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Current and Potential Capacity for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities within the United Nations System

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image of Global Responsibility to Protect

At the World Summit in 2005, United Nations Member States unanimously endorsed the 'Responsibility to Protect'. This acknowledged the responsibility of states to protect their populations from genocide and mass atrocities, but also that of the international community, acting 'through the United Nations'. A strong focus of the statement is on the necessity of prevention, and the appropriate 'diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means' the United Nations can employ in its service. But what capacity does the United Nations currently have to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing through preventative action? Is it adequate, or are there areas where capacity building is required? This paper will explore the current capacity to meet the preventive component of the responsibility to protect within the United Nations system. It identifies areas of strength, such as the Secretariat, that might be more explicitly utilised in support of prevention measures. It considers areas in which there are opportunities for improvement, such as through integrating responsibility to protect considerations into normal operating procedures within relevant UN bodies, and increasing the focus on longer-term structural prevention. Substantial capacity for mass atrocity prevention currently exists within the UN system, but there are also a number of ways in which that capacity can be strengthened.


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