II. Prevention of atrocity crimes
The prevention of the crime of genocide is intrinsically connected to the prevention of crimes against humanity and war crimes. I have been referring to these crimes as “atrocity crimes”1 as they reveal extreme forms of human rights violations of a deeply violent and cruel nature, that typically, but not always, occur on a massive scale. These crimes also tend to occur concurrently in the same situation rather than as isolated events, as has been demonstrated by their prosecution in both international and national jurisdictions. Consequently, initiatives aiming at preventing one of the crimes will, in most circumstances, also cover the others. This report reflects this understanding by focusing on measures taken by Member States to implement the duty to prevent the three crimes.
The duty to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes is well established both under several treaties and under rules of customary international law binding on all States.2 This duty was reiterated in the political commitment made by all United Nations Member States in 2005, under the umbrella of the responsibility to protect principle. In paragraph 138 of the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit,3 States recognized their primary responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. This report looks into measures taken by States to comply with their international obligations and responsibilities in this respect. It provides examples of initiatives that Member States are already implementing and identifies additional steps that could be taken to prevent atrocity crimes.
As I have stated on several occasions, prevention must be at the center of all we do at the United Nations.4 We must change the culture of reaction to one of prevention and be prepared to invest the necessary resources. We must also consider all elements required for a comprehensive prevention strategy. In this vein, even though considerable focus is put on conflict prevention, the broader prevention of human rights violations and in particular, the prevention of atrocities must be part of this discussion. Alarmingly, most conflicts come hand in hand with allegations of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law being committed. It is also well known that the risk of atrocity crimes dramatically increases in an environment of conflict. Therefore, the prevention of conflict contributes to the prevention of atrocity crimes and vice versa.
However, genocide and crimes against humanity do not only occur during armed conflict. According to international law, these crimes can also take place in peacetime. A prevention agenda that strictly focuses on conflict prevention risks overlooking these cases.
Situations that place States under serious levels of stress, including as a result of political instability, threats to the security of a country or even volatility in economic or social affairs, can create environments that are conducive to serious human rights violations and, in the most serious cases, to atrocity crimes, even where there is no armed conflict.
There are other clear differences between the armed conflict and atrocity prevention agendas, particularly regarding the relevant legal frameworks and their objectives, the strategies they typically utilise and the stakeholders they engage with. Ultimately, preventing conflict should benefit the entire population of a country or region. However, as noted, the absence of armed conflict does not necessarily mean the absence of atrocity crimes. Therefore, despite the obvious interlinkages between conflict and atrocity prevention agendas, the latter should not be subsumed by the former. Acknowledging these differences and establishing the interlinkages between them is the way forward to a broader, better coordinated and sustainable prevention agenda, which I have established as a priority during my tenure as Secretary-General.
Equally, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 16 to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, greatly benefits from and contributes to atrocity prevention. To make prevention work and to realize the “Sustaining Peace” agenda, it is important to establish partnerships between different agendas and actors to develop joint analysis and to mainstream the different dimensions into common implementation strategies.
Source: UN Human Rights Council / ReliefWeb / UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of Global Diaspora News (www.GlobalDiasporaNews.com).