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Submission to the UN High-Level Panel On Threats, Challenges and Change – Conflict prevention and the protection of minorities

1 June 2004

The International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, 7 April 2004 marked 10 years since the international community failed to prevent what has been called ‘the preventable genocide’. It was preventable not least because it had been foreseen, in particular by the UN Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Summary, Arbitrary or Extrajudicial Executions in August 1993. It was also preventable because international standards existed which, if applied, may have met many of the concerns held by both majority and minority. Indeed, less than 16 months before, the UN General Assembly had adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UN Declaration on Minorities) which adds to and bolsters the main body of relevant international human rights law. At least from these perspectives, the genocide in Rwanda was not rooted in or precipitated by either a lack of international standards or of early warning of disaster. However, evidently, the absence of implementation of the standards in Rwanda and the failure of the international community, lacking the political will, to scrutinize or heed the available warning combined to render both standards and warning ineffective. If genocide, and indeed any violent conflict involving minorities, are to be prevented in the future, it seems imperative to rectify this situation. In view of this, the appointment by the Secretary-General of a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide is to be welcomed.The Secretary-General’s call to move the United Nations from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention is also a necessary and welcome development. More recent calls from the Secretary- General for consideration of the establishment of new mechanisms demonstrate his appreciation of the fact that such a cultural transformation requires institutional development and new operational arrangements and practices. Indeed, the creation of modest but well-tailored mechanisms, supported by appropriate Secretariat arrangements, may well deliver substantial gains in effective outputs with limited additional resource expenditures.Important among the Secretary- General’s initiatives has been his appointment in November 2003 of a distinguished High-Level Panel tasked to recommend clear and practical measures to ensure effective collective action to challenges ahead in the field of peace and security. The Panel is mandated to make a broad analysis of this field and to extend its analysis and recommendations to other issues and institutions insofar as they have a direct bearing on future threats to peace and security.This paper aims to provide the High-Level Panel with some concrete ideas that would enhance the United Nations capacity to address effectively the interconnected dimensions of the protection of minorities and the prevention of violent conflict. In concurrence with the recent suggestions of the Secretary-General, it is asserted that: 1) new mechanisms must be created, and 2) existing capacities must be enhanced.Specifically, the new Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide must have a broad mandate to address situations of tension early, before they manifest any element of an actual genocide, and the post should be provided with adequate funds and support staff. An independent expert committee to supervise compliance with the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) should be created. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the specialised agencies of the UN should work to strengthen capacity for early warning and early action by improving information gathering and analysis of minority rights violations (in particular the right to exist), and institutionalising links with the UN Secretariat in New York. In short, an effective approach must essentially have the character of prevention.

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John Packer

Erik Friberg