By United Nations
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2 February - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today the United Nations must perform its duty to protect peoples from man-made or natural calamities more effectively, stressing that when sovereign States fail in the task the international community must step in, with force if needed.

“The founders of the United Nations understood that sovereignty confers responsibility, a responsibility to ensure protection of human beings from want, from war, and from repression,” he declared in the Cyril Foster lecture at Oxford University, as prepared for delivery. “When that respons ibility is not discharged, the international community is morally obliged to consider its duty to act in the service of human protection.”

Mr. Ban has made the “responsibility to protect” a hallmark of his tenure, most recently telling a seminar on genocide prevention in December that prevention is a global responsibility – when States fail to protect their populations, the international community must act

Today he noted that at the 2005 UN World Summit, heads of State and Government embraced the responsibility to protect by preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, including their incitement.

“The growing political acceptance of the responsibility to protect speaks well for the future of human protection,” he said. “Prior to my assumption of the office of Secretary-General, I made a pledge to turn those words into deeds. Some Member States have treated the 2005 document as the end, not the beginning, not least because of apprehensions about its implications.

“Those States would keep the bar so high as to make the application of the responsibility to protect virtually impossible.

“My doctrine envisages that our efforts to prevent these awful crimes rest on three pillars: first, state responsibility; second, international responsibility to help states to succeed; and third, timely and decisive response should national authorities manifestly fail to protect, including under Chapter VII, if the Security Council deems such steps necessary.”

Chapter VII of the UN Charter allows the Council to use force in the face of a threat to peace or aggression, taking “such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security,” including blockades and other operations by the forces of Member States.

Mr. Ban began his lecture on a personal note, recalling his experiences as a child witnessing the ravages of the Korean War.

“I learned about hunger, poverty and displacement in the ultimate classroom ¬– personal experience,” he said. “Against all odds, the United Nations came to our rescue. It fed my family and my people; it helped rebuild my country. It continues to offer hope to our troubled peninsula. That quest, like many others, remains unfulfilled.

“But I often wonder how many children, in similar straits, ask the same questions today that I did then: Is the world listening? Will help arrive in time? Who will be there for me and my family?”

He focussed on three areas: human protection in conflict and complex emergencies where the UN serves as fire-fighter, such as peacekeeping and disaster relief; prevention “so that fires do not happen in the first place;” and the development of legal institutions promoting accountability.

He noted that peacekeepers have been entrusted with growing responsibilities not only to keep armies at bay, but to protect civilians who are prey to militias and other combatants, a task implying mobility and, in difficult terrain, air mobility.

“As we repeatedly pointed out in Sudan (where the UN is involved on two fronts, in the south and the western Darfur region), if we do not have helicopters, we are only able to field a static force. That radically undermines our capacity to protect civilians,” he said.

“Securing the required resources and troops has consumed much of my energy. That experience underscores what can happen when Member States fail to provide the resources necessary to carry out the Council's mandates.”

He also referred to Côte d'Ivoire, where former President Laurent Gbagbo clings to power despite losing elections, noting that the UN mandate there encompasses both guaranteeing the electoral process and protecting recently elected officials and vulnerable populations.

“It is a task that must be performed in the face of direct attacks, harassment and provocation,” he said. “Undoubtedly, the UN needs to perform its protection duties more effectively. Our peacekeepers are upgrading their methods of patrolling and systems of communication to cover vulnerable communities more adequately in the most difficult terrain.”

Turning to prevention, he noted that in 2010 alone, the UN supported 34 different mediation, facilitation and dialogue efforts, including easing the crisis in Kyrgyzstan and keeping the transition to democracy on track in Guinea.

On the third issue – an end to impunity – Mr. Ban cited the UN courts trying perpetrators for gross human rights violations in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, and stressed that “it is essential that we stand firm in support” of the tribunal set up to try suspects in the 2005 murders of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others.

Lebanon's government, led by Mr. Hariri's son, Saad, collapsed last month after 11 Hizbollah and allied ministers resigned, reportedly over the Government's refusal to cease cooperation with the tribunal, which the media says was about to indict Hizbollah members for the murders.

“We must ask ourselves: Have our strategies and our operational practice on the ground kept pace with the ever-increasing demand for human protection?” Mr. Ban said in conclusion. “We must concede that our words are ahead of our deeds. But I am convinced this is a challenge we can meet. Momentum is on our side.

“What is required is shared responsibility between Member States and the leadership of the UN. Together, we can answer the cry of that child at the beginning of my lecture, somewhere caught in the crossfire and wondering: Can the world hear my call? Who will help me and my family?”