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Secretary-General's remarks to the General Assembly on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP)

[As delivered]

Mr. President,


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We meet on the eve of the General Assembly's consideration of my report on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect. I welcome this discussion. Most of all, I welcome the prospect of advancing our efforts in this vital area that means so much to me and to the world's people.

In 2006, as Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, and again last year as Secretary-General of this Organization, I visited Kigali to pay my respects at the memorial to the victims of the Rwandan genocide.

Like so many others, I came away with renewed determination to do whatever is in my power to prevent such massive affronts to human dignity in the future.

This week, we have an opportunity to ready ourselves for the moment – and that moment will surely come -- when our collective capacity and will are again tested by such horrors.

We can save lives. We can uphold the principles on which this house is built. We can demonstrate that sovereignty and responsibility are mutually reinforcing principles. And we can assert the moral authority of this institution.

Four years ago, our heads of state and government unanimously committed themselves to preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement.

This universal and irrevocable commitment was made at the highest level, without contradiction or challenge. Our common task now is to deliver on this historic pledge to the peoples of the world.

My report offers some initial ideas on how to go about this. These proposals, not the world leaders' solemn commitments, are to be the focus of our deliberations this week. The question before us is not whether, but how.

From day one, I have made the patient work of turning lofty words into practical deeds among the highest priorities of my administration. In that spirit, it is high time to turn the promise of the responsibility to protect into practice.

The strategy outlined in my report, based on the 2005 Outcome Document, rests on three pillars: state responsibility; international assistance and capacity-building; and timely and decisive response. Allow me to mention a few highlights.

First, the report seeks to situate the responsibility to protect squarely under the UN's roof and within our Charter, where it belongs. By developing fully UN strategies, standards, and processes for implementing the responsibility to protect, we can discourage States or groups of States from misusing these principles for inappropriate purposes.

Second, the report asserts that prevention, for practical and moral reasons, should be job number one. It offers a balanced and nuanced approach to prevention and protection that utilizes the full inventory of tools available to the United Nations and its partners. It seeks to spur thinking and policy development on ways the international community can support states in meeting their obligations in this area. And it stresses the need for preventive action initially by sub-regional and regional arrangements, as envisaged in Chapter VIII of the Charter.

Third, as called for by the 2005 Summit, we plan to engage Member States in a discussion about how to sharpen UN capacities for early warning and assessment. When prevention fails, the United Nations needs to pursue an early and flexible response tailored to the circumstances of each case. Military action is a measure of last, not first, resort and should only be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the Charter. Moreover, armed groups and non-state actors must be held to the same standards for the responsibility to protect as states in territory under their control.

Finally, my report seeks to encourage each of the UN's principal organs to play its distinct and appropriate role under the Charter in developing and implementing the responsibility to protect. I am glad to see the Assembly commencing the arduous task of building a consensus on the implementation plan.


I have listened carefully to your concerns and expectations. My Special Adviser, Professor Edward Luck, has consulted widely. The report seeks common ground. It suggests a coherent strategy for moving forward. It offers questions as well as answers, because it aims to open, not close, this ongoing dialogue.

Today, I ask you to do three things.

First, resist those who try to change the subject or turn our common effort to curb the worst atrocities in human history into a struggle over ideology, geography or economics. What do they offer to the victims of mass violence? Rancor instead of substance, rhetoric instead of policy, despair instead of hope. We can, and must, do better.

Let us begin by admitting that there are no quick or easy answers. No region or social system has been immune from such mass brutality. No part of the world has a monopoly on wisdom or morality.
But let us also acknowledge that the responsibility to protect has emerged from the soil, spirit, experience and institutions of Africa. ECOWAS and the African Union gave institutional life to the responsibility to protect principles long before the World Summit did.

Now, regional arrangements on every continent are boosting prevention, early warning and protection capacities, each in its own way. Networks of survivors, scholars, advocates and practitioners have surfaced in every part of the world.

Four years ago, world leaders stood on the same side of the table and overcame whatever other political differences they may have had to endorse the responsibility to protect. They faced a common threat to their peoples and societies, to the rule of law, and to the moral tenets for which this Organization so proudly stands – and faced it with resolve. Today, we owe it to the peoples of the world not to falter in this common quest.

Second, I ask you to let the Assembly do what it does best: to provide the venue for a continuing search for common ground on a multilateral strategy that works.

I see signs of convergence on the first two pillars of my strategy: on state responsibility and international assistance.

But, as everyone expected, differences persist on some aspects of the third pillar: on response.

We cannot expect to resolve all outstanding issues this week, or next. But we can agree on ways to keep the dialogue going, building on what has been achieved and setting markers for the future.

In that regard, I draw your attention to paragraph 71 of my report. In 2005, the assembled Heads of State and Government stressed, I quote, “the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect”, end of quote. I could not agree more. My report offers a focused way to begin that conversation.

Third, never forget why we are here.

Never forget the victims of atrocities and crimes in so many places. They number in the millions. Those losses have permanently stained the history of the 20th century. Together, in this century, we can chart a different course.

Never forget, too, the complacency and cynicism that often prevented this Organization from acting as early or as effectively as it should have.

Our publics judged us then, and found us wanting. They will be watching again this week, and they will – rightfully – judge us harshly if we treat these deliberations as politics as usual.

Three months ago, this Assembly commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide with prayers, songs, pictures and heartfelt tributes. It was a moving experience, shaped by the voices of the survivors. Their pain has not faded. Their memories are stark.

Just weeks ago, my Special Adviser witnessed columns of somber Rwandans bearing the coffins of victims discovered only recently to the mass burial sites in Kigali.

As their silent witness attests, this week's debate is not about history. It is about the character of this institution and the future of humankind.

Join me in the search for a better way.

Thank you.

An informal Question and Answer session followed. Below please find an unofficial transcript from ICRtoP:

Sweden commended the Secretary-General for the excellent report, which the Ambassador described to be balanced and building on the consensus that was achieved in 2005. Sweden found the way which the SG looked at it encouraging, and reaffirmed their support for the Secretary-General's report. Sweden assured that they have no intention to broaden the concept beyond the consensus and hazarded a guess that it is probably the Secretary-General's interntion as well. Sweden assured the Secretary-General that he will enjoy strong support from the EU. Sweden expressed their interest to hear how Ban would follow-up through reports and other means and expressed that they are interested in hearing his immediate plans.

The delegation of Chile welcomed the report of the SG as they believe that there is a need to develop the notion of RtoP. Chile noted that
one major achievement of the Outcome Document was the adoption of this notion by Heads of State as appearing in Paragraph 138 and 139. The representative expressed that Chile's government will not accept any backtracking in progress and sees further work to be done on the idea of RtoP. Chile reserved further comments for Thursday. However, Chile asked the SG to provide more suggestions on a possible plan of action for prevention of the four crimes referred to by R2P and asked the SG to elaborate on when and how the UN could build a foundation for early capacity.

Egypt stated that they will continue observation of the Responsibility to Protect. Egypt posed questions relating to the larger political aspect, specifically, what the SG would consider as  elements for early warning capability, as agreed to in paragraph 138, and with regards to information gathering where the information is going to come from -- from institutional memories of the organization and other bodies. In addition, Egypt also questioned what kind of linkage will there be between the General Assembly and the Security Council, given the failures of the Security Council in the case of the Rwandan Genocide and the Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006 and against Gaze in 2008.

Morocco thanked the SG for his briefing and suggestions. Morocco expressed agreement that R2P is a requirement, given the very sad cases we’ve seen over recent decades. At the same time, Morocco recognizes that the international community cannot hide certain concerns. Morocco expressed support for the SG in promoting this discussion, in an inclusive and transparent manner, similar to the manner which Morocco has always evaluted issues. Morocco affirmed that it will continue review of this issue in this forum. Morocco suggested that the most reasonable approach would be to first focus on these two pillars and seek to establish a trend that would allow the UN to deal with various issues that exist, and to complete these two pillars by addressing the preventive, rather than the coercive, aspect. Morocco indicated that they will continue discussing the framing of the language. Morocco also expressed the need for a minimum agreement on what is talked about when international humanitarian law is mentioned. Morocco referenced the various documents - Geneva Convention with additional protocols of 1997; international human rights law and the 1998 declaration; the 1996 international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, for people with disabilities; women and children’s rights, etc to show a myraid of international law present on humanitarian and human rights concerns. Morocco, however, asserted that unlike these convetions and laws, R2P is not a legal obligation; it stated that there is an absence of any legal basis where clear obligations for states can be established. Morroco's delegation indicated its wishes to raise questions regarding the scope and substance of the report in the open debate.

Guinea-Bissau thanked the SG for his excellent report and agreed with the SG's call of genocide as an affront to human dignity. Guinea-Bissau assured the SG that they have read this report closely, especially since it is in line with their own stance. Guinea-Bissau stated that the responsibility to ensuring R2P should be completely assumed by the international community; their Heads of State have given them this responsibility. Guinea-Bissau asserted that Member States themselves should ensure that this responsibility to protect become a reality. This notion, this doctrine, is not a license to intervene in other countries. They are pleased that the SG recalls this fact in report. Guinea-Bissau called upon the General Assembly to base themelves on this report, and come return to paragraph 138 of the Outcome Document to see how the responsibility can be assumed.

While Guinea-Bissau qualifies that there are clarifications that should be made, it remained firm that they cannot flee our responsibilities. They cannot shift this responsibility to the Secretariat. It recommended states to undertake a healthy, clear dialogue on the definition of this concept to remove ambiguity. Guinea-Bissau reiterated the SG's call to resist those who wish to introduce notions that are against the concepts in paragraphs 138 and 139 in the Outcome Document.

Secretary-General was heartened by the overall support he sensed among Member States. He emphasized that It is very meaningful for Member States to commence our official deliberations on this issue. He expressed sincere hope that on Thursday there will be much more focused deliberations. He assured the states that raised questions that there will be a later opportunity to dwell on those concerns and questions raised, in more focused ways.

Ban responded to the two or three delegations that raised the question of early warning mechanism, foundational framework, and how we can establish systemized information-gathering. In his reponse, he agreed that they are closely related. The SG answered that at the UN, the Secretariat and Member States will have to mobilize all available resources of information – through regional and sub-regional organizations, as well as UN agencies on the ground, and therefore, how to structure a framework for early warning system will be a very important issue. He expressed hope that they can discuss this in more detail and be able to present more details at a later time.

Ban drew attetntion on the fundamentally important question on how come, when, if the Security Council fails to act on serious crimes. He recounted that the Security Council has often been divided over serious issues and therefore not been able to take actions. As such, Ban emphasized on the need to have very clear guidelines on R2P. He acknowledged that there have been such cases already in Rwanda –as Egypt mentioned –where the UN have not been able to act properly at the level of the Security Council. He agreed that the concept of R2P does not constitute any additional legal basis for states to resort to the use of force. He referred to the Charter, which states that the Security Council should be the last organ that can authorize all necessary measures. Ban reiterated the need to work out the issue of Security Council authorization as the deliberation continues.

The Secretary-General referred to what Guinea-Bissau said, that there should be no ambiguity. Ban clarified that genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity are the four crimes that RtoP deals with. And he expressed confidence that for detailed matters he is sure that there will be other opportunities for discussion.

Bosnia Herzegovina
welcomed the report and found it to be very useful for the future. The representative stated  that RtoP is very important for Bosnia Herzegovina – as they shared an unfortunate negative experience. It also important stressed that, in cases where intervention is authorized, the perpetrators of crimes –war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity–must be punished. Bosnia Herezegovina emphasized on the need to send a strong message. Bosnia-Herzegovina stated that legal instruments are needed to define what has happened in history, in order to leave a historical heritage for the future. In that respect, the representative quoted the judgment of the International Court of Justice in 2007 regarding Srebrenica: The acts committed at Srebrenica “were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part the group of the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina as such, and accordingly ... these were acts of genocide.” It clarified that the acts of genocide were often misquoted as “mass killings.” Hence, Bosnia-Gerzegovina highlighted the importance to discuss the past for the future, for international justice.


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