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Anchoring Accountability for Mass Atrocities

The Permanent Support Needed to Fulfil UN Investigative Mandates

May 2022

This report examines the role of UN investigative mandates in probing serious violations of international human rights, humanitarian and, increasingly, international criminal law, as well as their role within the broader international justice ecosystem. More specifically, this paper addresses the case for building permanent investigative capacity to support UN investigations such that, while preserving their crucial human rights function where relevant, they are better able to fulfil the accountability-driven requirements with which they are increasingly tasked. These include, inter alia, determining whether the violations they document constitute crimes under international law, identifying those responsible and contributing to ‘accountability’, which often includes directly or indirectly assisting prosecutions
and criminal case-building.

As its main recommendations, this study presents two chief options for building permanent support for UN mandated investigations and their contributions to international justice:

  • Option 1: Establish an Investigative Support Mechanism (ISM), independent of OHCHR in the same manner as the three investigative mechanisms. The ISM would act both as a service provider to other mandates concerned with accountability – including Commissions of Inquiry and Fact-Finding Missions when these are conferred by the Human Rights Council – and, when triggered by a competent UN body, as an investigative mechanism of its own, as well as fulfilling a coordinating role and providing strategic advice wherever multiple actors are pursuing investigations on the same situation, thus maximising the potential for making effective use of gathered materials.
  • Option 2: Establish an Investigative Support Division (ISD) within OHCHR. The ISD would assist in the prompt recruitment and deployment of effective and well-resourced teams as required for each UN mandated investigation. It would serve as a repository of institutional memory and achieve efficiencies by standardising the preparatory processes and investigative plans for each accountability Fact-Finding Mission or Commission of Inquiry that is established by the Human Rights Council, while also supporting other mandates’ case-building functions – wherever these are established as independent from OHCHR.

In addition, we advance a series of recommendations that should be implemented by states irrespective of which model might prevail to ensure the proper and efficient functioning of any standing investigative support entity within the UN.

An overview of the research project can be found here. The final report can be accessed here. Finally, a short brief outlining our proposal is available here. 

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