The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide is mandated to alert the Secretary-General and through him, the Security Council, about situations where he considers there is a risk of genocide. The Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, by working to develop the conceptual, political and operational aspects of this principle, also plays an early warning role in the prevention not only of genocide but also of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Together, the Special Advisers work to identify risks of atrocity crimes, alert partners within and outside the United Nations to situations where there is a risk of these crimes, recommend preventive action and mobilize the United Nations system, Member States, regional and sub-regional arrangements and civil society to prevent or halt these crimes.
The Special Advisers’ advising and mobilizing actions can take several forms. Within the United Nations, they advise the Secretary-General on situations of concern and consult with United Nations partner departments, agencies, funds and programmes on possible courses of action. Also, they raise situations of concern at inter-agency forums, ranging from the Secretary-General’s Senior Management meeting to, at the working level, country-specific inter-agency task forces. The Special Advisers’ Office is also engaged in the system-wide prevention mechanisms established under the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative. The Special Advisers can also convene key Under Secretaries-General in crisis situations, where appropriate to discuss policy and strategy options.
Outside the United Nations, the Special Advisers partner with regional and sub-regional organizations, Member States and civil society organizations to advance collective prevention and response efforts. They provide technical assistance on the integration of atrocity crimes prevention within the political and operational policies of those actors, as well as on measures to address situations of concern. The Special Advisers also engage in quiet diplomacy with Member States, in coordination with other partners in the United Nations system, when this can contribute to facilitating prevention and protection efforts. As part of their advising and mobilizing functions, the Special Advisers may issue public statements on situations of concern and address them in public forums, as needed. They also encourage and support civil society actors to use their voices, with the same objective.
Check out some of our projects:
Prevention of incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes
The Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect has made the prevention of incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes one of its thematic priorities. The mandate for the Office’s work on the prevention of incitement comes from two sources; (i) Article III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which lists “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” as a “punishable act”; and (ii) Paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 60/1, in which Member States commit to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Heads of State and Government agreed that this responsibility “entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement.” Incitement to violence against one of the groups protected under the Genocide Convention has also been identified by the Framework of Analysis the Office has produced as an indicator of the risk of atrocity crimes.
In societies that are fragile as a result of political or other forms of instability, one of the key triggers to violence that can lead to atrocity crimes is the kind of messages in public discourse or in the media that spread hostility and hatred and encourage or incite populations to commit violence against specific communities, often on the basis of their religious or ethnic identity. The Office has noted an alarming spike in online and offline hate speech and incitement in recent years, both in conflict and peaceful situations.
The Office’s engagement on this issue is linked to the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence – a tool developed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that includes mostly legal recommendations to Member States to combat incitement. Linked to the Rabat Plan of Action, the Office developed a set of Policy Options Preventing Incitement to Violence, non-legal recommendations to different actors aimed at preventing incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes.
The role of religious leaders in the prevention of incitement to violence
The dissemination of hate speech and incitement is most effective when the speaker is a person of influence and the audience is receptive, as if often the case for religious leaders. Religious leaders are often responsible for hate speech and incitement - but are also responsible for preventing and countering incitement by spreading messages of peace and tolerance. Given the particular influence that religious leaders have, the Office has sought to engage them in the development of strategies for preventing incitement to violence around the world.
The Office’s engagement is linked to the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence – a tool developed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that includes mostly legal recommendations to Member States to combat incitement. Linked to the Rabat Plan of Action, the Office developed a set of Policy Options for Preventing Incitement to Violence, non-legal recommendations to different actors aimed at preventing incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes – States and regional organisations, the United Nations and civil society, including religious leaders.
The Office has been working with religious leaders worldwide to promote their role in preventing incitement to violence in the context of a process known as the “Fez Process”. This process included six consultations with religious leaders and actors in 2015 and 2016 and was supported by an expert Advisory Committee. The first, global, consultation took place in Fez, Morocco, and resulted in the Fez Declaration and the Fez Plan of Action, which served as the basis for the five subsequent regional consultations. Each consultation resulted in a context-specific regional strategy for religious leaders and actors to prevent incitement to violence and contributed to the final Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes (the Plan of Action), which was launched by the Secretary-General at an event in New York in July 2017.
A total of 232 religious leaders and actors from 77 countries took part in the consultations. They included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, as well as representatives from religious minorities, including Baha’i, Candomblé, Kakai and Yazidi, as well as humanists. At least 30 percent of the participants in all consultations were women.
The Plan of Action makes detailed recommendations for actions to (i) prevent and counter incitement to violence; (ii) enhance capacity, dialogue, and collaboration with other actors, including the media for the prevention of incitement and (iii) contribute to building peaceful, just and inclusive societies. It is intended to be a tool for religious leaders and actors as well as for the Member States, United Nations partners, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations that will support implementation of its recommendations.
The Plan of Action and regional action plans are pioneering documents as they are the first to engage with religious leaders and actors to develop context specific strategies to prevent incitement that could lead to atrocity crimes. Their implementation could contribute not only to the prevention of atrocity crimes but also to other key prevention agendas of the United Nations.
As a next step, and as a direct result of the Fez Process, the Office is supporting the organization by religious leaders of consultations in countries that have experienced or are currently experiencing hate speech, hostility or incitement to violence that targets communities based on their religious identity, with the aim of developing national strategies that religious leaders can implement, working in cooperation with each other across religions, and in cooperation with national authorities.