Fifteen years of the responsibility to protect: a collective commitment to humanity

On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the responsibility to protect, on 7 October 2020, the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect convened a high-level virtual panel discussion to mark the historic adoption of the principle at the World Summit in 2005. The event was moderated by the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Karen Smith, brought together five eminent experts involved in the development and implementation of the principle from different parts of the world:

  • Jan Eliasson, former Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations and President of the 60th session of the General Assembly.
  • Juan E. Mendez, Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at WCL/American University and former Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.
  • Liberata Mulamula, former Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary of Tanzania and former Executive Secretary of International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
  • Donald Deya, Chief Executive Officer of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and Chair of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP).
  • Savita Pawnday, Deputy Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Opening remarks were provided by Ambassador Tegan Brink, Chef de Cabinet to the President of the General Assembly, on behalf of the President. Ambassador Brink outlined the importance of finding solutions that embrace multilateralism, defend global norms and standards and uphold international humanitarian law to protect vulnerable populations from atrocity crimes.

Panelists reflected on the context in which the groundbreaking consensus on the responsibility to protect was reached at the World Summit in 2005, including challenges, drivers and compromises ultimately leading to the adoption of the principle. Notably, panelists recalled the key contributions from the global South in shaping those deliberations. Reiterating that all three pillars of work of the United Nations – peace and security, human rights and development – are connected to the prevention of atrocity crimes, panelists emphasized that the adoption of the responsibility to protect signaled a historic shift that raised human rights to the level of the other two pillars. In their view, this development helped create a culture of prevention at a time when this was absent. At the same time, they also recognized that much remains to be done to fully operationalize prevention work. In this vein, they encouraged maximizing the potential of pillar II of the principle; on the responsibility of the international community to assist States in advancing prevention efforts. In their view, other prevention agendas requiring further attention include strengthening early warning and response systems; enhancing the role of regional and subregional organizations in atrocity prevention; and acting upon the mutual and reinforcing connections between the responsibility to protect and international criminal justice.

The Acting Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Pramilla Patten, delivered closing remarks and encouraged all Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations, the United Nations and civil society organizations to promote the responsibility to protect and work collectively to make protection from atrocity crimes a living reality.

High-level virtual panel discussion on 15th anniversary of the responsibility to protect