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‘Innovate and strengthen or continue to fail’ MRG tells UN peace and security panel

13 June 2004

If genocide and violent conflict involving minorities are to be prevented in future it is imperative to rectify a flawed UN system, which allowed the Rwandan genocide to happen despite adequate international standards and early warning. Only by innovation, establishing new mechanisms and enhancing existing capacities can the UN truly address global threats and challenges. These are among the recommendations put forward by MRG today in a submission to the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, tasked by Kofi Annan to deliver effective action to meet challenges in the field of peace and security.

MRG’s submission reminds the Panel of Secretary General Annan’s call for a vital shift in the culture of the United Nations from one of reaction to one of prevention. Establishment of a new Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide is a positive and welcome step suggests MRG, while highlighting the vital need for a broad mandate for this post if it is to fulfill ambitious prevention expectations. ‘The post holder should be equipped with the authority to make concrete recommendations for action, and the access to engage effectively with governments and the UN Secretary General and Security Council at a very early stage of developing tension and conflict’ stated MRG.

The additional establishment of a Special Adviser on Minorities to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, MRG suggests, would be a further key component of a systematic and effective conflict prevention process. MRG argues that a New York based adviser on genocide would benefit from stronger links to the UN human rights machinery in Geneva, facilitated by such a minority-focused expert. Improving information gathering and analysis of minority rights violations to strengthen capacity for early warning would be key elements of this role. Citing the current urgent situation in Darfur, MRG states that unless preventive action is taken at an early stage the effectiveness of diplomatic engagement with governments is diminished as conflict develops its own ‘remorseless dynamic’.

According to MRG Head of Advocacy, Clive Baldwin, the costs of prevention of violent conflict ‘pale into insignificance’ when measured against the human and financial costs of picking up the pieces once conflict has begun. ‘The simple principle that prevention is better and cheaper than cure is still not being recognized or applied. The fact is that genocide and conflict can clearly be predicted through violations of minority rights and dehumanizing politics’. Prevention requires the UN to become action oriented at an early stage, stated Baldwin, stressing the need for ‘preventive diplomacy’ and ‘cooperative engagement’.

MRG’s call for new mechanisms reinforces Kofi Annan’s desire for a ‘Committee on the Prevention of Genocide’ to supervise compliance with the UN Genocide Convention and promote its universal ratification, disappointingly standing at only 133 out of 192 UN member states. According to MRG, such a body of independent experts would greatly strengthen the prevention capability of this Convention by adding much needed clarity, for example regarding when states have an obligation to act to prevent genocide. Useful progress on genocide has been made during the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, however this has largely been in relation to the punishment of perpetrators. An expert committee should be mandated to focus its efforts clearly on preventive measures.

Notes for editors

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].