Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the past several decades, challenges to the implementation of international humanitarian and human rights law have been at the forefront of the international community’s concerns. To promote accountability and ensure compliance with respect to such violations, a wide array of ad hoc international, regional, and national monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding missions have been established in different contexts by a variety of bodies. They may be established by the United Nations, treaty- monitoring bodies, regional organizations, governments, or NGOs. For example, the OAS can authorize fact-finding missions and has done so in the past. That is why we are especially pleased to be able to have this discussion here in Washington, D.C.
At its sessions, the UN Human Rights Council regularly considers the work of Commissions of Inquiry. At its June session, for example, it will consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea. As the prevalence of these mechanisms indicates, monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding missions have become a prominent part of international responses to past and ongoing violations of international law.
The combination of mandates, objectives, and benefits from those mechanisms differs from situation to situation and from country to country. Moreover, their establishment is often driven by political considerations and the mechanisms encounter problems resulting from their temporary nature. Given the ad hoc nature of these missions, lessons learned have not always been effectively carried forward, and practitioners working in this field have expressed concern about a lack of sufficient methodological guidance. Overall, there has been a lack of information on and analysis of past monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding practices since such information is often scattered or lost after each mandate ends. The risk has been that, despite the proliferation of those missions, monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding mechanisms will fall short of fulfilling their full potential.
Switzerland has taken action to surmount those challenges by funding a multi-year project by Harvard University’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR).
HPCR has engineered and led a group of high-level experts who co-edited the "Advanced Practitioner’s Handbook on Commissions of Inquiry."
Since 2012, this group of high-level experts, under the guidance of HPCR Senior Researcher Claude Bruderlein, has conducted a methodological and comprehensive study on the dilemmas experienced by practitioners . The Handbook, which is the result of those efforts, proposes a methodological approach based on the experiences of past missions and aims to equip practitioners with the ability to draw on best professional practices.
The HPCR Handbook is the product of a collective effort. I would like to acknowledge the remarkable work of the distinguished group of experts as well as of our partners at HPCR.
To complement the publication of the Handbook, HPCR will also publish an edited volume that will primarily be based on the working papers that HPCR has already produced as part of the research conducted in collaboration with the Group of Professionals. The publication of this edited volume will complement the Handbook by offering additional in- depth, scientifically oriented analysis.
The monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding project is in line with the Swiss Strategy on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict and, more broadly, with our commitment to the fight against impunity. Monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding constitutes a very important first step in ensuring accountability for victims of violations of international law and is essential in building just and equitable societies. As we all know, justice, at the national or international level, can take time and it is therefore essential that the violations committed are known and documented to prepare the field for future criminal prosecution when the time is ripe.
I am confident that this very practical handbook will contribute to that endeavor and I want to thank you all for being here today.
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