"The UN has a large arsenal of capabilities to detect risks of genocide and the means to pre-empt mass atrocities"

Statement by Ambassador Lyall Grant of the UK Mission to the UN, at the UN Special event to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

UN Security Council

Ambassador Winid, I want to thank you for convening this important conference today.

Next week, we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. This year will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, and it follows shortly after the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide last year.

The words “Never Again” are etched in five different languages on a stone wall at the memorial of the Dachau concentration camp. But these anniversaries remind us, to our shame, that it is a promise that has not been kept. It is a broken promise that underlines how we still struggle to grasp the depth, complexity, and sometimes the darkness of the human psyche.

Nearly ten years ago, the Member States of the United Nations unanimously affirmed their Responsibility to Protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. What progress have we made in the last ten years?

Experts argue that genocide was narrowly avoided in the Central African Republic last year. And I draw three conclusions from this. First, I believe that we are incrementally improving our response to the early signs of genocide. One year ago, Special Advisor Adama Dieng sounded the alarm in his briefing to the Security Council on the risks of widespread atrocities in the Central African Republic, and the international community responded to those warnings.

Secondly, I conclude that we have the necessary tools needed to prevent genocide – we have preventative diplomacy, we have mediation, human rights monitors, sanctions, special political missions and, when necessary, protection of civilians through peacekeeping.

And, yet thirdly, we still have an immense way to go. In so many of the conflicts today - Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, to name just a few – the risk of genocide and mass atrocity crimes lie just below the surface, barely being held at bay. But narrowly missing genocide is not our goal. It is the bare minimum. The bar must be set far higher than that.

The United Nations has a large arsenal of capabilities to detect risks of genocide and the means to pre-empt mass atrocities. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, human rights special procedures and the Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect all contribute to early warning.

In this context, we welcome the Secretary General’s Human Rights Up Front Initiative, which drives the UN to work as one to put the protection of populations from human rights violations and atrocities at the centre of its work. Last month, Special Advisors Adama Dieng and Jennifer Welsh launched the Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes. This framework recognises that atrocity crimes, as horrific and shocking as they are, can be predicted when we give full consideration to the early warnings.

And part of prevention is accountability. Because today’s accountability is tomorrow’s prevention. There must be no safe haven for those who commit atrocities. The International Criminal Court provides a permanent Court with jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is vital that States cooperate with the ICC, so that it can deliver its mandate to hold culprits accountable where national authorities are unable or unwilling to act.

Where a state is failing to act to protect its own citizens or, worse, is actively persecuting and killing them, the international community has an equal and shared responsibility to do all it can to protect populations at risk. Moreover, the Security Council must be willing, where necessary, to employ its arsenal fully. My government has championed efforts in the Security Council to ensure that we heed early warnings and that we translate them into preventive, early action. Because early warning is meaningless if we lack the political will to act on that warning. That means political will on the part of individuals, in the field, as Ambassador Power has eloquently explained this morning. But individuals in New York are not immune. Each Security Council Member not only has the power but the responsibility to show courage and consistency in the prevention of genocide, and other atrocities.

That said, it is not only up to individuals or to the United Nations or other multilateral bodies to prevent genocide. The primary responsibility for protecting populations at risk lies with the nation state. Ultimately the tensions and incitement to violence that lead to atrocities start at home. Before we turn to international instruments, the onus is on all member states, all of us, to build state institutions and structures that are legitimate, foster social solidarity and uphold human rights and the rule of law. Our governments need to foster environments that enable mutual respect, resilience and alternative narratives to intolerance.

Education is critical in this endeavour. The United Kingdom is one of the three founding members of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and is an original signatory to the Stockholm Declaration on the Holocaust of 2000. And the United Kingdom is currently chairing that Alliance. Let me quote from the goals of the Declaration: it is “to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.”

To support this goal, my Prime Minister launched a Holocaust Commission this time last year. That Commission is charged with taking further measures to commemorate the Holocaust and to provide educational resources, to ensure that the next generation is aware of the continuing risk of genocide. And next week, our youngest Commissioner, 17-year-old Charlotte Cohen, will speak to the General Assembly on how to engage youth in remembrance. Through history and commemoration, we can demonstrate the moral imperatives of tolerance, understanding and communication to future generations.

So, can we redeem our pledge of “Never Again”? I think we can. We have the necessary tools; we have the necessary information. We need only the necessary political will to act on that information and to be prepared to use those tools. But to do so effectively, we - and when I say we, I mean particularly the five Permanent Members of the Security Council - need to work together at the UN with constant vigilance and determination.

Published 21 January 2015