Secretary-General

Incoming Secretary-General takes oath of office.
UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The Secretary-General contributes actively to the implementation of the responsibility to protect principle through his good offices, his briefings to the inter-governmental bodies of the United Nations and the work of the different departments that compose the Secretariat on issues related to early warning, conflict prevention, human rights, cooperation with regional organizations, political engagement with member states, capacity building, electoral assistance, mediation, administering peacekeeping/peacebuilding/political missions etc. In particular, the Secretary-General is mandated to bring issues or situations threatening the maintenance of peace and security, including those where atrocity crimes are likely to occur or are ongoing, to the attention of other United Nations organs.

The Secretary-General has also taken a series of steps to elaborate the responsibility to protect principle and guide its practical implementation, including the establishment of the position of the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect in 2007 (S/2007/721).

Importantly, since 2009, the Secretary-General has advanced the conceptual and practical development of the responsibility to protect through annual reports to the General Assembly and the Security Council:

  • 2009: Implementing the responsibility to protect (A/63/677)
  • 2010: Early warning, assessment and the responsibility to protect (A/64/864)
  • 2011: The role of regional and subregional arrangements in implementing the responsibility to protect (A/65/877-S/2011/393)
  • 2012: Responsibility to protect: timely and decisive response (A/66/874-S/2012/578)
  • 2013: Responsibility to Protect: State responsibility and prevention (A/67/929-S/2013/399)
  • 2014: Fulfilling our collective responsibility: international assistance and the responsibility to protect (A/68/947-S/2014/449)
  • 2015: A vital and enduring commitment: implementing the responsibility to protect (A/69/981–S/2015/500)
  • 2016: Mobilising collective action: the next decade of the responsibility to protect (A/70/999-S/2016/620)
  • 2017: Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Accountability for Prevention (A/71/1016-S/2017/556)

These reports have outlined a strategy for implementation of the Responsibility to Protect principle based on three equal and mutually-reinforcing pillars:

  • Pillar I Addresses how States can fulfil their primary responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement (A/67/929-S/2013/399).
  • Pillar II Outlines the collective responsibility of the international community to encourage and help States meet their responsibility to protect their populations (A/68/947-S/2014/449) as well as to help States build capacity in doing so.
  • Pillar III Elaborates on the responsibility of the international community to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect population from those crimes and violation. It also presents options for timely and decisive response, including collective action, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and on a case-by-case basis, when national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity (A/66/874-S/2012/578).

The Secretary-General has also provided more specific guidance on early warning and assessment of atrocity crimes (A/64/864) and the role of regional and sub-regional arrangements (A/65/877-S/2011/393).

The three pillars of the responsibility to protect encompass a wide range of options for anticipating, preventing, and responding to atrocity crimes. As the Secretary-General has repeatedly emphasized, they reflect the overriding importance of addressing emerging risks of atrocity crimes, investing in prevention, and halting the escalation of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law into genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. When these measures fail and atrocity crimes do occur, the Secretary-General has consistently emphasized the responsibility of the international community to demonstrate its collective determination to end the most egregious forms of violence by responding in a timely and decisive manner.

As the three pillar framework makes clear, the responsibility to protect is neither limited to situations of ongoing conflict nor only concerned with the use of coercive measures. History demonstrates that no society is immune to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The responsibility to protect thus applies everywhere and at all times. For this reason, implementation of the principle also depends on the efforts of a wide range of actors, including Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations, and civil society.

Through annual consideration of the Secretary-General’s reports, Member States have developed a consensus on the core aspects of the responsibility to protect, including the need to prioritize prevention, to utilize the full range of diplomatic, political, and humanitarian measures available, to consider military force only as a last resort, and to ensure that implementation of the responsibility to protect is in accordance with the United Nations Charter and other established principles of international law.

Implementing the Responsibility to Protect – Policy tools

Pillar I: Building National Resilience

  • Impartial Oversight of Political Transitions
  • Professional and Accountable Security Sector
  • Rule of Law and Human Rights
  • Early Warning and Atrocity Prevention Capacity
  • Capacity for Dialogue and Conflict Resolution
  • Legitimate and Effective Transitional Justice
  • Equitable Distribution of Economic Resources
  • Education Relevant to Atrocity Crime Prevention

Pillar II: International Encouragement, Assistance and Capacity-Building

  • International Human Rights Monitoring and Peer Review
  • Preventive Diplomacy
  • Mediation and Political Dialogue
  • Support for a Professional and Accountable Security Sector
  • Support for Impartial Institutions for Overseeing Political Transitions
  • Support for Independent Judicial and Human Rights Institutions
  • Building Early Warning and Atrocity Prevention Capacity
  • Building Capacity for Dialogue and Conflict Resolution
  • Building Capacity to Counteract Prejudice and Hate Speech
  • Support for Legitimate and Effective Transitional Justice
  • Denying the Means to Commit Atrocity Crimes
  • Dispute Resolution Expertise
  • Monitoring or Observer Missions
  • Criminal Investigations, Fact-Finding Missions, & Commissions of Inquiry
  • Protection of Refugees and Internally Displaced
  • Protection of Civilians in Humanitarian Emergencies
  • Peacekeeping and Stabilization Assistance
  • Gender
  • Support for efforts to combat sexual violence

Pillar III: Timely and Decisive Response

  • Preventive Diplomacy
  • Mediation and Political Dialogue
  • Public Advocacy
  • Criminal Investigations, Fact-Finding Missions, & Commissions of Inquiry
  • Monitoring or Observer Missions
  • Referral to the ICC
  • Sanctions
  • Protection of Refugees and Internally Displaced
  • Protection of Civilians in Humanitarian Emergencies
  • UN Charter Chapter VII Authorised Use of Force