Advancing atrocity prevention: Work of the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect - Report of the Secretary-General (A/75/863–S/2021/424)

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General Assembly
Seventy-fifth session

Security Council
Seventy-sixth year

Agenda items 14, 122 and 135

Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up
to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences
and summits in the economic, social and related fields

Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit

The responsibility to protect and the prevention of
genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes
against humanity

I. Introduction

1. The prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity (atrocity crimes) remains a constant global challenge and an ongoing imperative. Without question, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and created new protection challenges. Throughout the world, there has been a surge in stigmatization and hate speech and increased incitement and violence towards national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, as well as towards other ethnic and racial groups simply because of their identity. In addition, State and non-State actors continue to flagrantly disregard wellestablished principles of international human rights and humanitarian law. The deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals, the destruction of religious and heritage sites, the weaponization of food and widespread sexual and gender-based violence have all become more frequent.

2. During the early months of the pandemic, the Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire to silence the guns and help to create the right conditions for the delivery of life-saving aid. In spite of significant endorsement, conflict has continued, and conflict-related risks of atrocity crimes have increased. Prioritization of prevention therefore remains as critical as ever.

3. In September 2020, on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the adoption of the principle of the responsibility to protect, the Secretary-General stated that systematic and grave human rights violations, widespread impunity, hate speech, exclusion and discrimination could all increase the risk of atrocity crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. In his call to action for human rights made in 2020, the Secretary-General stressed the links between human rights protection and prevention and provided a framework for putting human rights at the centre of all United Nations action in areas that are central to the collective commitment to upholding the responsibility to protect.

4. At the 2005 World Summit, all States Members of the United Nations committed to protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Since then, there has been progress in advancing both the conceptualization and operationalization of the responsibility to protect. The annual reports of the Secretary-General on the responsibility to protect have provided guidance on the implementation of that principle. The first such report (A/63/677) laid out a three-pillar strategy for implementation in line with paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome (General Assembly resolution 60/1). Pillar one is based on the understanding that State sovereignty implies the responsibility of individual States to protect their own populations from the gravest of crimes in accordance with their national and international obligations. Pillar two sets out the parallel commitment of the international community to assisting States in discharging that primary responsibility. Pillar three underscores the responsibility to protect of the international community when States are manifestly failing to protect their populations, and includes taking collective action, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, including the range of tools available under its Chapters VI, VII and VIII.

5. In 2009, in its resolution 63/308, the General Assembly decided to give ongoing consideration to the responsibility to protect. In his subsequent reports, the Secretary - General examined different aspects of the concept and its application by providing further guidance on the three pillars and focusing on thematic issues, most recently the role of women in atrocity prevention (A/74/964-S/2020/501).

6. The aim of the present report is to provide an overview of how the responsibility to protect has been and is being operationalized through the Organization’s prevention, early warning and response work, led by the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. The Office supports Member States, regional and subregional organizations and grass-roots and civil society actors through a range of initiatives aimed at assessing and addressing existing vulnerabilities to mitigate the risk of atrocity crimes. This work is done in coordination with all United Nations headquarters and field presences to support those at risk. As outlined in the report, the Office collects information on and analyses the risk of atrocity crimes, encourages early action by Member States and regional and subregional organizations and advances essential agendas, such as preventing incitement to violence and addressing hate speech.