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From Voluntarism to Enforcement

There is no single way to ensure respect for human rights and other social values in the global economy. Any viable approach must move beyond simply articulating standards and hoping for good-faith compliance. The stakes are too high to rely on voluntarism alone. Enforcement is needed. The contours of an enforcement regime -- its national or international focus, its institutional home -- remain to be defined. But until there is a consistent commitment to enforce rather than simply pronounce international standards, the global economy is likely to fall short of its potential to serve all people rather than just the fortunate few. An urgent global dialogue is needed to fill this enforcement gap.

The United Nations
One would be hard-pressed to devise a surer recipe for failure: assign an institution responsibility for managing the world's most intractable problems, then deprive it of funds, give it a skeletal staff, overload the organization with peripheral tasks, and insist on its using large numbers of temporary personnel frequently offered less for their skills than for geographic balance or their government's desire to collect hard currency. Yet this is how the international community treats the United Nations. For some, this setup-for-failure is by design. For others, it reflects a lack of commitment -- an eagerness to pass off problems without providing the means to address them. In Kofi Annan, the U.N. has a secretary-general of unusual vision, courage, skill, and dedication. But the world's refusal to give him the tools necessary to the tasks at hand has created an institutional crisis. It is time to stop treating the U.N. as the dumping ground for global problems without giving it the capacity to address them.

To highlight this institutional crisis is not to disparage the many parts of the U.N. that do work. The U.N. human rights staff, based in Geneva and led by Mary Robinson as high commissioner for human rights, has grown significantly in recent years in professionalism and impact. Despite woefully inadequate resources, it has made steady progress in overcoming the ocean that was deliberately put between it and the New York-based bodies that make the U.N.'s most important political decisions. The U.N. working groups and special rapporteurs, again established through Geneva, produce many first-rate accounts of serious human rights problems, even though the governments on the politicized U.N. Human Rights Commission routinely create new and often peripheral mandates to be carried out "within existing resources." Officials in New York at the U.N.'s Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping also attempt to address problems of immense complexity with ridiculously small staffs.

Today, after several years of steady reform, the U.N.'s main problem is less the skill or dedication of its officials than the dire lack of capacity that the nations of the world are willing to permit it. Many of these institutional shortfalls are well described in a report on U.N. peace operations issued in August by a commission led by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi. It describes a world body asked to take on immense challenges with paltry resources and half-hearted political backing. Earlier U.N. reports, issued in November and December 1999 on the inexcusable failure to respond to genocide in Srebrenica and Rwanda, highlight the tragic consequences of this neglect. Rare among most governments, this candid self-scrutiny is admirable. The time has come to act on these insights. If the U.N. is to remain a viable resource for addressing the world's most complex problems, the nations of the world must make an immediate and genuine commitment to remove the straitjacket of institutional weakness that they have imposed.

Sierra Leone
The tragedy of Sierra Leone highlights the consequences -- for the U.N. and for people in need -- of the international community trying to buy peace on the cheap. For years, the country was plagued by a vicious civil war in which the rebel Revolutionary United Front and its allies terrorized the population with murder, rape, and the signature atrocity of chopping off human limbs. The government clung to power with the help of a Nigerian-led West African military force known as ECOMOG. But Nigeria threatened to withdraw its troops, in part because the international community refused to help cover its expenses. Eager to diffuse public pressure to respond to the crisis, the U.S. government, backed by Britain, the U.N., the Organization of African Unity, and a group of West African states, brokered a power-sharing arrangement with the RUF in the guise of a peace accord. With its economy devastated and the international community unwilling to commit the required troops, Sierra Leone was forced to accept a peace agreement that was tantamount to political surrender.

This July 1999 accord gave the RUF and all other forces amnesty for their atrocities, awarded the RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, a status equivalent to vice president, and appointed him chairman of the commission that oversees exploitation of the nation's vast diamond fields and mineral wealth. When the amnesty was greeted by protests, the U.N. secretary-general insisted at the last minute that a provision be inserted denying international, as opposed to national, recognition of it. But the international community took no action on this disclaimer by moving to prosecute these criminals. The lesson was clear: the RUF would pay no price -- indeed, would be rewarded -- for its ruthlessness.

It took the RUF little time to apply this lesson. Its depredations continued unabated, and no one did anything to stop them. Then, in early May 2000, as U.N. peacekeepers drawn exclusively from developing countries replaced ECOMOG forces, the RUF killed several peacekeepers and took five hundred hostage. The badly equipped, poorly led U.N. force put up little or no resistance.

Even as the year progressed, the U.N. was left under-equipped. Elite British troops flown in on an emergency basis gave the peacekeepers the added muscle they needed to push the rebels back from the capital Freetown. Gradually, the hostages were freed. But even Britain would not subject its troops to U.N. command, and no other Western government volunteered its troops to lend a hand. The absence of governments with high-tech militaries willing to put their soldiers at risk in a dangerous conflict in Africa left the U.N. force significantly handicapped as it tried to contain the ruthless rebels. A stronger mandate -- to provide meaningful protection for civilians throughout Sierra Leone --remained out of the question. Other aspects of the U.N. presence, including its in-country leadership, reflected a similar lack of international commitment.

East Timor and Kosovo
The international community fared only slightly better in East Timor and Kosovo -- the two other most challenging situations it handed the United Nations in 1999 and 2000. Forced in each case to assemble personnel on an ad hoc basis, with no ready reservoir of experienced professionals, the U.N. operated under severe handicap.

In September 1999, immediately following an overwhelming vote in East Timor for independence, Indonesian-backed militia left the territory a charred ruin. An Australian-led military forced initially secured the territory, but by late 1999 the new country was handed over to a U.N.-led operation. The U.N. was given painfully inadequate tools for such large tasks as addressing past abuses, preventing new ones, and building basic governmental institutions from scratch. The international civilian police were recruited at an agonizingly slow pace and showed up poorly trained for short, three-month tours of duty. Their inadequacy, combined with divisions within U.N. operations, slowed investigations into the September 1999 violence and contributed to vigilante attacks and summary justice, as Timorese despaired of the U.N. police guaranteeing law and order.

In Kosovo, the U.N. again was asked to take over a territory that was virtually bereft of governmental institutions. Reconstruction was hampered by the Yugoslav government's history of repressing the ethnic Albanian majority, the institutional and legal void it left after its sudden withdrawal in June 1999 following the war with NATO, and the lack of clarity about the territory's future relationship with Yugoslavia. Under the circumstances, progress was made creating a new criminal justice system and civilian police force. But the justice system, inadequately supervised, fell far short of international human rights standards and showed a disturbing pattern of bias against ethnic Serbs. The international civilian police force, under equipped and poorly trained, was sometimes unwilling to arrest former Kosovo Liberation Army members and other ethnic Albanians who were responsible for violence against ethnic Serbs and other minorities, as well as against ethnic Albanian political rivals. A lack of investigative capacity and poor cooperation by the local population were also obstacles. These shortcomings meant that NATO troops sometimes had to assume sensitive law enforcement tasks for which they were unprepared. The violence against minorities persisted, meaning that virtually no ethnic Serbs participated in the October 2000 municipal elections.

U.N. attempts to curb conflicts through embargoes suffered from a similar lack of will and resources to ensure implementation. A U.N. panel found widespread breaches of a Security Council-imposed embargo on trade in arms or diamonds with Angola's murderous rebel group UNITA. The report, spearheaded by Canada's then U.N. Ambassador Robert Fowler, was remarkable for naming the companies and countries, including heads of state, involved in sanctions busting. But through October, the Security Council had taken no further action to enforce its lofty pronouncement of an embargo. No serious effort was made to sanction the embargo breakers or to monitor the flow of goods at borders and airports. An embargo on arms trading with Sierra Leone and Liberia fared no better.


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