Yesterday and this morning the UN General Assembly held a plenary meeting on “The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” as part of the agenda of its 75th session. This was the fourth formal debate on R2P and presented an important opportunity for the UN membership to take stock of efforts to prevent or halt mass atrocity crimes. During the meeting, 59 UN member states and the European Union spoke on behalf of 88 countries.
The meeting concluded with a vote on UN General Assembly Resolution A/75/277 on “The responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” The resolution was adopted with 115 states voting in favor, 28 abstaining and 15 voting against. With an overwhelming majority of states voting for the historic resolution – the first in the General Assembly since 2009 – UN member states decided to include R2P on the annual agenda of the General Assembly and to formally request that the Secretary-General reports annually on the topic.
This week’s debate takes place amidst a historic weakening of the laws and norms that safeguard humanity and at a time when a record 80 million people around the world have been displaced by persecution, conflict and atrocities. Today’s debate and vote are a recognition of the fact that in far too many situations around the world, civilian populations are experiencing indiscriminate attacks on schools and medical facilities, widespread rape and sexual violence perpetrated as a weapon of war, disproportionate and deadly force being used against peaceful protesters, and institutionalized persecution of minority groups.
Nevertheless, R2P remains the most effective principle around which the international community can coalesce when vulnerable populations face the threat of atrocity crimes. R2P is a promise to those people for whom genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are not abstract words, but real acts that pose an existential threat to them, their loved ones and their communities. We hope that UN member states who recommitted to R2P during today’s debate help enable the international community to take timely and decisive action wherever and whenever mass atrocity crimes are threatened.