Member states of the United Nations must better protect the victims of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and – when they fail to do so – be generous in welcoming those fleeing these tragedies, according to the Vatican’s chief diplomat to the United Nations.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s ambassador to the world body, was speaking at an informal interactive dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, which states there is “a gap between our stated commitment to the Responsibility to Protect and the daily reality confronted by populations exposed to the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

The Responsibility to Protect is a commitment agreed to by the United Nations in 2005 at the World Summit, stating national sovereignty includes a responsibility to protect all populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations.

The 2005 UN document said “each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity” and that the international community should help states to exercise this responsibility.

This is a different principle from humanitarian intervention, which is a military response to a crisis: The Responsibility to Protect is more focused on seeing the signs of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity before they occur.

It includes three pillars:

  • The protection responsibilities of the state;
  • International assistance and capacity-building;
  • Timely and decisive response.

Auza said the Responsibility to Protect is intrinsic to the relationship between those who govern and the governed as well as being an essential element of the common good, and is implicit in the idea which gave birth to the United Nations during World War II.

“Confronted by the evidence that the increasing number of atrocity crimes committed in recent decades was due to the failure of individual States to protect their own populations, coupled with the difficulties of the international community in exercising its collective responsibility in this regard, the third pillar was and remains a wake-up call to the international community to overcome such difficulties vis-à-vis mass atrocities,” Auza said on September 6.

He called on the the UN to strengthen the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect, to make a timely and decisive implementation of outside intervention “more workable,” adding that an adequate reform of the UN’s Charter was needed to answer any potential opposition to national sovereignty.

“The Holy See upholds the perennial validity of the Responsibility to Protect and wishes to reaffirm its commitment to this principle and call for its full, impartial and consistent implementation,” the Vatican diplomat said.

“Such an application means, as the report of the Secretary General recommends, meeting obligations under international human rights and international humanitarian law, and condemning deliberate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructures. It means preventing or stopping atrocity crimes and protecting populations from them through greater legal, political and moral accountability,” Auza said.

The 2017 Secretary General’s report listed several problems with implementing the Responsibility to Protect since 2005, including:

  • Failures by Governments to build transparent and accountable State structures, based on good governance, human rights, and rule of law, and which can serve to impede the commission of atrocity crimes;
  • State actors ignoring warning signs, failing to repudiate acts of incitement, and not responding to rising social tensions and violence;
  • And failures by the international community to respond in a timely and effective way to countries in fragile situations who have requested help to fill protection gaps, and respond to situations of risk.

Auza said the Vatican supported initiatives such as a Code of Conduct regarding UN Security Council action against genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity, “as well as the inclusion of mandates to protect civilians in peacekeeping operations.”

Auza said the concept of Responsibility to Protect has an important role in the context of the ongoing international migration and refugee crisis.

“The use of threats to commit atrocity crimes against populations or the actual commission thereof as a strategy to displace them forcibly must be condemned, prevented or stopped,” he said. “Both the right of all to remain in their own homelands and the right to return and regain possession of property must also be enforced under the norm.”

Auza said “our common humanity impels us all” to assist the victims of human rights violations, and to respond in solidarity to their needs.

“When the international community fails to exercise adequately the Responsibility to Protect, we all have a great and urgent responsibility, as Pope Francis has proposed, to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate the victims of those failures,” he said.