Government Offices of Sweden, SE-103 33 Stockholm, +46 8 405 10 00
A printout from
Stockholm 17 March 2006

Opening speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Laila Freivalds at the seminar "Prevention in practice" with UN Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide Juan Méndez


Dear Mr. Méndez, dear guests,

Warmly welcome to this seminar on the Prevention of Genocide in Practice. It is a great pleasure to have you, Mr. Méndez, and your delegation in Sweden.

The last Stockholm International Forum Conference, in January 2004, discussed the challenges of the prevention of genocide. It was at that conference, here in Stockholm that the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed the establishment of a new function within the UN system: a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.
The idea of the Secretary General was to make clear the link between massive and systematic violations of human rights and threats to international peace and security.

You were appointed the first Special Adviser in July 2004.
We met just a few weeks after in Stockholm to discuss our expectations on your mandate, and how Sweden could support your work.

The leaders of the world pledged to support your mission in the declaration from the UN Summit in September last year.

At the same summit, all member states agreed to the responsibility to protect.
Each government has the primary responsibility to protect its populations against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. When a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own population, the international community has the right and the responsibility to act.

The agreement reached on the responsibility to protect is one of the most important achievements of the Summit.

The prevention of genocide and other atrocities is a part of conflict prevention. We have to engage in long-term, structural prevention:
- by addressing root-causes such as poverty,
- and by strengthening the structures that can prevent conflict: the respect for human rights and democracy, the rule of law at the domestic and the international level, and international institutions.

But we also have to engage in short-term prevention. There is a toolbox of measures available: preventive diplomacy, sanctions, etc.
The tools have been improved during the last few years, but we need new ideas on how to improve them further. I am confident that we will have a fruitful discussion on that during this seminar.

The concept of responsibility to protect could actually change the terms of international politics.

It turns the concept of sovereignty on its head: sovereignty is still a basis for international relations,
but sovereignty is not only a bundle of rights,
it includes a set of obligations, a responsibility.

An even more radical implication of the concept is that states now also have the responsibility to protect the population of other states.

Mr. Mendez,

Your mandate is to collect information on massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that might lead to genocide, and to act as an early warning mechanism and make recommendations to the Secretary-General and the Security Council. Your mandate underlines the strong link between Human Rights and Security.

You have a difficult task. You need political support, and technical and practical assistance, from the UN system as well as from nations.

You are now about one and a half years into your mandate. Which are the challenges you have met so far, and what are the possibilities and limitations of your mandate?

How could you assist states to take their responsibilities towards their population - and to other populations?

Could the new Peace Building Commission, and a Human Rights Council provide new opportunities for your work?

How could Sweden and the EU assist in your early warning function?

The Swedish Government is strongly committed to supporting your work. And present here are politicians, representatives of government agencies, NGO:s and media, academic experts and civil servants active in the fields of security policy and human rights. I think we are all eager to listen to you and to discuss how our national experiences and resources could come to use in the prevention of genocide.

The floor is yours, Mr. Méndez.

Thank you!