Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring - Chapter VI: Identification and Prioritization of Efforts Regarding Human Rights Violations



A. Process of determining what rights have been violated

B. Process of deciding which rights to target


A. Process of determining what rights have been violated

1. Identifying violations is a crucial part of the HRO's job. If an incident qualifies under the definition of a particular human rights violation, further investigation and reporting should be done. Of course, different sorts of violations should produce appropriate responses, depending upon the mandate of the monitoring operation. For example, particularly serious violations such as arbitrary killings, torture and large scale forced evictions would ordinarily deserve particular attention and rapid follow-up.

2. When conducting monitoring, it is crucial for the HRO to analyze a violation by identifying whether it falls within the mandate of the operation and by breaking down the definition of the particular right into its component elements. The HRO must be sure that the facts would support the existence of each element before reporting the presence of a human rights violation. Each of the rights defined in Chapter III. "Applicable International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: the framework" may be parsed into their composite elements. The most effective way of teaching the subject is to use case studies which require the officer to identify the elements of each human rights violation. Examples of such case studies may be found in the corresponding Chapter of OHCHR Trainer's Guide on Human Rights Monitoring.

B. Process of deciding which rights to target

3. A HRO or the field operation as a whole may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of violations which may potentially require inquiry. Prioritization of efforts as to violations thus becomes critical. Obviously, the mandate must be the first criterion for deciding on which rights to focus. The terms of reference of the mandate may be very broad or relatively narrow. If the mandate is broad or permits choice, the leadership of the human rights operation must determine which rights require the most attention. Therefore, such decision about prioritization of violations does not rely exclusively on the individual HRO.

4. If the mandate is very broad -- for example, to promote and protect human rights --, the human rights operation must consider: (1) What rights should be the principal focus since it is not possible to deal with all rights equally. (2) What are the most critical human rights problems? (3) What groups or individuals appear to be the most vulnerable? (4) Does it appear from the UN Security Council resolution, the agreement with the host country, UN Commission on Human Rights resolutions, the needs assessment, or other sources that particular rights, problems, groups/individuals, etc. were within the intendment of the UN or the parties who established the operation? (5) What are the expected capacities of the operation in terms of numbers of personnel, skills, and resources, such that one might assess how the UN human rights operation might make a useful contribution? (6) What are other organizations doing in the field of operations? How can the UN human rights operation make a contribution in light of those other activities?

5. UN human rights monitoring experience illustrates how the decision to target certain rights is made. For example, in Cambodia, the human rights component of UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) had a very broad mandate to promote and protect human rights. The operation considered the kinds of violations which were occurring and, in view of the overall objectives of the operation, focused primarily on: (1) political violence; (2) prison conditions; and (3) freedom of association and speech, as well as other rights required for free and fair elections.

6. During the initial period of its existence, another human rights monitoring operation targeted: (1) rights related to free and fair elections; (2) the right to personal integrity; and (3) rights relating to detention. The operation did not focus on the very significant problems of ethnic discrimination in employment and forced removals from places of abode. While there had been cases of torture and ill-treatment when the operation was established, problems of torture and detention conditions diminished. The operation eventually shifted its emphasis to the human rights conditions which were most important in the particular situation at the time.

7. One of the reasons that an operation might not prioritize acts or omissions resulting in violations of economic, social and cultural rights such as employment and housing discrimination may relate to their concern at becoming overwhelmed by the sheer number of violations potentially within their mandate. In this context it is often useful to share responsibility and prioritize efforts among the various international organizations so as to provide a better overall response to the human rights situation. For example, in 1996 the UN monitoring operation in Rwanda (Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda - HRFOR) consulted with the International Committee of the Red Cross as to which detention facilities and which detention-related problems each would take responsibility. Such sharing of responsibility might, for example, anticipate that the ICRC would take responsibility for detention facilities which would then permit the UN human rights monitoring operation to pursue other important issues, including for example issues of discrimination in housing, movement, and employment.

8. There still remains the problem of prioritization of efforts in regard to particular rights: Where a large number of cases have been presented to the human rights operation, how does the operation decide which cases to investigate? It is possible to make strategic choices as to which cases or which kinds of cases to pursue in order to have the greatest impact. One important factor in making such strategic choices is the ability to achieve a visible success, which will have an impact on the human rights situation. For example, the human rights operation can select cases which are visible, very clear with regard to the facts, representative of the problems which others are suffering, and likely to have a positive result in a relatively short period. An illustration of this situation may be seen with the problem of ethnic discrimination. The human rights operation might focus on the dismissal of a highly visible member of an ethnic group from employment at a major factory for reasons which are clearly related to ethnicity. Once the operation has a visible success regarding this particular discriminatory dismissal, the manager of the factory and the authorities should get the message. Also, other workers will insist that their rights also be protected, putting additional pressure on the manager of the factory or the authorities. See Chapter XVI "Monitoring Economic, Social and Cultural Rights".

9. Another important factor in developing priorities for the human rights operation relates to its long-term objectives. The human rights operation will not remain indefinitely in the country. Within the terms of its overall mandate, the operation must consider what it will leave in the way of human rights capacities and institutions when it departs. The operation will ordinarily need to work with the Government so that the Government can define its needs in terms of human rights institutions and capacities. The operation may then be able to assist the Government by selecting tasks which will ultimately build those institutions and capacities. The human rights operation should seek ways to reinforce State responsibility to protect human rights and not to replace it.


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