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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

14 February 2007

Advocates for non-governmental human rights organizations today called on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to enhance the mandate of his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and to make public a report outlining recommendations for strengthening that position, currently occupied by Juan E. Méndez.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference on the prevention of genocide, Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, said that, since his appointment in 2004, Mr. Méndez had engaged in raising the discourse on genocide, resulting in more widespread discussion of that issue in the world body. “A great deal of the work that he’s been doing you don’t see, because, if he does his job well, you will not hear about it.”

There were several essential qualifications for any Special Adviser, without which he or she would lack the credibility necessary to influence Governments, she said. “It has to be an authoritative person of high moral authority, independent and also with recognized expertise in human rights. The Special Adviser’s mandate is so important that the post must remain an independent one and not be merged with any other functions within the United Nations Secretariat, which might create a conflict of interest.”

William R. Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, said it was his understanding that Mr. Méndez had had his contract extended until 31 March, at which point he would either be reappointed or see a successor named. The Secretary-General’s Advisory Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, created in May of last year, had produced a report that recommended renewing and strengthening the post of Special Adviser by, among other things, making it a full-time position, modifying the title to include “other crimes against humanity” and granting it direct access to the Security Council and the Secretary-General.

That report should be made public, he stressed, adding: “Having access to the report and its recommendations, or at least those which the new Secretary-General believes are appropriate, would help in furthering the discussion and understanding of this post.”

Reiterating the importance of easy access to the Security Council and the Secretary-General, Steve Crawshaw, United Nations Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, said Council members had said in the past that they had not known about situations that had eventually led to genocide until it was far too late. “You can’t start bundling this [position] together with anything else. Respect for the post requires that it does have that stand-alone independence.”

Asked why expanding the title to include “crimes against humanity” would make the position more effective, Mr. Pace said that was one of the issues addressed in the Advisory Committee’s report. Clearly, there had been a “catastrophic failure” of the international community and the United Nations system in preventing genocide previously. Unfortunately, the issue had become bogged down in defining “genocide”, “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes”.

The importance of the Special Adviser’s post lay not so much in semantics, but in what the occupant could do to prevent situations from eventually turning into full-blown genocide, Ms. Terlingen added. “Governments know it’s there in the title. That gives a powerful message if he engages with any Government.”

Asked about the Security Council’s failure to prevent previous genocides, Mr. Pace said that, since the end of the cold war, the Council had taken on a tremendous number of peace- and nation-building operations, without Governments providing the necessary resources. Hopefully, media covering the United Nations would take seriously the current discussion on the Council’s working methods, rather than focusing on which Member States wished to become new permanent members.

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For information media • not an official record

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