Last year the United Nations established the first international day to commemorate the victims of genocide. Officially called the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, the day is marked on Dec. 9 — a reminder to the world of our collective responsibility to stop mass atrocities. It was also on this very day in 1948 that the Genocide Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
“The prevention of genocide is a specific obligation under international law,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon remarked in 2015. “Governments must act on this imperative by investing in prevention and taking preventive action. On this new international observance, let us recognize the need to work together more concertedly to protect individuals from gross human rights violations and uphold our common humanity.”
Unfortunately, as today’s deadly crises in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the Central African Republic demonstrate, the worst kind of human rights abuses are still being committed. More political will and leadership are needed to work for the prevention and interdiction of these atrocities.
No doubt this will be a challenge for incoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who takes the reins from Ban on January 1. There is also no better time than now for countries like Canada to play a pivotal role in the world and to assist other countries to live up to their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes.
Following the horrific genocide committed in Rwanda in 1994, Canada played a significant role in the development of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine. With the support of then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Canada established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which went on to release a report in 2001 that argued national sovereignty came with responsibility. In other words, if countries failed to protect their citizens from mass atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes) then the international community must respond promptly.
Thanks to relentless lobbying by Canada, R2P was adopted and endorsed by all UN member states in 2005. But while Canada’s role is well known, Mexico — a country we more often think of when it comes to trade — has also been a strong supporter of R2P and an anti-atrocity leader in the global community.
More information on Open Canada.org