Report on Responsibility to Protect Spotlights Development as Prevention, Special Adviser Says, Stressing Millions of Lives Depend on Giving Principle Meaning
General Assembly Adopts Two Resolutions on Cambodia’s Extraordinary Chambers, Mental Health, with Speakers Questioning Definitions, Exclusions in Latter’s Text
Following its annual debate on the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, the General Assembly adopted two resolutions today, one on the residual functions of the Cambodia courts that prosecuted former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, and the other on the importance of supporting mental health concerns.
The representative of Germany, speaking for Cambodia and the Principal Donors Group, which was formed to support the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, introduced the draft resolution “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia — residual functions” (document A/77/L.76). He noted that, 20 years ago, at the Cambodian Government’s request, the United Nations helped establish the Extraordinary Chambers to prosecute the crimes of the Khmer Rouge’s senior leaders. That initiative has made a critical contribution to accountability by holding a number of the accused responsible for atrocities.
By the text — adopted without a vote — the General Assembly encouraged the Secretary-General and the Government of Cambodia to take all measures necessary to fully implement the Addendum to the Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia concerning the prosecution under Cambodian law of crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea on the Transitional Arrangements and the Completion of Work of the Extraordinary Chambers.
The representative of Cambodia noted that, since the Extraordinary Chambers completed its work in 2022, “the wounds deep down in our hearts are healing, even though scars will remain.” Throughout the Court’s process in the last 17 years, 240,000 individuals attended the hearings, with its residual functions designed to preserve its legacy.
The representative of Mexico introduced the draft resolution “Mental health and psychosocial support”, which aims to make explicit the importance of ensuring access to mental health services and psychosocial support in an inclusive manner (document A/77/L.77). “To recognize the importance of mental health is to recognize the dignity and integral well-being to which we are all entitled, without exception,” he said.
By the resolution’s terms — also adopted without a vote — the Assembly urged Member States to promote and improve mental health services as an essential component of universal health coverage by, inter alia, integrating a human rights perspective to adopt, update and strengthen all existing laws and policies relating to mental health, with a view to eliminating all forms of discrimination, stigma, stereotypes, prejudice, violence or abuse within that context.
However, speaking in explanation of position, a dozen representatives argued over not just the inclusion of certain terms, but the exclusion of issues crucial to countries experiencing unilateral measures. Highlighting the lack of goodwill in negotiations, the representative Nicaragua pointed out that 28 countries urged such language, adding that there was no reason for that paragraph to be left out. In addition, Egypt’s delegate expressed regret that numerous delegations sought to weaken all aspects of the text pertaining to sustainable development.
The General Assembly also commenced its annual general debate on the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
George Okoth-Obbo, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, introduced the “Report on the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” (document A/77/910-S/2023/409). He stressed that the debate is particularly evocative as countless civilians continue to be caught in situations of conflict and subject to genocide and war crimes. The responsibility to protect thus remains as imperative today as when the world resounded “never again” at the 2005 World Summit.
The report underlines that development can build the conditions for sustainable peace, he continued. In underdevelopment, however, poverty, societal inequalities, human rights abuses and conflict can be drivers of atrocity crimes. Recalling that this annual debate is a “reminder to us not to drift from our commitment, our duty, our responsibility to protect”, he stressed: “The lives of millions depend on that responsibility being given meaning.”
In the ensuing debate, speakers deliberated on whether the responsibility to protect is a principle or a notion, with many emphasizing that it is an inherent obligation of sovereign States under international law, while others pointed to the lack of consensus on its definition and scope.
France’s representative, also speaking for Mexico, stressed that the prevention of mass atrocities must remain a top United Nations priority. Urging the five Security Council permanent members to commit themselves not to use the veto in situations of mass atrocities, she stressed that there is “no responsibility is higher than that of protecting our populations”.
In a similar vein, the representative of Latvia, also speaking for Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, called on the Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention and the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect to share recommendations. “Practical examples will help increase our understanding on how to more effectively translate the responsibility to protect principle into concrete action,” he said.
Greece’s delegate noted that the responsibility generates conditions conducive to peace, inclusion and prosperity, while aiming to address the root causes of poverty, inequality and conflict. However, the international community should add “extra atrocity-prevention layers” and early warning systems to its development programmes. Recognizing the Council’s role when populations become atrocity crimes victims, he called for strengthening the triple nexus approach.
However, a number of delegates rejected assertions that the responsibility to protect remains more of an undefined notion, often used to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States.
The representative of Venezuela, speaking for the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, said that, while the notion of the responsibility to protect may have had truly altruistic intentions, that time has shown its catastrophic consequences when it is selectively invoked. The definition and scope of this notion, which is highly politicized and has also raised serious and legitimate concerns for a significant number of States, remains pending.
Cuba’s delegate stressed that it is a mistake to speak of the responsibility to protect as a principle since it is not a foundation or axiom of international law — only a notion, whose scope and rules of implementation are still far from being defined. In an international system as undemocratic as the one that prevails today, the main concern lies in determining who decides when there is a need to protect, and who, and under what criteria.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea affirmed that the responsibility to protect its people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity falls entirely under the sovereignty of each State. Observing that some countries, under the pretext of the responsibility to protect, continue to misuse it selectively for their political purposes, he stressed that respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the non-interference in internal affairs are the cornerstones of international relations.
The representatives of India, Pakistan and China spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The General Assembly will reconvene at a later date to conclude its debate on the responsibility to protect.
Responsibility to Protect
GEORGE OKOTH-OBBO, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, introducing the “Report on the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” (document A/77/910-S/2023/409), noted that the annual debate is particularly evocative this year as countless civilians continue to be caught in situations of conflict, violence and human rights violations which may amount to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. “The daily toll of targeted and intentional mass murder, forced displacement and other untold suffering continues to hang heavily over our common humanity,” he stated. The responsibility to protect thus remains as imperative today as when the world resounded “never again” at the 2005 World Summit.
Reiterating that the keystone is prevention, he stressed that the full intersection between the responsibility to protect and development has not been illuminated as comprehensively and thoroughly as have the root causes of other particular typologies. Because some of the most forbidding atrocity crimes are rooted in developmental fractures, it is important to dedicate attention to this subject. The report underlines that development can build the conditions for sustainable peace, equitable growth and accountable governance and thereby cement the prospects for realizing the fundamental purposes and objectives of the responsibility to protect. In underdevelopment, on the other hand, poverty and societal inequalities, food insecurity and institutional and accountability failures, as well as abuses of human rights and conflict, can be drivers and multipliers of atrocity crimes.
The report calls on States to comprehensively commit political will as a whole-of-Government enterprise to the intersection between the responsibility to protect and sustainable development, he continued. It also calls for development policies, strategies and programmes be leveraged across the spectrum of atrocity risk assessment, early warning and preparedness. The United Nations will continue to deliberate on the role of development in the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Because the subject is one on which every State has both historical and real time experience, it will be important to hear the perspectives, experiences, challenges, good practices and indeed even concerns of States on these questions and propositions, he said.
He reminded the General Assembly of the plight of the Sustainable Development Goals, with only about 12 per cent on target to be met. Thus, the question as to how the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September will review the state of the goals and their implementation. As well, it will be important to consider how efforts could be intentionalized in order to help diminish the risks, triggers or multipliers which may be rooted in development problematics. Recalling that this annual debate is a “reminder to us not to drift from our commitment, our duty, our responsibility to protect”, he stressed that it is a reminder which should ring even more keenly in this year which marks the seventy-fifth anniversaries of, respectively, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. “The lives of millions depend on that responsibility being given meaning,” he emphasized.
IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ (Croatia), speaking for the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said this is the fourteenth year that the Assembly is gathering to discuss how to implement the responsibility to protect and the sixth time as a formal debate. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a framework for global cooperation to achieve a better and more sustainable future and can significantly contribute to atrocity prevention efforts. Addressing failures of development and governance and building more resilient societies are critical elements of States’ efforts to prevent atrocity crimes. Effective prevention of atrocities can only be achieved if the United Nations system responds holistically by using all the tools and mechanisms at its disposal. This includes effective sharing of relevant information by all parts of the Organization, which is then acted upon. Greater cross-departmental collaboration, including partnerships between the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and other United Nations bodies, will boost the Organization’s collective capacity to prevent or halt atrocity crimes.
More than 108 million people have been displaced by persecution, violence and atrocities, he continued. This figure also demonstrates why the responsibility to protect doctrine needs to be at the heart of the international community’s shared mission to advance peace and security, human rights and development. He reaffirmed the Group’s full support to the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. The expertise of civil society actors should substantively inform discussions among policy- and decision-makers, including the United Nations offices. He also emphasized the Group’s renewed call on all Security Council members to respond to and address the risk or commission of mass atrocities, highlighting the ACT Code of Conduct and the France-Mexico initiative on the use of veto in case of mass atrocities.
SILVIO GONZATO, Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, reiterated the bloc’s support in the operationalization and implementation of the responsibility to protect. “There can be no peace without sustainable development, no development without peace and neither without accountable Governance and full and equal enjoyment of human rights,” he emphasized. Through its tools and policies — including the European Union’s Atrocity Prevention Toolkit, Early Warning System and Horizon Scanning, among others — the European Union identifies and addresses early warning signs in its external action, he reported, adding that its bilateral Human Rights Dialogues mitigate atrocity risks. Moreover, the civilian Common Security and Defence Policy missions support the security sector reform in Iraq and the Central African Republic, while also monitoring the situation in the South Caucasus.
Underscoring the importance of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, he spotlighted the bloc’s conflict analysis as a powerful tool in breaking silos and ensuring the sensitivity of its development programmes to conflict and atrocities risks. Pointing to the European Union’s support of the early warning and prevention mechanism within the United Nations system, he reiterated its readiness to enhance the implementation of the youth and women, peace and security agendas. “The prevention of atrocities is never negotiable,” he stressed, adding that preventing violent conflict is key to saving populations from war. “But, if and when prevention fails, we must respond,” he pointed out, underscoring the importance of the Security Council’s action to this end and urging Member States to join the Coherence and Transparency Code of Conduct and the France-Mexico initiative on the use of veto in cases of mass atrocities. Further, he called on the Secretary-General to include reports on analysis of trends regarding the risks of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity — among others — and their prevention in his future report on the responsibility to protect.
JOAQUÍN PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), speaking for the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, emphasized the central role of States as guarantors of the safety, security and well-being of their respective populations. The Group of Friends considers the Charter of the United Nations to be a milestone and a true act of faith in the best of humanity. He called upon countries to uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core. Against this background, he voiced serious concerns at growing threats to the Charter, including attempts to advance non-consensual and controversial notions, such as the responsibility to protect. He also spotlighted growing unilateralism and attempts to ignore or replace the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter with a new set of so-called “rules” that remain unknown and threaten to undermine multilateralism.
While the notion of the responsibility to protect may have had truly altruistic intentions, he emphasized that time has shown its catastrophic consequences when it is selectively invoked, particularly in countries with vast natural resources. The definition and scope of this notion, which is highly politicized and has also raised serious and legitimate concerns for a significant number of States, remains pending. More than 20 years after the adoption of the World Summit outcome document, many questions still remain unanswered, he noted, adding that, if the true intention is to protect the population, the international community can start by both promoting solidarity in the fight against poverty, hunger and inequality. It is the lack of answers that demonstrates that the responsibility to protect is riddled with double standards that serve agendas of a dubious nature promoted by certain Governments which seek to sustain domination through neo-colonial practices, including the weaponization of human rights, the economy and the international financial system.
DIARRA DIME-LABILLE (France), aligning herself with the European Union and also speaking for Mexico, stressed that the responsibility to protect “is not a question of political will, but an inherent obligation of sovereign States under international law”. The prevention of mass atrocities must remain a top priority of the United Nations, and prevention and response must be supported by an effective multilateral system. Thus, the veto’s use cannot be used to paralyse the Security Council. It is in this spirit that the France-Mexico initiative was launched in 2015 to voluntarily and collectively suspend the veto’s use in the Council in the event of mass atrocities. This initiative is now supported by 106 States and tackles the heart of inaction. She called on the five Council permanent members to commit themselves not to use the veto in situations of mass atrocities, when crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and large-scale war crimes are being committed.
“It is high time to raise our voices in the difficult times we are experiencing, when multilateralism and international law are being tested,” she said. In order to strengthen accountability mechanisms and exchange best practices, she reiterated a call to support and cooperate with the International Criminal Court, as well as with fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry. She also reiterated support for the ongoing process for a convention to prevent and punish crimes against humanity. Recognizing the efforts made to operationalize the concept of the responsibility to protect, she said that today's debate highlights the need to raise awareness of sustainable development strategies to support social resilience and ensure that they do not exacerbate the risks of atrocities. Underlining the message of the meeting that there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development, she emphasized that there is “no responsibility is higher than that of protecting our populations”.
ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia), also speaking for Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, underscored the importance of the Special Adviser’s presence in New York to advance the principle’s implementation. Reaffirming his commitment to this end, he spotlighted Member States’ responsibility of preventing and responding to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. In this context, he called on the Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention and the Special Adviser on Responsibility to Protect and their joint office to develop and share recommendation on atrocity-prevention and advice on the principle’s implementation, while also developing and sharing regular updates about the root causes and warning signs of new atrocity crimes.
“Practical examples will help increase our understanding on how to more effectively translate the responsibility to protect principle into concrete action,” he stressed, highlighting the important role of regional organizations in this regard. Recognizing that regional cooperation can contribute to effective early warning, rapid response and stabilization to prevent new atrocities, he said Member States must work hand in hand with regional bodies. Moreover, he outlined the need for a forward-looking assessment of the principle and its implementation on national, regional and global levels.
GERARDO PENALVER PORTAL (Cuba), aligning himself with the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, stressed that it is a mistake to speak of the responsibility to protect as a principle since it does not constitute a foundation or axiom of international law. It is only a notion, whose scope, rules of implementation and evaluation mechanisms are still far from being defined and agreed upon by the Member States. It is also unwise to give mandates to other bodies such as the Human Rights Council. In an international system as undemocratic as the one that prevails today, the main concern lies in determining who decides when there is a need to protect, and who, and under what criteria, determines the forms of action. In many cases, attempts to implement the responsibility to protect provide one more tool to facilitate interference in internal affairs, regime change agendas and subversion in third countries, usually small and developing ones, he pointed out.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica), noting her appreciation of the emphasis on the role development in preventing crimes against humanity, said that the report addresses the root causes that can create situations that foster mass atrocities. Inclusion of all members of society is crucial to foster development and prevent conflicts. When individuals feel valued and represented in a society, they have a sense of ownership and that creates trust between groups. Sustainable development means equal access to education and health for all people in a society. It helps foster a sense of shared responsibility for development goals. Environmental sustainability is also important for conflict prevention to ensure sustainable resources for all. Transparent governance and responsible institutions help build trusts in communities and avert conflicts that could lead to mass atrocities. The proliferation of ammunition in communities must also be addressed to prevent conflict and mass atrocities, she said.
EVANGELOS SEKERIS (Greece), associating himself with the European Union, said that sustainable development generates conditions conducive to peace, inclusion and prosperity, while aiming to address the root causes of poverty, inequality and conflict. However, the international community should add “extra atrocity-prevention layers” and early warning systems to its development programmes, he noted, underscoring the needs for conflict prevention and stabilization activities, including building trust between local security forces and communities. He further expressed support to the development of economic opportunities and basic social services at the community level through re-establishment of State institutions and services in fragile areas. While prevention remains key to eliminating atrocity crimes, in cases when Member States do not succeed to prevent them, accountability should be the only alternative. Recognizing the Security Council’s role in cases, when populations become atrocity crimes victims, he called for strengthening the triple nexus approach.
FIONA WEBSTER (Australia) underscored that, where States are unable or unwilling to protect their populations, the risk of atrocity crimes being perpetrated increases. That is why the principle and its three pillars remain integral to the United Nations peace and security architecture. “The fate of at-risk populations is not pre-ordained,” she stressed, adding: “It never was. It never is.” She underlined the need for the Secretary-General’s report to assess and address atrocity risks in specific country situations. Encouraging the Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention and the Special Adviser on Responsibility to Protect to conduct and share early warning and atrocity risk assessments of crises on the ground, she noted that atrocities do not happen without warning; they escalate over time. She urged States to address the growing levels of hostility and violence towards women and girls, and to collectively act now to stop the criminalization and abuse of LGBTQIA+ people in many parts of the world.
MOHAMMAD GHORBANPOUR (Iran), aligning himself with the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, said that the international community, notably the United Nations, is still far from a consensual understanding of the responsibility to protect as a notion. The controversies around this notion are not rooted in the protection of civilians and the prevention of the atrocity crimes, but rather on its definition, implementation and scope of application. The most serious and legitimate concern for the international community regards the scenarios for the preparation of different kinds of interventions in the internal affairs of sovereign States, under the disguise of the responsibility to protect, as well as the introduction of country-specific resolutions with the same aims. The failure to effectively prevent atrocity crimes can be attributed more to Council failures rather than the lack of a relevant normative framework, he emphasized.
MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia), recalling the disruption of the Lachin Corridor since 12 December 2022, which left 120,000 people cut off from the outside world, said the ongoing blockade endangers civilian population. He pointed out that, six months ago, Armenia appealed for an inter-agency mission to assess Nagorno-Karabakh’s humanitarian situation and requested the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) fact-finding mission to help preserve the region’s cultural heritage. Underscoring the international community’s shared responsibility to prevent and protect populations from atrocity crimes, he added: “Impunity for violations of the international norms and principles has emboldened Azerbaijan to resort to new provocations and military escalation.” He also reported that Azerbaijan’s armed forces continue to violate ceasefire and target civilians — who carry out agricultural work — and border communities. In this regard, he expressed support for a universally accepted treaty on preventing and punishing crimes against humanity.
KIM SONG (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) affirmed that the responsibility to protect its people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity falls entirely under the sovereignty of each State. However, despite the absence of intergovernmental agreement on that concept, some countries continue to misuse and apply it selectively for their political purposes. He voiced concern that some Western countries unilaterally pursue political, economic and military interventions to undermine the social system of other sovereign States under the pretext of the responsibility to protect. Such unlawful interference drives great upheavals such as armed conflicts, terrorism, genocide and mass destruction, which are long-standing in the Middle East and some African countries. He stressed that those upheavals are not attributable to a State’s inadequate ability to protect its people, but to flagrant infringement upon their sovereignty. Respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the non-interference in internal affairs are the cornerstone of international relations, he stated.
NEVILLE MELVIN GERTZE (Namibia) said much needs to be done to operationalize responsibility to protect and ensure its consistent application. Legitimate concerns remain, with discrepancies in the doctrine’s interpretation continuing to hamper discussions, specifically within the context of the third pillar. Thus, its interpretation remains a serious concern. He called for these concerns to be addressed through dialogue, assessing lessons learned, engagement and practice. While underscoring respect for fundamental human rights and the principles of international law, he said there is no pretext for the use of force against States. Therefore, safeguards must be put in place to protect against the vulnerability to surreptitiously interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. He reiterated the call for a reformed Council that reflects the realities of this century and can effectively implement its mandate of maintaining international peace and security, including through the prevention of atrocities and regulating the collective use of force.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the responsibility to protect is a concept developed by Western think-tanks to rebrand the “well-known humanitarian intervention” and to legitimize interference in the internal affairs of States “under a new venire”. Pointing to the attempts to whitewash the reputation of the principle by tying it to subjects popular at the United Nations, he added: “The events in Libya in 2011 have clearly demonstrated that responsibility to protect is not a charity, and the States that apply it are certainly not Mother Theresa.” He recalled the role of the International Court of Justice in Libya, saying that “the critical mass of lies” was used to describe the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) actions as responsibility to protect. Noting that this principle is a tool for imposing “someone else’s will”, he said that under the pretext of adhering to it, States will have Western approaches and solutions dictated upon them. To this end, he called on developing countries not to agree to attempts of artificially linking this principle to development assistance.
KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland) said that sustainable, inclusive development is the world’s most productive form of conflict and atrocity prevention. Only comprehensive implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, with universal respect for human rights, allows for prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, as well as lasting post-conflict reconstruction. Taking into account the complex interrelationship of risk and vulnerability in conflict settings, he voiced grave concern over the situation in Ukraine where the Russian Federation army is targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure. He also expressed horror over accounts of sexual violence used deliberately by Russian soldiers, and of children being abducted and forcibly displaced from the territory of Ukraine to the temporarily occupied territories. He again called upon the international community to act in order to protect the civilian population, stop the atrocities committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine and bring the perpetrators to justice.
SINA ALAVI (Liechtenstein), aligning himself with the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said this doctrine is evolving politically and legally. It has been invoked by the Assembly, the Council and the Human Rights Council in more than 200 resolutions. Yet, the gap between the international community’s expressed commitment to protect civilians and its actions has grown significantly. With its chosen war of aggression, a permanent Council member has distorted the responsibility to protect principle. The Russian Federation has destroyed critical infrastructure, targeted civilians and abducted children in Ukraine, he noted, recalling that the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the war crime of unlawful deportation. The Secretary-General’s report stressed that accountability is crucial to prevent atrocities. “Ensuring accountability for the most serious crimes under international law today is a critical component of our responsibility to protect civilians tomorrow,” he said, adding that accountability must be ensured for the crimes committed in Ukraine.
CARLA MARIA RODRÍGUEZ MANCIA (Guatemala), noting that every State has a primary responsibility to protect its population and prevent atrocities, recalled the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “The responsibility of protect must be acknowledged as an exceptional way to defend populations of mass atrocities,” she stressed. In this regard, Member States must guarantee that development assistance programmes benefit all communities and strengthen resilience. Recalling that Guatemala has been a member of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect since 2006, she also said that, at the national level, the responsibility to protect principle has been aligned with the country’s Constitution. While spotlighting Guatemala’s contribution of troops for peacekeeping operations, she said that the responsibility to protect is complementary to the concept of sustainable peace since it prioritizes respects for and the observance of human rights with a preventive approach.
MOON DONGKYU (Republic of Korea) noted that in implementing the responsibility to protect, addressing root causes is essential. Thus, it is deeply concerning that only 12 per cent of Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track to be met by 2030. Policies of exclusion, patterns of human rights violations and discriminatory societal structures established in peacetime can be transformed into structures of violence during atrocities, while closed and undemocratic societies often perpetuate such structures. Actions based on the responsibility to protect must address these realities. It is absolutely crucial to prevent the conditions for atrocities from being exacerbated by duly considering the risks and drivers of atrocities in the sustainable development programmes. Atrocity prevention can be achieved through participation in developing and implementing such programmes by civil society, faith communities, indigenous populations, women, children and youth, he said.
KATHERINE ANAS AHMAD AL-HALIQUE (Jordan) said the struggle to ensure the responsibility to protect is ongoing and the international community’s action on climate change is crucial as is collaboration among all stakeholders. In Jordan, many factors, including rising temperatures and massive population growth have become drivers of conflict. Forced migration, food insecurity and dwindling natural resources are also contributing to conflict. The ability to protect civilians hinges on the international community’s ability to address the inequality created by the changing climate. Women and girls are being disproportionately impacted. Investing in green growth can help relieve the pressure on communities affected by these overlapping crises. Jordan has responded to the humanitarian crises created by migration flows by hosting refugee camps. However, long-term strategies are needed to prevent conflicts that can led to atrocities. She also said that the Councils’ credibility is being hampered by its structure, which hinders its ability to respond to urgent situations.
LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), associating herself with the European Union, said that resuming the Security Council’s “horizon-scanning exercise” on atrocities risks and regular conduct of field visits to meet stakeholders would be a step towards operationalizing the responsibility to protect principle. While calling on the Council to regain its prevention focus alongside its humanitarian and peacekeeping activities, she underscored the importance of the early warning response. To energize the United Nations around peace and development, the Economic and Social Council held a special meeting in January to consider the potential of social and economic measures to prevent genocide and war crimes, she reported, pointing to a joint meeting with the Peacebuilding Commission on linking peace and development on 29 June. “Development promotes inclusive democratic societies and fosters accountable and representative political leadership,” she stressed, spotlighting Member States’ consensus on building social resilience to prevent atrocities.
DEVYN LYN WALLENIUS (Canada), aligning herself with the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, noted that multiple overlapping crises exacerbate tensions. While they are not precursors or causes of mass atrocities, they are an important warning sign. She reiterated the call that future United Nations reports focus on country situations, including assessments of risks and recommendations. Her delegation will continue to demand accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Haiti, Syria, Myanmar and Ukraine, as the principle of responsibility to protect is the obligation of all States to prevent and punish genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing wherever they occur. It is neither an infringement or impediment on the sovereign right of nations, nor is it a justification for military intervention. She also reiterated the call for constraint on use of the Security Council veto, particularly on its mandate to uphold international peace and security.
ALINA J. LLANO (Nicaragua) said the real danger behind the responsibility to protect is its manipulation by disguised interventionists that try to interfere in internal affairs of other States. Condemning all war crimes, she stressed that the international community must fulfil all commitments for development and peace, respecting sovereignty and multipolarity. The responsibility to protect raises serious doubts for many countries, especially small countries. Elements of this principle are manipulated for role of imperialism. It is necessary to address the root causes and structural problems that lead to extreme situations. Multilateralism and respecting international law are necessary to ensure the sovereignty of States. Also condemning the use of unilateral coercive measures that hinder a country’s development, she said that comprehensive reform of the United Nations system is necessary for the needs of all peoples to be taken into account.
RICCARDA CHRISTIANA CHANDA (Switzerland) said that, on a national level, prevention requires respective strategies, mechanisms and structures to identify risk factors. As a member of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points, based on the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, Switzerland has commissioned a study on measures to combat racism — one of the country’s main risk factors. She expressed hope that the Swiss Human Rights Institution — founded in May — will raise awareness to identify and prevent such risk factors, while pointing out that the Global Action Against Mass Atrocities network provides a platform for States and civil society in this regard. She called on States to join this network to strengthen the atrocities prevention community. Further, she spotlighted that in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Switzerland works with local authorities and the media to promote citizens’ participation and good governance. “Civil society makes a fundamental contribution to social cohesion,” she pointed out.
SAŠA JUREČKO (Slovenia), aligning herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, noted her country hosted a diplomatic conference in May, which resulted in the adoption of the new Ljubljana–Hague Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition Initiative Convention. The instrument will contribute significantly to the promotion of the rule of law and the fight against impunity at the global level. As mass atrocity situations exacerbate existing sources of fragility and hinder development, it is essential that States apply a “responsibility to protect” lens in their domestic development programmes. Underscoring that the best way to diminish human suffering from atrocities is to prevent conflict happening in the first place, she nonetheless stated that when conflicts do happen, it is the Security Council that holds the greatest responsibility and should act as such.
BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore) said today’s topic is timely as the world sees more mass atrocity crimes. Noting that his country is a founding member of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, he said that each State has the sovereign right and responsibility to protect its own population from war crimes. Yet, the international community must take collective action in a timely and decisive action if national authorities fail to do. The use of the responsibility to protect has become controversial, politicized and selectively applied. The General Assembly has a crucial role in rebuilding trust on this issue, spotlighting the need for an approach of patient dialogue. He also said that he was not comfortable with an approach that seeks a resolution that imposes an interpretation. The international community has the responsibility to support States in their national efforts to build resilience, he said, also urging regional organizations to work together to build inclusive societies.
ABDULRAHMAN ABDULAZIZ F. A. AL-THANI (Qatar), associating himself with the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, underscored the importance of international cooperation to strengthen collective security. He also recalled that Qatar has been a Co-Chair of the Group of Friends from 2018 to 2020. Highlighting the link between development and the responsibility to protect, he underscored that development ensures necessary conditions for lasting peace. Further, he noted that this concept constitutes the priority of Qatar’s foreign policy, underpinned by preventive diplomacy and integrated approach to address root causes of conflict. Reporting that his country supports a number of projects in developing countries in conflict, war or atrocity situations, he said this work is conducted in partnership with the United Nations, as well as regional and international partners. He also recognized the Security Council’s responsibility to prevent atrocities, urging Member States to refrain from using the veto in such cases.
ANDREA DE BONO SANT CASSIA (Malta), aligning himself with the European Union, emphasized that atrocity-prevention strategies can only be effective when affected populations are involved in their development, implementation and monitoring and the voices of victims and survivors are heard. Current conflicts in Sudan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan, among others, lend even more urgency to narrowing the gap between Member States’ obligations under international law and the reality faced by populations at risk. In contexts where the international community fails in its commitment to preventing the commission of atrocity crimes, it is vital to prioritize accountability and promote justice — with the International Criminal Court and other international judicial bodies playing a crucial role. He reiterated Malta’s full support to the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the Secretary-General’s two Special Advisers.
JONATHAN SAMUEL HOLLIS (United Kingdom) said the challenges confronting advocates of the responsibility to protect are vast, including climate change. Since the Assembly debate held last year, atrocities have spread deeply in many parts of the world, such as Darfur in Sudan and in Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine has led to the forced deportation of civilians. The international community must remember its collective responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians. Achieving the Global Goals, such as Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions, is important and can help communities prevent atrocities. He called on the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect to play a key role in countries facing conflicts which can lead to atrocities. The alarms should be raised before it is too late. Atrocity-prevention efforts must also take into account the unique vulnerability of women and girls.
ARIANI SPASSE (Albania) said that building resilient societies is critical to preventing mass atrocities. Spotlighting the efforts to further strengthen the responsibility to protect across the United Nations system, he said that the international community needs to address the root causes of such crises, including climate change and investing in prevention. Expressing support for the application of the principle’s three pillars — development, human rights, peace and security — he observed: “Failure to consider early warning, threats and other factors associated with atrocity crimes would undermine protection of civilian and conflict prevention.” While underscoring the importance of accountability and preventing risks, he said that persistence of impunity for mass atrocities means the “distraction” of the rule of law and the institutions, necessary to protect the basic interests of humans. In this regard, he reiterated Albania’s support of the principle’s further strengthening and its robust application where needed.
ANA JIMENEZ DE LA HOZ (Spain), aligning herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, noted that the report recalls how the phases leading up to the commission of mass atrocities are often characterized by certain patterns of violation of human rights. Spain has always been actively committed to the principle of the responsibility to protect, materializing it in the international arena as a member of the Group of Friends, and in interactive debates and dialogues held within the scope of the General Assembly. The Spanish Criminal Code now criminalizes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, in accordance with the Rome Statute. Furthermore, the current policy strategy reflects the responsibility to protect as central to its priorities of action, she said.
TOFIG F. MUSAYEV (Azerbaijan) said that thousands of Azerbaijan’s civilians were executed in acts of mass murder; more than 200,000 were expelled from their historical homeland; and the occupied territories were ethnically cleansed from 700,000 people. Moreso, the country’s cultural heritage was looted and vandalized. Noting that Erevan refuses to withdraw the remnants of its armed forces and disclose the landmines’ locations, he stressed: “Armenia must share accurate and comprehensive information about all minefields and cease and desist from mine terrorism against Azerbaijan.” He also pointed out that Nagorno-Karabakh “long ceased to exist as an administrative and territorial unit”, stating that it now constitutes an integral part of Azerbaijan with a legal name “Garabagh Economic Region”. “Armenia must memorize this title and never forget it,” he added, noting that its allegations about the so-called “blockade” of the Lachin-Khankandi road are false and provocative.
RIYAD KHADDOUR (Syria), associating himself with the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, said the responsibility to protect individuals from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing is the responsibility of the State. Military interventions, whatever may be their justification, in most cases, lead to serious consequences which can go beyond the seriousness of the situation that led to these inventions taking place in the first place. These military inventions can lead to new conflicts, as well, which can expose civilians to the possibility of new massacres. The concept of responsibility to protect is suffering from a crisis of confidence at the international level, he said, underscoring the example of the military intervention in Libya in 2011, which aimed to oust that country’s regime. Further, the occupation of the Golan and Palestine is unacceptable, and States should not turn a blind eye to that. Those same States should also have a close look at the armed fighters that brought massive instability Syria. “This is the height of hypocrisy,” he said.
JONATHAN SHRIER (United States) stressed that Member States must do more to address the risks that can create conditions that lead to atrocities, including food insecurity and poverty, and more generally, accelerate progress towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Detailing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine, “Burma”, China and Sudan, he spotlighted Council resolution 2573 (2021) on the protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and stressed that all parties must comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law and protect civilian infrastructure. Moreover, all States and armed groups must implement good practices to mitigate and respond to harm on civilians and civilian objects, noting his country’s Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, which includes doctrine, guidance and procedures to that end.
ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, reiterated calls for the Office of Genocide Prevention to receive bolstered support. He also urged the Secretary-General to include, in future reports, an examination of progress made concerning previous recommendations, along with an analysis of emerging trends in genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. “In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, we face a disheartening situation,” he warned. An escalating trend of hate speech and anti-Rwandaphone sentiment, disseminated through schools and social media platforms, wreaks havoc, causing deepening divisions. The repercussions of these acts extend far beyond immediate harm inflicted upon individuals and communities, as they create a foundation for potential large-scale atrocities. In that regard, a group of Rwandaphone women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were recently attacked, falsely accused of propagating HIV among the Congolese people. “We find ourselves at a critical juncture, and we reiterate our warning of a potential genocide,” he stressed.
NGAKO ELPHUS SEKONYANA (South Africa) stated that development policies and discrimination serve as a connection between gradual human rights violations and atrocity crimes. A State or another actor does not spontaneously carry out such heinous actions, but rather acts on pre-existing conditions whereby human rights are being violated. This is especially true when identity politics are directed to discriminate and isolate a particular group. Economic development approaches that are sensitive to the responsibility to protect serve to inherently pre-empt discrimination and counter inequality. Addressing and eliminating poverty averts competition over scarce resources, discouraging identity-oriented discrimination. He noted that, at the 2005 World Summit, Member States committed themselves to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. However since then, conflicts have drastically changed to become more complex and multidimensional, he observed.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Cote d’Ivoire) said the responsibility to protect, by serving as a deterrent, contributes to stability and peace and is a prerequisite for development. The forcible displacement of more than 100 million people around the globe reinforces his delegation’s conviction that the Council needs reform to ensure greater representation and improve its working methods. To counter the risk of mass crimes being committed, his Government has adopted legislative and institutional measures and established monitoring and awareness-raising bodies. These include the High Authority for Communication and Audio-visual, which ensures the prevention of hate speech in the media and on social networks; the National Council for Human Rights; the Observatory of Solidarity and Social Cohesion, which raise awareness against hate speech; and the Cybercrime Platform, which tracks down and punishes perpetrators of hate speech. In addition, the Government has also integrated social development into its National Development Plan.
RÓBERT CHATRNÚCH (Slovakia), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can significantly contribute to atrocity prevention efforts. The Sustainable Development Goals Summit and the Summit of the Future are great opportunities to triple efforts towards achievement of the Global Goals. Underscoring the importance of early warning systems in the prevention of atrocity crimes, he said that, in the absence of a response at the local or national level, the Security Council must be able to take action if a situation poses a threat to international peace and security. He encouraged all Member States who have not yet done so to ratify the Rome Statute and its amendments and called for progress towards a new comprehensive convention on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity. Highlighting the atrocities committed in Ukraine, he urged the Russian Federation to immediately cease hostilities and unconditionally withdraw its troops from the entire territory of Ukraine.
MOHAMMAD AAMIR KHAN (Pakistan), recalling that the responsibility to protect principle was presented as a “noble humanitarian doctrine” at the 2005 Word Summit, said that in many cases the military action to protect civilians transformed into regime change and destabilization of the country. For more than seven decades, India has denied the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people, he reported, adding that its 900,000 troops resorted to forced abductions and incarcerated the entire political leadership of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, among other things. To this end, Pakistan has circulated a dossier with the evidence of 3,432 war crimes committed by India’s officials in Jammu and Kashmir, while adding that Muslims’ persecution has become a “routine norm” for India. Recognizing that the responsibility to protect was generated to ensure safety for those in danger, he said the selective application of the principle — driven by double standards and geopolitical considerations — undermine its credibility as a “genuine humanitarian doctrine”.
CARLOS AMORIN (Uruguay), associating himself with the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said that poverty, discrimination, and economic inequality have all been identified as significant risk factors contributing to the occurrence of crimes. Building more resilient societies means respecting the rule of law. Armed conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic have halted development progress worldwide and millions of people have been displaced by conflict and violence. He called on the Security Council to use its methods of work to consider potential atrocity situations as soon as possible and hold periodic briefings on the matter. He underscored the importance of the Human Rights Council in terms of identifying risk factors that could lead to mass atrocity crimes. He also reaffirmed Uruguay’s commitment to the responsibility to protect and pledged his country’s commitment to deepening efforts to achieve its implementation.
NORBERTO MORETTI (Brazil) stressed that any collective action exercising the responsibility to protect should be based on an agreed set of fundamental principles and procedures, following the exhaustion of all diplomatic, humanitarian and all other peaceful means available. Noting that poverty does not always lead to violence, he underlined that there is no direct link between development deficits and genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. A comprehensive approach that strengthens coherence between political, security, development, human rights and rule of law activities is needed. The Peacebuilding Commission is well positioned to help fill the gap between peace and security efforts and development solutions. Voicing concern that the Secretary-General's report adopted once again uses the expression "atrocity crimes" to refer to the horrendous acts associated with the responsibility to protect, he underscored that Member States and the United Nations should avoid the temptation of using imprecise concepts. That expression is not defined in international law, nor in multilateral resolutions or decisions.
KEMAL ONUR EKREN (Türkiye) said the instability and destruction caused by terrorist organizations threatens not only lives, rights and freedoms, but economic welfare and social stability. Funds that should be allocated to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals instead are used to remedy the damage caused by terrorist organizations. He welcomed that the report stresses the importance of prevention as a responsibility of States and the international community. Yet, when efforts for prevention do not prevail, United Nations organs must step in as envisaged in the Charter, he said, underlining the Council’s responsibility to act in situations of mass atrocities. The responsibility to protect is not yet an established norm of international law. Its scope and implementation need to be defined and refined. However, such a definition must be based on the broadest possible consensus among the international community, considering the concerns of all Member States, he said.
FABIÁN ODDONE (Argentina), observing that sustainable development has ceased to be a long-term vision, stressed that “it is an urgent reality we must bring about now”. Pointing to the extremist policies, including hate speech, intolerance, exclusion and discrimination, he said they undermine protection standards in communities. In this context, the framework provided by the report is a “road map and a call for action”; his country uses these institutional instruments. Pointing out that Argentina suffered from mass atrocities in the past, he emphasized that there is always “a before and an after” for countries that lived through such crimes in their history. In this regard, prevention is “something that begins, but does not necessarily end”, he stressed, adding that the causes of violence do not “die off” but rather “simmer away”. Underscoring the importance of international cooperation, he said States should set a strategy and fulfil their duty for the benefit of all.
GIANLUCA GRECO (Italy), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said that, under his country’s national legislation, development cooperation recognizes the centrality of the human person and pursues the objectives of eradicating poverty and protecting and fulfilling human rights, among others. Welcoming a bottom-up approach to prevention, he voiced support for the ongoing work of the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. Its recently launched Plan of Action for Women in Communities to Counter Hate Speech and Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes — the “Napoli Plan of Action” — is the result of joint work carried out by a group of community women leaders who met in Naples in July 2022 to discuss new ways to protect, support and empower those women who are at the forefront of atrocity prevention, he said.
JAKUB KULHÁNEK (Czech Republic), aligning himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Responsibility to Protect, expressed strong support for the principle since its adoption in 2005. The persistence of horrific atrocities around the world starkly reminds the entire international community it must place the implementation of this principle at the forefront of its efforts. Prevention should involve broader efforts to adopt effective public policies that help build more resilient societies and protect vulnerable populations. The emphasis on prevention requires holistic approaches that the international community can pursue through a range of tools. Foremost is strengthening the protection of human rights globally. The Universal Periodic Review, special procedures and other mechanisms play a crucial role in prevention and early warning. In addition, a safe and enabling environment must be fostered for civil society actors, including human rights defenders, humanitarian workers and the media.
Right of Reply
The representative of India, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that words like “genocide” were freely thrown about by Pakistan’s delegate to turn the guilt away. “Pakistan is, perhaps, the only country that has committed genocide,” she stressed. Moreover, led by its bigoted policies with the use of the “blasphemy laws”, people in Pakistan live in a state of fear. She emphasized that the entire union territories of Jammu and Kashmir — currently under Pakistan’s “illegal occupation” — are inalienable territories of India.
The representative of Pakistan said she must address the assertions just made by the representative of India, who did not address the facts regarding that country’s deeply troubling trajectory of human rights. Instead, that country’s representative made a sad attempt to spread falsehoods and propaganda against Pakistan. India has used terrorism as a State policy against its neighbours, she emphasized.
The representative of China, also in exercise of the right of reply, said she rejected the United States’ baseless accusation, adding: “What is genocide? The United States knows it best.” She recalled that the “systematic slaughter and plunder” of Native Americans lead to a sharp decline of its population — from 5 million in 1492 to 250,000 in the early twentieth century. “The United States should stop dictating to other countries,” she stressed, adding that the country’s “so-called anti-terrorist military operations” have caused the death of 900,000 people over the past decade.
MICHAEL HASENAU (Germany), speaking for Cambodia and the Principal Donors Group, which was formed to support the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, introduced the draft resolution (document A/77/L.76). Twenty years ago, at the Cambodian Government’s request, the United Nations helped establish the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to prosecute the crimes the Khmer Rouge’s senior leaders. The Extraordinary Chambers has made a critical contribution to accountability by holding a number of the accused responsible for atrocities. The Extraordinary Chambers’ contributions also include legal capacity-building regarding the domestic court system and strengthening civil society organizations. They have contributed to Cambodia’s public discourse on the Khmer Rouge crimes, including the reflection of the Khmer Rouge history in the curriculum of the public education system.
With the completion of the trial phase, the important residual phase of the Extraordinary Chambers has begun, he continued, including the implementation of judicial orders, management of the Chambers’ archives and the dissemination of information. The resolution ensures that these residual functions continue smoothly. The Principal Donors Group continues its efforts to facilitate them. It is essential that the Chambers’ legacy is secured in Cambodia and internationally. This using the lessons learned from the work of the Extraordinary Chambers in the fight against impunity for core crimes under international law, he said.
SOPHEA EAT (Cambodia) recalled that, between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia’s people lived under the Khmer Rouge regime, which deprived the nation of all human rights. Around a third of the country’s population lost their lives from execution, starvation and disease. In 1988, the Government of Cambodia sought the help of the United Nations in ensuring accountability and in 2006 the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was created to bring justice to the victims and survivors. In the course of its work, the hybrid tribunal convicted three senior Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity. It completed its work in 2022, with some residual functions. “While there is justice for victims, those surviving the holocaust — myself included — can look in the future with the sense of closure,” she said, noting: “The wounds deep down in our hearts are healing, even though scars will remain.” Throughout the Court’s process in the last 17 years, 240,000 individuals attended the hearings while many more watched live on TV, she reported, while adding that the residual functions of the Court are designed to preserve its legacy.
HOANG NGUYEN NGUYEN (Viet Nam) said the fact that the item is on the General Assembly agenda nearly five years after the verdict is an indication of the continued relevance and significant legacies of the Extraordinary Chambers. Although court proceedings and outcomes were long awaited, and even belated, the Courts have brought eventual justice to millions of innocent victims and their families, both Cambodians and Vietnamese. The verdicts were also an overdue indication of the righteousness of his country’s self-defence and subsequent joining of forces in solidarity with the Cambodia National Front to end the genocidal regime of Pol Pot — an act which was unfortunately politicized at the time, with Viet Nam wrongfully sanctioned for many years. “The Courts can serve as an example of the perseverance of international law, and that atrocity crimes, such as genocides, will be duly punished,” he stressed.
The General Assembly then adopted “L.76” without a vote.
By its terms, the Assembly encouraged the Secretary-General and the Government of Cambodia to take all measures necessary to fully implement the Addendum to the Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia concerning the prosecution under Cambodian law of crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea on the Transitional Arrangements and the Completion of Work of the Extraordinary Chambers. It further requested the Secretary-General to report to the Assembly at its seventy-ninth session on the implementation of the present resolution.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) introduced the draft resolution which aims to make explicit the importance of ensuring access to mental health services and psychosocial support in an inclusive manner (document A/77/L.77). It is also part of a longer-term strategy to place the issue on the multilateral agenda and is aligned with Security Council resolution 2668 (2022). “To recognize the importance of mental health is to recognize the dignity and integral well-being to which we are all entitled, without exception,” he said. Negotiations showed there were differences on how to refer to or understand concepts such as mental health or psychosocial disabilities. Yet, it was clear from the outset that there is a consensus on the importance of placing these issues on the United Nations agenda.
The resolution addresses all issues in a clear and balanced manner, he said. Yet, adoption is not enough as the international community must move to make mental health a part of universal health coverage. The General Assembly is adopting, for the first time, a resolution that dignifies mental health and protects human rights while calling for the right to mental health services and psychosocial support for all, he noted.
The General Assembly then adopted “L.77” without a vote.
Speakers then took to the floor, speaking in explanation of position after action.
The representative of Sweden, speaking for the European Union, reported that, on 7 June, the European Commission presented a comprehensive strategy on mental health that identified 20 flagship initiatives with dedicated finances, while pledging mental health and psychosocial support services for displaced people. The Commission also presented a new European Union Global Health Strategy in November 2022.
The representative of Oman, speaking for the Gulf Cooperation Council, emphasized that it views sexual and reproductive rights through the cultural and societal frameworks and in line with national laws and regulations.
The representative of the United States, speaking for Australia, Canada and New Zealand, welcomed the resolution’s alignment with the principles of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while expressing concern that Indigenous Peoples experience disproportional levels of psychosocial distress and suicide.
The representative of Guatemala disassociated herself from preambular paragraph 28 and expressed reservation about the use of terms on issues pertaining to sexual and reproductive rights that contravene the country’s national legislation and internal legal order. She also said her delegation reserved the right to interpret the term “reproductive rights” without including the right to abortion.
The representative of Iran disassociated himself from the preambular paragraph 8, adding that consideration and implementation of provisions is subject to Iran’s national laws, regulations and policies, including its cultural and social specificities.
The representative of Venezuela said the draft resolution was a historic landmark to be developed in a cross-cutting way through all United Nations bodies. Citing the effects of the pandemic, he noted his delegation had called for inclusion of language on unilateral coercive measures against some countries — which was not acceptable to the countries that brought forward the negotiations.
The representative of Indonesia disassociated his delegation from operative paragraph 17, as it is essential that no one-size-fits-all approach is taken. He further registered his reservation over the use of some terminologies and language referring to mental health.
The representative of Egypt noted that, despite lengthy negotiations of some 50 hours, Member States only negotiated 17 paragraphs out of 55. There was a need to continue consultations on the whole text, as this was the first draft resolution of its kind, and numerous amendments were made after each negotiation cycle, including its very title. He expressed regret that numerous delegations sought to weaken all aspects of the text pertaining to sustainable development.
The representative of Nicaragua said the lack of goodwill during the negotiations resulted in the position of 28 countries wanting to include a paragraph on the negative impact of illegal unilateral coercive measures being ignored. There was no reasonable explanation for leaving out this paragraph. It is unacceptable as developing countries face great challenges and need access to financial sources.
The representative of the Russian Federation noted the resolution recognized the importance of mental health protection for the first time. The pandemic led to an increase in mental health disorders, as health care resources were diverted to combat the COVID-19 virus. Yet, the scales on this resolution were tipped towards bringing human rights into the issue of mental health care. In addition, the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on mental health care was left out.
The representative of Belarus said she regretted that the paragraph on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the health sector, which received broad support during the negotiation process, was not reflected in the resolution’s final version and did not reflect the realities faced by the populations of sanctioned countries. Unilateral coercive measures impact the supply of medicines and medical equipment, complicate international payments and logistics and create a threat to the provision of necessary medicines.
The representative of Nigeria, pointing to the non-consensual language of preambular paragraph 19, said it is open to misinterpretation. In this regard, she urged Member States to maintain the agreed language, noting that Nigeria understands the term “gender” as “men and women”.