Remarks at a UNGA Plenary on the Responsibility to Protect and the Prevention of Genocide, War Crimes, Ethnic Cleansing, and Crimes Against Humanity 

Jonathan Shrier
U.S. Deputy Representative to ECOSOC
New York, New York
June 26, 2023


Thank you, Mr. President. And I would like to thank Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect Okoth-Obbo and Special Advisor for Prevention of Genocide Nderitu for presenting the Secretary-General’s report.

It has been 18 years since the General Assembly adopted its World Summit Outcome Document, which proclaimed that each state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, and two years since the General Assembly decided to include this item in its annual agenda.

Despite these efforts, we continue to see the perpetration of atrocities in numerous situations around the world. We appreciate the Secretary-General’s report’s focus on the risks and drivers of atrocity crimes and on the importance of prevention. 

As the Secretary-General has urged, we, the Member States of the United Nations, must do more to address the risks that can create conditions that lead to atrocities. It is vital that we continue to address food insecurity and poverty, and more generally accelerate progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in order to help lower the risk of atrocities occurring.

We must focus our attention and efforts on addressing atrocities that are taking place across the world. Far too often, critical infrastructure is targeted by armed actors, with civilians forced to leave homes to find electricity, running water and food supplies. 

Civilians are facing the brunt of the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, with global repercussions, due to flooding. Destruction of the dam also endangers operations at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and has damaged agricultural fields and facilities that will further set back food production that much of the world depends on.

We have also seen Russia use Iranian-supplied “kamikaze drones” to attack cities throughout Ukraine, killing hundreds, and destroying schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. This is in addition to the Russian missiles that have targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.     

In April, Burma’s military conducted an airstrike on a village in Kanbulu township that killed over 160 people, including dozens of children. The regime’s violence and oppression has perpetuated a humanitarian crisis in Burma, with reports indicating more than 3,600 killed, 19,000 detained, and more than 1.5 million displaced since the coup. And let us not forget the genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017.

People’s Republic of China authorities continue to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. In response to the situation in Xinjiang, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, acting under its early warning system and urgent action procedure, referred the matter to the attention of the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect in November 2022. 

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the ongoing human rights violations and abuses and horrific violence in Sudan, especially reports of widespread sexual violence and killings based on ethnicity in West Darfur by the Rapid Support Forces – RSF – and allied militias.

The atrocities occurring in West Darfur and other areas are an ominous reminder of the horrific events that led the United States to determine in 2004 that genocide had been committed in Darfur. We specifically condemn the killing of West Darfur Governor Khamis Abbakar on June 14 after he accused the RSF and other forces of perpetrating genocide.

While the atrocities taking place in Darfur are primarily attributable to the RSF and affiliated militia, both sides have been responsible for abuses. In Darfur, the Sudanese Armed Forces have failed to protect civilians and has reportedly stoked conflict by encouraging mobilization of tribes.

The 2021 UN Security Council Resolution 2573 on the “Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population” condemned acts of violence in conflict areas – whether deliberate or not – that threaten or harm civilian populations and essential infrastructure.  

Under this resolution, these acts are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law. All parties to armed conflict must immediately end such practices. The resolution further demanded that all parties comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law and urged all parties to protect civilian infrastructure.

All States and armed groups must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and should implement good practices to mitigate and respond to harm to civilians and civilian objects. 

In an effort to continually improve its policies and practices relating to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the United States released the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan. This Plan includes doctrine, guidance, and procedures to mitigate and respond to civilian harm in U.S. operations and multinational operations led by the United States.  

The United States remains committed to upholding its obligations regarding the protection of civilians and to promoting accountability for those who are responsible for atrocities. Thank you, Mr. President.