Can rights be protected in conflict?

Development holds the key

June 26, 2024
Men shake hands over peace agreement

Papua New Guinea leaders sign peace agreement. Across the world UNDP works to strengthen rule of law, justice, security, and to protect human rights.

Photo: UNDP Papua New Guinea

The world we live in faces intensifying conflicts, deepening inequalities, and eroding trust. Conflicts are at their highest since World War II; the effects of climate change are compounding at an alarming rate. 

These challenges can at times feel insurmountable. Yet development, powered by the rule of law, justice, and human rights, presents the most compelling ‘exit strategy’ from conflict, crisis and uncertainty. 

Over the past few years, we've seen how rapidly rights violations can escalate into conflict—from Ukraine to Myanmar, Gaza to Sudan, and in prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mali.

In all these places, UNDP has remained on the ground, working to strengthen rule of law, justice, security, and to protect human rights. Our experience has shown that this kind of investment, even amidst crisis, can translate into a faster recovery, or to prevent conflict from escalating. 

In the words of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres; "When we take a human rights-based approach to development, the outcomes are more sustainable, powerful, and effective." 

As of 2023, UNDP’s efforts have helped to advance justice for 90 million people. This includes providing vital legal support to people living amidst crisis and conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar and the State of Palestine.

Ukraine: Strengthening justice amidst war

In Ukraine, amidst ongoing conflict, UNDP has worked to strengthen judicial mechanisms. We have equipped national partners with data and tools for a nationwide victim and witness support system, which is crucial for pursuing justice and accountability.

Legal aid for Palestine

In the State of Palestine, the Sawasya programme, implemented jointly with UN Women and UNICEF, provided free legal aid to over 11,000 vulnerable Palestinians. Seventy-five percent were women. This programme continues to support justice and human rights, even during the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Laying the foundation for peace and reconciliation

During a recent visit to South Sudan, I observed the significant challenges created by the absence of lasting peace. Here, as well as in Colombia, Guatemala, and the Western Balkans, transitional justice has been a key element of UNDP’s peacebuilding efforts, helping societies address past human rights violations and build a foundation for peace and reconciliation.

Leveraging partnerships for greater impact

We cannot do this work alone. Through the UN Global Focal Point for the Rule of Law, the SALIENT partnership with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, the Gender Justice Platform with UN Women, and our partnership with Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions, we have leveraged collective expertise and resources. In countries like Mali and Jamaica, armed violence and local conflicts have been mitigated through initiatives such as land commissions and engaging with teachers and youth.

Addressing displacement and refugee needs

Our partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees under the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus addresses justice for people fleeing violence, persecution, and disasters around the world. For example, in Moldova, which hosts over 120,000 Ukrainian refugees, we developed a ChatBot to help refugees rebuild their lives in a new country.

Supporting national human rights systems

Many violent conflicts are the product of a deficit in human rights and an under-investment in development. We support Member States to respect and fulfill their human rights obligations through strengthening national human rights systems, including supporting independent, effective and pluralistic national human rights institutions (NHRIs).  In Ukraine, we conducted a capacity assessment of the NHRI. The assessment served as a foundation and framework for the institution to increase its capacity to deliver on its mandate and build resilience amidst the war. 

Mid shot two female police officers

In Ukraine UNDP supports national partners with data and tools for a nationwide victim and witness support system, which is crucial for pursuing justice and accountability.

Photo: UNDP Ukraine/Andrii Krepkych

Elevating the role of women in peacebuilding 

We are also focusing on the role of women in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and security in regions such as Somalia, Timor-Leste, and Yemen. Our collaboration with the UN’s Team of Experts on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ukraine underscores the need to address gender-based violence in conflict zones. In Somalia, UNDP established 17 women’s peace networks with around 300 members. Through these networks, women can seek solutions on protection and peace related concerns. 

In partnership with UNDP, the Korean National Police Agency shared its own best practices in preventing and responding to gender-based violence which takes place on digital platforms with the police forces in Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia.

Ensuring businesses drive positive peace

We work closely with the private sector to ensure they are equipped to exercise heightened due diligence in conflict-affected contexts. In Ukraine, we have been working closely with the national authorities to support their partnership with the private sector in the context of recovery using our Guide on Heightened Human Rights Due Diligence in Conflict-Affected Contexts. We are very proud this guide has also been referenced in landmark European Union laws.

Breaking the cycle of fragility

UNDP’s Crisis Offer is designed to break the cycle of fragility, anticipate crises, and invest in sustainable solutions, from jobs to justice. The support provided by the Global Programme in over 100 countries reflects this commitment. By working together and adopting people-centered, rights-based approaches, we aim to transform lives even in the most challenging circumstances.

Commitment to a just and peaceful world

In conflicts and crises, the rule of law, access to human rights and justice is paramount to prevent and address war crimes, protect civilians, ensure accountability, amplify peace efforts and support post-conflict development. At the same time, community security is vital to saving lives, reducing violence, and maintaining the social contract and social cohesion.

Our Rule of Law and Human Rights Annual Report 2023 reflects the efforts UNDP and its partners have made to put these processes in place, in even the most challenging of circumstances. 

Looking forward, our collective efforts will aim to build on this progress towards a world where justice prevails and lasting peace is possible. 

As we navigate today’s complex global landscape, this ongoing commitment will be critical.