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Kofi Annan highlights need for Special Rapporteur on genocide

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In a major policy development, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has raised the possibility of establishing a Special Rapporteur on the prevention of genocide. Minority Rights Group International (MRG), with a coalition of NGOs, has campaigned for two years for the establishment of such a post to intervene in situations involving minorities and to prevent genocide, avoiding the repetition of past inaction and failure by the UN and its Member States. In a frank and unequivocal statement to the Stockholm International Forum, Mr Annan spoke of the ‘gravest mistakes’, which allowed the events in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda to take place. He stated: ‘The international community clearly had the capacity to prevent these events. But it lacked the will….all of us failed’.

Mr Annan called for a greater UN capacity for action, acknowledging both practical problems such as lack of resources, and importantly, ideological shortcomings, which left the UN paralysed by a position of impartiality in the face of attempted genocide. According to Mr Annan, the United Nations itself requires a fundamental institutional change from a ‘culture of reaction to one of prevention’. He reminded Member States of their obligations under Article 1 of the Genocide Convention, under which States parties undertake ‘to prevent and to punish’ the crime of genocide, sending a clear message that inaction should no longer be acceptable. He added that clear ground rules were required to distinguish situations in which the use of military intervention would be a legitimate option. ‘…The issue is not one of a right to intervene, but rather of a responsibility to protect…’ he declared.

A Special Rapporteur on the prevention of genocide, reporting to the Security Council, would monitor situations where there is a risk of genocide, and where appropriate, act as an ‘early warning’ to the Security Council and the UN Secretariat. Mr Annan pointed to a potentially important role of this post in terms of establishing the link between massive and systematic violations of human rights and threats to international peace and security. New mechanisms might also include a Committee on the Prevention of Genocide to act as a monitoring body to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, stated Mr Annan. Such bodies exist for other human rights treaties and are empowered to monitor States parties, meet to review state reports and make recommendations for action.

Research into past genocides has enabled experts to identify a number of warning signs, which can be used to raise the alarm when there is a credible threat of large-scale violence against minorities or indigenous peoples. Mr Annan pointed out the need to protect the rights of minorities who he identified as ‘genocide’s most frequent targets’.

Director of Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, stated: ‘The appointment of a special mechanism to prevent genocide and protect minorities, reporting directly to the Security Council, should not be delayed any longer. This is a bold and positive message not only to the UN and its Member States to look to their own actions, but as a warning to those who would commit genocide or other mass violations, that they will not go unchallenged, and they will not go unpunished.’

Notes for editors

  • Coalition members: Minority Rights Group International; Bahá’í International Community; International Movement Against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH).
  • Minority Rights Group International is also a member of the International Campaign to End Genocide (ICEG).

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

Filed Under: Human Rights, Press
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