International Community Has Failed at Turning Responsibility to Protect into Reality, Speakers Stress, as General Assembly Concludes Debate
While highlighting various ways to build inclusive societies and prevent atrocities, speakers stressed that the international community has failed to translate the responsibility to protect into reality, as the General Assembly concluded its first annual debate on the principle. (For background information, see Press Release GA/12429.)
Myanmar’s representative said that, since the 2021 military coup, his country has faced unprecedented levels of violence, with widespread and systematic serious atrocities against the civilian population, including children. The people of Myanmar are crying out for the application of the responsibility to protect, he stressed, asking: “How many more innocent lives have to be sacrificed to have such decisive collective action from the Security Council?”
Iraq’s representative said that, despite the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, atrocities continue. The international community has failed to translate the goals of prevention into reality. Therefore, legislative and legal methods must be adopted to implement that document. Commending the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/ISIL (UNITAD) — which is collecting evidence for future prosecutions in national courts — he emphasized, however, that the responsibility to protect falls upon States, including countering all efforts to incite such crimes.
To that point, the representative of Ghana underscored the important role of media, noting that, ahead of his country’s 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections, over 600 youth journalists were trained in conflict sensitivities, including hate speech and inflammatory language — a measure that enabled the peaceful transition of power there.
The representative of the United States, in a similar vein, affirmed the need for education as a preventive measure. Unlawful attacks on schools rob children of their education and hope for a better future, he said, adding that 100,000 children were killed or maimed in armed conflict since 2005. He urged Member States to leverage education for the prevention of atrocities, highlighting the critical role of teachers in building societies that are inclusive and respectful of diversity
Uruguay’s representative said her country’s National Peace Operations Training Institute will include the issue of protection of children, positioning the country as a regional centre for training and capacity‑building for States engaging in peacekeeping missions. Echoing other delegations, she voiced support for the declaration by France and Mexico that Member States should voluntarily refrain from using the veto in cases of atrocities.
Nonetheless, the Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta stressed that the current geopolitical landscape is proof that insufficient steps have been made to mitigate crimes against girls, boys and adults. Mechanisms at the United Nations are faulty, as well. “Surely we can begin to try and make amends by acting swiftly in protecting and supporting the next generation in the fight against indiscriminate acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes such as sexual violence,” he said.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Philippines, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Haiti, Ireland, Russian Federation and Ukraine.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Iran and Israel.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said children constitute close to 40 per cent of persons displaced by conflict and violence globally. If not killed, they are maimed, sexually abused and exploited or even trafficked. In some cases, children as young as six years old have been forcibly recruited, radicalized and trained for combat. Unless structural issues, such as corruption, poverty, economic exclusion, high rates of unemployment and dwindling opportunities are effectively addressed, the conditions for atrocities will remain, he warned. His country is continuing its efforts to implement the responsibility to protect through regulations, policies and institutional arrangements. Ahead of Ghana’s 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections, over 600 youth journalists were trained in conflict sensitivities, including hate speech and inflammatory language in the media. Also, the National Youth Authority convened leaders of some 50 youth groups from across the country to sign onto the National Youth Peace Charter. Those measures proved useful in contributing to stability immediately after the election and enabled the peaceful transition of power, he said.
JULIAN SIMCOCK (United States) noted that, since 2005, more than 100,000 children have been killed or maimed in armed conflict and 93,000 have been unlawfully recruited or used as child soldiers. Countless more remain vulnerable to rape and sexual violence. Unlawful attacks on schools rob children of their education and hope for a better future. When displaced, they remain vulnerable to exploitation. Noting his delegation is pushing the Security Council to better integrate the children and armed conflict agenda into its work, he urged Member States to implement the seven priorities listed by the Secretary-General’s report — with particular focus on leveraging education for the prevention of atrocities. Teachers can play a critical role in building societies that are inclusive and respectful of diversity, foregrounding the importance of accountability as a critical deterrent for future perpetrators of atrocities. He stressed that in most countries affected by conflict, children comprise the majority of the populations. Condemning the mass atrocities committed by the Russian Federation against civilians in Ukraine, he called for the international community to take collective action against that State to put a halt to those crimes. The United States is resolutely committed to pursuing accountability, and the international community must ensure that such crimes do not go unpunished.
ANGELITO AYONG NAYAN (Philippines), noting that his country supported the inclusion of the responsibility to protect as a regular Assembly agenda item, warned that the concept should never be used as a license to intervene in domestic and internal affairs and undermine the sovereignty of States. Children embody the most compelling justification for the existence of States — namely, to protect its most vulnerable charges in order to preserve itself. Affirming that prevention is key to guaranteeing the safety of children and young people from atrocity crimes, he called for a whole-of-Government approach and stressed that the Philippines values the dignity of every person and protects the most vulnerable — especially children. The Philippines understands “sovereignty as responsibility” and ensures that systems are in place to monitor and respond to early warnings of atrocity crimes, he said. It has also enacted a law on the Special Protection of Children in Armed Conflict, which reaffirms that children are “zones of peace” who cannot be recruited into Government forces or be allowed to participate in armed conflict; they must be treated as victims, not enemies.
SARAH GOLDIE WEISS (Israel) said that her country faces terrorist groups — including Iran’s proxy Hizbullah to the north and Hamas to the south — that willingly and knowingly place civilians at harm daily to drive up civilian casualty counts and garner international sympathy and support. Moreover, those terrorist groups purposely use Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, including children, as their human shields, while targeting and directly attacking Israeli civilians, including children. They recruit minors on an ongoing basis to act as fighters and terrorists and incite their own populations, particularly children, to violent extremism and anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred. The responsibility to protect principle must critically address the role and responsibility of non-State actors and terrorist groups that commit atrocities while blatantly disregarding international law. She pointed out that the principle is an emerging doctrine, rather than constituting or creating novel legal rules or obligations. The responsibility to protect doctrine should be applied within the framework of existing legal norms and only in the direst of situations, involving mass atrocity crimes, ethnic cleansing or genocide, she said.
AHMED FAHMY ABDELGAYED SHAHIN (Egypt) said a consensus on the conceptual framework on the right to protect must be reached before it is mainstreamed into the United Nations system — requiring a necessary precondition to be included as an item on the General Assembly’s agenda, and before any practical steps are taken to enforce that concept. He stressed that the main responsibility to protect and prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity falls upon Member States, and the international community should be focused on its role to enable countries to bear their responsibility. The focus on reaching a global approach should not only be confined to security and military aspects, but dealing with root causes, including foreign occupation, as well as poverty and food security, and promoting tolerance. He noted that deviation in the title of the item from the language of the summit document was one reason Egypt voted against it in the Assembly’s seventy-fifth session. Voicing other issues with language in the Secretary-General’s report, he affirmed that fragmenting the discussions would not strengthen international consensus and would not permit effective implementation of the principle — also deviating from Assembly efforts to reach a clear definition. Citing his delegation’s commitment to international criteria regarding protection from the crimes, he urged Member States to continue consideration of the issues towards a consensus on the responsibility to protect.
OMAR HILALE (Morocco), emphasizing that a prevention programme related to the responsibility to protect is necessary, underscored that no Member State or region can consider itself sheltered from the risk of atrocity crimes. Thus, an institutional architecture, which is robust on the national level and defends the rule of law, promotes respect for human rights, ensures peace and security and guarantees development must be implemented. Moreover, a commitment to gender equality is indispensable to properly design a national agenda for the responsibility to protect. In that regard, his country drew up a national action plan on women, peace and security in cooperation with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women). In addition, Morocco is also committed to fully implementing the Fez Action Plan, which highlights the voice, authority and exemplary role of religious leaders in the fight against hate speech and the prevention of violent extremism.
GABRIELA LILIÁN GONZÁLEZ HERNÁNDEZ (Uruguay), associating herself with the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said it is increasingly important to put children at the centre of efforts to prevent atrocities and urged Member States to endorse the Paris Principles and Safe Schools Declaration. Uruguay’s National Peace Operations Training Institute will include the issue of protection of children, positioning the country as a regional centre for training and capacity-building for States engaging in peacekeeping missions. With more than 100 million people displaced by conflict and atrocities worldwide, the international community must come together to help vulnerable populations. She called for the Security Council to hold periodic briefings on the issue, voicing support for the declaration by France and Mexico that Member States should voluntarily refrain from using the veto in cases of atrocities. Stressing that use of force can only take place as a last resort, she noted that prevention is the most important pillar of the responsibility to protect, while impunity must not shield those committing atrocities.
JONATHAN DAVID PASSMOOR (South Africa) praised the complementary roles played by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the mandate of the two Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect. One of the most effective ways to protect people from the crimes being discussed is to close the impunity gap for perpetrators, he said, outlining several national laws in that regard. However, the continued exposure of children and young people to atrocity crimes across the world remains a grave concern, as does the continued inability of the international community to end conflicts and provide critical support to children and young people in conflict zones. The latter raises questions about the global community’s commitment to assisting States in bolstering protection, as well as responding collectively with a State that is manifestly failing to provide protection. The international community must strengthen the tools provided by the Charter of the United Nations for the pacific settlement of disputes, he said, highlighting the role played by regional bodies and welcoming the inclusion in the Secretary-General’s report of references to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
CELINE PIERRE FABRE (Haiti) noted the Secretary-General’s report emphasizes that children are often targeted in conflict situations. Further, when they are forced to drop out of school, there is a long-lasting negative societal impact. While major progress has been made since the 2005 World Summit outcome document on the principle of the responsibility to protect, she nonetheless noted that, in 2020, 42 per cent of forcibly displaced people were children, with over 1,200 cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence against them — one of highest rates since 2005. She noted Haiti is facing multiple challenges, including gang violence, deterioration of security, abductions and confinement, with women and girls especially vulnerable to sexual violence during captivity. Citing instances of sexual violence against girls as young as five, as well as against men and boys, she stressed that the situation remains critical, with Haiti’s Minister for Foreign Affairs emphasizing the urgent need for its national police to receive solid support from the international community in the coming days — not weeks or months. The international community must ensure equitable access to education to reduce the vulnerability of children, including by promoting their socioeconomic prosects.
KYAW MOE TUN (Myanmar) said that, when national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations, the international community must take timely, decisive and collective action to protect the populations in danger. Since the 2021 military coup, Myanmar has faced unprecedented levels of violence, mass atrocities and displacement, with the illegal junta committing widespread and systematic serious atrocities against the civilian population, including children. Over 1.2 million people have been displaced by deliberate attacks against the residential towns and villages, he said, noting that the barbaric nature of the junta troops can be seen in recent footage from Radio Free Asia and has been documented by the Human Rights Council’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. “The deteriorating crisis in Myanmar is not a situation where the national authority is failing to protect its people,” he said. Instead, it is one in which the military is deliberately attacking its people to gain control over them by instilling terror and fear. The people of Myanmar are crying out for the application of the responsibility to protect, which has sadly not been heeded yet, he said, asking: “How many more innocent lives have to be sacrificed to have such decisive collective action from the Security Council?”
SHARON LENNON (Ireland), aligning herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, highlighted opportunities to pursue long-term avenues of preventing the risk of atrocity crimes against children and youth, including investing in inclusive and unprejudiced education, engaging them in peacebuilding and creating inclusive early warning systems. Further, there are underexplored opportunities to deepen the understanding of the gendered dynamics and drivers of atrocity crimes, including by examining the intersecting and mutually reinforcing efforts of the responsibility to protect and women, peace and security agendas. This could contribute to more holistic, inclusive, age-, and gender-transformative approaches to early warning and response efforts, she said. Stressing the crucial role of accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, she reiterated the responsibility across the United Nations system to people facing the devastating reality of atrocity crimes, including accounting for any use of the veto to the full membership of the United Nations through the Veto Initiative.
GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said that, when the concept of the responsibility to protect was being developed in 2005, delegations were told that it would not be used as a tool for interfering in States’ domestic affairs. Its supporters emphasized that the 2005 World Summit outcome document placed the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity on States themselves, whereas the international community was granted a secondary role. All those and other reassurances he cited have been negated by subsequent events in Libya in 2011 where a reference to the responsibility to protect was used as an excuse by Western countries to launch an unprovoked aggression against a sovereign State, he said, referring to the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition’s “carpet bombing” of Libya that plunged its population into a chaotic civil war. The responsibility to protect is not an international legal instrument. It is a simply a political framework relevant in 2005, but discredited by subsequent events, he said, adding that it is a repackaging of the infamous concept of humanitarian intervention which Western countries actively used from the 1960s to the 1990s in blatant violation of the Charter of the United Nations.
AHMED KAMIL RHAIF ALBU-MOHAMMED (Iraq) said genocide is a planned and organized strategy with deliberate effects, extending beyond the borders of the country affected. Despite the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, atrocities continue ‑ meaning the international community has failed to translate the goals of prevention into reality and must adopt legislative and legal methods to implement the document. He thanked the United Nations Special Adviser for a recent visit to Iraq, as the country looks for compensation for victims there and seeks to ensure accountability. In recent years, terrorists, especially Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, have pursued atrocities in a deliberate manner, including crimes defined as genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; these were perpetrated against anybody with an ideology that differs from that of the terrorist group. Reports by UNITAD show that genocide has been perpetrated against Iraqi people. He cited the creation of that agency as an exceptional step. The agency is now collecting, preserving and storing evidence for future prosecutions in national courts. However, he emphasized that the main and first onus of the responsibility to protect falls upon States, including countering all efforts to incite such crimes.
SERHII DVORNYK (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, stated that, on 24 February, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of his country under the fake pretext of protection from genocide. However, thousands of Ukrainian civilians, including children, have been killed everywhere in the country. A predator presenting itself as a victim, Moscow has fabricated a claim of genocide in the Donbass region of Ukraine to justify its invasion, with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian Federation soldiers camouflaged under the term “de-Nazification”. Ukraine immediately initiated a case in the International Court of Justice concerning allegations of genocide against the Russian Federation on 26 February, with the Court ordering it to immediately suspend its so-called “military operations” — but that State has disregarded the ruling. Ukraine remains further committed to cooperating with the International Criminal Court Prosecutor in his efforts. He noted the Russian Federation used its “veto” to prevent the Council from exercising its main responsibility at the beginning of the invasion, and the Assembly has assumed responsibility, adopting three resolutions. Russian Federation forces continue to raze to the ground Ukrainian cities and villages, with at least 324 children killed and 593 wounded — crimes that are not subject to any statute of limitation, while their protection in time of conflict should be prioritized in the Assembly. Voicing regret that the Secretary-General’s 2022 report does not directly cover the consequences of the Russian Federation war against Ukraine, he echoed the European Union’s statement that the collection of accurate, timely and reliable information on grave human rights abuses perpetrated against children is a key indicator for the responsibility to protect mandate.
PAUL BERESFORD-HILL, Permanent Observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta, said that when conflict erupts, sexual violence is present. Sexual violence against children and young people is not only a crime but can cause long-term impacts, including, among others, unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, chronic health conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sadly, suicide. Despite the disproportionate targeting of sexual violence towards young females, he highlighted that males are targeted by sexual violence too, pointing to the use of rape, sexual violence and exploitation as a weapon of war against boys and young men in many countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar and Ukraine. Those victims will face ostracism as a consequence of cultural norms and the prevalence of the “macho” cult, particularly evident during war and civil conflict. They also face the risk of prosecution, as rape by another man can be regarded as an illegal act and is criminalized in dozens of countries. The current geopolitical landscape is proof that insufficient steps have been made to mitigate these crimes against girls, boys and adults. Further, mechanisms at the United Nations are faulty, as well. “Surely, we can begin to try and make amends by acting swiftly in protecting and supporting the next generation in the fight against indiscriminate acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes such as sexual violence,” he said.
Right of Reply
The representative of Iran, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the regime occupying Palestinian territory is one based on bloodshed, occupation, mass killing, atrocity and a wide range of cruel acts. That regime has a long history of misleading others and diverting attention from its savage actions against innocent Palestinians and other nations in the Middle East, he added, advising staunch supporters of the responsibility to take practical and urgent action and prevent the continuation of further atrocities against Palestinians.
The representative of Israel, noting that her country was a full Member State, requested and demanded that her country’s proper name be used. “We are not a regime, we have a name and we are the State of Israel,” she stressed, requesting that her country be addressed accordingly. It is unfortunate that some Member States have chosen to politicize the debate, she said.