UN chief outlines steps to turn 'responsibility to protect’ into practice

21 July 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today outlined a series of measures designed to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity, stressing “it is high time to turn the promise of the responsibility to protect into practice.”

Agreed to by world leaders in 2005, the ‘responsibility to protect’ – sometimes known as ‘R2P’ – holds States responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide and other major human rights abuses and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met.

“This universal and irrevocable commitment was made at the highest level, without contradiction or challenge. Our common task now is to deliver on this historic pledge to the peoples of the world,” Mr. Ban told the General Assembly, as he presented his latest report on the issue.

The proposals contained in the report, which the 192-member Assembly will consider tomorrow, rest on three pillars: State responsibility; international assistance and capacity-building; and timely and decisive response.

“First, the report seeks to situate the responsibility to protect squarely under the UN’s roof and within our Charter, where it belongs,” said Mr. Ban. “By developing fully UN strategies, standards, and processes for implementing the responsibility to protect, we can discourage States or groups of States from misusing these principles for inappropriate purposes.”

The report also asserts that prevention should be “job number one,” and offers a “balanced and nuanced” approach to prevention and protection that utilizes the full inventory of tools available to the UN and its partners, he stated.

In addition, the report proposes engaging Member States in a discussion about how to sharpen UN capacities for early warning and assessment. “When prevention fails, the United Nations needs to pursue an early and flexible response tailored to the circumstances of each case,” said the Secretary-General. “Military action is a measure of last, not first, resort and should only be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.”

Lastly, the report seeks to encourage each of the UN’s principal organs to play its distinct and appropriate role under the Charter in developing and implementing the responsibility to protect.

Mr. Ban asked States to let the Assembly do what it does best: to provide the venue for a continuing search for common ground on a multilateral strategy to protect the world’s people from what he described as “massive affronts to human dignity.”

He also urged that the victims of such atrocities and crimes, who number in the millions, not be forgotten. “Those losses have permanently stained the history of the 20th century. Together, in this century, we can chart a different course,” he stated.

“Never forget, too, the complacency and cynicism that often prevented this Organization from acting as early or as effectively as it should have,” he added. “Our publics judged us then, and found us wanting. They will be watching again this week, and they will – rightfully – judge us harshly if we treat these deliberations as politics as usual.”


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Ban calls for three-pronged strategy to implement ‘responsibility to protect’

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