As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at Formal Debate of the General Assembly under agenda item “The responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”  


Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are here to talk about the Responsibility to Protect.

And, for the first time in nearly a decade, we are doing it through a formal debate.

As we know, R2P is complex.

It was born in 2005. And it has evolved and developed a lot since then.

There are three elements that I want to highlight, in particular, today.

First, people.

We know what kind of crimes and violations are covered by the Responsibility to Protect:


…War crimes.

…Ethnic cleansing.

…And crimes against humanity.

These are all legal terms and definitions.

But we cannot forget that, behind them, are real people.

People who have been killed; people who have been stripped of their humanity; people who have seen things no one should have to see.

Survivors have told their harrowing stories, in this very hall.

And I listened to many, when I travelled to Rwanda last May.

I heard about how genocide ripped societies apart. And about the trauma and pain – which will never, fully, disappear.

So, yes, we are here to discuss the Responsibility to Protect. It is rooted in international law, and in the United Nations’ Charter. But what we are really talking about is people. And the responsibility governments – and the international community – have to them, and to humanity.

My second point, today, is on prevention.

Because, I believe this is the core of the Responsibility to Protect; to do everything we can to avoid reaching the point where humanity is lost.

But, I want to be frank: prevention is hard work.

It does not always make the headlines.

It often takes place, behind the scenes – over a long period of time.

And, it requires real investment, in terms of both time and money.

It means making institutions stronger – and more capable of protecting the people they serve.

…Technical assistance to countries which need to build their early warning systems.

…Humanitarian support and protection, for the most vulnerable people.

…Support to grassroots groups, including women’s networks – which can flag worrying patterns of discrimination, hate speech or intolerance.

…Promotion of the rule of law and human rights.

…Accountability for violations of humanitarian law.

…And intense diplomatic efforts, if things start to go downhill.

Like I said, all of this is hard work. But it is worth it.

Prevention can save people from experiencing the horrors of atrocity crimes. And, more pragmatically, it can save money.

Let us use the same example of Rwanda. A recent World Bank and United Nations study said every $1 invested there, in preventing the recurrence of violence, has saved $16, over the past two decades.

The third point I want to make today is about this Assembly.

This is where the Responsibility to Protect was born.

It was this body that held a high-level plenary meeting on R2P, in its 60th session.

As you know, this led to a universal adoption of this concept, at the 2005 World Summit.

And a formal General Assembly resolution followed four years later, in 2009.

And, although eight informal dialogues have been held, today is the first formal meeting on the Responsibility to Protect, since then.

And so, I think it is a good time to remind ourselves of the weight on our shoulders

This Organisation was born from horror. Every United Nations Member State has made a commitment to confine such horrors to history. And the Responsibility to Protect can help us to meet this commitment. So it deserves our full attention today.


President of the UN General Assembly

This Assembly is the United Nations’ most representative organ. It gives every Member State a seat, and a platform. And its main job is to bring this Organisation forward – and to work towards the values in its Charter.

That is why it has been the birthplace of the most ambitious frameworks this world has seen. And many of them are related to our discussion today – for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.

And, here, I want to point out the link between the Responsibility to Protect and the United Nations Charter. It is a very clear one. All action under R2P must take place within the parameters of the Charter – including the principle of state sovereignty.

But, more than that: We have all committed, through the Charter’s first line, to save future generations from the scourge of war. And the Responsibility to Protect is based on this very objective.

So, I believe we have a serious job today.

It doesn’t mean we all have to agree.

We can debate, we can have different opinions, and we can offer our own views.

But let us not forget that this Organisation was born from horror.

Every United Nations Member State has made a commitment to confine such horrors to history.

And, the Responsibility to Protect can help us to meet this commitment.

So, it deserves our full attention today.

Thank you.