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Establishing a “Culture of Remembrance and Non-Recurrence”:
Regional Approaches to Genocide Prevention
Genocide prevention requires a transnational commitment of states willing to collaborate and work together to recognize threats and identify means by which potential conflict can be avoided. In a similar way, reducing the risk of genocide necessitates a consistent sharing of ideas so that methods for prevention can be continually improved. One manner in which this dedication and cooperation is demonstrated is the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide, co-organized by the governments of Argentina, Cambodia, Switzerland, and Tanzania. The Forum, which was first held in Argentina in 2008, has continued to meet annually since 2010 and brings together scholars, diplomats, and activists to discuss emerging ideas in the realm of genocide prevention. In addition, the journal Politorbis issued a 2009 publication on genocide prevention that addresses many of the topics covered in the Forums.
The 2013 Regional Forum took place in Phnom Penh on February 28 and March 1, 2013, and included over 20 distinguished speakers from around the world. The discussion was opened by Mr. Federico Villegas Beltrán, Director General for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and International Trade and Worship in Argentina; Ambassador Dr. Christoph Burgener of Switzerland; Ambassador Liberata Mulamula of Tanzania; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers of Cambodia, His Excellency Dr. Sok An. Dr. An began by reminding the audience of the importance of genocide prevention in his own country, stating that “for Cambodia, the issue is not an abstract or theoretical one, but one that brutally and directly affected us, and still does today.” Dr. An also cited the importance of seeking justice for and remembering the victims, “to make sure such a tragedy will never recur,” emphasizing that “we regard remembrance of the past and of the victims as an essential prerequisite to non-recurrence.”
The Forum itself was comprised of five separate panels, the first of which was titled “What is genocide and how to prevent it?” During this segment, panelists discussed the definition of genocide and offered ideas on how to improve capacities to respond to early warning signs of violence. In particular, His Excellency Ouch Borith, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, mentioned that “the narrow or shallow perception of genocide may lead to failure in preventing genocide from its budding stage,” referring to the oversimplified belief that genocide only entails the killing of individuals, when in fact the Genocide Convention enumerates five criteria for the commission of the crime. Borith also stated that there are “still a lot of controversies and difficulties in quantifying the scope of violence to be labeled as genocide,” and cited the need for greater preventive capacity, particularly at the national level in regards to education, and social and religious institutions.
This panel also featured Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, and Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at Griffith Asia Institute in Australia. Dieng reiterated the importance of understanding the “root causes and dynamics” of genocide, and highlighted the important role that civil society has begun to play in making prevention and the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) stronger. Bellamy also outlined six specific points that would assist East Asia in its efforts to prevent genocide, including the development of what he calls an “atrocity prevention lens,” which “focuses on injecting atrocity prevention considerations into existing policies, programs, and capabilities and, when necessary, convening or coordinating these assets for prevention purposes,” as well as the creation of regional capacity for early warning and assessment through a collaborative effort between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat, the ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, and other relevant organizations.
The second panel, “Asian Experience and Visions for the Future,” included His Excellency Khuon Sudary, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Cambodia, and The Honorable Gareth Evans, Chancellor of Australian National University and Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Sudary emphasized the importance of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in seeking justice for the victims of the genocide. He also underscored the role of education, particularly in regards to learning about the Khmer Rouge, noting that “young people need to grasp the value of human rights and learn to use them effectively in order to prevent genocide in the future.”
Evans, who was a primary contributor in the creation of R2P at the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001, discussed the development of a Brazilian proposal called Responsibility While Protecting (RWP). This supplemental protocol to R2P is comprised of “two key elements: a set of agreed criteria to be taken into account before the UNSC mandates any use of force…and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that the scope and limits of such mandates continue to be debated by the Council during the implementation phase.” Evans also reiterated the imperativeness of developing “effective capability to initiate action and mobilize political will,” by creating “focal points” that have “direct access to high-level decision makers,” as well as enhancing “broad-based civilian response capabilities” and “[ensuring] that effective military capability is available to meet needs as they arise.”
Later in the evening, the third panel, titled “Africa, Latin America and Europe – Experiences, Lessons Learned and Ways Forward,” was held. Nathan Byamukama, Program Officer of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, spoke first. He discussed some of the responsibilities of the ICGLR, including collecting and analyzing information to identify situations that might develop into genocide, recommending measures to safeguard victims, monitoring Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs, and cooperating with civil society. Byamukama also cited several challenges that the ICGLR faces, like the politicization of the Committee and a funding deficit, but noted that it will continue to garner support from member states so as to strengthen its initiatives.
Byamukama was followed by Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina. First, Feierstein turned the concept of prevention on its head, stating, “I would suggest to change the perspective from what the super-powers should do to prevent genocide (the interventionist approach) to what they should not do: how to establish a system of controls to prevent such powers from acting in ways that increase the possibility of genocidal events through direct intervention, arms trade, support for destabilization or coups d’état, and so on.” Secondly, he noted the important role of regional mechanisms in preventing genocide, providing the example of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which is comprised of 12 Latin American nations and is charged with helping countries in the region mitigate conflicts. Since its inception in 2008, UNASUR has assisted in Bolivia, Honduras, and Ecuador, as well as in the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela in 2010.
The second day of the conference opened with the fourth panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of State and International Actors and Ways Forward,” which featured David Scheffer, UN Secretary General Special Expert on United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Scheffer emphasized the role of the ECCC as a deterrence mechanism, noting that it “is critical to breaking the cycles of impunity and putting down at least a caution sign for political and military leaders who might contemplate human rights abuses or atrocity crimes to achieve political and strategic aims.”
In the fifth and final panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of Non-State Actors and Ways Forward,” Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), discussed the role of civil society in the prevention of genocide. He explained the work of DC-Cam, which seeks “to establish a permanent presence and to play a leading role in this transformative effort” of policy change in post-conflict states. Chhang also stated that DC-Cam “has begun to build a permanent center to expand our work and ensure a long-term commitment to human rights and genocide prevention in Cambodia,” an initiative that centers on the belief that “genocide education is a key to liberating the victims of Khmer Rouge terror and transforming them into leaders in the global quest for human rights and dignity.” To increase genocide awareness, as well as the scope of the institution’s work, DC-Cam will also “promote memory and justice” by “[digitizing its] extensive archives and [making] them available to viewers at home and overseas.”
Given the variety of topics covered, as well as the global character of the dozens of panelists and speakers that offered remarks during the conference, the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide exemplifies a collaborative approach to educating on the past so as to avoid the commission of mass atrocities in the future. By meeting on an annual basis, the four member states that comprise the Forum also reaffirm their commitment to what many speakers emphasized in their presentations – that is, the desire to create “a culture of remembrance and non-recurrence” that recognizes the importance of preventing genocide everywhere.
Last week, Alex Bellamy, who writes regularly on issues of responsibility to protect, authored a blog post (on a relatively new blog, Protection Gateway) entitled, Stopping genocide and mass atrocities–the problem of regime change. He opens by positing the question, “Should international action to protect people from genocide and mass atrocities ever result in regime change?” before laying out five potential checks to guard against governments justifying armed intervention to pursue their own self interests via regime change “whilst recognising that regime change may sometimes be necessary to save lives.”:
- Intervention must have a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.
- States that champion intervention should be expected to demonstrate their humanitarian intent by acknowledging – through their words and deeds – a duty to prevent genocide and mass atrocities and respond in the most effective ways possible.
- The third test relates to the use of humanitarian justifications and their relationship to the known facts of the case. The simplest test of an actor’s intention is to compare what they say they are doing with what is known about the case.
- The calibration of means and ends. Would-be interveners should select strategies that enable them to prevail without undermining humanitarian outcomes.
- States that intervene in the affairs of others ought to recognise a duty to help the country rebuild its infrastructure, restore its autonomy, and re-establish its self-determination.
While much discussion, debate, and reporting currently focuses on the third pillar of R2P and conflates this with military intervention, the fact is that under R2P, the international community has three main responsibilities: the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react, and the responsibility to rebuild. In a sense, the fifth check is a reformulation of these responsibilities. Bellamy writes that interventions which satisfy these five conditions would assuredly be “pursued primarily with humanitarian intent” while also safeguarding that ” instances of protection induced regime change remain, as they have to date, rare and exceptional.”
On January 18, 2012, the Stanley Foundation held a conference entitled, R2P: The Next Decade. The morning panels discussed R2P in practice; more specifically, panelists spoke about policy approaches since 2005 in the countries of Guinea, South Sudan/Darfur, Somalia, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Libya.
Ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Executive Director of Security Council Report, considers Darfur and South Sudan to be the worst cases, due to the “moral abnegation” of international players within and outside of the Security Council. While the case of Darfur was referred to the International Criminal Court, there was no follow-up and member states’ non-cooperation has not been condemned. Guinea is seen as the best case, due to the fact that it had the lowest threshold of violence and said violence was episodic, not systematic. Syria is an open case, as it was an “unintended victim of the success and excess” of the Libyan intervention, and an “expected victim” of geography. Last, Somalia is “debatable” as it transcends R2P and is a failed state by definition. He asserts that effective prevention action is crucial at the earliest stages of a conflict and that what’s most important is translating principle into practice.
The next speaker was Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He stated that 70% of UN Peacekeepers are deployed in Africa and protection is the responsibility of individual states. UN Peacekeepers and organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) are tasked with creating, consolidating, and keeping peace. As such, he wants to see: multilateralism in future interventions under the UN flag; a strengthened Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediation unit; Security Council support for ECOWAS and a regional approach; effective legal, political, and military sanctions against warlords and UN panels to name and shame world leaders fueling conflict; and the R2P principle incorporated into the doctrines of African bodies. He also believes that the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, Russia, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom) need to focus on collective, rather than selective, security.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Arnold Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, says that what ties the cases of the aforementioned countries together is the presence or absence of political strategy. Moving forward, there is a central need for viable political strategies. Though he considers Guinea to have been a predictable crisis, there was no willingness to do anything on the part of the international community. He is hesitant to use the term ‘genocide’ to describe Sudan, since he says that words have baggage, and ‘genocide’ has “enormous baggage.” He also contends that force is just a political tool but that the expectation on what it can achieve needs to be raised. He concluded by saying that Somalia and Syria illustrate the dangers of multiple agendas.
Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that the focus has shifted and R2P is becoming victim-centered. Preventive activities and human rights promotion are imperative, as is monitoring and reporting in potential conflict areas, which proved to be successful in Cote d’Ivoire. He drew comparisons between Guinea and Syria, in the nature of violations, droves of peaceful demonstrators, and the establishment of commissions of inquiry. However, they differ because Guinea was a clear situation of full Security Council support with strong backing by ECOWAS while Syria was a fragile consensus, which limits the capacity of regional mechanism to act decisively. Moreover, the major difference is the attitudes of the governments themselves.
Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Libya and Jordan noted that in Egypt and Tunisia, the role of the military facilitated the ouster of President Hosni El Sayed Mubarak and President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, respectively. Unfortunately, such was not the case in Libya. Knut Vollebaek, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), posed the following questions:
-What is the best way to respond to a crisis?
-Who bears the international responsibility to protect?
-What are the limits of prevention?
In considering the answers, he discussed the case of Kyrgyzstan, where intercommunal violence broke out in 2010 after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown. Hundreds of people, especially Uzbeks and other minorities, died, thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Additionally, arson, rape, and other atrocities were committed. Vollebaek encourages prevention through diplomacy, as well as a “formal early warning indicating that the situation has gone beyond a level” that the High Commissioner can contain, one where there is a “prima facie risk of potential conflict,” which has thus far happened twice—in Kyrgyzstan, and in Macedonia in 1999. Among the OSCE member states, early warning should be followed by early action. But the most fundamental aspect of prevention is an “emphasis on building capacity of states to fulfill their basic responsibilities.” He went on to say that prevention in practice is long-term and unrewarding, thus it finds resistance among domestic actors and the international community who are more interested in immediate dividends.
At the panel, R2P as a Tool — Identifying Past and Potential Added Value, Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at the Centre for Governance and Public Policy in Australia, pointed out the value of consensus, referring to the global consensus that underpins R2P. He describes R2P as being “disarmingly simple and straightforward in its demand and very clear about its meaning and scope.” Bellamy said R2P further finds value in changing habits and mindsets, mainstreaming the atrocity prevention lens by setting standards, and providing a common vision and shared goal.
Edward C. Luck, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, contributed that R2P protects populations by preventing, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement. Additionally, a narrow but deep approach is correct and the three pillars of R2P are parallel—there must be political preparation or response capacities in place (local, regional or global); all three pillars must be worked on simultaneously, not one after the other. Luck also emphasized, “It is false division to talk about prevention on one hand and response on the other, they tend to merge when you come around to the actuality of making policy. They are interdependent and interactive, neither will have much credibility without the other.”
Keynote speaker United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the sentiments of the aforementioned speakers. After his introductory thanks and remarks, he quickly pointed out, “[…] delivering on the Responsibility to Protect requires partnership and common purpose. We get the best results when global and regional institutions push in the same direction. In 2011, we stood firm for democracy in Côte d’Ivoire. Yet, we could not have succeeded without the leadership and partnership of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.” On the flip side, however, “We learned lessons about our own limitations, as well. Consider the recent violence in South Sudan. We saw it coming weeks before. Yet we were not able to stop it – unfortunately. Nor was the government, which like others has primary responsibility for protecting its citizens. The reason was painfully simple: we were denied the use of necessary resources.”
Secretary-General Ki-moon declared 2012 the Year of Prevention: “Prevention does not mean looking the other way in times of crisis, vainly hoping that things will get better…Nor can it be just a brief pause while Chapter VII “enforcement measures” are being prepared. Prevention means proactive, decisive and early action to stop violence before it begins…the key to preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity lies within each society. These crimes occur far less often in places where civil society is robust, where tolerance is practiced, and where diversity is celebrated. Political figures cannot incite mass violence for their own ends where the rights of minorities and the rule of law are respected.”
He concluded by speaking about Syria, and his repeated condemnation of President Assad’s violence. The problem lies in the fact that the Security Council is divided on this particular case and efforts by regional actors such as the Arab League have proved fruitless thus far. Though he could not say what would happen next, he did remind the audience, “Such is the nature of the Responsibility to Protect. It can be a minefield of nuance, political calculation and competing national interests. The result too often is hesitation or inaction. This we cannot afford.”