Countries hostile toward United Nations human rights bodies have in recent years sought to hijack negotiations at the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which oversees the organization’s budget. Their evident goal is to deny funding to investigations of human rights abuses and laws-of-war violations mandated by UN legislative bodies.
Those efforts surged this year.
A Fifth Committee working document states that Sudan proposed the total defunding of a fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council in October to investigate all human rights and humanitarian law abuses by the warring parties in the Sudan conflict. Israel proposed denying funding for updating a UN database of businesses facilitating unlawful Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Meanwhile, Russia and China are leading a group of governments hostile to human rights in a push to defund investigations of rights abuses in Nicaragua, Belarus, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Ukraine, and Eritrea.
Russia has long sought to deny funding for investigations of serious crimes committed in the Syrian conflict. This year it is also trying to block the commission of inquiry on Ukraine from investigating atrocities and serious crimes committed after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. It also sought to eliminate funding for the position of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia.
It is critical that UN member states reject these efforts to defund UN human rights investigations.
The Fifth Committee’s job is to allocate resources to UN activities, not decide which activities deserve them. That’s the job of the UN’s legislative bodies like the Human Rights Council and General Assembly.
This problem is exacerbated by a UN-wide hiring freeze caused in part by the failure of major contributors like the US and China to pay their dues on time. China recently paid in full. The US remains in arrears, partly because of its fiscal schedule but also due to Congress’ failure to approve a full budget.
UN delegations and the organization’s leadership should ensure that these critical and lifesaving mandates are fully funded and fully staffed.
It would appear that the future of human rights investigations at the UN will depend both on stopping the defunders and getting the funders to pay up.