99th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 72nd Session

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25-Jun-2018 02:52:24
No justification for atrocity crimes, prevention less costly than crisis response, speakers tell General Assembly at debate on responsibility to protect at 99th plenary meeting.

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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.
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