As part of the Stanley Foundation’s conference, R2P: The Next Decade, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek (pictured here), gave an address entitled, R2P in Practice in the Case of Kyrgyzstan. Folowing brief introductory remarks and posing questions oft-raised when discussing R2P/prevention, Vollebaek stated, “In the recent history of the OSCE, the most challenging case in this context has been that of Kyrgyzstan.” He then went on to set the scene; in April 2010, President Bakyev was ousted from office, after which inter-communal violence broke out in the northern part of Kyrgyzstan and soon spread throughout the country. This resulted in deaths, injuries, atrocities, and displacement on a grand scale. The majority of victims were ethnic Uzbeks, “although Kyrgyz and people belonging to other ethnic groups also suffered.”

After extensive travel to the area, in as early as November 2009, Vollebaek presented a report to the then chair of the OSCE, warning that “interethnic tension was rising in Kyrgyzstan at an alarming pace.” Ultimately, Vollebaek issued a formal “early warning” in June 2010; this is used to indicate that a situation can no longer be contained with the measures at the High Commissioner on National Minorities’ disposal. Kyrgyzstan is only one of two instances in which this has happened in the history of the OSCE. Though the responsibility for addressing this problem should then have been shared by the OSCE participating States and Chairperson, “the international response to the events in Kyrgyzstan was muted to say the least. It never even made it to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.”

Vollebaek then went on to discuss what this tells us about the implementation of R2P:

-R2P assumes that when a State fails to protect its own civilians, the responsibility then shifts to the international community. However, it is unclear “who exactly should bear this international responsibility, nor what should happen if the international community also fails to take up this responsibility.” This inherent ambiguity can lead to overreaction or inaction, both of which are dangerous in such circumstances.

-There is a need for greater cooperation between the UN and regional organizations when it comes to potential R2P situations, including sharing information and analysis, and coordinating responses. (You can read more about this topic in our previous blog post.) “It also requires a greater diffusion of the notion and the language of the R2P if we are really speaking about an emerging norm with universal meaning and appeal. The acceptance and the use of the R2P discourse varies greatly among various regional and sub-regional organizations.”

-In the context of R2P, prevention is of the utmost importance. The OSCE and the UN Secretary General both emphasize State capacity-building as a fundamental aspect of prevention and a necessary tool for States to fulfill their most basic responsibilities.