was at the helm of the agency from 1994 to 1997.
o Mary Robinson- a citizen from Ireland who held the position from 1997 to 2002.
o Sergio Vieira de Mello – a Brazilian national who ran the agency from 2002 to 2003. Unfortunately he was killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing of 2003 while he was still in charge of the agency. Bertrand Ramcharan from Guyana took over as the Acting High Commissioner from 2003 to 2004 until a proper replacement could be found.
o Louise Arbour - a Canadian national who ran the agency between 2004 and 2008.
o Navanethem Pillay – the first African to head the OHCHR. She is a South African citizen who was in charge of the agency from 2008 to 2014.
The occupant of the High Commissioner post serves a term of four years and can seek a second term if desired.
ü Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights assists the High Commissioner. The Deputy is the Officer in Charge when the High Commissioner is absent. The current deputy is Kate Gilmore, an Australian National.
ü Assistant Secretary- General for Human Rights
The assistant secretary general of the agency is based in New York and heads the New York Office of the High Commissioner. The holder of the post represents the High Commissioner in New York and is mandated to facilitate the integration of human right considerations in policy development and execution within agency bodies at the UN headquarters. The current holder of the post is Ivan Simonovic who hails from Croatia.
ü Staff Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
A Chief that is directly accountable to the High Commissioner runs the Staff Office. The Staff Office has many duties that include:
· Making statements on behalf of the High Commissioner during meetings and events.
· Undertaking fund-raising assignments/ functions as instructed by the High Commissioner.
· Preparation of annual reports that indicate the agency’s progress, activities, challenges, and achievements.
· Maintaining relationships between the agency, governments, academia, private sector, humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, and regional institutions on behalf of the High Commissioner.
· Providing crucial assistance to the High Commissioner in the formulation, assessment, implementation, and monitoring of policies aimed at the promotion and protection of human rights.
ü Administrative Section
This section is mainly responsible for advising the High Commissioner on budgetary and financial matters related to human rights efforts and initiatives conducted by the agency. The administrative section helps the agency to discharge its general administrative properties as well conducting both the internship and expert programmes of the agency.
ü New York Office
The New York Office embodies the High Commissioner in New York. Its main purpose is to ensure efficient integration of various human rights standards into the different human rights organizations based in New York. The office is also responsible for commissioning public information programs as well as spearheading policy development processes.
ü Research and Right to Development Branch
The RRDD has been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out research and policy development as well as developing tools and learning instruments to a diverse variety of stakeholders. In addition, this section streamlines human rights activities across the entire UN system and provides critical expertise on a broad range of human right topics.
ü The Treaties and Commission Branch/ The Human Rights Treaties Division
The HRTD is mandated to provide support the 10 human rights treaty bodies created to monitor the implementation of international treaties on human rights of nations.
ü Capacity Building Branch
The core functions of the Capacity Building Branch is headed by a Chief and is mandated to provide advisory services as well as technical projects at the request of national and regional governments. The branch also oversees the management of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Human Rights Field. In addition, the capacity building branch is in charge of the agency’s fact-finding mechanisms including the special rapporteurs, and working groups. The office is also mandated to handle the implementation of the Plan of Action of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, as well as developing educational materials for the same.
The planning and evaluation of human rights field presences of the OHCHR also falls under the jurisdiction of the Capacity Building Branch. The branch is also responsible for the evaluation, monitoring, and management of the voluntary funds accorded to these human rights field presences. Furthermore, the branch manages the voluntary funds that are committed to Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, and the UN Voluntary Fund for the Decade of Indigenous People.
ü The Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division
The FOTCD provides crucial support to human rights field operators across the globe. The division also spearheads cooperation and engagement between the OHCHR and nations that are reported to be facing human rights problems.
ü The Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division
The division provides organizational support to the Human Rights Council and contributes to the review and documentation of the Council’s Universal Periodic Review. The division is also supposed to provide organizational support to other important subsidiary bodies under the Council.
The bulk of the agency’s funding stems from the UN’s regular budget. The remainder of the agency’s funding is from voluntary contributions made by the member states. Despite the fact that human rights are one of the main pillars of the UN, alongside peace and security, and development, it only receives approximately 3% of the UN’s regular budget. The OHCHR is chronically underfunded, which interferes with the agency’s ability to carry out its core mandate, protection of universal human rights. Ideally, the entire agency’s budget should be financed by UN’s regular budget.
Since this is not the case, the agency has to utilize funds from other sources to furnish its ever-growing fiscal needs. Voluntary contributions have increased slightly over the years with $125.8 million being the highest amount ever voluntarily committed by the members to the OHCHR. This amount was collected in 2015 and nearly 60% of it was used to finance fieldwork, which often receives very little assistance from the UN regular budget.
The OHCHR released the OHCHR Annual Appeal of 2016. The appeal presented a budget of $217.4 million, which is required above the regular budget allowance provided to it by the UN. The amount was calculated based on what the agency deems necessary to respond to situations in high-risk areas.
The OHCHR has realized many achievements from its efforts to protect and promote human rights across the globe. The agency has contributed significantly to the promotion of international co-operation in guaranteeing human rights especially in conflict regions.
On March 23 2016, the agency passed Resolution 31/20 on the human rights issue in South Sudan (UNMISS, 2016). The resolution initiated the establishment of a Commission on Human Rights in the war-torn country to monitor and report to the agency on human rights violations during the conflict as well as making recommendations on how to improve the situation on the ground.
The mission began on 8 September 2016 and the appointed members of the Commission met with delegates from various stakeholders on the ground including members of the Diplomatic Corps, the UNMISS senior leadership, internally displaced citizens sheltered in UNMISS Protection of Civilians sites across the country, as well as members of the Civil Society (UNMISS, 2016). The Commission also held meetings with chief officials of the Transitional Government of National Unity of South Sudan such as the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Cabinet Affairs.
The meetings raised various issues such as accountability of previous and current investigations that the government had conducted or instituted. The establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan was also discussed as well as the granting of access to OHCHR of reports filed by military courts with reference to the number of people who have been reportedly executed. The Government Ministers voiced their willingness to work with the African Union to establish the Hybrid Court (UNMISS, 2016). Furthermore, the ministers agreed to co-operate with the international community to set up the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing and the Compensation and Reparations Authority.
The Ministry of Justice also agreed to make public the various reports on investigations conducted on allegations of human rights violations and abuses. Most importantly, the report created by the National Investigative Commission will be made accessible to the agency (UNMISS, 2016). The Commission also received feedback from the PoC leadership in regards to the human rights violations that have reportedly been carried out in Juba.
The Commission also visited the Malakal UNMISS PoC site and noted the deplorable conditions under which the internally displaced people in this site live in. The members of the Commission also travelled to Bentiu, where they held discussions with women IDPs, and the Committee of Elders from the Bentiu POC site. Here, the Commission was briefed on the increased insecurity in the camp and how this situation exacerbates human rights violations especially towards women.
Many women recounted how they were gang raped by men in uniform when they ventured out of the site to look for food and firewood. On this issue, the Commission approved the institution of food patrols to protect the vulnerable women (UNMISS, 2016). There was also the issue of the numerous checkpoints that government soldiers have placed in a bid to extort taxes from the women.
The situation in Syria is a precarious one with both state and anti-government forces exacerbating the conflict and human rights violations in the country. The S-17/1 resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council led to the establishment of the Independent International Commission of the Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic in August 2011. The Commission is mandated to investigate reported and alleged human rights violations in Syria.
Since its inception, the Commission has produced four reports as well as four other periodic updates that detail significant human rights violations that have been committed in the country from 2011. The reports and updates are based on accounts and interviews of more than 1400 eyewitnesses and victims. It is hoped that reporting on the human rights violations in the country will highlight the plight of the citizens prompting the members of the international community to find an amicable solution that will end the conflict in Syria.
The OHCHR mediated the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement that was effected in February 2016. The weeks that followed saw a de-escalation of conflict in the country but the fighting re-surged in late March this year (UNGA, 2016). The belligerents of the conflict have continued to block humanitarian access into some areas of the country and the situation is the gravest at Aleppo.
The Commission, through its investigations, reported on the dire situation that internally displaced persons in Syria are currently living in. Many of the IDPs find themselves under attack in the very same camps they sought refuge in. Several people have died in the refugee camps owing to bombardment by the anti-government and government forces. Furthermore, hospitals, shops, schools, markets, and transport infrastructure are high priority targets for bombardments by both ISIL and government armies. Thus, the citizenry is finding it ever difficult to gain access to the venues that are crucial to their survival.
In addition, the Commission found that ISIL is constantly bombarding civilian areas that are held by the government. Vehicular bombardment and suicide bombings in public places such as markets have resulted in the death and injury of thousands of citizens. The citizens who live in areas that are under ISIL control are also not spared as the terrorist group usually places land mines in the areas it controls (UNGA, 2016). More shockingly, the Commission reported on the use of chemical weapons such as chlorine gas to terrorize the citizens.
It also came to the attention of the Commission the suffering that civilians in areas under siege are currently experiencing. According to international law, it is illegal to use starvation and denying citizens of safe passage from besieged locations as means of warfare. Residents in Ghouta, a suburb in Daraya, have had to live on harvest yields and stay without electricity since November 2012. The water lines in the area were also cut in 2013 and inhabitants now had to use unhygienic wells for their consumption needs.
The OHCHR had also called for the adoption of Resolution 2286 of 2016 that demanded an end to the rampant attacks on health care workers, and health facilities. However, in June 2016, the government ignored the resolution and bombarded locations that were close to the Al-Hakim pediatric hospital and the Al-Bayan trauma hospital in Aleppo. Both hospitals suffered considerable damage with the Al-Bayan hospital wall collapsing and the medical store was burned to the ground. Anti-government militia has also erroneously hit medical facilities such as the Doubait maternity hospital in the Bani Zeid neighborhood. The unfortunate aspect of these and other bombings is the fact that these areas had no military targets.
The OHCHR is also alarmed at the massive numbers of death amongst detainees in State controlled detention camps. These deaths constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violation of human rights. The Commission also reported on the lack of transparency in the government institutions mandated to investigate, and report on these. It is the OHCHR’s position that the Syrian government has violated the right of life for the nationals who die while in state custody.
The Commission also brought to OHCHR’s attention the government’s irregular and random practice of informing the families of the individuals who have died in state custody. Even though the government records and retains information on the number of state detainees, and their deaths. The government has refused to inform the family members of the inmates that have died in its custody. This is a violation of the human right to provide assistance to families whose relatives have disappeared or are incarcerated without the family’s knowledge.
There have been reports that the right to a fair trial is violated across the country. Most of the communities in the country are governed by makeshift courts that have no legal authorization to carry out such a mandate. Reports have shown that suspects brought before these courts are not guaranteed a fair trial. The suspects of the alleged crimes are often executed without proper evidence. The killings of these suspects are deemed illegal in the international community and are tantamount to war crime of execution without providing or displaying due process.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights faces numerous challenges in attempting to carry out its mandate. The main challenge for the OHCHR is holding governments and other crucial partners such as co-operations accountable for their efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights (Kleine-Ahlbrandt, 2013). The OHCHR also faces the challenge of striking a balance between carrying out its mandate and maintaining good relations between it and other stakeholders to allow for democracy and influence.
Slow progress by State actors to implement internationally agreed human rights policies is another challenge that the OHCHR currently faces. For instance, the agency is frustrated with the government of South Sudan’s slow implementation of some of the principles of the Peace Agreement of 2015 (UNMISS, 2016). The agreement was instituted in order to end conflict in South Sudan in a bid to protect human rights and persecute reported human rights violations. Furthermore, governments such as those of Syria have denied the OHCHR the opportunity to conduct fact-finding missions and investigations into human rights abuses within their borders making it extremely difficult for the agency to promote and conduct its mandate of protecting and promoting human rights in these countries.
Another challenge that the OHCHR faces is a government’s participation in the violation of the human rights of its citizenry. More often than not, one finds state actors being the violators rather than the protectors and promoters of the human rights of their nationals. Many governments have tortured, arrested arbitrarily, and even executed civilians who go against the government. In addition, these governments also commit international human rights violations during warfare (UNGA, 2016). For instance, the Syrian government laid siege to several suburban areas and then used starvation and road barriers as a form of warfare against the inhabitants of these towns and villages.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is an agency of the United Nations that is tasked with the promotion, and protection of human rights all over the world. The agency is also mandated with reporting incidences of human rights violations that happen in different parts of the world. Furthermore, the agency also enables the training of all individuals on their inherent and fundamental human rights. The High Commissioner leads the agency in its operations as the chief human rights advocate in the United Nations. The OHCHR has regional and sub-regional offices across the world as well as field presences to facilitate the process of protecting and promoting human rights.
Some of the human rights that the agency deals with include the right to adequate housing, the freedom of association, freedom from hunger, the right to accessible and safe drinking water, right to life, right to the highest standard of health, and the right to protection from execution, arbitrary arrest, and unlawful detention. Others include the right to education, right to development, freedom of movement, right to nationality, and the right to impartial administration of justice.
The OHCHR, through its field offices, has had a huge impact on the promotion and protection of human rights especially in conflict areas. This paper has highlighted the agency’s activities and reports on two nations under intense conflict, South Sudan and Syria. Having the OHCHR field presences in these countries has brought the human rights violations to the attention of the globe and mechanisms have been instituted to quell the conflicts for the sake of the civilians whose rights are being abused in these countries.
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