Implementing the responsibility to protect: accountability for prevention - Report of the Secretary-General (A/71/1016–S/2017/556) [EN/AR]



There is a gap between our stated commitment to the responsibility to protect and the daily reality confronted by populations exposed to the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. To close that gap, we must ensure that the responsibility to protect is implemented in practice. One of the principal ways in which we can do so is by strengthening accountability for the implementation of the responsibility to protect and by ensuring rigorous and open scrutiny of practice, based on agreed principles. Accountability ties authorities to their populations and individual States to the international community. In the present report practical steps that can be taken by Member States, intergovernmental bodies and the United Nations system to strengthen accountability for the prevention of atrocity crimes are outlined. First, the relationship between the legal, moral and political responsibilities associated with the responsibility to protect and different forms of accountability are outlined. Then steps are identified that can be taken to strengthen accountability for the prevention of atrocity crimes at the national level, to enhance the role of intergovernmental bodies and to improve the accountability of the United Nations system to those it serves.

I. Introduction

1. I prioritize prevention, as I believe all of us should. By prevention, I mean doing everything we can to help States to avert the outbreak of the crises that take such a high toll on humanity. Of course, atrocity crimes impose a particularly heavy toll on humanity and their prevention is at the heart of my overall prevention agenda.

2. The international community recognizes that States have the primary responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We also recognize that there is a collective responsibility to encourage and assist States to fulfil their primary responsibility and to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter of the United Nations, to protect populations from atrocity crimes. Should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations, Member States have stated that they are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII. That was agreed when all Heads of State and Government adopted the World Summit Outcome in 2005. It has been reaffirmed many times since. The Security Council has adopted more than 50 resolutions that refer to the responsibility to protect and has reaffirmed the principle at least six times. It has reminded Governments of their primary responsibility to protect, urged national authorities to ensure accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and has twice mandated peace operations to support host Governments to fulfil their responsibility to protect. In 2009, the General Assembly reaffirmed its intention to continue consideration of the concept (see resolution 63/308). More than 100 Member States have actively contributed to the ongoing consideration by the General Assembly of the responsibility to protect during eight informal and interactive dialogues since 2009. They have used those opportunities to clarify the principle, reaffirm their commitment to it, share experiences and lessons learned, and outline the steps needed to make the responsibility to protect a reality everywhere. The Human Rights Council has adopted more than 20 resolutions that refer to the responsibility to protect. In 2016, it called upon all Member States to work to prevent potential situations that could result in atrocity crimes and, where relevant, to address the legacy of past atrocities to prevent recurrence (see resolution 33/19).

3. Beyond the United Nations, an increasing number of regional and subregional arrangements have indicated their commitment to the responsibility to protect (see A/65/877-S/2011/393). Fifty-nine Member States from every region of the world and the European Union have now appointed a senior official to act as a national focal point on the responsibility to protect. Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Switzerland and the United Republic of Tanzania, together with civil society organizations, have established the Global Action against Mass Atrocity Crimes initiative. The Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region also constitute important regional venues to advance the prevention of atrocities. Civil society is also playing an active role and has established several regional networks for atrocity prevention, which seek to strengthen the resilience of their communities.

4. The consensus on the purposes of the responsibility to protect spans every continent. There is no longer any question that the protection of populations from atrocity crimes is both a national and an international responsibility, which is universal and enduring. However, too often we still fail to take the necessary steps to prevent such crimes and protect populations at risk. The number of civilians subjected to atrocity crimes, including women and children, has increased significantly over the past few years. We have seen increasing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. That has contributed to a refugee crisis on a scale not seen since the end of the Second World War. It is imperative that we put an end to these negative trends; indeed, we have a responsibility to do so.

5. Atrocity crimes have regional and international implications that extend well beyond national borders. The massive flows of refugees and internally displaced persons they generate create immense humanitarian and protection needs and put considerable pressure on host communities, Governments and the international community. Such crises have often strengthened calls for action, including military intervention, to protect populations, which raise difficult political and moral questions. The human and financial costs associated with the use of force when atrocity crimes have been committed are extremely high, the prospects and consequences always uncertain. In my remarks to the Security Council on 10 January 2017, I emphasized that we spend far more time and resources responding to crises than we do on preventing them. I explained that a new approach was needed, one that brings the prevention of atrocity crimes back to the fore and that closes the gap between commitment and reality. One of the principal ways in which we can do this is by strengthening accountability and ensuring the rigorous and open scrutiny of practice, in the light of agreed principles.