The United Nations was created to prevent human suffering and uphold human rights. While Member States have the primary responsibility for protecting the lives and rights of their populations, the UN is obliged to step in when countries are unable or unwilling to do so. However, as the UN has failed to stop some of the most serious situations of human rights violations and atrocities against civilians, including in Rwanda, Srebrenica and most recently Sri Lanka and Syria, the organisation has been forced to rethink its strategies.
After the widespread killings of civilians in Sri Lanka in 2009 – where the UN response was characterised as a ‘systematic failure’ – the “Human Rights up Front” (HRuF) initiative was developed. Launched by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2013, the initiative aims to ensure that the UN system takes early and effective action, as mandated by the Charter and UN resolutions, to prevent or respond to large-scale violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. It seeks a cultural change within the UN system to make human rights and the protection of civilians a system-wide core responsibility.
This seminar discussed how the UN, Member States and civil society can work together to improve the response to situations of grave violations of human rights. In what way does the HRuF initiative change UN operations and how will it make UN responses more effective? How can support for the initiative be strengthened among Member States, in these times when human rights are increasingly challenged in many countries? What is expected of UN staff in acting with a strong moral compass? How can the UN better interact with and leverage civil society in these critical situations?
- Ben Majekodumni, Senior Human Rights and Political Affairs Officer at United Nations, leading the HRuF initiative from the Executive Office of the Secretary General
- Efraim Gomez, Head of UN Policy Department, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs
- Maja Åberg, Policy Advisor with Amnesty International, Swedish Section
The discussion was moderated by Henrik Hammargren, Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
The seminar forms part of the seminar series “Implementing Agenda 2030”, jointly organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and UNDP Sweden. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without universal realisation and protection of human rights. Serious and widespread rights violations are not only detrimental to affected populations but they also undermine long-term development progress.