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Systematic violations and abuses of human rights often serve as an early warning for situations at risk of escalation to atrocities. Human rights mechanisms and procedures, including Special Procedures, the UPR and investigative mechanisms, are uniquely suited to address these risk factors at an early stage. They are therefore essential for early warning of situations at risk of genocide and other atrocity crimes and can be vital to mobilize early response within the UN system.
8. Systematically utilize UN Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to identify warning signs and risk factors
The HRC’s special procedures mandate holders constitute key mechanisms for early warning and the identification of atrocity risks. Several of the 44 active thematic special procedures are directly relevant for identifying atrocity risks stemming from ongoing human rights violations, including, but not limited to, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence, and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues. Six of the current country-specific special procedures are mandated for situations where populations are experiencing, or are at risk of, atrocity crimes, including Eritrea, Myanmar, and the Central African Republic. The regular updates and recommendations by these Special Procedures can be vital to identifying genocide and atrocity risk factors and providing guidance on preventing non-recurrence. UN member states should systematically utilize this information to identify situations at risk and develop prevention strategies. The UPR also provides a unique opportunity for mainstreaming and institutionalizing the prevention of genocide and mass atrocity crimes by encouraging states to assess atrocity risks and identify means to build resilience, including through concrete and context-specific prevention and mitigation strategies. The UPR further allows for the mobilization of international support through technical assistance and capacity building. UN member states participating in the UPR process should provide targeted atrocity prevention-related recommendations to other governments and, where applicable, provide assistance for domestic implementation.
9. Establish independent investigative mechanisms to ensure accountability and non-recurrence
Although investigative mechanisms are normally established in the aftermath of grave violations and abuses of human rights, they are not only vital to contribute to justice and accountability, but also contribute to non-recurrence by outlining risk factors that facilitated the commission of atrocity crimes. Investigative mechanisms, including Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions, and Groups of Eminent Experts, have proven to be instrumental in providing analysis as to whether international crimes have occurred, supplying actionable recommendations for all relevant actors, and advancing accountability efforts. Some mechanisms have also been successful in the identification of the root causes of human rights violations and abuses. By directly applying an atrocity prevention lens, investigative mechanisms can broaden our understanding of patterns of behavior that enable the commission of genocide and other atrocities and outline necessary institutional reforms to prevent their recurrence.
10. Mandate HRC-mechanisms and procedures to apply the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes
The UN’s Framework of Analysis is one tool available to expand comprehension of the early warning indicators of mass atrocities and can help enhance risk assessments, including through the work of Geneva-based mechanisms and procedures. When UN member states establish and renew HRC investigative mechanisms and Special Procedures, they should systematically include the Framework of Analysis in the mandates, asking the relevant experts to conduct a risk assessment of genocide and other atrocity crimes as part of their monitoring, reporting, and investigations. The CoI on Burundi and the FFM on Myanmar used such an assessment, which helped alert the international community on existing structural and hybrid risk factors, warning of recurrence of atrocity crimes if they remain unaddressed. This can be vital to mobilize a response that specifically aims to prevent genocide and atrocity crimes. Where relevant, all HRC investigative mechanisms should also actively collaborate with the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.
11. Support Special Sessions and Urgent Debates of the HRC to respond to deteriorating human rights crises
For country situations where violations and abuses of human rights rapidly deteriorate, the HRC may hold Special Sessions or Urgent Debates to address the escalating crisis and discuss options on how to respond. Yet, far too often, political dynamics in Geneva and beyond impede the holding of such meetings when the risk of atrocities is high. UN member states should respond in a more timely and decisive manner by holding a Special Session or Urgent Debate to increase international scrutiny on a situation at risk, receive relevant briefings by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other stakeholders and formally discuss necessary action to prevent further deterioration.
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) is an independent organisation that focuses on conducting research, analysis and advocacy in relation to mass atrocity.
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