Statement by Ambassador Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, at the General Assembly Plenary meeting on the ‘Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’ (27 June 2019)

Madam President,

My delegation thanks you for convening this plenary meeting of the General Assembly on the ‘Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’.

Madam President,

Responsibility to protect as a principle evokes differing responses. We feel maintaining the fragile consensus on the issue is critical. Any re-interpretation of this understanding, or initiatives lacking broad support, are counterproductive and must be avoided.

That is the reason we have been concerned at the way this process has developed since we met in what was characterized as a ‘one-off’ plenary meeting in June 2018.

Our focus should be on bridging the substantive gaps between respective positions, rather than on specific modalities to hold these discussions.

Madam President,

Paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document of 2005 provide the cornerstone of our collective commitment to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

This ‘responsibility to protect’, is in essence, a political expression of what is already obligated on states, as their sovereign responsibility towards their citizens.

While some have attempted to project this reiteration of the existing provisions of international law into a new legal instrument, we believe this is misplaced.

For if there is one lesson to be readily drawn from the depressing ‘litany of failures’ of the international community in recent years, it is not the lack of legal means to prevent egregious crimes, but instead, lack of ‘political will’ to do so.

Despite enthusiastic espousal by its proponents, there is scant little to suggest that the notion of responsibility to protect has catalyzed into an abiding change in the disposition of member states.

In fact, as decisions by the international community continue to betray the high standards of objectivity and impartiality, the already fledgling edifice of R2P has become more tenuous.

If we are indeed, to stem this tide, what is needed is to summon our collective resolve and to act in a consistent and uniform manner, to all transgressions.

Else, ‘purity of motive’ notwithstanding, the resultant actions will continue to lack the legal and moral legitimacy to gain wider acceptability.

Madam President,

If the notion of the responsibility to protect is indeed, to become the ‘voice of conscience’ of the international community, we must all play our part.

  • Foremost, we should not allow ‘human suffering’ to be selectively prioritized for political convenience or to serve narrow interests. There cannot be any moral ambivalence on this issue.
  • Thus, much as we express our deep concern at the plight of people caught in conflict, we cannot become oblivious to the well-being of those who have been forced to flee their homes and seek protection and shelter, elsewhere. They cannot be left to the mercy of the elements, or contained beyond high walls of exclusion or separation.

    Likewise, our declarations on human rights would remain unfulfilled without highlighting the systematic and gross violations of fundamental human rights, particularly in occupied territories which relate to issues that are the subject of repeated Security Council Resolutions.

    As we approach the landmark 75th anniversary of the UN, in 2020, my delegation considers that the best measure of our commitment to the vulnerable, is to recommit ourselves to the abiding values of the UN Charter, based on the inherent dignity and worth of the individual, and the provision of fundamental human rights including the right of peoples to self-determination.

  • Two, the Charter’s vision of achieving a life of dignity for all is postulated on international cooperation and harmonization of policies within the UN. This objective can be best served by operationalizing the principle of ‘Right to Development’ – encompassing the right to food, shelter, fair terms of trade, debt relief and adequate access to finance and technology. After all, in a world beset by socio-economic inequalities, many situations leading to turmoil and conflict are the result of under-development and poverty.
  • Three, a prevention-centric focus must be prioritized as the cornerstone of any protection-oriented approach; for it costs far more to pick up the pieces after a crisis than it does to prevent one.
  • We have taken note of the useful ‘lessons learnt for prevention’ drawn by the Secretary General in the latest report. Of particular significance is the insidious role played by ‘hate speech’ as incitement to violence, including atrocity crimes.

    Islamophobia has become the most prevalent contemporary expression of this vile narrative.

    We know only too well from our neighbourhood how the abiding lure of communal politics has become the most assured pathway to political power.

    We must take concerted efforts to reverse the tide of hate and bigotry that threatens to undermine social cohesion and peaceful coexistence within societies.

    Madam President,

    At its core, the responsibility to protect, is not a license to intervene in external situations, but, is instead, a universal principle of ‘non-indifference’, in keeping with historical context and cultural norms of respective settings.

    It is predicated on the express recognition that the responsibility for the protection of civilians lies first, and foremost, with member states.

    Set against the over-arching principle of state sovereignty, the responsibility to protect cannot become a basis to contravene the principles of non-interference and non-intervention or question the national sovereignty or territorial integrity of states.

    I thank you.