Member States’ commitment to uphold the responsibility to protect its populations, in particular children and youth, from crimes of atrocity, must be centred in prevention in order to make the principle a living reality, speakers stressed, as the General Assembly today held its first annual debate on the topic.
Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, introducing the Secretary-General’s annual report on the issue (document A/76/844), recalled that since the first report in 2009, these documents have given the General Assembly a basis to consider the concept of the responsibility to protect, which was affirmed at the 2005 World Summit. Since then, Member States, the Secretariat and the Assembly have made progress in elaborating and operationalizing the responsibility to protect, and have elaborated frameworks for identifying risks, early warning models and institutional mechanisms for implementation.
This year’s report was dedicated to the special situation of children and youth in the context of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, she noted. It also highlighted the ways, reasons and extent to which children and youths are targeted and impacted by those crimes, in both armed conflict and non-armed-conflict situation. She urged Governments to make protecting children and youth from atrocity crimes a priority and accelerate its implementation with real and measurable outcomes.
In the ensuing debate, speakers, denouncing the atrocities experienced by children and youths around the world, also emphasized the need for prevention and early warning systems, but underscored the principle must be anchored at the national level.
Malta’s representative cited the number of atrocity crimes which could be directed specifically against children and youths, including the war crime of enlisting children under the age of 15 to actively participate in hostilities and the crime of genocide for transferring children from one group to another, among others. The most effective way to protect children and youth from atrocity crimes is by strengthening prevention and early warning mechanisms, with a whole-of-society approach that involves civil society organizations, including those led by youths.
Honduras’ representative, echoing that, affirmed that children and youth were at the heart of his country’s efforts to prevent atrocities. His Government was also designing public policies to ensure socioeconomic inclusion and equality, with the full involvement of children and young people. In addition, Honduras also has included the topic of genocide and the prevention of mass atrocities in civil service training, and training for its armed forces, he said.
Switzerland’s representative, noting his country was a member of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, also said that each country should identify mechanisms in accordance with its situation, noting that his country is working within the Global Action against Mass Atrocities to strengthen the dialogue between States and other actors to strengthen national prevention mechanisms and structures. States should join to share good practices and build an atrocity prevention community.
The representative of Bangladesh stressed it was critical to build the capacities of national institutions and mechanisms and tackle “atrocity risk”, as well as provide support to Member States in their prevention measures. Also needed were accountability mechanisms that provide redress to victims at the national and local levels. She also reminded the Assembly of its responsibility to the Rohingya minorities who fled Myanmar and took shelter in her country, adding that no progress has been achieved to facilitate their return nor ensure accountability for the crimes committed against them.
Rwanda’s representative pointed out that in the last two weeks, hate messages, images and videos targeting Congolese Tutsis have been posted on social media outlets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by civilians, Government officials and others, calling for their killing, extermination and intimidation. As a result, individuals believed to be Tutsis in the country are stigmatized and assaulted. “Incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility are precursors to genocide crimes,” he underscored, urging Member States to establish a sound legal procedure to prevent and criminalize hate speech and genocide ideology.
Many delegations, on the other hand, questioned the concept of the responsibility to protect, stressing that there has been no consensus on its definition, scope and application since the 2005 World Summit.
Iran’s representative called for in-depth legal and humanitarian discussions to overcome any divergences to advance the concept and its application. Moreover, she pointed to certain States and lobbies which were portraying humanitarian situations through the media while manipulating the realities on the ground. A number of countries have raised their concerns and questions time and again regarding the responsibility to protect, she said, calling on the United Nations to address all Member States’ positions and treat them equally.
Pakistan’s representative, noting that the scope of the concept, outlined in the 2005 World Summit outcome, had been restricted to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, said the principle has been selectively applied and frequently targets developing countries or Islamic States. The international community has not heard from the sponsors of this concept on the need for collective action to protect the people of occupied Palestine or India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, he said.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea concurred, emphasizing that the responsibility to protect is nothing but an instrument used to intervene in the internal affairs of other sovereign States, citing long-standing challenges in the Middle East and Africa as the result of such actions. Genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity are not attributable to a State’s inadequate ability to protect its people, but to flagrant infringement of State sovereignty, he stressed.
Also speaking today were representatives of Mexico (also speaking for France), Costa Rica (for the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect), Estonia (also speaking for Latvia and Lithuania), Luxembourg (also speaking for Belgium and Netherlands), Canada, Syria, Nicaragua, Romania, Croatia, Albania, Namibia, Slovenia, Cuba, Australia, Liechtenstein, Poland, Denmark, Guatemala, Georgia, Venezuela, Republic of Korea, Armenia, Hungary, United Kingdom, Singapore, Türkiye, Germany, Côte d’Ivoire, Greece, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Lebanon, Slovakia, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, San Marino, Ecuador and Indonesia.
The European Union spoke in its capacity as an observer.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of India, Pakistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The General Assembly will next meet 10 a.m. on Friday, 24 June, to conclude its debate on the responsibility to protect.