Never Forget Victims of Atrocities, Urges Secretary-General as He Opens Special General Assembly Session on Implementing Responsibility to Protect

21 July 2009

Never Forget Victims of Atrocities, Urges Secretary-General as He Opens Special General Assembly Session on Implementing Responsibility to Protect

21 July 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly


96th Meeting (AM)

never forget victims of atrocities, urges Secretary-General as he opens special


General Assembly session on implementing responsibility to protect


Presenting Report, He Cautions against ‘Politics as Usual’ Approach to Debate

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this morning urged Member States to help save humanity from genocide and other massive human rights abuses as he opened a General Assembly special session on the subject of the responsibility to protect, which will continue with a thematic interactive dialogue and general debate on Thursday, 23 July.

“Never forget the victims of atrocities and crimes in so many places,” Mr. Ban said as he introduced his report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect (document A/63/677).  “They number in the millions.  Those losses have permanently stained the history of the twentieth century.  Together, in this century, we can chart a different course.”

In the report, the Secretary-General recalls that Heads of State and Government at the 2005 World Summit unanimously affirmed that “each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”, and agreed that the international community should assist States in exercising that responsibility.

According to the report, when a State was “manifestly failing” to protect its population from specific human rights violations, the Summit confirmed that the international community was prepared to take collective action in a “timely and decisive manner” through the Security Council and in accordance with the United Nations Charter.  The best way to discourage individual States or groups of States from abusing the protection concept would be to develop fully United Nations strategies, standards, processes, tools and practices in that area.

This morning, the Secretary-General stressed the report’s assertion that prevention should be “job number one”, requiring a balanced and nuanced approach and a strengthening of regional arrangements.  He said that when prevention failed, the United Nations needed to pursue an early and flexible response tailored to the circumstances in each case, underlining, however, that:  “Military action is a measure of last, not first, resort and should only be undertaken in accordance with provisions of the Charter.”

Essential to the concept of the responsibility to protect, he said, was demonstrating that sovereignty and responsibility were mutually reinforcing principles, as was holding armed groups and non-State actors to the same standards as States in territory under their control.  The Secretary-General urged Member States to put aside arguments over ideology and geography in the upcoming special session, and to embark on a search for common ground and a multilateral strategy that could work to protect humanity.  There were already signs of an emerging consensus on State responsibility and international assistance.

Noting that differences persisted in the area of response, he affirmed that the issue was a contentious one that could not be expected to be completely resolved this week.  However, it was crucial to keep the dialogue going, “building on what has been achieved and setting markers for the future”.  Above all, it was important to erase the “complacency and cynicism” that often prevented the United Nations from acting as early or effectively as it should.  Recalling the Rwandan genocide, he said:  “Our publics judged us then, and found us wanting.  They will be watching again this week, and they will –- rightfully –- judge us harshly if we treat these deliberations as politics as usual.”

The General Assembly will meet again to discuss the implementation of the responsibility to protect at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 23 July.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.