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United Nations General Assembly Plenary Debate on Agenda Item 135 — The responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide war crimes ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity

Monday, 17 May 2021
H.E. Mr. ENRIQUE A. MANALO, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations
UN Headquarters, New York


Mr. President,

The Philippines has consistently supported the inclusion of an agenda item on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) because we believe in the need for formal and continuing consideration by the General Assembly of the still-evolving concept of RtoP.

It is in the same spirit that we endorsed the short procedural resolution for including this item in the General Assembly’s agenda, and requesting the Secretary-General to report annually to the General Assembly on the subject.

As we have emphasized in previous statements, RtoP should never be used as a license or pretext to intervene in domestic and internal affairs and undermine the sovereignty of states. There is a need therefore to shift the focus of our discussions towards reaching a shared and common understanding of RtoP, especially in terms of translating the principle into multilateral or collective action.

Nevertheless, the two elements of the resolution on the table will move this process forward.

First, by including RtoP in the annual agenda, we will have the occasion to revisit the common commitments of our Leaders in the 2005 World Summit on RtoP[1], the three-pronged agenda that we have been mandated to advance:

  • On the protection responsibilities of the state. We can explore anew the parameters of the unanimous affirmation by our Leaders that “each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
  • International assistance and capacity-building. We can reaffirm the agreement that the international community should assist States in exercising that responsibility and in building their protection capacities.
  • Timely and decisive response. we should work towards a common understanding of our Leader’s confirmation that when a State is “manifestly failing” to protect its population from the four specified crimes and violations, the international community should to take collective action in a “timely and decisive manner” through the Security Council and in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Second, by requesting the Secretary General to report annually to the General Assembly, we can better deliberate on the content of RtoP.

It is also time to take stock of what has been achieved since 2005: what has been the actual progress in relation to the groundbreaking 2009 report of the Secretary General on “Implementing the responsibility to protect”? 

In requesting the Secretary General to report annually on RtoP, the time may have come for us to veer away from thematic reports and focus, instead, on progress across aspects of our mandate over time.  This year’s Report of the Secretary General on RtoP which focuses on the initiatives undertaken by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect to advance the protection of vulnerable populations could be a starting point for this approach. The Report highlights the continued gap between the 2005 commitment to the responsibility to protect and the reality of populations exposed to the risk and commission of atrocity crimes and recommended courses of action.

Moving forward, and in relation to the recommendations in the Report, we submit the following views:

There is no question that the first duty of a state is to protect its population from actual harm and threats to their safety and wellbeing; this, after all, is the basis of state legitimacy. As a constitutional democracy that values the values the dignity of every person and protects the most vulnerable — the Philippines understands “sovereignty as responsibility”. 

Hence, RtoP would be best implemented by strengthening national institutions for good governance as well as preventing the capture of government by violent groups such as intolerant mass movements and organized crime like the drug trade.

The multilateral assessment of possible cases of failure of the RtoP must be impartial and evidence-based, free from double standards.

The application of the RtoP principle must be in accordance with the parameters of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document and the UN Charter. We also have to consider norms for accountability in undertaking collective or multilateral RtoP action.

Trust and respect for sovereignty are essential to move forward in the operationalization of the prevention mandates of the relevant UN entities as set out in the Report; in the implementation of prevention activities at regional and State level; and in the provision by the UN and other partners of technical assistance to assist States in upholding the responsibility to protect.

Thank you, Mr. President.


[1] “138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

“139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing toprotect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

“140. We fully support the mission of the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.”