Marc Limon and Mariana Montoya

UN efforts over the past thirty years to shift its approach to crises and conflicts from reaction to prevention have largely failed for two main reasons. First, because it is far easier for world governments to invest political and financial capital in responding to humanitarian disasters (especially when images of those disasters are beamed live on CNN) than it is for them to invest in long-term efforts to build societal resilience or in early warning/early response measures that are largely invisible to the general public. Second, because the UN’s human rights pillar, today led by the Human Rights Council, has been systemically excluded from those efforts, even though it has a vital role to play – especially in ‘upstream’ prevention measures.

To correct these mistakes, and build a workable prevention policy at the UN, URG calls on the UN Secretary-General and member States to place the Human Rights Council and the wider UN prevention pillar at the heart of efforts to revitalise the UN’s prevention agenda. To support this argument the report presents an economic or business case for such an outcome, which shows that, inter alia:

  1. Human rights-integrated prevention strategies designed to build national resilience and stop low-level human rights situations from escalating into full-blown crises marked by gross and systematic violations, would provide net benefits (prevented damage for the State concerned and savings for the international community) of US$4 billion per year (in an optimistic scenario).
  2. Where such rights-integrated strategies prevent violent conflict, the economic benefits (net annual savings) for the State concerned and the international community would be even higher (due to the huge costs of war, and the cost-efficiency of human rights interventions), namely over US$35 billion in a neutral scenario, and almost US$71 billion in an optimistic scenario.

Building on this political-economic analysis, the policy report concludes by presenting a five-point plan for the operationalisation of the Human Rights Council’s prevention mandate. These proposals are expected to inform deliberations in Geneva in 2020, during which time States are expected to debate and adopt a new resolution that will create the necessary processes and mechanisms to finally turn prevention from ambition to reality.

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