Permanent Mission of Australia
to the United Nations
New York

220622 - UN General Assembly Plenary Meeting: the Responsibility to Protect and the Prevention of Genocide, War Crimes, Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity


22 June 2022

Statement by Ms Shilpa Pullela, Chargé d’Affaires, Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations

Our world is facing a convergence of crises right now. Our international community is collectively struggling with an unpredictable and uneven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the cascading shocks of conflict and violence, and with the devastation and aftermath of climate crisis events.

Those in the most vulnerable situations are now even more vulnerable. There is also a danger of fatigue; danger that our humanity towards each other is threatened by the relentlessness of these crises.

But it is for this very reason that the R2P norm—adopted unanimously in 2005—remains a critical element of our collective commitment to international peace and security, human rights and development.

And this is ever more true today as we witness Russia’s aggression against the people of Ukraine. It is clear that Russia has committed egregious war crimes, including against children and youth. As we have said before, Australia strongly supports the International Criminal Court’s investigation into the full extent of these crimes. And once again, we call on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory, consistent with the legally binding decision of the International Court of Justice of 16 March.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine—and the impact of its actions on food supplies and global hunger—reminds us once again that atrocity crimes undermine all three pillars of the UN.

Atrocity prevention and response must therefore be a global priority and a vital part of the UN’s core business. To suggest otherwise would undermine the purpose and spirit of the UN Charter.

R2P is not a mask for other agendas. It is not an attempt to reinterpret the UN Charter.

R2P is about acknowledging that sovereignty is not an absolute right. It is a responsibility to be upheld, including a responsibility to work collectively, in line with the UN Charter, to protect populations from the gravest of crimes.

To suggest that R2P is solely about military intervention, or that it is inconsistent with the principles of the UN Charter, wilfully misrepresents the norm. It ignores the power of R2P to galvanise a state’s capacity to meet its primary responsibility to protect its own population.

It also disregards the sophisticated R2P framework that has evolved to include an array of preventive, peaceful and non-coercive actions. And it overlooks the norm’s express provision that any collective action will be taken in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter.

Australia thanks the Secretary-General for his 2022 report and recommendations on Children, Youth and R2P. These annual reports are an important contribution to our understanding and implementation of R2P, and help to align it with the Youth, Peace and Security, Children and Armed Conflict and other key agendas.

We encourage the Secretary-General to focus his future reports on the implementation of R2P, including to follow up on recommendations contained in his previous reports and to assess atrocity crime risks in specific situations.

We also encourage the Security Council to take action to prevent and halt the commission of mass atrocities and to bring situations of risk under consideration as early as possible.

We urge all states – especially Security Council members – to join Australia and more than 100 other states to support the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group’s Code of Conduct regarding Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. We also urge all states to support the French and Mexican-led Political Declaration on Suspension of Veto Powers in Cases of Mass Atrocity.

We welcome the recent General Assembly initiative aimed at holding the five permanent Council members accountable for their use of the veto. Instead of prevaricating, the international community needs to do more to prevent and intercept mass atrocities.

We share a responsibility to interrogate how the UN system, across all three pillars, can strengthen our resolve and capacity for accountability, early warning, mitigation, and the prevention of mass atrocities.