In this issue...
2. UN Member States Told They Must Act Now to Uphold their Responsibility to Protect populations in North Korea
On 16 April 2014, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a briefing entitled “Threat to international peace and security: prevention of and fight against genocide” on the occasion of the twentieth commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The Council took the opportunity to discuss the lessons learned from the failure to prevent the genocide, as well as the challenges that remain for the swift prevention of and response to atrocity crimes today. Discussion also focused on how the United Nations as a whole and the Council in particular can re-evaluate and strengthen the mechanisms needed to prevent further mass atrocities. In addition to interventions by all 15 Council members, statements were delivered by Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and Ambassador Colin Keating of New Zealand, who served as the President of the Security Council during April 1994.
Early in the meeting the Council unanimously passed Resolution 2150, which included both a preambular and operative phrase on the Responsibility to Protect, with the latter being the first time such language was included within a UNSC Resolution. The Resolution recalled “the important role of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect,” recognized “the contribution of the International Criminal Court” and reaffirmed “paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document on the Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
In his intervention, Mr. Eliasson spoke of the Rwandan genocide as the darkest chapter in human history, with tragic repercussions in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo that are still being felt and addressed today. Ambassador Keating took the opportunity to provide an apology for the failure of the Council in 1994 and highlight the critical role of governments, including Nigeria, Argentina, Djibouti, the Czech Republic and Spain in condemning the acts of genocide. He also shed light on how the UN Secretariat failed to provide the Council with accurate information so as to truly understand the scope of the unfolding crisis.
In reaffirming that the primary Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing rests with states, many Members of the Council stressed the critical need to establish and strengthen national mechanisms for the prevention of such crimes. On this point, the majority of governments reflected on how prevention requires a multi layered approach that includes the strengthening of the rule of law; protection of human rights through the ratification of conventions and treaties; the monitoring of human rights violations as early warning signs of potential atrocities; building a culture of inclusivity; and combating hate and discrimination through national education programs.
Council Members also spoke of the importance of strengthening these efforts through closer cooperation with regional organizations, civil society, women, religious and youth leaders, and the media to build the broadest possible network to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes. The recognition that genocide was a process which was planned and systematic was met with an understanding that prevention efforts must be deliberate and systematic, rather than continuing with the crisis improvisation of the past.
The Council looked back at the evolution of the UN’s preventive capacities since the Rwandan genocide and assessed the actions taken to strengthen the body’s ability to prevent and respond to such crimes. States, including the UK, Rwanda, Lithuania, Australia, Chile, United States,and France were vocal in their support for the development of the Responsibility to Protect as a norm that emerged from the failures in Rwanda to provide a framework for preventing atrocity crimes, which Lithuania called the “most important and imaginative doctrine to arise in decades”. Interventions further commended the appointment and work of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, and the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Jennifer Welsh, with many highlighting the recent actions by Mr. Dieng to raise alarm at the Security Council on the situation in the Central African Republic. There was also recognition of the recently released Rights Up Front Initiative which seeks to further centralize human rights protection within the United Nations system.
In addition to highlighting the progress in developing mechanisms to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes, as well as highlighting case examples of success in prioritizing protection such as in Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, or Libya, Member States could not ignore the many challenges that remain, as evidenced by ongoing crises including Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Reflecting on the paralysis in the UNSC on the situation in Syria, the government of France recalled its proposal for a voluntary code restricting the use of the veto in situations of RtoP crimes, with multiple states expressing their support for the further consideration of this initiative.
Many Member States stressed that there were no longer excuses for inaction or slow responses to prevent atrocity crimes, as the UN has at its disposal the tools necessary to protect populations. What is needed is the political will to make prevention a reality. While Council members recognized that preventing genocide was hard work, Amb. Keating struck an optimistic note, stating that the development of Responsibility to Protect gives further reason for hope that the international community will rise to action in the face of atrocities.
The ICRtoP will post statements from the meeting on its website in the coming days.
Also on 16 April 2014, the Permanent Missions of Canada and Japan to the United Nations, together with the EU Delegation to the United Nations, held an open dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, also known as North Korea.) Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations in the DPRK, briefed participants on the Commission’s findings and recommendations. (For more on the Commission of Inquiry’s report, please see our 21 February listserv.)
Mr. Kirby reminded delegations that his Commission had found that systematic and widespread crimes against humanity have been and are being committed in the DPRK. In many instances, the perpetrators are implementing a policy designed by the most senior DPRK authorities, leading Mr. Kirby to declare that the DPRK was “an authoritarian state without parallel in the contemporary world.” Nevertheless, Kirby states, the world has treated the atrocities in the DPRK as though they were “business as usual” while it has prioritized other conflicts. If this report—with its findings that ten out of the eleven acts defined as crimes against humanity by the Rome Statute of the ICC have been committed—does not “trigger action by the international community, it is hard to say what will.”
The Human Rights Council (HRC), for its part, has already taken action. Kirby encouraged Member States to heed the HRC’s recommendations, which included: asking the General Assembly to submit the HRC’s report on the DPRK to the Security Council; and asking the Security Council to refer the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court. The international community, Kirby urged, must accept its responsibility to protect the populations of the DPRK from the government. He concluded by asking delegations “What choice will we make? Do nothing today to say never again tomorrow? Or take action to say not one day further?”
Kirby’s briefing was followed by interventions by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, UN Assistant Secretary-General on Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, and Sonja Biserko, member of the Commission of Inquiry. All three gave further details of the atrocities occurring, while urging the international community to seize this opportunity to act. During their interventions, several states, including the EU, Netherlands, and Switzerland, noted the hitherto failure of the DPRK government and the international community to uphold the responsibility to protect. Many others, such as Japan, EU, Netherlands, and Switzerland, gave explicit support to the referral of the situation to the ICC, while the Netherlands and Japan also backed the idea of imposing targeted sanctions to those most responsible for these crimes.
On 17 April, the Security Council will hold an Arria Formula meeting on the report, during which it is expected to reflect on the recommendations made by the Commission and the Human Rights Council.