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

Julian Simcock
Deputy Legal Advisor
New York, New York
June 24, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President.

It has been seventeen years since the General Assembly adopted the World Summit Outcome Document. Seventeen years since Member States proclaimed, in this room, that each state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. And yet even today, we continue to see the perpetration of atrocities against civilians in situations around the world.

As the Secretary-General has urged, we, the Member States of the United Nations, must do more to protect the most vulnerable individuals in the world from the perpetration of the most horrific crimes. We welcome the Secretary-General’s focus in this year’s report on the risk and impact of atrocity crimes on children and youth, and on the importance of prevention.

As the first pillar of “responsibility to protect” provides, each Member State bears its own responsibility to protect its population of children from mass atrocities. Since 2005, more than 100,000 children have been killed or maimed in armed conflict. Over 93,000 children have been unlawfully recruited or used as child soldiers. Countless more remain vulnerable to rape and sexual violence.

How many more children have to be killed or harmed before we take effective action?

The suffering and harm to children takes on many additional forms. Unlawful attacks on schools rob children not only of their education but also their hope for a better future. Displaced families often flee with their children as IDPs or refugees, causing a disruption that creates lasting trauma. While displaced, children face similar threats and remain vulnerable to exploitation.

It is clear that we have not done enough. The United States remains committed to protecting children from the impacts of conflict, as demonstrated by our push in the Security Council to elevate and better integrate the Children and Armed Conflict agenda into the Council’s work. We also recognize the need to update toolkits by addressing the specific needs of children in ongoing conflict or atrocities, as well as those in contexts of conflict or atrocity risk.

Member States should make every effort to implement the seven priorities listed in the Secretary-General’s report this year. In particular, we need to leverage education for peace and the prevention of atrocities. Teachers can play a critical role in building societies that are inclusive, tolerant, respectful of diversity, and able to manage conflict. We must also recall the importance of accountability as a critical deterrent for future perpetrators of atrocities and as one of the most important tools for prevention.

In most countries affected by conflict, children comprise the majority of their populations. When we work collectively to protect children, we are not just saving lives, but also safeguarding our future.

Finally, I cannot conclude without decrying the horrific atrocities that have been committed by Russian Forces against civilians in Ukraine. We reiterate our call for the international community to take collective action to put a halt to these atrocities. And as we have stated in other settings, the United States is resolutely committed to pursuing accountability for such crimes. The international community must ensure that they do not go unpunished.

Thank you, Mr. President.