Secretary-General stresses global responsibility to prevent genocide

A wall of photos at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. UN Photo/Mark Garten

9 December 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed that the prevention of genocide is a global responsibility, stating that when States fail to protect their populations, the international community must step in and act.

“We all know the principle: each State has the primary responsibility to protect its own people. However, when states require assistance, the international community must be ready to help,” Mr. Ban said in a message to a seminar on “A Framework for Genocide Prevention” that was delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.

“And when States manifestly fail to protect their populations, the international community must be ready to take action,” he added.

Mr. Ban emphasized the need to first understand the causes and dynamics of genocide in order to prevent the scourge.

“We need to understand what kinds of environments may encourage genocide, and which structural and operational factors can leave a population vulnerable or, alternatively, help to protect it.

“We also need to understand the different kinds of measures that can be taken to prevent tensions between groups from escalating into genocidal conflicts,” he said.

Promoting such understanding is one of the main roles of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, which was set up in 2004 in recognition of the international community’s collective failure to prevent or stop past genocides.

The Office is tasked by the Security Council with collecting and assessing information on situations that might lead to genocide.

It is also mandated to advise the Secretary-General and, through him, the Security Council and make recommendations to prevent or halt genocide, as well as to liaise with the UN system on preventive measures and enhance the UN’s capacity to analyze and manage information on genocide or related crimes.

The current Special Adviser is Francis Deng of Sudan, who appointed to the post in 2007 by the Secretary-General to succeed Juan Mendez of Argentina.

The 9th of December is the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and Mr. Deng used the occasion to remind States of the contemporary relevance of the treaty.

“Many of the recent violent conflicts that have erupted have their roots in long-standing grievances between ethnic, religious, national or racial groups, the groups that are protected by the Convention. Individuals, and entire groups, have been targeted based purely on their identity,” Mr. Deng said in a statement.

“While conflict is not a pre-requisite to genocide, peaceful resolution of these conflicts, and prevention of the conflicts that threaten to erupt in the coming year, is essential to ensure that they do not escalate into genocidal violence,” he added.

At the heart of the 1948 Convention is the commitment to protect vulnerable populations from mass violence. In the 2005, Member States meeting at the UN World Summit reiterated this commitment and expanded its reach with the concept of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

Edward Luck, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General who focuses on the responsibility to protect, called the Convention “the cornerstone of the legal structure that frames the principle of the responsibility to protect.”

He noted that “the critical operational synergies between genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect” and commended the Secretary-General’s efforts to establish a joint office to address the whole range of atrocity crimes.

“Too often,” he commented, “lesser crimes against human dignity are allowed to escalate into full-scale genocide. Early and sustained efforts at prevention – at the individual, community, national, regional, and global levels – are essential to break this destructive chain and to build tolerant and prosperous societies.”


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