Launch Event: The Powers of the UN General Assembly to Prevent and Respond to Atrocity Crimes

8 Jun 2021

In the framework of the UN Charter, the General Assembly has the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights.

Where human rights violations are so widespread and systematic that they threaten international peace and security, responsibility falls to the Security Council.

In many of today’s most serious human rights crises however, the Security Council has been unable to respond effectively, bringing greater importance to the critical role the General Assembly can play in the prevention of and response to atrocity crimes.

The University of Queensland’s Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P) has launched a guidance document for UN member states, highlighting the General Assembly’s role in supporting the Responsibility to Protect, the international norm to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes. 

The virtual discussion exploring The Powers of the UN General Assembly to Prevent and Respond to Atrocity Crimes showcased a stellar line-up of senior diplomats, UN officials and speakers from the Centre who outlined a number of practical ways the General Assembly can act upon its powers to more robustly respond to atrocities.

This event featured remarks from President of the UN General Assembly H.E. Mr Volkan Bozkir, Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN H.E. Mr. Ivan Simonovic, UN Special Adviser on R2P Ms Karen Smith, Research Fellow at APR2P Ms Rebecca Barber, Executive Director of the Global Centre for R2P Dr Simon Adams, and Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN H.E. Mr Mitchell Fifield.

It highlighted the different ways states can use the General Assembly to support the prevention of atrocity crimes – including through investigations, sanctions, and other collective endeavours.

This timely event came just weeks after the General Assembly passed a historic resolution on R2P.

APR2P Director Professor Alex Bellamy said on 19 May the General Assembly voted by a massive majority to put R2P on its standing agenda, and to request that the Secretary General report regularly on its implementation.

The permanent missions of Australia and Croatia to the United Nations, together with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and APR2P, co-hosted this virtual launch event to share insights from this new report.

“The guidance document provides invaluable tool for states, showing them in an easily accessible form the tools they can use to implement their responsibility to protect through the United Nations”, Professor Bellamy said.

“That so many governments, and the President of the General Assembly himself, have been so quick to welcome this initiative shows there is a real thirst amongst states to make better use of all the tools at their disposal."

“This launch event should open up a whole new line of research and practice with respect to the UN and atrocity prevention”, he said.

The guidance document can be read here (PDF, 2.6MB), or it can be accessed from our APR2P Reports page, along with other reports documenting R2P and atrocity crimes.