The mandates of the Special Advisers are focused on prevention, including early warning. The Office that supports the Special Advisers gathers information from a variety of sources (within and outside the United Nations system) to make an assessment of whether there is risk of atrocity crimes in a particular situation, or whether the commission of atrocity crimes is on-going or may have taken place. In specific circumstances where information might be limited or not available, the Office may also undertake exploratory field missions to consolidate its analysis and understanding on specific situations of concern.
Based on information collected, the Office will prepare an assessment of the risk of atrocity crimes using the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes. The Framework is a methodological tool which the Office developed to assist integrated and consistent analysis of the risk of atrocity crimes in situations worldwide. The Office also actively works to enhance the overall capacity of the United Nations system to identify, from the perspective of the different relevant mandates of the organisation, early warning signs of the risk of atrocity crimes.
When the Special Advisers and their Office assess there to be a risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, they alert the Secretary-General and United Nations system, as well as the international community, and make recommendations on course of action to address the risks. The Office also co-operates with Member States, regional and sub-regional arrangements and civil society to advocate for action to prevent, halt and/or punish such “alleged” or “possible” crimes, as well as to develop more effective means of response when they do occur.
Neither the Special Advisers nor their Office have judicial or quasi-judicial powers. Therefore, they are not in a position to make a legal determination as to whether specific situations, either ongoing or from the past, constitute crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Their focus is preventive; they are mandated to warn of the risk of atrocity crimes and advocate for timely and appropriate action to prevent the crimes from occurring; to halt those crimes that may be ongoing and punish those responsible if they have already occurred in order to prevent their recurrence.