The Mandate and Role of the Office
A Bosnian Muslim woman mourns at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial
and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide, Bosnia and
Herzegovina. (July 2010, AP Photo / Marko Drobnjakovic)
The Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect works to strengthen the role of the United Nations in preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity by collecting and assessing information on situations of concern, advocating for appropriate preventive action, and raising awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide and related crimes and possible courses of action.
Information collection and assessment
The Office collects information, in particular from within the UN system, on massive and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law of ethnic and racial origin that, if not prevented or halted, might lead to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In close consultation with the UN system, the Office maintains working files on situations of concern based on the Office’s Analysis Framework , which identifies eight factors which, cumulatively, could lead to genocidal violence. The Office encourages other institutions and organizations to adopt this framework in their analysis of the risk of genocide. The Office is currently developing similar frameworks to assess the risk of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes.
The following factors cumulatively increase the risk of genocide:
- Tense inter-group relations, including a record of discrimination and/or other human rights violations committed against a group;
- Weak institutional capacity to prevent genocide, such as the lack of an independent judiciary, ineffective national human rights institutions, the absence of international actors capable of protecting vulnerable groups, and a lack of impartial security forces and media;
- The presence of illegal arms and armed elements;
- Underlying political, economic, military or other motivation to target a group;
- Circumstances that facilitate perpetration of genocide, such as a sudden or gradual strengthening of the military or security apparatus;
- Acts that could be elements of genocide, such as killings, abduction and disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, “ethnic cleansing” or pogroms or the deliberate deprivation of food;
- Evidence of the “intent to destroy in whole or in part”;
- Triggering factors, such as elections.
When there is cause for concern, the Office acts as a mechanism of early warning to the Security Council, through the Secretary-General, by bringing these situations to its attention. Specifically, the Office provides timely advice to the Secretary-General on preventive action and mobilizes the UN system and other key partners, taking into account the urgency of a situation, and conducts advocacy missions to countries where the involvement of the Special Advisers is considered of particular value.
The early warning work of the Office fulfills a critical role within the UN system as it is the only organ specifically mandated to consolidate and analyze information on situations where there is a risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity.
The Office creates knowledge and raises awareness of the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in order to enhance the capacity of the United Nations to analyse and manage information relevant to genocide and related crimes, and enable States, the United Nations system and civil society to work collectively towards preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The Office assists regional organizations and governments to institute prevention mechanisms for genocide and related crimes, and engages governments on the nature of genocide and constructive ways of managing diversity as a preventive strategy. Finally, the Office conducts training seminars for government officials, civil society and UN staff on the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.