Beyond UN Accountability for Human Rights Violations

Host State Inertia and the Neglected Potential of Sovereign Protection

in International Organizations Law Review
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The overarching focus on the United Nations and its agents for human rights violations and abuses they may have committed, as well as the attention to troop contributing states and even ‘victims’, has broadly shifted attention away from the role of the host state in peace operation. This article seeks to unpack that omission and suggests that it is far more problematic than commonly thought, in particular because it tends to reproduce some of the problematic features of the political economy of peacekeeping that are the background of rights abuses in the first place. Instead, as part of a tradition of thinking of human rights in terms of sovereign protection, the article makes the case for taking much more seriously the role that the host state can and should have in order to address abuses by international organizations. It emphasises how international legal discourse has tended to ‘give up’ on the host state, but also how host states have themselves been problematically quiescent about violations occurring on their territory. This has forced victims to take the improbable route of seeking to hold the UN accountable directly, bereft of the sort of legal and political mediation which one would normally expect their sovereign to provide. The article contributes some thoughts as to why host states have not taken up their citizens’ cause more forcefully with the United Nations, including governmental weakness, a domestic culture of rights neglect, but also host state dependency on peace operations. The article then suggests some leads to rethink the role of the host state in such circumstances. It points out relevant avenues under international law as well as specifically under international human rights law, drawing on the literature developed to theorise the responsibilities of states in relation to private third-party non-state actors within their jurisdiction. It argues that there is no reason why the arguments developed with private actors, notably corporations, in mind could not be applied to public actors such as the UN. Finally, the article suggests some concrete ways in which the host state could more vigorously take up the cause of rights abuses against international organizations including by requiring the setting up of standing claims commissions or making more use of its consent to peace operations, as well as ways in which it could be forced to do so through domestic law recourses. The article concludes by suggesting that reinstating the host state within what should be its natural prerogatives will not only be a better way of dealing with UN abuses, but also more conducive to the goals of peacekeeping and state construction.