Remarks at a UN General Assembly Debate on Responsibility to Protect

Elaine French
Deputy Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
June 28, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. The United States is pleased to participate in this debate on the Responsibility to Protect. We continue to support the 2005 World Summit outcome document and believe that each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

We applaud the work of Special Adviser Karen Smith and encourage the Assembly to consider making this debate an annual agenda item. We recommend the Secretary General more closely examine the impact of human rights violations and abuses, including sexual violence, as key early warning indicators in the 2020 report.

The United States recognizes that there are vital interests in protecting populations from mass atrocities. Our December 2017 National Security Strategy highlighted the importance of holding perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities accountable.

On January 14, 2019, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act came into law, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to preventing and responding to atrocities. This legislation highlights the importance of a coordinated “whole of government” approach to strengthen our government’s ability to forecast, prevent, and respond to mass atrocities.

In support of early warning and prevention, the Department of State conducts regular analysis of global atrocity risks, and a deeper analysis focused on high-risk countries susceptible to atrocities. To address atrocity risks, the U.S. government identifies gaps in existing diplomatic and programmatic activities and formulates recommendations and policy options.

The United States is engaged in preventative work too. In early June, we unveiled the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security – a government-wide framework which articulates the United States’ commitment to promoting the meaningful participation of women in efforts to respond to conflict. Through women’s meaningful participation in mediation efforts and preventative work, we can avert atrocities before they happen.

The United States continues to play an active role in the Global Network of R2P Focal Points, and was pleased to participate in recent meeting in Brussels. We continue to support best practices in the prevention space.

The United States has also been a strong supporter of the “Human Rights Up Front” initiative since its creation. The initiative is a valuable convening mechanism to ensure a whole-of-UN approach to prevention with regards to human rights abuses and violations. Given that human rights abuses and violations are often an early warning indicator of mass atrocities, we encourage member states to engage further in the work of the Third Committee. Member states can deliver statements on the Third Committee’s agenda items during interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteurs, such as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

Mr. President, the U.S. government supports a range of efforts that both directly and indirectly reduce risks of mass atrocities. Such efforts include establishing and training local communities to use early warning systems, supporting criminal justice system reform, and documenting human rights abuses for justice and accountability processes. In one example, we surveyed and documented human rights violations and abuses against the Rohingya in 2017 in a time sensitive and comprehensive manner. The data collected is bolstering current efforts to pursue accountability for those responsible for atrocities and to contribute to justice for victims.

We commend the Secretary-General’s efforts to better coordinate within the UN system to prevent atrocities and we are pleased to support this formal debate. Moving forward, we will continue to look for opportunities to integrate prevention efforts across the UN system. Thank you for your attention.