Skip to content
NUPI skole

The critical role of human rights in UN peace operations

In a new EPON report, experts highlight the importance of human rights work in United Nations peace operations.
Foto: UN Photo/Marco Dormino


Asha Ali
Former employee

In a new comprehensive study conducted by researchers in the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON), the role of human rights work in United Nations peace operations is examined. With 75 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly, human rights are under an unprecedented “global retrenchment” in a context of changing geopolitical order and strife, which has put an increased pressure on the UN’s peace and security work.

Over the past 30 years, UN peace operations mandates have increasingly integrated human rights language to address the underlying grievances of conflicts and to promote sustained peace. However, recent years have witnessed pushback on human rights language in the mandates of peace operations, especially related to the Women, Peace and Security agenda and child protection, raising concerns about the future of these critical components.

Reducing violence, fostering peace

Key findings of the report emphasise that human rights efforts within UN peace operations contribute to reducing violence levels and fostering long term peace. While the impact is not always direct, the study establishes a strong correlation between human rights activities and improved early warning mechanisms, protection of civilians, conflict management and peacebuilding. It further calls attention to the challenges faced by UN operations in pursuing human rights-based approaches. 

One of these challenges is that peace operations often operate in a setting of a delicate political process, relying on consent from the host governments to operate, while simultaneously in many instances, human rights promotion is viewed with suspicion considered an intrusive “outside” agenda or a risk to fragile peace processes. However, the study highlights this as a false dichotomy and that human rights efforts enable better outcomes of political processes and increase the effectiveness of peace operations across areas such as the protection of civilians, humanitarian assistance and improve governments functions in conflict-affected states.

A focus on human rights 

As the UN system reflects on the future of peacekeeping, particularly in light of the New Agenda for Peace, the study urges the international system to prioritise human rights especially in a likely future of smaller missions with lighter footprints. The recommendations, which are directed at the UN Security Council, host governments, the UN Secretariat and the missions, include framing human rights principles as enablers for mission mandates, leveraging human rights actors for mission transitions, protecting human rights from downward pressures, and reaffirming human rights as a point of consensus within the Security Council.

As UN peacekeeping is operating in a global landscape of increased geopolitical challenges and retrenchment of human rights, the study urges the UN system to maintain a steadfast commitment to human rights in its peacekeeping efforts.

The study was led by Professor Charles. T Hunt and co-authored by Emma Bapt, Dr. Adam Day, Dr. Fiifi Edu-Afful, Abigail Gérard-Baldé, Hafsa Maalim, Wendy MacClinchy, Nadia Nata and Dr. Claudia Pfeifer-Cruz.


  • Peace operations
  • Conflict
  • Human rights
  • United Nations


Asha Ali
Former employee

Facts about EPON

In the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network NUPI together with 40 partners from across the globe have established an international network to undertake research into the effectiveness of peace operations.

EPON is the first global research network that will use a shared methodology to assess the effectiveness of contemporary peace operations. The data generated will be freely available to the global peace operations community, with the overall aim to enhance the effectiveness of international peace operations.

Relevant innhold
Research project
Research project
Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network