Remarks on the 8th Annual Ministerial Meeting on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

Sarah Sewall
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
New York City
September 30, 2015

Hello everyone and thank you to the governments of Botswana, Liberia, and the Netherlands, along with the Global Centre for R2P, for convening us to mark the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect.

Ten years ago, the UN General Assembly unanimously affirmed the R2P framework, which emphasizes the national and international responsibility to prevent mass atrocities, and when prevention fails, to protect populations from violence. R2P is a milestone in our pursuit of a more humane and rights-based international order.

Attempts to put R2P into practice have spurred the international community to strengthen efforts around atrocity prevention and civilian protection.

Prioritizing prevention is never easy in a bureaucratic context, especially when a host of global crises demand immediate action. Yet over the last 10 years, countries and multilateral bodies have still made notable progress.

The United States has taken concrete steps to increase the focus on atrocity prevention as part of our daily work to ensure that we remain vigilant and prepared for potential outbreaks. Our intelligence community now provides regular reports on global risks for mass atrocities. We are developing customized tools to assess atrocity risks and are training colleagues across the government to use them. When we identify such risks, we are now doing more to mobilize targeted, civilian-led preventive action.

We also have seen progress around atrocity prevention and civilian protection at the multilateral level. In collaboration with UN bodies, the European Union and other regional bodies, and bilateral partners, the United States has begun streamlining our efforts to ensure that we have a common assessment of potential risks and that our preventive efforts are compatible. Though we have considerable work ahead, I am encouraged by our progress over the last few years.

The U.S. therefore welcomes the call in the recent Report of the Secretary-General on the recommendations of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations that all UN peace operations should advocate for the protection of civilians as a mission-wide task. Today, 10 of the 16 current UN peacekeeping missions are formally charged with protecting civilians under threat of physical violence—representing 98 percent of UN troop deployments worldwide. Properly planned, trained, and equipped UN peacekeeping operations are one of the best ways for governments to fulfill their pillar II responsibilities under R2P and assist states that face the risk of mass atrocities.

We also applaud the prominence of civilian protection in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ recent action plan, which recommended incorporating atrocities prevention at the early stages of mission design.

The U.S. has found that data-driven risk assessment, analysis and planning are vital to effective atrocity prevention, and we hope the UN can harness similar tools in the strategic assessment phase of peace operations and better identify and address atrocity risks throughout the mission.

Properly trained and equipped UN peacekeepers are among the best guarantors of civilian protection. That is why President Obama committed to provide greater technical, logistical, and personnel support for UN peace operations at the Leaders’ Summit this past Monday.

The U.S. is committed to strengthening of the full range of UN diplomatic tools—including mediation—which, as President Obama noted in his Summit speech, will help us to prevent conflicts in the first place. One of the best means to prevent atrocities is by ensuring that parties are committed to making peace.

All of these developments represent the uneven but irrefutable progress the international community has made to implement R2P principles in our policies and practice. While far more must be done, the debate has undoubtedly shifted in favor of protecting people from the worst crimes in our history.

Thank you.