Remarks
Sarah Sewall
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
25th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council
Geneva, Switzerland
March 4, 2014


(As delivered)
High-Level Dialogue With Relevant United Nations Entities on the Promotion of Preventative Approaches Within the UN System
I would like to focus my comments on an immense aspect of prevention with which the United States has long been concerned, and that is the prevention of mass atrocities. Atrocity prevention is a core national security interest for the United States. In 2012, our government formalized an institutional structure to bring together numerous government agencies and departments to address these issues, with the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board. Since its creation, the Atrocities Prevention Board has helped U.S. government policymakers identify and address atrocity threats, while overseeing deeper institutional changes that will make us more nimble and effective in addressing, and in some cases responding to, these threats in the future. This work remains an ongoing effort, and one that, we increasingly understand, must be shared with other international actors in order to be effective.
Our key to atrocity prevention is a whole-of-government approach, bringing together a wide range of experts from different government departments. Whether through training or multilateral engagement, prevention is a guiding lens for much of our work in challenging situations and countries where conflicts and atrocities are taking place.
In our work we focus on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information on early-warning indicators and trends of mass atrocity risks. Each agency has its own tools and trainings at its disposal, to ensure that all of our officers in Washington, as well as in the field, are prepared to gauge situations and identify risks well before they escalate to violence, or to react to conflicts immediately and effectively.
We believe a structured inner organizational framework and effective assessments of early warning signs and indicators will give us a better chance to spot problems early on, and allow us to use the tools we have available to influence the context and actors that could trigger violence. This may include sharing information about early warning, establishing national and multilateral focal points, and coordinating responses – be those in the form of deploying mediators or public diplomacy — to stress the importance of preventing a situation from escalating into a mass atrocity.
So therefore, we commend the United Nations for its Rights Up Front Plan. We support the approach of ensuring coherent strategies and information sharing and a “One UN approach.” We hope to work together with OHCHR and other member states to respond to situations in a timely fashion. The key is not to just mitigate the damage caused by situations as they happen, but to look at the early warning signs and preempt atrocities outside of conflict situations and, in places where conflict has begun, respond before violence escalates into mass atrocities.
In closing, I would like to pose a question. What role can member states and civil society organizations play in both New York and Geneva, as well as on the ground, to enhance the UN’s work on prevention and to advance the goals of “Rights Up Front”?