Security Council Arria Formula Meeting: Raising Effectiveness of Atrocity Crimes Prevention

Statement by H.E. Lise Gregoire-van Haaren,
Deputy Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations

New York, 10 December 2018

On behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr Miguel de Serpa Soares and Ms Samantha Capicotto for their informative briefings.

Let me also thank Poland for organising this meeting during the 70th anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Before going into our statement, I’d like to align myself with the statement to be made by the European Union later on.

As recently as 2016, Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, stated in relation to South Sudan: "Genocide is a process. It does not happen overnight”. I believe this line is at the heart of the discussion today.

This observation reminds us that atrocity crimes still occur today, despite the horrors of the past. Moreover, it reminds us all, and Council members in particular, that we are responsible for preventing and addressing such crimes.

What can we do to fulfill this responsibility?

  • Early warning and early action: being alert to signals of rapidly deteriorating situations. Act before atrocity crimes are committed.
  • Existing tools: making use of the toolbox at our disposal to provide an effective response when atrocity crimes start to occur.

1. Early warning and early action

A country’s rule of law and human rights situation provides key indicators for instability and conflict. When the rule of law is absent and basic human rights are violated, conflicts tend to emerge or escalate. And when governments respond with violence, they often breed more violence.

We are becoming better at observing and identifying breeding grounds for atrocity crimes. The Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Prevention presents 14 clearly defined risk indicators. The Human Rights Upfront agenda entrenches human rights principles within the pillars of the United Nations. 

In addition, simply watch the evening news, open a newspaper or look at Twitter: early warning signals are transmitted all the time. It raises the importance of the questions: do we choose to act, or do we choose to ignore?

The Security Council has the mandate and capacity to act, when states fail to carry out their responsibility to protect their own people. In order to take the right decision on when and how to take action, the Council should be discussing risks to international peace and security, including atrocity crimes. Moreover, the Council’s close – and if possible public – scrutiny can act as a deterrent to conflicting parties.

Yet, early-warning briefings by Special Rapporteurs and Advisors are few and far between, or do not happen at all.

It is in this same spirit that recently, the elected and incoming Security Council members requested that the Secretariat begin holding monthly informal updates for members of the Security Council.

In August 2018, amidst escalating violence in Cameroon, the Council could not come to a decision to invite any of the six UN Special Rapporteurs that had issued a joint statement to halt violence in November last year.

In March 2018, seven years after the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, some Council members still chose to ignore to be informed on the human rights situation. High Commissioner Zeid eventually briefed in an Arria-formula meeting like this one.

The Council should not have to fight about being adequately informed.

Responsible members will continue to find any viable solution to bring facts and truth to the attention of the Council. The Council’s visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh end of April, beginning of May gave a much needed assessment of the Rohingya crisis.

2. Existing tools

This Council has other tools at its disposal, such as those aimed at ensuring that parties effectively settle their disputes peacefully. Let us use them.

Our toolkit includes recent unequivocal messages, binding under international law. Let me recall the resolution of this Council to ban starvation as a method of warfare. As a result, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has briefed the Security Council on the food security crises in Yemen and South Sudan.

Peacekeeping can be a valuable instrument to protect civilians from the most heinous crimes. The Netherlands prioritizes making peacekeeping more effective, for example by improving performance and by consolidating its mandate in the area of police, justice and corrections.      

Also in the area of accountability we know what can be done. Since 20 years, the International Criminal Court has been prosecuting the most serious international crimes, and serves as a watchful eye for potential perpetrators. The Netherlands calls on all states to ratify its Statute or seek voluntary cooperation with the Court.

Let us remind ourselves that it is never too late to start fighting impunity. Council members can still show political resolve by referring situations like Syria and Myanmar to the ICC.  


In the end, it all comes back to the question: do we choose to act, or do we choose to ignore?

If this Council had managed to act in response to the atrocities in Syria, in Yemen, in Myanmar; how many more atrocities could have been prevented? We will never know.

Those who decide to look away, risk waking up to a genocide, thinking it just happened overnight.

Thank you.