Interview with former UN Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Dr. Ivan Šimonović

2 May 2018
Dr. Ivan Šimonović was UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) from 1 October 2016 to 31 March 2018. Prior to this role, he was Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York. Before joining the UN in 2010, Dr. Šimonović was Minister of Justice of Croatia.

Following the end of his mandate as Special Adviser on R2P, GAAMAC carried out an interview with Dr. Šimonović. Please find his answers below.

What is the main challenge today to effectively implement atrocity prevention both at the national and international level?

Governments are still hesitant to openly discuss their atrocity prevention gaps internally and internationally. That negatively reflects on mobilization of energy and financial resources for that purpose. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for example is an ideal setting for such a dialogue. Atrocity crimes prevention recommendations should be backed up by international willingness to support their implementation, including financially. The UPR should be put to much better use for atrocity crimes prevention.

Because divisions between permanent five members of the UN Security Council, unseen since the end of the Cold War, the Security Council is too often blocked. In situations when the Security Council manifestly fails to take action, the General Assembly should take measure within its own mandate while there is still a window of opportunity. The Security Council should also be accountable to other UN member states: organizing open debates on the role of the Council for its actions and inactions in prevention of atrocity crimes would be very helpful and create pressure on the Council to do more.

What are your key recommendations to national governments and civil society organizations on how they can prevent atrocities?

First of all, they must cooperate more. Government should show appreciation of civil society’s role by engaging with them and providing them with necessary resources. Both government and civil society should be regularly involved in atrocity crimes risk assessment and discuss which measures should be taken to mitigate risks. That applies both to structural and operational measures.

What is, in your view, the importance of GAAMAC? What recommendations do you have for the GAAMAC community of commitment?

GAAMAC points to the right direction: there is a need to move from conceptual debate about R2P towards its implementation. It is important to have some practical successes. They are paving the way for more ambitious projects. But in these times when atrocity crimes are on the rise, we must do something practical to stop them. In my view, the future for R2P is either its implementation, or marginalization.

How will you personally remain engaged in atrocity prevention and the implementation of R2P in the future?

I will continue to lead the evidence based atrocity crimes prevention project in which many academics and UN entities are involved. We just finished the first phase last month and presented results in New York at the conference co-organized by the UN, Columbia University and Stanley Foundation. The corresponding study will be published shortly. During the second phase of the research, our hypothesis on what works best in atrocity crimes prevention will be tested on ongoing real-life situations, hopefully leading to the development of atrocity prevention guidance for practitioners. Short, clear and very action oriented.

What was your biggest achievement during your time as Special Adviser on R2P?

I was strongly pushing for emphasis on implementation of R2P and focusing on prevention. In difficult times for human rights and multilateralism I hope I have contributed to keeping R2P alive and becoming more concrete and practical. In recent times we are facing an increase in atrocity crimes. But it is not R2P that failed: we have failed to implement it. We must do better, and we must do it now.

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