Statement of H.E. Andrejs Pildegovičs, Permanent Representative of Latvia to the United Nations on behalf of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at the UN General Assembly debate on the Responsibility to Protect New York, 27 June 2019

27.06.2019. 23:03

Madam President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

We align with the statement of the European Union.

We welcome the annual UN General Assembly debate on the responsibility to protect (R2P). The implementation of the responsibility to protect should be a standing item of the General Assembly agenda, as it provides an opportunity to take stock and have a dialogue among the UN Member States.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have supported the principle of the responsibility to protect since its adoption at the 2005 World Summit, and we reaffirm our commitment today.

Protection of populations from acts of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity must be a global priority. However, the responsibility to protect should not be perceived only as an international issue. Sovereignty entails responsibility; it is the primary responsibility of individual States to protect all populations within their territory from atrocity crimes.  

We thank the Secretary-General for his latest report on the responsibility to protect, focusing on lessons learned for prevention. The Baltic States - staunch supporters of international law, democracy and human rights - fully support the Secretary-General for placing the issue of prevention at the center of the United Nations agenda.  

Regrettably, the report affirms the negative trend for the implementation of the responsibility – the growing gap between our words of commitment and actual protection of populations against atrocities. We are extremely concerned about deliberate attacks against civilians, civilian infrastructure, journalists, humanitarian and medical personnel and infrastructure during armed conflict. Illegal proliferation of arms and weapons, easily accessible to atrocity perpetrators, also has a negative impact on the protection of civilians.

We continue to advocate for protection of populations against atrocities and express our deep concern on attempts to downgrade atrocities committed by former totalitarian regimes. Memories that are alive in our countries.

We, as individual Member States and as the international community, must do more to translate our words of commitment into practice, and to raise effectiveness of atrocity crimes prevention. More focus and energy should be put into prevention rather than response - before atrocities are carried out. Because once the point of acute violence has been reached, options to respond to crises are quite limited. Political will to act swiftly is essential.

Madam President,

Despite certain setbacks, we recognize the progress achieved in operationalizing the R2P concept, which can save lives. We note successful measures taken to strengthen resilience to atrocity crimes at national and regional level. The report of the Secretary-General, as all previous ten reports on the responsibility to protect, provides useful practical policy recommendations based on best practices and lessons learned from past situations.

With help of available prevention tools we must better translate early warning signs into timely preventive action, to avoid repeating tragic mistakes of the past. It can be done by developing and integrating early warning in national policies and by addressing the root causes of risks, inter alia, with education, training and building resilience to atrocity crimes.

For us, human rights, good governance and the rule of law are central in prevention. With strong national institutions, transparent and accountable political leadership, and respect for the rule of law, efforts to prevent atrocity crimes can be more effective. Atrocity prevention is deeply linked to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, including the Goal 16 on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.

Protection of human rights is imperative to the prevention of conflicts; furthermore, systematic human rights violations often are important warning signs of potential crisis. Regional and international human rights mechanisms and their recommendations, as well as the UN Human Rights Council can provide useful support and guidance to Member States. Also, civil society, media and journalists positively contribute to developing an early warning and response systems by raising public awareness about human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

We appreciate the ongoing efforts to improve the system-wide capacity of the UN to prevent and respond to serious and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In this regard we are pleased that the UN Secretary-General remains committed to the Human Rights Up initiative, which can help ring the alarm before abuses escalate into atrocity crimes.  

We welcome the recent appointment of Ms. Karen Smith as the new UN Special Adviser on R2P, and wish her success in advancing the R2P agenda across the UN system and with Member States. We also appreciate the dedicated work of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Mr. Adama Dieng.

Early action and response of the United Nations is critical for the R2P implementation. Operationalizing the R2P concept through the protection of civilians in the peacekeeping operations is amongst the most direct ways in which the organizations can prevent atrocity crimes. We applaud the innovative ways of the United Nations political and technical support to civil society organizations in enhancing prevention efforts at the grassroots level.

The UN Security Council, having a special responsibility to take timely and decisive action in situations of imminent risk of atrocity crimes, should use all available tools to prevent such crimes, including UN early warning capacities and mechanisms.

In order to ensure a more effective Security Council response to the outbreak of brutality against innocent people, we strongly support both mutually reinforcing initiatives – the French-Mexican proposal to voluntarily restrain the use of the veto at the Security Council in the situations involving mass atrocity crimes, and the Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We are encouraged by major support to these important initiatives.    

Finally, Madam President, we wish to express our deep concern about impunity for mass atrocity crimes. Accountability must be ensured through thorough national investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes. Also, independent international accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, and better judicial cooperation between States and with the Court, are essential elements in delivering justice.    

We concur with the UN Secretary-General that atrocity crimes are preventable. Swift and concerted action for the responsibility to protect is the answer - how. We call on all UN Member States to uphold this important political commitment and stand against inaction and impunity regarding mass atrocity crimes.

Thank you.