19 December 2013 Two days after presenting a new United Nations strategy to prevent genocide and human rights abuses to Member States, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the response has been ‘solidly positive.’
“I am encouraged by this work,” Mr. Eliasson said briefing journalists in New York about the new “Rights up Front” initiative. “I am encouraged by the sense of unity in the UN team on these issues, the seriousness and purpose when I brief not only Member States but also the different parts of the UN family.”
“I’ve received a very solidly positive response… [this] is an attempt for us to take seriously the need for prevention,” he added.
The six-point plan, initiated by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is an attempt by the Organization to fulfill its responsibilities to respond early to human rights violations, as set out by the UN Charter and Member States.
It includes training UN staff so they understand the UN’s mandates and commitments to human rights; providing Member States with candid information about people at risk of or subject to violations; and achieving more coherence by strengthening engagement with the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and providing earlier and more coherent support to teams on the ground before a crisis emerges.
The initiative also calls for better organization of human rights staff so that they can identify risks of serious violations of human rights that could lead to atrocities.
Mr. Eliasson summarized these points into three main elements, adding that it is an attempt “to take prevention as seriously as we can.”
Integrating human rights “into the lifeblood of our UN staff” through training and mentoring, Mr. Eliasson highlighted the importance of making human rights awareness and knowledge permeate the UN system.
“If human rights violations is the beginning of something that can turn into mass atrocities and lead up to major operations on our side – political or peacekeeping – then you ask yourself, why shouldn’t we then be more firm and react at that stage when the human rights violations risk becoming atrocities,” he asked.
The second element focuses on protection of civilians, which Mr. Eliasson said becomes as issue when “we fail to take the early warning signals on human rights as seriously as we should.”
That means that the UN will be working closely the human rights and humanitarian communities, he added noting that “we see no contradiction between human rights prevention work and the protection of civilians.”
The third element is an internal topic related to how the UN is organized and how it is prepared to deal with situations that risk turning mass atrocities.
“You may recall in the IRP [Internal Review Panel] Report on Sri Lanka, that we had a systemic failure of the UN system as a whole and that we need to show greater flexibilities and come up with speedier action,” Mr. Eliasson stressed, echoing his remarks to an informal meeting of the General Assembly earlier this week.
There, he told delegations that the Panel’s report, issued last year, also concluded that the UN Secretariat, its funds and programmes, were not given the support they needed to carry out the responsibilities which the Member States had set out for the Organization.
The goal of the new initiative, he said, is to ensure that past UN failures are not repeated, such as its inability to have prevented genocide in Rwanda, where at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed during a span of three months in 1994, and in Srebrenica, where at least 6,000 Muslim men and boys in a UN protection zone were massacred in 1995 during the wars in former Yugoslavia.
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