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close this bookMeeting the Humanitarian Challenge - UNV's Work Between Conflict and Development (United Nations Volunteers, 44 p.)
close this folderCurrent concerns and future perspectives
View the documentDrawing from experience in the field
View the documentReducing scope for conflict: demobilisation
View the documentParticipatory peace-building dynamics
View the documentPromoting human rights and education for peace
View the documentDisaster prevention and preparedness at community level
View the documentPutting human development back on the agenda
View the documentAdministrative support to UNVs in humanitarian assignments
View the documentH... for Humanity: serving a purpose... for millions in need

Promoting human rights and education for peace

Much humanitarian assistance undertaken with the support of UN volunteer specialists today relates to consequences of conflicts within states, between parties engaged in warfare against the state or other parties. These conflicts where one or more of the parties is not a member of the international community are increasingly prosecuted with complete disregard for human life and for humanitarian law. There is nothing "civil" about today's civil wars.

The dramatic increase in belligerence towards third parties with humanitarian motives is of great concern. The denial or restriction of access to non-combatant populations under siege or otherwise suffering from the effects of non-international conflict is already a serious enough constraint to deal with, especially for volunteers. Actual harassment, hostility, or physical assault on humanitarian aid workers or convoys is profoundly contemptuous of humanity as a whole. UNV specialists have been occasionally intercepted or detained by armed militia, albeit later released.

Education on the principles of humanitarian law must become part of a wider education-for-peace endeavour inculcating humanitarian values from kindergarten upwards. Ignorance of humanitarian principles, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention (and Protocol II, 1977) on the protection of civilians, cannot be allowed as an excuse for abuses or atrocities conducted in time of conflict by non-state parties.

Wherever rising social, ethnic, or other tensions increase the likelihood of conflict emerging, intensive publicity and special educational programmes should be systematically promoted. In fact dissemination of the principles is an obligation contained in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Protocols. The international community should dedicate resources to a stand-by fund to co-finance special programmes in such cases.

At the local level, neutral international volunteers could be brought-in to work with local volunteers in mixed UNV teams to proselytise for peace and respect for human rights and humanitarian principles. The result should be an overwhelming social reprobation for inhumane, behaviour and practices. Parties to disputes must recognise that the application of humanitarian principles in the prosecution of their campaigns does not in itself advance or compromise the legitimacy of their cause. If conflict does break-out, at least social intolerance of inhumanity should serve to render human rights abuses less likely.

The initially incidental but pioneering work in which some UNVs have been involved at the grassroots in participatory programmes at community level, and requiring e.g. mediating between opposing groups, becomes increasingly relevant in a world of depleting resources faced with demographic pressures. Competition over environmental assets and resources is bound to add to social tensions. The advocacy and monitoring of human rights observance, combined with the promotion of inter-communal solutions to joint problems, will play an important part in maintaining the social harmony necessary for sustainable human development in situations of latent conflict.

Education on the principles of humanitarian law must become part of a wider education-for-peace endeavour inculcating humanitarian values from kindergarten upwards.