Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
27 November 2018
It is a great pleasure to be present at this meeting of the cross-regional Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect.
The two notions of responsibility and protection are essential for any human rights situation – particularly in relation to gross violations of human rights and atrocity crimes, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
The horrors of recent decades, such as in Rwanda or Bosnia Herzegovina, as well as more recent tragedies in Myanmar and Iraq, have repeatedly demonstrated that massive atrocity crimes do not suddenly break out without warning. They are the culmination of intensifying human rights violations -- processes that unfold over time, and which can be interrupted and prevented.
The Secretary General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect have emphasised the need to prevent atrocity crimes, and not only punish these acts after they have been perpetrated.
I share their views: the key to the successful implementation of the responsibility to protect is directly linked to the prevention of RtoP crimes and violations -- before they begin, or before they intensify.
Early warning is an essential component of prevention. But to be effective, the prevention of massive and serious human rights violations requires a very broad range of stakeholders to take concerted, comprehensive and timely action, to stop abuses and violations from spiralling into disaster.
Currently, prevention work suffers from a disarticulation of partnerships, and the absence of political will to act on the fact-finding work, and recommendations, of human rights bodies. International human rights expertise and recommendations are able to contribute to collaborative action for prevention, involving national and international actors.
Last week, I met with Rights Advisors who work within UN Country Teams in the field. Their work shows clearly how working at the country level, in an integrated partnership of UN teams, can drive positive preventive action.
We need to keep pushing forward with these efforts to place human rights protection, and prevention, at the heart of all the UN’s work in countries.
In June the Human Rights Council established a new mandate to look at how the Council can more effectively contribute to prevention. I look forward to reflecting further on how the Council can sharpen its approach to preventing serious violations from happening in the first place -- and to ensure prompt response to emerging crises.
Operational prevention to avert specific threats of atrocities, or de-escalate ongoing violations, needs to be combined with deeper, structural prevention to unlock systemic violations and reduce the long-term likelihood of atrocities.
Every situation has its own specific challenges. No two human rights situations are exactly alike. Some of the approaches we deploy on a daily basis are support to constitutional and institutional reforms, including of the justice system and the security sector; efforts to broaden the civic space and strengthen civil society actors; work to reduce inequalities, broaden opportunities and uphold economic, social and cultural rights. And every measure that promotes and protects human rights will contribute to building resilient and respectful societies, with a reduced risk of violations.
Clearly it is essential to encourage the development of suitable policies and measures by the State itself. As the World Summit Outcome Document noted in 2005, the principle of the responsibility to protect emphasizes the primary responsibility of each State to protect its own populations.
The Sustainable Development Agenda, which mirrors the international human rights agenda, covering the full range of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, as well as the right to development, can only be achieved by focusing on human rights measures -- tackling the root causes of insecurity, narrowing inequalities, ending pervasive discrimination, and making sure institutions are sound and inclusive.
We must all seek out and support policies and methods that can increase the effectiveness and relevance of our work to prevent human rights violations and protect the world’s peoples.
I will be grateful for your thoughts on how we can work better to promote prevention, and I look forward to a continuing and fruitful exchange with you regarding the responsibility to protect all human beings from atrocity crimes.