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United Nations General Assembly Plenary Debate on Agenda Item 132 — The responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide war crimes ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity

Monday, 02 July 2018
Presenter: 
H.E. Mr. Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Philippines
Location: 
Trusteeship Council

 

 

Mr. President,

 

            The Philippines supported the inclusion[1] of this item in the Agenda of the 72nd GA; thank you Australia, Ghana; we are pleased to contribute to this debate today.

 

            The responsibility to protect (RtoP) affirms a state’s responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity perpetrated by state or non-state actors or by its own security forces and not just the latter. The first duty of states is the protection of their populations from actual harms and threats to their safety and wellbeing; that is the basis of state legitimacy. But a state fails in its responsibility to protect —as much by failing to use every means effective to protect its population from harm— as by itself abusing them. This happens when states give way to, instead of combating, terrorism and organized crime.

 

Prevention is at the core of RtoP; therefore: There is need to strengthen national institutions for good governance — especially in fighting organized crime and terrorism; and there is the imperative of a strong national defense against genocide-prone foreign state and non-state actors; and to reform democracy to prevent the capture of government by violent groups such as intolerant mass movements and organized crime like the drug trade.

 

Organized crime and terrorism are not congregations of the accused presumed innocent and treated accordingly even if caught in the act of belying that presumption. The presumption attaches after they are brought before a court of law. Otherwise, the concept of suspects in law enforcement would not exist.

 

We must professionalize security forces to protect without harming its own citizens. The concept of collateral damage has no more place in police and security operations than the suggestion of yielding to enemies without a fight to spare suffering.

 

We need to instill values opposed to extremism, criminality, and terrorism, while promoting tolerance and the welcome plu-ra-lism of the law-abiding. But criminality and terrorism are not aspects of diversity nor features of plu-rality. They are what they are.

 

We recognize the need to address the roots of terrorism. But once terrorism has taken root, grown and started to bear militant fruit, then addressing the roots of terrorism must go hand in hand with pulling out the growth before it scatters its seeds farther afield—to take root, grow and flourish in more places. This must be done with the strictest regard for human rights, with no hurt to the innocent. For the blood of the innocent fertilizes the ground for terrorism to take root and grow.

           

We support the Secretary General in putting prevention at the center of the UN peace and security reform agenda. But part of prevention is discouraging the misuse of the concept of RtoP for political purposes to justify foreign intervention in domestic law enforcement. That discredits it and invites the view that it is objective collusion with the evil the state seeks to stamp out. The road to hell resounds with the footfalls of the sanctimonious.

 

There is need to strengthen early warning mechanisms to ensure these lead to early action. But early warning does not include holding back the basic state function to stop crime. The challenge for RtoP is to balance consistency and predictability in the rule of law, with an appreciation of the uniqueness of each case. But in every case we must acknowledge the universality of norms of right and wrong. These remain opposites. While one might disagree about what is right, let alone perfect in all circumstances, and practical in some: there can be no doubt about what is wrong and the necessity to fight it in every case. We cannot accept moral relativism. There are Asian attitudes but distinctly Asian values of right and wrong is pure nonsense. We cannot accept that there is no such thing as good and evil but —like beauty and ugliness in the mind of the beholder— the dichotomy is resolved by the convenience of the actor. Moral relativity is the greatest evil.

 

Our assessment of each possible case of failure of the Responsibility to Protect must be impartial and evidence-based, free from politics and double standards. It excludes the selective use of the veto by the Security Council P5 in possible RtoP situations, in pathetic revivals of colonial influence.

 

We must ensure that, in identifying “vulnerable populations,” making a criminal career choice does not set one apart as vulnerable to anything but inexorable law enforcement.

 

The Philippine Constitution values the dignity of every person and protects the most vulnerable —women and children, and the poor— the easiest and oftenest the victims of mass atrocity crimes they cannot flee, and if they can, it is only to be turned away at the borders of places of greater safety across the sea. It protects the law-abiding who are victims of the lawless — whom it is not the responsibility of states to protect, other than according them the most basic rights of the accused after they have submitted to the authority of the state.

 

We support the Secretary-General’s call to strengthen the role of women in atrocity crimes prevention. Women are at the forefront of our peace processes; they are the easiest victims of conflict and the first to recognize conflict’s futility and excuse for savagery.

 

The Secretary General encourages States to sign, ratify and implement basic instruments of international law on this subject, including the Rome Statute.  But the commitment to protect and advance human rights, including the right to be safe equally from criminality and abusive state authority, survives and far exceeds the obligation to remain in agencies designed for their enforcement but which have compromised themselves in that task. Bonds are sacred but institutions are merely the people who occupy them.

 

But all that we have said notwithstanding — mass atrocity crimes, or inhuman crimes committed against a handful of or even a single person:

—the baby facedown on the beach,

—girls in iron cages set on fire,

—civilians bombed to test the puissance of the new Condor Legions in Yemen;

—old men, young men, and boys shot out of hand,

—wives, mothers, women and girls gang-raped and trafficked and only because they are Christians in the Middle East or Muslims in Southeast Asia— all these must stop or be stopped whatever it takes regardless of sovereignty, in the name of humanity beyond borders.

 

Thank you.

 

[1] On 15 September 2017, the UNGA voted 113-21 to include this supplementary item in the Agenda of the 72nd Session. The Philippines voted in favor of the initiative (spearheaded by Ghana and Australia.)