25 Nov 2019
Human Rights Council Investigative Mechanisms and Mass Atrocity Prevention

Since the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was unanimously adopted at the 2005 UN World Summit, the international community has looked to the UN Security Council in New York to respond when a government has been unwilling or unable to protect its population from war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or ethnic cleansing. Paragraphs 138-139 of the World Summit Outcome Document recognize the Security Council's unique role with regard to upholding the international community's responsibility to protect as the body primarily responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security.

However, the Human Rights Council (HRC) and other Geneva-based mechanisms are also essential for preventing atrocity crimes. Since systematic or widespread human rights violations serve as early warning signs of possible atrocities, Geneva-based mechanisms are often the first to raise the alarm regarding situations where violations and abuses threaten to deepen or deteriorate. Such mechanisms play an important role in enabling the international community to assist states in preventing mass atrocities (R2P's Pillar II) and respond in a timely and decisive manner to atrocity risks (Pillar III).

This policy brief highlights how various HRC-authorized Commissions of Inquiry, Fact Finding Missions and other investigative mechanisms have played a role in preventing mass atrocities and ensuring accountability for perpetrators. The brief also discusses various operational challenges faced by investigative mechanisms as well as best practices in maximizing their impact.