– As delivered –
Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly
17 May 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
In this seventy-fifth year of the United Nations we are often reflecting upon the history of the United Nations. In doing so, it is critical that we learn from our failures in the past – such as in Rwanda and Srebrenica. These were the places of collective failures, the kind of tragedies which the United Nations was created to prevent.
Even many decades after the creation of the United Nations, there is still a clear gap between the existing obligations of Member States under international humanitarian law and human rights law, and the reality for populations at risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
The Responsibility to Protect Agenda, which was unanimously adopted at the UN World Summit in 2005, provides the international community with a critical tool to build peace, prioritize prevention, and protect populations.
Of course, responsibility to protect – or ‘R2P’ – is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The worst forms of crimes continue to be committed with far-reaching, enduring ramifications. Today more than 80 million of the people we are duty-bound to serve are forcibly displaced. I met with some of these people when I visited the Syrian border in Hatay last month, and next week, I will travel to Cox’s Bazar to hear from refugees there, and the host country that has generously opened its arms.
In the past year alone, vulnerable populations are exposed to heightened risks of serious human rights violations and other crimes, behind the veil of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a marked increase in stigmatization and hate speech at a time when we should demonstrate solidarity against a shared challenge. This intolerance has persisted throughout the pandemic, with a particular worrying trend of increased incitement and violence, towards national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.
Let us not forget that our responsibility towards others is, in effect, a responsibility to ourselves, and to the community of humankind, of which we are part. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic we have seen the importance of protection and prevention, in a different form and that by protecting others, we are ultimately protecting ourselves, and the community at large.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I call on all Member States, to take measures to protect their populations, paying particular attention to the challenges facing the most vulnerable groups and those marginalised.
The General Assembly will continue its work towards the universal implementation of human rights. Right now we need the political will of all Member States if we are to stop atrocities from taking place. Each Member State must assist each other in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, international law, and the responsibility to protect, when national authorities manifestly fail in their protection responsibilities.
I also avail of this opportunity, to echo the Secretary-General’s call, for a global ceasefire. The flagrant disregard of international humanitarian and human rights law, by State and non-State actors, is beyond the pale. The weaponization of food, sexual and gender-based violence, the deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals, and the destruction of religious sites, is unacceptable. At a time of universal suffering, it is unimaginably cruel. Yet it continues.
There is no backstop.
It is our responsibility:
– to protect civilians;
– to stop hate speech, when it is first uttered;
– to protect and uphold the rights of every individual without distinction;
– to condemn incitement, harassment, and violence against persons or communities;
– to take timely and effective steps to protect communities that are under threat of mass atrocities;
– to prevent future acts of genocide;
– to ensure accountability and justice.
I thank you and I wish all the best in your endeavours today and tomorrow.