Remarks delivered at UN General Assembly Ministerial Side Event on “Preventing and Ending Atrocity Crimes: A Key Challenge for the UN Security Council”

22 September 2016

Remarks delivered by Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect on 22 September 2016 at UN Headquarters in New York. The Ministerial side event was co-hosted by the governments of Liechtenstein, Costa Rica and Mexico together with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

I would like to thank H.E. Dr. Aurelia Frick, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, H.E. Mr. Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico, H.E. Mr. Manuel A. González Sanz, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica, as well as the government of the Republic of France, for convening today’s meeting and for their leadership on this important issue.

More than a decade since the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect, there is near universal consensus that wherever or whenever mass atrocities are threatened, the international community has an obligation to help prevent or halt these crimes.

Nevertheless, some member states are still manifestly failing to uphold their sovereign responsibilities. In the world today there are currently over 65 million people fleeing conflict, atrocities and persecution.

Over 280,000 people have been killed in Syria, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are living under medieval siege conditions in Aleppo and elsewhere. The bombing of schools and hospitals has become commonplace, along with other brazen violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Syria isn’t the only country in the world where civilians face mass atrocities, but it is the only country in the world where for five years the UN Security Council has been actively obstructed from upholding its responsibilities with regard to ending those atrocities.

One Permanent Member of the Council has consistently shielded a government that has, according to the UN’s own sources and other credible reports, used chemical weapons and, on Monday night, even conducted an airstrike on a UN aid convoy bringing food to starving civilians.

The UN Charter mandates the UN Security Council with responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. However, since October 2011, four double vetoes have blocked draft resolutions that may have prevented the situation in Syria from degenerating into the unrestricted killing zone that we see today, where all sides have perpetrated atrocities and where there has been total impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Those four double vetoes undermined the legitimacy of the Council.

Frustration with the Council’s paralysis has led to governments and civil society calling for a more accountable and responsive UN Security Council.

Two separate but complementary initiatives have emerged: The Code of Conduct put forward by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group and a joint French/Mexican initiative.

The Code of Conduct commits states not to vote against any credible resolution aimed at preventing or halting mass atrocity crimes.

Correspondingly, the French/Mexican initiative says the five permanent members should never use their veto to block a draft resolution aimed at preventing or ending atrocities, unless they propose an alternative plan, in accordance with international law, that can achieve similar goals.

As of today, 116 states—a majority of the UN membership—support these initiatives. Next year, the majority of the members of the Security Council will be states that have endorsed them.

These initiatives have already raised the political cost of the veto. However, some resolutions continue to be weakened and watered-down so as to avoid conflicting with the partisan interests of a Permanent Member. This is the notorious “silent veto” at work.

Consensus diplomacy is admirable, but it should never be at the expense of vulnerable people who may literally pay with their lives for the Security Council’s inaction or silence. That is the lesson of Rwanda. Of Srebrenica. That is the warning from history.

In this regard I particularly commend France and the UK for their bold leadership from inside the P5 on this issue.

Finally, while the majority of UN Member States have endorsed these initiatives, we encourage the remaining 77 (including 3 of the P5) that have not, to do so.

Do so for the people of Aleppo. Do so for the truck drivers and Red Crescent volunteers who were bombed or burnt to death on Monday. Do so for all those who face the threat of barrel bombs, or the machete, or the mass grave, both now and in the future.

Today’s meeting provides an opportunity to discuss the Code of Conduct and the French/Mexican proposal. Their meaningful operationalization will help ensure that members of the Security Council fulfill their responsibilities, rather than surrender to expediency, indifference or inaction when confronted by crimes that shock the conscience of the world.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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