Preventing atrocity crimes was not only essential in humanitarian terms but also economically more effective than crisis response, speakers stressed as the General Assembly today opened its debate on the responsibility to protect civilians and avert genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres underscored that the Assembly’s debate was occurring against a backdrop of attacks against hospitals and schools, sexual violence and the targeting of specific ethnic groups in actions that could amount to genocide. “None of these crimes is ‘inevitable’ or a by‑product of conflict. All atrocity crimes are preventable and can never be justified,” he said, pointing to the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
Taking the example of Rwanda, he underscored that a recent study carried out by the World Bank and the United Nations had found that every $1 spent to prevent violence had saved $16 over the past two decades. He stressed the importance of building consensus in order to end violence and uphold the principle of the responsibility to protect. “At this time of extreme challenges, we must not abandon the responsibility to protect or leave it in a state of suspended animation, finely articulated in words but breached time and again in practice,” he said. “The credibility of the international community, and above all the lives of millions, rests on us.”
The Secretary‑General also took the opportunity to urge Member States to ratify the instruments of international law that were related to the crimes mentioned in the Summit’s outcome document, noting that 45 States had not yet ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák noted that the United Nations had been born from horror and that “every United Nations Member State has made a commitment to confine such horrors to history”. The responsibility to protect had been established in the General Assembly and all actions carried out with regard to that key principle should occur in accordance with the United Nations Charter, he stressed.
Prevention of such atrocities was vital, he said, noting that such efforts were important despite the fact they seldom made headlines. “Prevention can save people from experiencing the horrors of atrocity crimes. And more pragmatically, it can save money,” he said.
The United Kingdom’s representative said that a fundamental tension arose when Member States sought to avoid shining a spotlight on internal persecution and discrimination, increasing the likelihood of a larger crisis being created that required outside intervention. “In this chamber, we don’t give that tension enough of our own attention,” she said, calling for a more systematic and structured approach to information gathering and analysis throughout the United Nations system. To that end, she said it was important to fill the position of the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. On the subject of mediation, she said that “‘never again’ needs to really mean something”, and that if countries wanted to avoid international engagement then they should ensure their own populations were looked after.
The speaker for Qatar, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, echoed those sentiments, highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide and noting that “ratifying and complying with the Convention is an affirmation of the commitment of ‘never again’”. Furthermore, she underscored the importance of reporting progress in carrying out the responsibility to protect, noting that the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review was well placed to support such efforts. National accountability efforts were also important and were among the most effective ways of preventing recurrence of atrocity crimes.
Kiribati’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, gave an example of the responsibility to protect in action. He noted that the Biketawa Declaration had recognized the vulnerability of its members to civil unrest and other security threats, and had committed to resolve conflict through regional cooperation. That cooperation helped to lay the foundations for stability and prosperity in the Solomon Islands, and the mission was aided by the fact that assistance was requested and given in the early stages of unrest. The consent of the Solomon Islands to the intervention was essential, he said.
The speaker for the European Union also highlighted the role of regional organizations, whose early warning mechanisms and conflict and resolution capacities were of use in the prevention of atrocity crimes. She suggested that a focal point on the responsibility to protect might be appointed in order to raise awareness. The European Union, she said, stood ready to share its own experiences with others.
Mexico’s representative said: “There is no better conflict prevention than sustainable development.” The Organization would be better placed focusing on tackling the root causes of conflict, rather than prioritizing crisis response once a conflict had already begun, he said, noting that the joint United Nations‑World Bank study had found that, for each $1 spent on prevention, the international community saved $7 on crisis management. Emphasizing the role of women and the importance of mediation, he urged delegates to note that “peace has a woman’s face”. In addition, any reform of the Security Council should look at restricting the use of the veto in situations of mass atrocities. His country had put forward an initiative with France on that matter, he said.
On that subject, Latvia’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Estonia and Lithuania, expressed his support for the proposal. All too often, States were not willing or able to prevent or respond to such atrocities, he said.
The representative of the United States also spoke on the role of the Security Council, noting that it should take more timely action on current and future humanitarian crises. Regarding the situation in South Sudan, the Council had been paralysed since the passage of resolution 2206 (2015). In response to the flight of millions from the fighting that region in the last two years, the Council’s sanctions had been renewed, but more needed to be done, including the imposition of a comprehensive arms embargo, she said.
Italy’s delegate, meanwhile, urged the Security Council to hold more regular debates on the threat of atrocity crimes. He also spoke on his country’s Responsibility to Protect in Schools initiative, which had been developed with the Netherlands to educate students on the importance of human rights. In addition, the protection of civilians required trained peacekeeping troops and a strong political commitment, and Italy was at the forefront of troop‑contributing countries as the top Western‑contributing Member State.
Several delegations offered a note of caution on the responsibility to protect, underscoring that the matter could be used for different ends. The speaker for Syria said that some Member States were exploiting the responsibility to protect without a United Nations mandate. He noted that thousands had lost their lives in military operations that had claimed to be protecting civilians but had killed them instead.
Cuba’s delegate said that the concept lacked a clear consensus on its definition, and could be used for political ends. Therefore it was a mistake to speak of it as a principle. Rather, it was a concept, and it was improper to talk about it until consensus was reached.
The representative of Pakistan said: “We should also be mindful that the notion of responsibility to protect does not become a mere re‑enactment of the discredited humanitarian interventions of the past”, underscoring that it was not a license to intervene. The concept should not conflict with the principle of non‑intervention, she said.
Also speaking today were representatives of Australia, Ghana, India, Brazil, Croatia, Spain, Netherlands, Slovenia, Costa Rica, Slovakia, Japan, Denmark, Morocco, Germany, Uruguay, Peru, Liechtenstein, Hungary, Czechia, Switzerland, Turkey, Sudan, France, Argentina, Israel, South Africa, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Singapore, Poland, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Egypt and Belgium.
The representative of India spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m., on Tuesday, 26 June to carry out its sixth review of the United Nations Global Counter‑Terrorism Strategy.
MIROSLAV LAJČÁK, President of the General Assembly, said that while it was known what types of crimes were covered by the responsibility to protect, from genocide and war crimes to ethnic cleaning and crimes against humanity, it should not be forgotten that those crimes had an impact on real people. The international community had a responsibility to protect them. Furthermore, prevention was at the core of the responsibility to protect. “Prevention is hard work. It does not always make the headlines,” he said. “It also requires real investment in terms of time and money.” It meant making institutions stronger, and providing technical assistance to countries, as well as humanitarian support and protection to the most vulnerable.
“Prevention can save people from experiencing the horrors of atrocity crimes. And more pragmatically, it can save money,” he said. Taking the example of Rwanda, he underscored that a recent study carried out by the World Bank and the United Nations had found that every $1 spent to prevent violence had saved $16 over the past two decades. Noting that the General Assembly was where the responsibility to protect was born, he also said that all action with regard to that principle should take place within the boundaries of the United Nations Charter, including as it pertained to State sovereignty. “I believe we have a serious job today,” he said. The Organization was born from horror, he said, stressing: “Every United Nations Member State has made a commitment to confine such horrors to history.”
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary‑General, said that he welcomed the formal debate and that it had come at a critical time. When the responsibility to protect was endorsed at the 2005 high‑level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, it came at a time of profound global divisions. The imperative was clear: more should be done to protect people. Today, there was fear that the principle could be used to take actions other than those agreed to at the 2005 World Summit. He also underscored concerns about possible double standards, and noted that discussions such as the one in the General Assembly were important to establish trust.
He noted that the primary responsibility to protect people rested with States. Each individual State had the responsibility to protect its population. Protection was a fundamental part of the exercise of the national sovereignty of a State. Steps that could be taken included designing policies to address vulnerabilities. He encouraged Member States that had not yet done so to ratify and domesticate the instruments of international law that were related to the crimes mentioned in the World Summit outcome document, as 45 States had not yet ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The international community had a responsibility to support States in fulfilling that task.
However, the responsibility to protect did not create a new mechanism for intervention, he said. Any action should be carried out through the Security Council in accordance with the Charter on a case‑by‑case basis. The discussion in the General Assembly was taking place against a backdrop of atrocity crimes, including attacks against hospitals and schools, as well as rampant sexual violence and the targeting of specific ethnic groups that could amount to genocide. “None of these crimes is ‘inevitable’ or a by‑product of conflict. All atrocity crimes are preventable and can never be justified,” he said, pointing to the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
It was important to form the consensus needed to build responses to end suffering and violence, and to uphold the principle of the responsibility to protect while preventing its misuse. “At this time of extreme challenges, we must not abandon the responsibility to protect or leave it in a state of suspended animation, finely articulated in words but breached times and again in practice,” he said. “The credibility of the international community, and above all the lives of millions, rest on us.”
ALYA AHMED S. AL-THANI (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that the acceptance of the responsibility to protect through the World Summit outcome document remained a key commitment. That responsibility reinforced, rather than undermined, State sovereignty, she emphasized, noting that the prevention of atrocities was at the core of each of its three pillars. It was important to make a concerted effort to continue reporting on progress towards implementing that responsibility to protect, she noted, citing the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review as well placed to support preventive efforts. The General Assembly should also play a more active role in supporting States in such efforts, with the Security Council considering situations with the potential for mass atrocities at the earliest possible stage. Working methods such as situational awareness and Arria formula meetings should be used.
“Accountability for the perpetrators of atrocity crimes is among the most effective ways of preventing recurrence,” she continued, adding that national accountability efforts must be encouraged, including through strengthening judicial cooperation. International investigative mechanisms, including fact‑finding missions and inquiry commissions, could support efforts to promote accountability. Moreover, international courts and hybrid tribunals, including the International Criminal Court, provided complementary avenues to enable accountability under appropriate circumstances. Reiterating the significance of the Convention as an effective international instrument, she noted that the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide had launched an appeal for its universal ratification. “Ratifying and complying with the Convention is an affirmation of the commitment of ‘never again’,” she said.
JOANNE ADAMSON, European Union, said that it was topical to discuss the responsibility to protect at a time when there were allegations of mass atrocities being committed in various parts of the world. “It is a well‑established principle that preventing is far more effective than reacting,” she said, noting that the Organization’s ongoing reform should enhance capacities and accountability across the system, making it fit to address atrocity prevention. The European Union was preparing a dedicated, evidence‑based toolkit on that issue, to provide its diplomatic, military and civilian mission staff with hands‑on knowledge. Regional organizations could have an added value in atrocity prevention, thanks to their specific early warning mechanisms, their conflict prevention and resolution capacities, and their potential for channelling assessments and good practices. In that regard, appointing a focal point on the responsibility to protect would be a useful step for such organizations to raise awareness, and the European Union stood ready to share its own experience.
Guidance, coordination and support by the United Nations to its Member States was crucial in preventing atrocities, she noted, highlighting the role of the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect. As stressed by the Secretary‑General in his threefold strategy, accountability must be promoted in that regard. States had the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes committed within their jurisdictions, while international courts and hybrid tribunals could play an important role when States were unwilling or unable to do so. The General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and human rights treaty bodies and mechanisms as well as the Security Council must also be mobilized in preventing atrocities. Endorsing expanding civilian action in that regard, she recalled that the bloc had been encouraging dialogue among a wide spectrum of national and international civil society actors. It also supported the role that women and youth could play in de‑escalating tensions and building peace in their communities, she said, highlighting the importance of engaging leaders and faith‑based actors in the fight against discrimination, hate speech and other risk factors for mass atrocities.
TEBURORO TITO (Kiribati), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said that the implementation of the responsibility to protect principle should be the focus of the discussion, rather than to renegotiate or reinterpret the commitment made in 2005. The Pacific Islands Forum members believed that early dialogue, partnership and action, particularly at the regional level, was critical to delivering on the responsibility to protect. The importance of early warning and early action was recognized and enshrined by Forum members in a declaration in Biketawa, Kiribati, at the beginning of the century. That document recognized the vulnerability of all Forum members to civil unrest and other threats to our security.
The Biketawa Declaration articulated a common commitment to resolve conflict through regional cooperation, he said. It had also served as the springboard for a number of regional assistance missions, including the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, which commenced in 2003 and concluded in 2017. That Mission was a partnership between the people and the Government of the Solomon Islands and 15 contributing countries from the Pacific region. Its mandate was to help lay the foundations for long‑term stability and prosperity in the Solomon Islands, by restoring civil order, rebuilding the machinery of government, and helping to rebuild the economy. The consent of the Solomon Islands was a prerequisite for the Mission and an essential element of its success. Another critical reason for the Mission’s success was that assistance was requested and provided in the early stages of unrest. It was an example of the responsibility to protect in action.
JĀNIS MAŽEIKS (Latvia), also speaking on behalf of Estonia and Lithuania, and associating himself with the European Union, said that it was the primary responsibility of individual States to protect all populations within their territory from mass atrocity crimes. Timely identification of risks and detecting early warning signs of atrocity crimes could help save lives. It was crucial to continue such preventive efforts, including by developing and integrating early warning in national policies and by addressing the root causes of risks. “Protection of human rights is imperative to the prevention of conflicts,” he stressed. Civil society, media and journalists were instrumental in helping develop early warning and response systems by raising public awareness about human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
Too many times States were not willing or able to prevent or respond to mass atrocities, he continued, noting that the Security Council had a special responsibility to take swift and decisive action to prevent outbreaks of brutality. Unfortunately, the use of the veto had been abused too many times, leaving the Council paralysed. He expressed support for the proposal to voluntarily restrain the use of the veto in situations involving mass atrocity crimes. He urged States to thoroughly investigate and prosecute persons responsible for the most serious crimes and welcomed such efforts of the International Criminal Court. One hundred years ago, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania embarked on paths to build open, democratic and inclusive societies, and while those paths had not been easy, they remained committed to that goal.
GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said that the former Secretary‑General had described the responsibility to protect as “narrow but deep”. It was narrow because its focus was atrocity crimes, but deep because its implementation was necessarily multidimensional, requiring action at the national, regional and international level. While the collective commitment to the responsibility to protect was strong, there remained a significant gap between it and the daily reality for many populations across the world. Effective prevention of atrocity crimes required the participation of society as a whole, from civil society to religious and community leaders. It required action by States at the domestic, regional and international level. Eighteen years ago, members of the Pacific Islands Forum, including Australia, agreed to the Biketawa Declaration. That document recognized the vulnerability of all members to civil unrest and other threats to their population’s security.
MARTHA AMA AKYAA POBEE (Ghana), associating herself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that her country and Australia had called for the inclusion of the responsibility to protect principle in the General Assembly’s agenda. She said that the principle remained relevant as a blueprint for action to prevent and end genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. She believed that the implementation of the responsibility to protect could be achieved through enhanced national, regional and global collaboration, and would help prioritize the United Nations prevention agenda and strengthen accountability for atrocity crimes. The pace of implementation could be improved through strengthened mechanisms for accountability across the legal, moral and political spheres. She also found merit in Brazil’s Responsibility while Protecting initiative, as it provided clarity in the implementation strategy of the responsibility to protect.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said that national ownership in terms of the responsibility to protect was important, but that did not constitute a licence to mistreat the State’s own population. She cited a fundamental tension arising when Member States did not want to highlight internal persecution and discrimination, which increased the likelihood of a bigger crisis requiring intervention. “In this chamber, we don’t give that tension enough of our own attention,” she noted. A more systematic and structured approach to information gathering, assessment and analysis was required across the United Nations system. The United Nations Special Advisers also had important roles to play in bringing such risks to the attention of the Security Council, she said, expressing hope that the position of the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect would be filled soon. Her country focused on the diversification of tools, development to address drivers, and delivery. Turning to mediation, she said it could make an important contribution, and that women played a key role in that regard. “‘Never again’ needs to really mean something,” she stressed, adding that if countries did not want international engagement, they must look after their own populations to the standards expected by the United Nations.
SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said that the responsibility to protect was one of the foremost responsibilities of every State, and the right to life was one of the rights from which no derogation was permitted. Individual States should be encouraged and assisted to meet that responsibility. India had little disagreement with the rationale of the cardinal features of pillars I and II of the responsibility to protect. However, he was of the view that appropriate ways needed to be found to address the legally complex and politically challenging issues that underlaid pillar III. In his view, the ability of the international community to take appropriate action if a State failed to protect its population was still ridden with serious gaps. The quest for a more just global order should not take place in a manner that would undermine international order itself.
FREDERICO S. DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) said that he would have preferred if the Secretary‑General’s report had refrained from using broad and non‑defined expressions such as “atrocities” as synonyms for the four responsibility to protect crimes. Stressing that prevention was also the best policy, he added that prevention should not be seen solely from a short‑term perspective aimed only at situations on the brink of collapse. Sustainable peace required the promotion of sustainable development, ensuring food security, eradicating poverty and reducing inequality. Despite being a strong advocate of the primacy of prevention, Brazil could not deny that military force may be envisaged in exceptional circumstances.
KELLEY A. ECKELS-CURRIE (United States) said that the human‑made humanitarian crises in Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan which were driving mass displacement highlighted the need for all States to adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law. The United States remained committed to responding to atrocity crimes. There should be more timely action in the Security Council on current and future humanitarian crises. Regarding South Sudan, the Security Council had been paralysed since the passage of resolution 2206 (2015). In the last two years, 2 million people had fled the fighting in that region. The United Nations had responded by renewing the Council’s sanctions, which had been established under resolution 2206 (2015), but more needed to be done. Sanctions must be placed on those responsible, along with a comprehensive arms embargo. She welcomed the Security Council report on early action and warning concerning atrocity prevention, and noted that more should be done to improve responses to early warning of atrocities. It was worth the investment to prevent the high human cost of those crimes.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) expressed concern about the troublesome trend of forced displacement being used as a tool of war, bringing disastrous consequences for civilian populations. The inability to achieve a consensus on upholding the provisions of the responsibility to protect and prevent mass atrocity crimes was of grave concern. Highlighting that Croatia had recently assumed the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, he underscored that his country was determined to continue promoting and protecting the universality and indivisibility of fundamental rights and combating all forms of discrimination and intolerance.
JORGE MORAGAS SÁNCHEZ (Spain), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, Myanmar and Yemen, indiscriminate violence was wreaking havoc. His country supported the three pillars of the responsibility to protect, expressing support for the role of the United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. The links between peacekeeping and human rights must be strengthened to design an appropriate strategy, he said, stressing that “human rights are not in conflict with sovereignty”. He expressed concern over negative trends in conflict, with the use of sexual violence and hunger as tactics of war, among others. Such actions could constitute crimes against humanity or genocide, he said, stressing the role of the Security Council in that context. In terms of protecting civilians during peacekeeping operations, he highlighted the protection of women and children and the implementation of the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians. The responsibility to protect should also be examined as part of discussions on migration policy, he said, stressing accountability in that regard.
KAREL J. G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that when Governments called on the international community to assist them, the latter must be able to heed that call at the very early stages. Mediators could play a crucial role in addressing and reconciling the interests of different actors. Meanwhile, “spoilers” of that process must be held accountable. Despite the achievements made in recent years regarding protecting civilians, improving United Nations peace operations remained an essential priority. Peacekeeping was one of the most concrete tools to protect civilians and lay down the foundation for a safer environment. He expressed support for the Kigali Principles as well as the work of the International Criminal Court in holding human rights violators and perpetrators accountable. “If paths to justice remain blocked, we must not waver in our efforts,” he stressed, underscoring various tools, including sanctions, in ensuring accountability.
DARJA BAVDAŽ KURET (Slovenia) remained deeply distressed and concerned that so many situations were moving in the wrong direction, with civilians paying the ultimate price. Slovenia had organized and hosted several regional meetings and academic conferences on the right to protect where valuable knowledge, good practices and expertise were shared among participants from across Europe and other regions. Slovenia strongly supported the Secretary‑General’s efforts to improve the system‑wide capacity of the United Nations to prevent and respond to serious and systemic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Member States had the primary responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
SHARA DUNCAN VILLALOBOS (Costa Rica), associating herself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, welcomed the Secretary‑General’s report, which reasserted the relevance of the principle and described how the situation was more complicated than ever before. Millions of people were escaping from violence and oppression and thousands were being killed with impunity. The principle of the responsibility to protect was interwoven with States’ obligations under humanitarian and human rights laws. The international community had been timid when it came to protecting civilians and the main United Nations organs had failed to take necessary and effective action to prevent or halt attacks on civilians. She called on both permanent and non‑permanent Council members to observe and honour the Charter and fulfil its mandate to ensure swift and effective action with regard to their primary responsibility of ensuring peace and security. She also called upon the permanent members to abstain from using the veto when it came to humanitarian and human rights matters.
MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), associating himself with the European Union, said that the three pillars of the responsibility to protect were interconnected and mutually reinforcing. No one questioned the primary responsibility of the State to protect its own population from atrocity crimes. However, the assistance provided by the international community, with the consent of the host State and preferably upon request, could significantly assist the efforts of individual States. Building national capacities and resilient institutions was not only essential for fulfilling national obligations to prevent mass atrocities but also significantly contributed to a better and more sustainable life for people. Good governance, the rule of law and effective judicial and security institutions were indispensable for thriving societies that respected and guaranteed the human rights and freedoms of all individuals.
TOSHIYA HOSHINO (Japan) expressed concern that civilians were increasingly trapped in armed conflict, noting the sharp rise in the number of battle‑related deaths and forced displacements. Japan was mobilizing its official development assistance (ODA) to help Member States implement the rule of law. In line with its various projects and seminars for legal experts and Government officials in Asia and Africa, Japan was implementing a training course on criminal justice for French‑speaking African countries. In Vietnam, Japan had contributed technical assistance to help improve criminal investigation standards. He stressed that the Security Council not only had the responsibility to deal with actual conflicts, but to also play a more active role in preventing violence and war. And yet it had failed to fulfil its function to prevent or end mass atrocities due to the use of the veto. He expressed support for the proposal to suspend the veto in cases of mass atrocities, stressing the need to redouble efforts to protect people.
IB PETERSEN (Denmark), aligning himself with the European Union, called for the swift appointment of a new Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. Furthermore, the responsibility to protect should be a standing agenda item in the Assembly and should include Member States reports on their national efforts regarding the principle. On a national platform, his Government was exploring how to integrate the responsibility to protect into its national human rights reporting, among others. It was also investigating how to implement the principle into its foreign policy with a focus on human rights and development cooperation. In addition, Denmark continued to support the commitments made in the World Summit outcome document, including Security Council referrals to the International Criminal Court, a key asset in stopping ongoing and preventing future atrocity crimes.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, called for a cross‑cutting approach in designing effective measures to implement that principle. The United Nations should focus on conflict prevention and look to its root causes instead of focusing on crisis response. “There is no better conflict prevention than sustainable development,” he stressed, noting that his country had established the Group of Friends of Sustainable Peace, which it currently chaired. He cited a recent study by the United Nations and the World Bank which had found that $233 billion had been spent on humanitarian response over the past decade, noting that for each dollar spent on prevention, the international community saved $7 on crisis management. Dialogue and the peaceful resolution of conflicts were vital to consolidating international cooperation and promoting development. “Peace has a woman’s face,” he said, calling for promoting women’s role and the use of mediation. Security Council reform must look at restricting the use of the veto in situations of mass atrocities, he emphasized, citing a joint initiative by France and Mexico in that regard.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) said that the responsibility to protect had garnered greater support among the international community, but questions remained in terms of implementation, with concerns regarding the political exploitation of its objectives. The international community had the responsibility to support States in building the capacity to protect their peoples by bolstering capacity‑building and technical assistance, among other measures. States must also shoulder their responsibility to combat impunity by prosecuting those behind mass atrocities. The various organs of the United Nations system must better use available tools to prevent mass atrocities. Supported guidance from the Human Rights Council would enhance the international community’s ability to combat such crimes. Moreover, civil society could also play an important role in that regard, noting the role of religious leaders in the prevention of incitement leading to atrocious crimes. Morocco supported the Secretary‑General in all his endeavours to promote the responsibility to protect.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), associating himself with the Group of the Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said that conflict prevention would be on his delegation’s agenda when Germany began its term on the Security Council in January. “Prevention is the foundation of building and sustaining peace,” he said. As one of the biggest supporters of the Peacebuilding Fund and a promoter of mediation activities and training, Germany was already making strong efforts towards prevention mechanisms to sustain peace. He pointed out the need for learning in order to prevent atrocities and formulate operational approaches in that context. It was also important to make better use of existing mechanisms such as the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review process. Accountability must be strengthened, he said, urging all States to cooperate fully with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism of the General Assembly in order to further improve evidence gathering on atrocities committed in Syria.
BEATRIZ NÚÑEZ RIVAS (Uruguay), associating herself with the Group of the Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said the use of force must be a measure of last resort. Her delegation advocated a preventive and holistic approach, and States bore the primary responsibility for protecting their people. They must ensure investigation and accountability so that perpetrators of heinous crimes could be brought to justice. She called on all States which had not yet done so to become parties to the Rome Statute. The prevention of atrocities was most effective when national, regional and international actors collaborated. She also highlighted the importance of subregional organizations and the role of peacekeeping operations as a tool towards preventing or mitigating human rights abuses.
BASHAR JA'AFARI (Syria) said there were reasons to be concerned that had been expressed by several Member States, namely that other Member States had adopted an approach with members of the Secretariat to exploit the responsibility to protect so that the subject had become controversial and divisive. He noted that he was not making a political declaration but was being transparent when he spoke of the crimes committed by some States that had violated the principles of international law, or exploited them without a United Nations mandate, or in a selective manner. He said that the previous Secretary‑General had considered the responsibility to protect as something that was cause for concern, because some countries had adopted it in order to justify their own actions. Thousands had lost their lives due to military operations and aerial bombardments by States that had claimed to be applying the responsibility to protect civilians but were killing them instead. That had created a terrorist situation, which was a great challenge for the authorities. There had been much destruction and displacement, all in the name of the responsibility to protect. The real sources of concern when speaking of the principle should be discussed. It must be admitted that the United Nations could not protect the Palestinian people and was unable to implement an early warning system to protect the people of Iraq and Syria against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), or to address international terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) expressed concern about impunity for atrocity crimes, emphasizing that the members of the Security Council must act together to put an end to such suffering. When national authorities were no longer able to protect their people, the international community must act. Every country must ensure that its army was trained and in that regard, Peru had adopted several measures for its troops deployed in several peacekeeping operations. It was important to understand that sustainable peace was a lasting goal, he said, highlighting the promotion of mechanisms to ensure accountability and the respect of rule of law.
JESSICA CUPELLINI (Italy), associating herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, expressed concern over the growing number of attacks against civilians, schools and hospitals. While stressing that the responsibility to protect civilian lives lay primarily with national Governments, she underscored several ways Italy, as a non‑permanent Security Council member in 2017, had promoted a more systematic handling of transnational threats. Encouraging the Council to hold more regular debates on the threat of atrocity crimes, she underscored the Responsibility to Protect in Schools project, developed by Italy and the Netherlands and launched in January, which educated students on the importance of human rights. It delved into the complex dynamics of violations, outlining the roles of Governments, the Security Council, civil society and the media. As the top Western European troop‑contributing country, Italy emphasized that the effective protection of civilians required properly trained peacekeeping troops, adequate equipment, and a strong political commitment. Italy would continue to train and build the capacity of military, police and judicial officers worldwide. Last year, Italy joined the Circle of Leadership against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, launched by the Secretary‑General, to prosecute abuse cases among military personnel.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, noted that in many situations involving mass atrocity crimes, the Security Council was paralysed because of the use of or threat of use of the veto. The steadily increasing numbers of supporters of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group’s code of conduct constituted an expression of the collective expectation that Council membership came with a stated commitment to take action in that regard. It was disappointing that the political consensus around the responsibility to protect norm was still fragile, due partly to the misrepresentation of the norm regarding the use of force. Frequently, the responsibility to protect the norm was misconstrued as an attempt to bypass the Charter and justify military action not authorized by the Council. In fact, the responsibility to protect did not alter the prohibition of the illegal use of force, he noted, adding that “rather, it spells out clearly that military action is possible as a last resort and only when authorized by the Council”. On 17 July, the International Criminal Court would begin exercising its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, he observed, expressing hope that a significant number of States would join those that had already ratified the Kampala amendments and that the Council would avail itself of the new tool. With obvious limitations, the International Criminal Court remained the centrepiece of the fight against impunity for such crimes and it deserved continued support.
KATALIN BOGYAY (Hungary) said that States must put more emphasis on prevention, including early warning and political mediation. It was also critical that a focus be put on promoting universal human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. In its national efforts, Hungary had implemented legislation, education, and zero‑tolerance policies, including penalizing genocide, war crimes, hate speech and crimes against humanity in its criminal code. In 2013, the Government created the National Crime Prevention Strategy and the National Crime Prevention Council, focusing on providing training to professionals working with youth. Because action was also needed at the international level, Hungary was an active member of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group aimed at making the Security Council more efficient, inclusive and legitimate. More so, her country advocated for refraining voluntarily from the use of veto in case of mass atrocities, and she called on all Member States to sign the code of conduct as elaborated by the Group.
MARIE CHATARDOVA (Czechia), aligning herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, urged all Member States to join the growing Global Network of the Responsibility to Protect Focal Points. She also called on the Security Council to act effectively and consistently when faced with mass atrocity situations. In that respect, the code of conduct and the French and Mexican declaration on voluntary restraint on the use of veto were crucial. Because accountability for mass atrocity crimes was one of the best ways to prevent recurrence, national efforts must be strengthened as it was States that had the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes committed within their jurisdiction. The International Criminal Court remained the most important institution in the battle to end impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Her country, a candidate for membership in the Human Rights Council, was committed to exploring all possible ways of how to translate the responsibility to protect into concrete actions.
OLIVIER MARC ZEHNDER (Switzerland) said that a few days ago the international day for refugees was commemorated. The number of refugees was bigger than ever before and most were displaced due to conflict. Effective prevention of violence required addressing the root causes of conflict. The three pillars of the responsibility to protect must be brought closer together so that progress could be made in the prevention of violence and human suffering. The goal of moving from early warning to early action could only be implemented if the Security Council was more effective and more involved in its role as set forth in the Charter. The Council must use existing tools and both its informal and formal mechanisms.
ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said that the matter of the responsibility to protect continued to give rise to serious concern, particularly to small and developing countries, because of the lack of consensus and definitions of the concept that could easily be manipulated for political purposes. It was mistaken to speak of the principle. The responsibility was not a principle but a concept, the characteristics of which were far from having been defined and agreed upon. It was improper to talk about strengthening it in the absence of consensus regarding its scope. She also expressed concern that the term “atrocity crime” might be used selectively and for political ends.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) noted that the responsibility to protect was not yet an established norm of international law, calling for its scope and implementation to be defined and refined. Efforts in that regard must not be carried out in a way that reinterpreted or renegotiated well‑established principles of international law and existing legal frameworks. Moreover, the concept of responsibility to protect sought to establish a delicate balance between safeguarding the humanitarian concerns of the international community while respecting national sovereignty. Pursuing a non‑selective approach in terms of implementing the concept was pertinent to achieving the widest consensus among Member States. His delegation attached particular importance to preventive diplomacy, pioneering mediation efforts and working actively towards the peaceful settlement of disputes.
OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan) said that sovereignty and equality were important principles for many Member States. Benign intervention involved help solving problems, capacity‑building, confidence‑building measures and economic opportunities, among others. It was also important to deal decisively with environmental degradation, which increasingly was leading to internal conflict. Developmental assistance and cooperation were required to expand economic opportunities and to conduct necessary structural reform. In order to strengthen State sovereignty, it was important to find creative solutions within the realm of international law. He went on to recall that in nearly all Security Council resolutions on situations of internal conflict and violence, the Council had qualified such situations as threats to international peace and security. “Hence, it is not possible to perceive the existence of any vacuum,” he said. The responsibility to protect as advanced today was marred by contradictions to the provisions of the Charter, he stressed, adding: “It is exclusively directed against developing countries.” The responsibility to protect was also marred by a selective approach, and it was linked theoretically and promoted in conjunction with the International Criminal Court, he observed, noting: “Ascribing primary responsibility to States for the responsibility to protect is fallacious.”
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said that the gravest crimes were far from decreasing throughout the world, whether in Myanmar, Syria or South Sudan. Tragic situations remained, and for seven years the Syrian regime had multiplied its crimes against its own population, including by using chemical weapons. That fact was undeniable and was confirmed by robust mechanisms that contributed to the international security architecture. The United Nations was unable to act due to the 12 vetoes used by the Russian Federation in the Security Council. She called upon those who had influence over the Syrian regime to take responsibility. France had recently engaged with the Russian Federation and Iran so that urgent measures could be taken on the ground to end the suffering of the men, women and children of Syria. She also highlighted the tragic situation of the Rohingya. Thousands had fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and she condemned the violation of their human rights. Each State must protect its own population, and if it failed to do so it was the responsibility of the international community and the Security Council to work to do so. The Council must be ready and able to respond, particularly in cases of mass atrocities. The veto should not be used in those cases, she said.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) said that early action was the main access point regarding the responsibility to protect. Although progress had been made, there was a widening divide between the responsibility to protect and the day‑to‑day experiences of vulnerable people. The main problem was in not ensuring that early warning of crimes of atrocity lead to early action to prevent them. All States were equal and sovereign, and had rights that were reciprocal. All States must also be equally committed to protect their people and to respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Prevention was vital to stop human suffering from atrocity crimes, and public officials should be trained to prevent the four crimes involved in the responsibility to protect. Other actors were also important, including civil society members working in the field with States, as well as regional and subregional organizations working to prevent conflicts.
MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that the issue of protection had come into renewed global spotlight, in particular because of the grave situation in the State of Palestine, where the failure of the international community to uphold those norms had been manifest and telling. The Security Council had stood as a “silent bystander” to the deaths of more than 130 Palestinians and as a result, the General Assembly stepped in on 13 June to fill that void, she said. “If we are selective in our approach — expressing indignation at some transgressions while choosing to wilfully ignore others, any ‘norm’ will be quickly turned into mere ‘pretence,’” she stressed. Against that backdrop, calls for accountability would “smack of double standards,” she said, urging consistent and uniform standards to prevent crimes. In the face of divisions within the Council, unilateral actions had led to situations characterized as “illegal but legitimate”. “We should also be mindful that the notion of responsibility to protect does not become a mere re‑enactment of the discredited humanitarian interventions of the past,” she warned. That concept did not constitute a license to intervene in external situations, and could not become a basis to contravene the principles of non‑interference and non‑intervention or question State sovereignty.
AMIT HEUMANN (Israel) said that his country’s understanding of the responsibility to prevent genocide and mass atrocities was born of “centuries of torment, persecution and exile, culminating in the Holocaust”. His delegation had joined consensus on the 2005 World Summit outcome document, including the paragraphs that adopted the responsibility to protect principle. Since that was a novel doctrine, he called for further deliberation and discussion to make the principle more effective in practice. In particular, it must address the role and responsibility of non‑State actors and terrorist groups that committed atrocities while blatantly disregarding international law, and must focus only on the most severe situations involving mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing or genocide. He went on to note that incitement to hatred and violence was a growing phenomenon and greater attention must be paid to its dangerous role as well as ways to counter it.
STEPHEN MAHLABADISHAGO NTSOANE (South Africa) said that the political basis for the responsibility to protect was set out in the 2005 World Summit outcome document. His country was a proponent of improving responsible methods for dispute resolution. The failure to employ an effective response mechanism placed a responsibility on the General Assembly to act, especially if populations were suffering in the absence of the responsibility to protect. While the world had changed, the Security Council had largely remained the same. A more representative Council would be more effective in dealing with contemporary challenges. The Council should be cognizant of that in its decision‑making, in order to be more effective, and his country would continue to advocate for a more representative Council, he said.
CECILIA ANDERBERG (Sweden), associating herself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that the responsibility to protect had received misleading criticism related to the use of military intervention to stop atrocity crimes. Collective action under the third pillar of that norm could include coercive or non‑coercive measures and it was imperative that those were taken in accordance with the Charter. Early warnings must be followed by early action, she stressed, expressing support for the Secretary‑General’s recommendations on strengthening existing capacities, promoting accountability and recognizing other actors’ potential contributions. Each State was obliged to protect its population, and the international community must support States in meeting their responsibilities, she emphasized.
MICHAEL BONSER (Canada) said that, since 2005, there had been a tenfold increase in civilian deaths, according to the Secretary‑General’s report on the responsibility to protect. “Numbers matter, as behind every death is a genuine human tragedy for an individual, a family and community, who are left with deep trauma for which no statistics can account,” he emphasized. States that invested in inclusivity and cohesion, which allowed civil society to thrive, benefited from increased stability and diversity. Canada supported the United Nations preventive agenda and championed inclusive and accountable governance, peaceful pluralism, gender equality and human rights. States under stress should be assisted in their responsibility to protect in a way that reinforced national ownership, built resilience and ensured that no internal crisis escalated to engulf a country or a region with global consequences. “If prevention fails, the response should be a collective one,” he said, encouraging more regular briefings to the Security Council by the United Nations Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect.
KAI SAUER (Finland), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that his delegation had co‑hosted the eighth annual meeting of the Global Network of the Responsibility to Protect in Helsinki, Finland, from 12 to 14 June. The United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect had attended those meetings, which highlighted the role of mediation, and noted the twentieth anniversary of the Rome Statute. Finland was a staunch supporter of the International Criminal Court, he said, expressing hope that the anniversary would underline the value of the Rome Statute. Supporting the Court’s activities could also have a deterrent effect in terms of atrocity crimes, he said.
BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland) noted that the World Summit outcome document had proved ground‑breaking, adding that misconceptions around military intervention must be addressed. It was important to prioritize and take forward the implementation of the responsibility to protect. Ensuring accountability for atrocity crimes was one of the best ways to prevent their recurrence, he said, encouraging multilateral cooperation and better utilization of the United Nations system in that regard. He also called for regular open debates in the Council on the responsibility to protect, adding that Geneva‑based institutions and mechanisms were playing an increasingly important role in preventing mass atrocity crimes. Debate over concerns about the appropriate implementation of the responsibility to protect must not be used as an excuse for passivity or inaction, he warned, noting that any ambiguity in that context must be addressed and agreed upon in order for it to be effectively implemented.
BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore) stressed that national Governments could not abdicate their responsibility to protect their citizens. “Instability and extremism flourish when the needs and aspirations of citizens are not met,” he added, urging Member States to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He underscored the importance of promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, justice for all and effective and inclusive institutions. International partnerships and support were essential for improving resilience. “Prevention is certainly better than the cure,” he emphasized, adding that priority must be placed on helping countries ensure that the conditions for instability and conflict did not arise. The international community must be prepared to take collective action. Small States such as Singapore looked to the Security Council to fulfil its global responsibility to maintain international security. However, the use of the veto had prevented action to address atrocity crimes, he said, expressing support for a proposal to limit its use. The responsibility to protect should only be applied according to universally agreed principles. It must not be used to justify intervention by external actors in the domestic affairs of sovereign States.
PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland) emphasized that the responsibility to protect was not an abstract concept. The principle translated into saving lives on the ground. The international community should adhere to international law and the Charter. Recalling the two open debates that his country had organized in the Security Council aimed at promoting respect for basic rules of international law, he pointed out that over 160 statements had been delivered on the matter. “We should be true to our words and should fully comply with the existing set of norms and standards,” he said. On conflict prevention, he said that utilizing the right combination of carefully tailored measures reduced the need for further ones. Such measures should be region- and context‑specific. More so, those who committed atrocities should be held accountable. “There is no peace without justice,” he said, adding that the international community was morally, politically and legally obligated to comply with existing measures to end impunity.
HAM SANG WOOK (Republic of Korea) said that while great strides had been made in terms of the responsibility to protect, gaps still remained between aspirations to protect vulnerable populations and the reality on the ground. It was important to continue improving existing early warning mechanisms and to strengthen synergies between them to make atrocity prevention a practical programme. However, no matter how effectively early warning mechanisms worked, the responsibility to protect could not be realized if such warnings were not followed by early action. In that context, the use of the veto in the Security Council should be limited in situations that required immediate action in response to mass atrocity crimes. He also called for making better use of United Nations human rights systems which could help identify possible risks early on and facilitate relevant action. All efforts must be made to end impunity and ensure accountability for all atrocity crimes worldwide, since strengthening accountability was one of the principal ways to prevent atrocity crimes. Justice mechanisms must strengthen engagement with civil society, which could prove to be a crucial ally in enhancing their ability to gain access to critical information and strengthening contacts with victims and witnesses.
M. SHAHRUL IKRAM YAAKOB (Malaysia), recalling that the number of people killed in conflicts had risen tenfold since the 2005 World Summit, underscored that such a negative trend posed a serious threat to international peace and security. It was critical to continue building a world based on the rule of law with strong multilateral institutions — one that protected its people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Noting that there was divergence of opinions among Member States on the implementation of the responsibility to protect principle and its impact on State sovereignty and international mandates, he said such concerns should be quickly resolved in order to prevent further atrocities. Non‑military solutions should always be the first option and his country would continue to support such efforts to utilize various tools including mediation, monitoring and observer missions, and public advocacy by international officials, among others. In addition, prevention must become the rule, rather than the exception. The Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Peacebuilding Commission and regional and subregional organizations could all enhance their contributions towards preventing atrocities. To that end, he joined others in calling for restraint in the use of veto powers in the Security Council.
JORGE SKINNER-KLEÉ ARENALES (Guatemala) recalled the cruel brutality of the two world wars, noting that the United Nations was established to ensure rule of law. The United Nations had a fundamental responsibility to avoid the scourge of war, he continued, adding also that protection of civilians was enshrined in Guatemala’s Constitution. The responsibility to protect must be strengthened so that innocent people were not subjected to war crimes and crimes against humanity. He underscored the roles of the General Assembly and Security Council and their responsibility to protect civilians. The use of Council veto must be limited and never used in cases of atrocity crimes. He stressed the need to ensure rights for refugees and migrants. He rejected practices that — while not amounting to outright genocide — were too closely interwoven with human rights violations. “We have recently witnessed with horror the separation of children from their parents,” he said, expressing concern that such practices caused severe trauma for the children. Such practices, which reeked of past instances of inhumanity, must cease immediately.
NINIKANWA OLACHI OKEY-UCHE (Nigeria) called for the full implementation of the three pillars of the responsibility to protect, including reviewing and strengthening existing preventive capacities; continuing to encourage and promote accountability for atrocity prevention; expanding civilian action for atrocity prevention; and drawing on all available resources to meet pressing challenges. She also called upon the Security Council to increase its use of situational awareness briefings and the Arria formula mechanism, and invite more briefers in order to achieve a higher level of efficacy in the prevention of mass atrocity crimes through early warning and early action. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has caused great suffering around the world and in particular Africa. International instruments, such as the Arms Trade Treaty, needed to be used broadly. Further, small arms had helped fuel terrorist activities of Boko Haram in north‑east Nigeria. Although largely decimated, their “lone wolf” attacks still needed to be addressed. Among other initiatives, the Safe School Project was providing safe education in conflict‑affected areas such as north‑east Nigeria. In addition, the Safe School Declaration committed to protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.
MOHAMED OMAR MOHAMED GAD (Egypt) said that implementing the responsibility to protect lay with Member States, and the principle of sovereignty was especially important in that regard. International intervention could come as an exceptional and final measure, abiding fully by Charter provisions. It was also important not to expand the concept while implementing it. All possible diplomatic and humanitarian means must be used to protect the population from atrocities before turning to the international community for a response. In order to avoid any doubts about objectivity, it was important to avoid strategies that did not command a consensus. While noting that the responsibility to protect was based on noble objectives of the World Summit outcome document, he said the current problem lay in the ambiguity surrounding that concept, which was still political rather than legal and specific. Therefore, its applicability was not yet defined. Taking into consideration its political and legal shortcomings, more time was needed to continue dialogue and discussions to respond appropriately. Egypt had participated constructively in informal interactive dialogue in that respect. Therefore, his delegation opposed the inclusion of the item in the General Assembly agenda because more work was required to clarify the concept of the responsibility to protect.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that there were different approaches to the responsibility to protect. He fully supported the proposal that the item should be made a permanent agenda item for the General Assembly and welcomed the emphasis put on the responsibility to protect by the Secretary‑General in his latest report. The United Nations system had many tools to identify atrocity crimes. The role of the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect was vital. Prevention, however, was not enough, he added, emphasizing that when States were not in a position to protect their people, it was imperative for the international community to act. The Security Council must place priority on ensuring that protecting civilians was at the core of its work. Combating impunity must also be a priority and was a responsibility that fell on each State. Those who had not done so should ratify the Rome Statute. He welcomed the proposal to curtail the use of the veto when atrocity crimes were committed. “The time has come to act so that we don’t find ourselves deploring new tragedies,” he said.
Right of Reply
The representative of India said that one delegation had misused the platform to make an unwarranted reference to the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. That State constituted an integral part of India and no amount of empty rhetoric from Pakistan would change that reality.