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UN Special Meeting on Social and economic measures to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity

On 24 January, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held a special meeting on social and economic measures to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The meeting was a half-day gathering to promote integrated approaches to prevention across United Nations entities and explore ECOSOC’s role in addressing the second pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) initiative. The meeting’s agenda highlighted that “there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”

The meeting provided a platform for member states to discuss and exchange ideas on the key role of ECOSOC in preventing genocide, war crimes, and related crimes, focusing on the potential of social and economic measures to prevent conflicts and atrocity crimes. Panelists emphasized the importance of factors such as development, equality, rule of law, prevention of discrimination, and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Lachezara Stoeva, President of ECOSOC, Csaba Kőrösi, President of the General Assembly, and Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, opened the event with introductory remarks. 

A fireside chat featured Dr. Tibi Galis, the Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute, as well as Savita Pawnday, the Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and Garry Jacobs, the President and CEO of the World Academy of Art and Science. Ivan Šimonović, the Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN and a member of the International Advisory Board of AIPG moderated the chat.

During the discussion, the panelists explored measures for preventing conflicts and atrocity crimes by addressing their root causes. They agreed that while domestic policies are crucial for promoting peace, inclusion, human rights, and sustainable development, international policies also play an essential role in supporting national actors.

Dr. Galis explained the importance of utilizing the resources of the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect to develop analyses and policy proposals on prevention. He also suggested establishing an expert-level committee to review ECOSOC’s work on atrocity prevention and urged the council to regularize discussions on atrocity prevention. Additionally, he recommended integrating an atrocity risk analysis into peacebuilding work and integrating the prevention of atrocities as an explicit goal for the UN/ECOSOC/UN Office on Genocide Prevention and R2P. He concluded by recommending training for all UN bodies in prevention to identify the risks effectively. In Dr. Galis’ words, “Not applying an atrocity prevention lens to conflict prevention efforts sometimes results in tragedies and atrocities.”

After the fireside chat, Ilze Brands Kehris, who serves as the Assistant-Secretary-General for Human Rights in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Elizabeth Mary Spear, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support in the UN Department of Political Affairs, made interventions. Subsequently, member states and civil society also offered their own interventions in response to the speakers.

The diverse perspectives and experiences of the panelists greatly enriched the discussion at the ECOSOC meeting. They all agreed that the goals of development and atrocity prevention are closely intertwined and that there is a need for greater collaboration between those working in both areas. This would improve prevention efforts and increase support to countries in safeguarding their populations from atrocities such as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.