Skip to main content

Law professor Ndulo addresses U.N. on responsibility to protect and early warning assessment

Individual states are responsible for protecting their populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, said Muna B. Ndulo, professor of law at Cornell Law School; and the international community should assist states in those efforts by identifying trouble spots early and taking targeted measures to prevent violence.

Ndulo, who is also director of Cornell's Institute for African Development, was one of five panelists to speak at an informal interactive dialogue of the General Assembly at the United Nations Secretariat in New York Aug. 9.

The panelists gave their views on the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the "early warning, assessment and the responsibility to protect," which was issued for discussion in July to the 64th Session of the General Assembly of the U.N.

They spoke following an address by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who emphasized the important role of the international community in preventing genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity around the world.

In the report (A/64/864), the General Assembly confirmed its intention "to continue its consideration of the responsibility to protect" as called for in the 2005 World Summit Outcome. The 2005 document called for an expansion of the United Nations capabilities toward preventing possible genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

To develop an effective early warning system, Ndulo said, the U.N. should support freedom of the press, develop analytic capabilities and work closely with multiple sources on the ground in key areas, including women.

But in some cases, the problem has not been a lack of information, he added; "it is that early warnings are generally ignored and not followed by actions until after the catastrophe."

Part of the solution is to create environments in which people support nonviolence even when politicians call for violence. "This requires long-term programs to create such environments by connecting people from different ethnic groups and enhancing interethnic activities," he said.

Still, "the real problem is one of political will," Ndulo said. "This means that as we work on early warning systems, we must work on building structures that prevent violence, encouraging the political will to act, and creating conditions in countries that make the commission of these crimes unlikely, particularly through zero tolerance for human rights violations, wherever they occur and regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or the victim."

Ndulo has served on a number of other U.N. peace-keeping missions, including as political adviser to the U.N. Mission to South Africa and legal adviser to the U.N. Assistance Mission to East Timor in 1999 and the U.N. missions to Kosovo in 2000 and to Afghanistan in 2003. He is a member of the Advisory Committee, Human Rights Watch (Africa) and chair of Gender Links, a South African NGO.

Also participating in the discussion were Edward C. Luck, special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general and senior vice president for research and programs at the International Peace Institute; Francis Deng, U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide; Bertie Ramcharan, former U.N. deputy high commissioner for human rights; and Andrea Bartoli, director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz