Acting on the recommendation of its General Committee, the General Assembly adopted the work programme and agenda for its seventy-second session on September 15th, deciding for the first time in 12 years to include the item “The Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
The Assembly, which had before it the General Committee’s first report (document A/72/250), also endorsed the recommendation that its general debate be held from 19 to 23 September.
With the recorded vote of 113 in favour to 21 against, with 17 abstentions, the Assembly’s discussions on the responsibility to protect evolved from 2005, when leaders at the World Summit first agreed that Governments were obliged to protect their populations from those mass atrocity crimes. Yet, several delegations took the floor to air their concerns about formally adding the item to the agenda.
Ammar Al Arsan (Syria) expressed deep concern about efforts to breach the understanding that allowed discussions on the responsibility to protect to take place in informal dialogue sessions. Regrettably, the Assembly was dealing with practices that were neither democratic, nor transparent. Some Governments used the concept to justify military action and intervention in the other States’ affairs. “We are talking about real tragedies” that persisted in many countries, he said, calling on delegates to take a responsible position that would allow a thorough evaluation of the concept in the informal interactive dialogue.
Ali Nasimfar (Iran) said he opposed including the responsibility to protect on the agenda, due to the biased interpretation and application of the concept, a trend that could compromise basic United Nations principles. Application had been inconsistent and motivated by politicized interests.
Evgeny T. Zagaynov (Russian Federation) said his delegation had consistently advocated for strengthening States’ capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, it was well-known that States had manipulated the concept, which had had disastrous consequences. Including the responsibility to protect item on the agenda would be premature and lead to a further drifting apart of positions.
Mohamed Moussa (Egypt) expressed regret that discussions on the issue had come to such a conclusion, stressing that the vote was proof of a lack of consensus. The responsibility to protect notion included many political and legal gaps, which if left unattended could do more harm than good.
Ana Silvia Rodríguez Abascal (Cuba) said the responsibility to protect issue continued to cause serious concerns for many countries, particularly small developing States, due to the lack of consensus and various definitions of the topic, which could be manipulated for political purposes. The question was not ripe for an inclusive dialogue and the Assembly should not throw itself into a debate that would only exacerbate existing gaps among Member States.
Fernando Luque Márquez (Ecuador) echoed the sentiment of those voting against the measure, stressing the need for political will to ensure that all countries worked together and did not use the responsibility to protect notion as a pretext for intervention and political benefit.
Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe) stressed the need to seek the broadest conceptual, political and operational consensus on the concept in order to gain support from Member States in its implementation. The 2005 World Summit had not articulated modalities for implementation, he recalled, adding that the prevention of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity was the primary responsibility of Governments and should not be used to justify interference in sovereignty.
Mehdi Remaoun (Algeria) said questions around the responsibility to protect caused serious doubts among States, particularly developing countries. Issues that did not enjoy consensus lacked legitimacy and were generally seen as being highly politicized. The responsibility to protect was fundamentally a legal issue, and as such, it was irrelevant to place it on the Assembly’s agenda.
Those voting in favour focused on the growing number of attacks against civilians. Sven Jürgenson (Estonia), speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed support for including the item on the formal agenda. Given the alarming trend of deliberate attacks against civilians, the gap between rhetoric and action must be closed by formalizing the dialogue in the Assembly.
Gillian Bird (Australia) said the idea of prevention had become a new clarion call across the international community, and the Secretary‑General had made clear that the responsibility to protect was the cornerstone of his prevention agenda. The only goal of including it on the agenda was to foster dialogue and build consensus on what the United Nations and Member States could to do prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Resolving differences was precisely the reason why States came together in the General Assembly. A debate on the responsibility to protect would allow States to share experiences and views and learn by listening to each other.
Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee (Ghana) said the responsibility to protect was relevant both as an expression of political commitment and as an action to prevent genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. She expressed support for the framework to implement the responsibility to protect, while recognizing that some concerns had been raised on the concept and required a further exchange of views. She encouraged Member States to vote for inclusion of the item on the agenda.
Syed Akbaruddin (India) said discussions on the concept required open, inclusive and transparent deliberations, which addressed a host of unresolved, sensitive legal principles. The responsibility to protect was one of the foremost of every State, and as such, he would support the inclusion of such an item on the agenda for the current session.
While supporting inclusion, Burhan Gafoor (Singapore) said it was regrettable that consensus had not been possible, expressing hope that States would avoid using the debate as an opportunity to deepen their divisions. Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia) likewise said the intention to politicize the topic would benefit no one. The primary responsibility to protect civilians lay with States.
Other topics to be considered during the session were those titled “Financial inclusion for sustainable development”; “Promotion of international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows in order to foster sustainable development”; “Combating sand and dust storms”; “Joint panel discussion of the First and Fourth Committees on possible challenges to space security and sustainability”; “Expulsion of aliens”; and “Nuclear disarmament verification”.
Under organizational, administrative and other matters, the Assembly included the following items: “Sexual exploitation and abuse: implementing a zero-tolerance policy”; “Justice Support in Haiti”; “Observer status for the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan in the General Assembly”; “Observer status for the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office in the General Assembly”; “Observer status for the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism in the General Assembly”; “Observer status for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Secretariat in the General Assembly”; and “Observer status for the Global Environment Facility in the General Assembly”.
The Question of the Comorian Island of Mayotte was included on the understanding that it would not be considered. The Assembly deferred consideration on the Question of the Malagasy islands of Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Europa and Bassas da India to its seventy-third session.
The Assembly decided that the delegations of the Holy See and the State of Palestine would participate in the seventy-second session as observer States, and that the European Union would participate in the work of the session as an observer.
Also speaking today against inclusion of an item on the responsibility to protect were representatives of Venezuela, Belarus, Sudan, Pakistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kyrgyzstan, China and Bolivia.
Also speaking in favour of the measure were representatives of the Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States and Kiribati.
During approval of agenda items concerning maintenance of international peace and security, Armenia’s representative disassociated himself from consensus.