The Role of Monitoring, Reporting, and Fact-finding in Civilian Protection

Release Date: 
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Monitors from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine have been tasked to monitor the withdrawal of heavy weapons by both Ukrainian and anti-government forces.

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The past several decades have seen a dramatic proliferation of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions mandated by governments and international organizations. In the recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Council alone, the Council discussed the most recent report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, an oral report from the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, as well as reports from special rapporteurs on Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, and the Palestinian territories. Additionally, MRF missions have been increasingly mandated at the regional level. In recent years, the African Union mandated a commission of inquiry to gather information about violence in South Sudan, the Arab League established a monitoring mission that operated for several months in Syria, and the European Union created a fact-finding mission focused on the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia.

However, practitioners — including commissioners, legal experts, and investigators — have expressed concern that the state of professional practice in this domain has inadequately kept pace with growing expectations of what these missions can and should accomplish in terms of civilian protection and accountability. Indeed, concerns persist that governmental actors have used such missions as political cover in lieu of taking other significant steps to address international and non-international conflicts. Additionally, in certain circumstances, poor methodological practices — such as a failure to keep confidential the names of individuals who cooperate with the mission — could actually exacerbate the dangers that exist for civilians living in conflict zones by exposing individuals to reprisal attacks.

This podcast will explore the role that MRF missions play in civilian protection. Specifically, through discussions with high-level practitioners in this field, the podcast will address the following questions:

  • How do the strategic aims of various types of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding missions differ from one another? In what ways are distinct types of missions similar?
  • What has been the impact of these missions? Can one discern a definitive added value in terms of civilian protection and accountability?
  • What measures can and should be taken to mitigate protection risks for individuals who cooperate with MRF missions?
  • What steps can be taken to facilitate the emergence of a community of practice in this domain? Specifically, what gaps persist in terms of methodological guidance and training?

Expert Commentators:

  • Ms. Leila Zerrougui – Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
  • Dr. Dan Fahey – Visiting Scholar, University of California, Berkeley; Former Coordinator, UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Dr. Theo Boutruche – Legal Adviser to the MENA Programme of the International Commission of Jurists; Former IHL and Human Rights Expert of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia
  • Ms. Cynthia Petrigh – Expert on human rights, peace and security; Founder, Beyond (peace)

Harvard Resources

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