On May 12 and 13 in Brussels, the Madariaga – College of Europe Foundation and the Folke Bernadotte Academy held a conference on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. The event consisted of 80 participants sharing experiences, lessons learned, and best practices on how to narrow the gap between early warning and timely action on genocide prevention, as well as ways to increase cooperation within the international community. The May workshop was part of a continuum of events focused on atrocities prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

At the workshop’s conclusion, a final report was issued with the following recommendations to bolster the European Union’s role in preventing genocide and mass atrocities:

  • Coordinate Early Action on Genocide Prevention and R2P
  • Support the “National Focal Points Initiative”
  • Enhance Greater Early Warning Coherence in the EU
  • Support an International Network on Genocide Prevention

Karoly Gruber, Hungary’s Ambassador to the EU’s Political and Security Committee, gave the workshop’s opening remarks, centering on the work of the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU and how Hungary has prioritized the prevention of violent conflicts. Richard Wright, Director for Conflict Prevention and Security Policy at the European External Action Service (EEAS), then spoke about how the EU is undertaking efforts to operationalize R2P and working closely with the UN system. He also discussed integrating conflict prevention into the EEAS before the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward C. Luck, discussed R2P and its application in Libya, as well as the crises in Kenya, Guinea, southern Sudan, and Kyrgyzstan. He praised and encouraged the work of the EU and its member states in the areas of genocide prevention and R2P, and stressed the importance of political dialogue.

The first panel, “The Latest Developments and Challenges in the Prevention of Genocide,” consisted of remarks by James Smith, CEO of Aegis Trust; Simona Cruciani, UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Thordis Ingadottir, Associate Professor at the University of Reykjavik; and Gyorgy Tatar, at the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, and Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities. The discussion concluded that international courts act as a deterrent to committing atrocities, because they hold individuals responsible, rather than entities. Even so, international and national courts need to work together to achieve maximum efficiency.

The second panel, “Identifying and Overcoming Obstacles to Preventive Action: From Early Warning to Policy Options to Response,” was headed by Jan Jarab, Regional Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Veronique Arnault, Director for Human Rights and Democracy at the EEAS; Jonathan Prentice, Senior Policy Adviser at the International Crisis Group; and Luis Peral, Research Fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies. The panel discussed 1) how the 2011 “Arab Spring” underscored the root causes of problems in countries such as Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia—authoritarianism, high unemployment, entrenched elites, corruption, and economic inequalities—and 2) how to strike a balance between respecting the rights of civilians and the proportionality of international military interventions. It was also explained that broader preventive approaches yield weaker responses.

The third panel, “Enhancement of International Cooperation: The Role of the EU,” heard comments from Catherine Woollard, Director of the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office; Michael Sahlin, Sweden’s Special Envoy to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement/Sudan; Olivia Swaak-Goldman, International Cooperation Adviser for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; and Sapna Chhatpar, Deputy Director of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. The participants discussed the lack of a numerical definition for genocide and how that impacts the actions, or lack thereof, of the international community. This further stresses the need for prevention at the early stages of potential mass atrocities. Like the first panel, this group also talked about the impact of statements put out by the ICC, which are widely circulated to governments and officials. The ICC is developing a methodology to measure the impact of their statements. Other topics touched upon included the role of multinational corporations in preventing/contributing to genocide and mass atrocities, since they are not states and therefore not governed by the Rome Statute, and the need for consistency in making R2P a recognized and accepted norm.

Lastly, there was a “Dialogue Forum,” in which Andrea Bartoli, Director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, and Mo Bleeker, Head of the Task Force on Prevention of Mass Atrocities at the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, talked about envisioning the end of genocide and how dealing with past instances of mass atrocities is essential in moving forward. Participants were asked for suggestions on what they would like to see the EU do to further prevent genocide and mass atrocities in 2015. Answers included a closer look at how gender relates to these crimes, the EU having a focal point on R2P to increase cooperation and effectiveness with the UN, and the need to further develop the EU’s early warning capacities.

Photo: madariaga.org

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