Theses defended

Push forward: O papel do Conselho de Direitos Humanos das Nações Unidas na evolução do Direito Internacional Humanitário no que concerne à proteção da população civil nos conflitos armados no século XXI

Sónia Roque

Public Defence date
December 15, 2020
Doctoral Programme
International Politics and Conflict Resolution
Daniela Nascimento e Francisca Saraiva
This thesis analyzes the role and contribution of the United Nations Human Rights Council (Council) to the evolution of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) specifically with regard to the protection of the civilian population in current internal armed conflicts. In particular, we seek to understand how the Council, a body created to promote human rights, has evolved from its institutionalization in 2006 to 2016 in order to contribute to the evolution of IHL through the study of the most relevant internal mechanisms and procedures of the Council in this area. The main argument of this thesis is that the Council, a body created to promote and protect human rights worldwide, can influence and move forward the protection of the civilian population in current internal armed conflicts through its non-binding mechanisms (soft law). This argument allows us to make a broader analysis of this concept throughout the Council's work, and makes us infer, equally, on its potentialities and limitations regarding the evolution of IHL in this realm, one of the most problematic areas of the protection of human beings. As an intergovernmental and quasi-legislative body, we seek to understand how the Council has contributed to address the challenges facing the protection of civilians in these contexts, by deepening our understanding on how non-binding mechanisms operate in IHL and its limitations. This analysis also allows us to contribute to the debate regarding the interrelationship between Public International Law (PIL) and International Relations (IR). This interrelationship is extremely evident in the Council's action, in what concerns to its decision-making mechanisms regarding human rights standards, as well in the work of its Independent Experts that issue reports and opinions (soft law). These findings show us the influence that these mechanisms can have on international human rights policies and, consequently, on IHL, and how they may impact on the evolution of norms and influence the behavior of actors, institutions or bodies. Through its "quasi-legislative" decisions that go beyond judicial decision-making systems and international treaties as binding instruments, the Council can also help to advance international cooperation and IHL, with new possibilities for conflict resolution. In theoretical terms this research is shaped by the assumptions of Social Constructivism regarding the construction of social reality and the ideational principles that underlie the functioning of international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), through the Council and the interaction allowed between the various actors which can influence their performance and redefine their interests. This finding demonstrates the importance of the constructivist approach in analyzing the role of organizations such as the UN, through the Council, in promoting and evolving norms aimed at protecting human beings. This allows us to understand how the meaning of IHL can be shared and even changed in certain circumstances, which may influence its evolution process according to various circumstances and interests. Methodologically this thesis is based mainly on documentary analysis in particular of primary sources of the Council, but also of secondary documentary sources and semi-structured qualitative interviews with individuals directly involved in the work of the Council. The theoretical and methodological approaches adopted allows us to better understand the functioning of international organizations, in particular the UN through the Council, highlighting the importance of non-material alongside with material aspects and the agency of individuals in promoting human rights and the protection of the civilian population in the most difficult and challenging circumstances - armed conflict situations. The main contributions of this research are, therefore, the deepening of the contemporary debates about the concept of the protection of the civilian population in current internal armed conflicts, mainly regarding the wideness of the spectrum of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, as well as to the interrelationship between the PIL and IR throughout the Council's work, both under-analyzed in the dominant debates on these matters.

Keywords: Human Rights Council; International Humanitarian Law; protection; civilian population; current internal armed conflicts