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Report: An Essential Agenda for the Next UN Secretary-General

Preventing Mass Atrocities: An Essential Agenda for the Next UN Secretary-General

Richard Gowan, Lawrence Woocher, and Daniel Solomon September 2016

The next Secretary-General of the United Nations will take office at a time when mass killings of civilians are on the increase. From South Sudan to Syria, mass atrocities— large-scale, systematic violence against civilian populations—are overwhelming the political, peacekeeping, and humanitarian work of the UN. It is essential that the Secretary-General sets out a clear agenda for preventing and responding to such atrocities that can gain the support of the UN system, the Security Council, and UN member states at a time of political and financial strain.

The Secretary-General can build this agenda on existing UN policy processes and reviews, rather than attempt to recreate systems for dealing with mass atrocities from scratch. The last two secretaries-general, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, have both taken atrocity prevention seriously, advocating the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and innovations such as the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) and the Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative. But the UN is not making maximum use of its preventive mechanisms, and its mediation and peace operations systems are overstretched.

Therefore, the next Secretary-General should prioritize five goals:

  • Strengthen Human Rights up Front;

  • Empower a new special adviser on the prevention of mass atrocities;

  • Improve early warning and analysis;

  • Strengthen the UN’s preventive and response tools;

  • Revitalize political discussions around mass atrocities