Intersessional Meeting on the Prevention of Genocide
10 February 2021
Human Rights Council Resolution 43/29
10th February 2021 at 12:30pm on WebEx
Ambassador Hovhanniysan, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Armenia,
Madame Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner,
Madame Wairimu Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank OHCHR for the kind invitation to address you this afternoon. I am truly honoured to participate in the opening session of this intersessional meeting on the prevention of genocide.
I commend the Republic of Armenia and the co-sponsors of Council resolution 43/29 for keeping the question of the prevention of genocide on the agenda of the Human Rights Council. The text of the resolution contains many recommendations to guide Member States in preventing genocide, not only at national level, which is the State’s primary responsibility, but also by supporting and participating in initiatives at regional and international levels.
I have no doubt that the panel discussions that will take place today will contribute to enriching our deliberations on how to better prevent genocide and pave the way for further involvement at the national level and strengthened cooperation at regional and international levels.
The link between human rights and the prevention of genocide is obvious. It cannot be stated enough: genocides, like other mass atrocities, do not happen suddenly. They are often preceded by a series of repeated human rights violations, whether it be violations of civil and political rights or violations of economic, social and cultural rights. Genocides in particular find their roots in long-term discrimination.
The mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and its predecessor the Commission on Human Rights have proven to be effective tools to detect genocide and other mass atrocities. For example, in Rwanda, months before the genocide of 1994, Bacre Ndiaye – the then Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions for the Council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights – warned of communal violence being committed against Tutsis “solely because of their membership of a certain ethnic group, and for no other objective reason”.
From Syria to Sri Lanka to Myanmar, major human rights crises have repeatedly been preceded by warnings from the Human Rights Council, as well as from OHCHR and Treaty Bodies. In 2016, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, before many others, contributed to the recognition that a genocide was being committed by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) against Yazidis.
But raising the alarm bells and drawing the world’s attention to potential or ongoing mass atrocities requires follow-up actions and coordinated efforts by the international community in order to truly lead to prevention. This is why it is so important to keep up our efforts to bridge the proverbial “gap” between New York and Geneva. The Human Rights Council is the only intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide, where all stakeholders can participate and raise their voices. The Council and its mechanisms provide the international community with a wealth of expertise, information and recommendations on a wide range of human rights issues, including urgent human rights situations. It is imperative that this information be utilized by other intergovernmental bodies in order to ensure that the international community provides the necessary support to States in order to prevent mass atrocities.
It is important that Council mechanisms also strengthen cooperation with other United Nations mechanisms, and especially with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide. In this regard, the “Overview of consultations on the contribution of the Human Rights Council to the prevention of human rights violations”, which was presented to the Council last March by Yvette Stevens, Pablo de Greiff and Nils Muižnieks in their capacities as rapporteurs appointed pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 38/18 on the contribution of the Council to the prevention of human rights violations, suggested that the Special Adviser could be invited more regularly to sessions of the Council.
Moreover, what the joint study by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide published in March 2018 constitutes a good precedent (see A/HRC/37/65).
I also wish to highlight that the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi used in its last reports the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes developed by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.
Human Rights Council mechanisms also have a role to play in monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which, contrary to other international human rights instruments, lacks a monitoring body. In his last report on the prevention of genocide, presented in 2019 to the Human Rights Council, the Secretary-General emphasized the role that the UPR can play in this respect. He identified four steps for Member States to better utilise the UPR to prevent genocide: “first, the inclusion of risk assessments and preventive measures for atrocity crimes in the preparatory materials, by using for example the Framework of Analysis produced by the joint office; second, the inclusion of atrocity prevention issues in the peer-to-peer dialogue; third, ensuring that information about and discussion of risks and preventive measures for atrocity crimes are adequately reflected in the outcome document and its actionable recommendations; and fourth, ensuring that, where relevant and appropriate, other States provide the necessary assistance to help countries under stress prevent atrocity crimes and protect their populations”.
Perhaps even more vital than these early warning and monitoring functions is the capacity of Human Rights Council mechanisms to provide practical assistance to States, to help them correct structural gaps and reverse a trajectory of increasing human rights abuses. Experience demonstrates that the implementation of detailed, expert human rights recommendations and guidance, including from the Special Procedures and mandated investigative bodies, has an important preventive role. Their recommendations range from accountability measures to transitional justice mechanisms and socio-economic reforms – each of these components being critical for the prevention of genocide. In many cases, implementation requires financial assistance, and the Human Rights Council provides States the opportunity to share their needs and discuss modalities of cooperation, be it under item 10 of the Council’s agenda or during UPR reviews.
These are positive steps. Today meeting is an opportunity to reflect on further cooperation.