UN Chief Stresses The Need To Improve The Protection Of People From Atrocity Crimes

On the September 6, 2017, at the Responsibility to Protect meeting, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stressed the need for the United Nations to implement practical measures aimed at preventing and protecting the vulnerable that “are being killed either deliberately or as victims of indiscriminate attacks.” The Secretary-General presented his report, ‘Implementing the responsibility to protect: accountability for prevention’ to the General Assembly highlighting “the need for strengthened efforts to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity remains as strong as ever.” The report specifically addressed steps that can be taken at a governmental level to heighten responsibility for the prevention of atrocity crimes and how the UN system can improve to ensure the protection of those it serves.

Guterres expressed the fact that there has been an increase in atrocity crimes, stressing that “these crimes are not on the retreat.” The UN has reported on such recent atrocity crimes, particularly on September 1, 2017, a statement released by Eri Kaneko Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General mentioned the concern the Secretary-General has for the military operations in Myanmar. In the statement, the Secretary-General emphasizes the need for “the responsibility of the Government of Myanmar to provide security and assistance to all those in need.” The violence in Myanmar is a clear example of the need for the UN to act practically as “the current situation underlines the urgency of seeking holistic approaches to addressing the complex root causes of violence.”

Furthermore, at the Responsibility to Protect meeting, Guterres also expressed the need for the UN to “improve our use of all three UN pillars – peace and security, development and human rights – for early warning and prevention.” Guterres specifically called on the need to improve peaceful measures and maintain international peace and security. The comments he expressed may urge the international community to reflect on and consider non-violent operations to combat conflict. Additionally, his comments may positively affect the operations of the Human Rights Council to widen their actions on prevention. The increase in atrocity crimes is concerning, however, Guterres identifies the role of states in tackling these atrocity crimes, emphasizing, “The success of the United Nations in implementing its mandates depends on national actors being able to deliver on their sovereign responsibilities.”

The recent meeting was quite important for UN member states to communicate their thoughts on strategies to combat atrocity crimes like the military operations in Myanmar. Additionally, the principle of responsibility has been thoroughly discussed in the past, such as the 2005 World Summit where governments affirmed their responsibility. The World Summit’s resolution document states that “each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. Guterres identifies the past commitments made by member states, stating, “We have to keep as our reference the World Summit outcome document that was unanimously accepted in 2005.”

The continued atrocities are extremely alarming, however, the UN’s continued demand on the international community to protect its citizens is certainly a step in the right direction. Overall, the key issue discussed in the Responsibility to Protect meeting relates it to the fact that there is a large need for “strengthened efforts to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity remains as strong as ever.” Domestic states along with the UN must continue to increase practical measures that ensure the protection of citizens.