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By Christine Lim

Monday marked the launch of the Obama administration’s eagerly awaited Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). Live webcasts of the President’s remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by an afternoon’s worth of panel discussions at the White House, moderated by Samantha Power, chair of the new Board, excited the genprev community.

Following is a sample of reactions and responses:

Francis Deng and Edward Luck, UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, said today in a press release: “[We] commend the growing series of partnerships established by Member States under a Responsibility to Protect framework. These include the network of focal points proposed by Costa Rica, Denmark, Ghana and Australia; the regional conferences on genocide prevention organized by Argentina, Switzerland and Tanzania; the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region’s Regional Committee on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, the [Auschwitz Institute’s] Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention; and other regional and sub-regional arrangements for the prevention of atrocity crimes.” The Special Advisers indicated their plan to continue serving as liaisons between the UN and such initiatives designed to maximize regional and cross-regional dialogue.

Scott Paul, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor of Oxfam America, said Monday in a press release: “The test for the APB is whether, over the long-run, we’re better able to mobilize those tools and whether it is able to quickly and effectively focus the attention of high-level decision-makers on countries that threaten to descend into mass atrocities in the future.”

Winny Chen, Senior Associate of Human Rights First, said today via e-mail: “The creation of the APB represents an important milestone in U.S. efforts to make ‘never again’ a reality. Though there are still many questions lingering about the structure and function of the APB, I’m heartened to see that the Board is already making strides in expanding the USG’s tools, such as developing new financial levers, for responding to threatening atrocity situations.”

Daniel Solomon, National Student Director of STAND, wrote a blog post yesterday, reflecting on his own participation in the day’s events. He discussed the Board’s composition, arguing that its true significance will not be to stop atrocities, but to “encourage the training of diplomats, development practitioners, military officials, and intelligence officers in atrocities prevention strategies; facilitate cross-national trainings of foreign militaries, law enforcement, and peacebuilding authorities; and, where relevant, provide greater support to the distribution and identification of early warning and atrocities risk.” Solomon also praised USAID’s innovation grants partnership with Humanity United.

Mary Stata, coordinator of the Prevention and Protection Working Group at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, wrote that the new Board brings U.S. policy one step closer to preventing mass violence by peaceful means. She reiterated the intent of the FCNL and others to continue lobbying for the implementation of recommendations made to the Obama administration last fall.

Eric Roston of BusinessWeek suggested the APB should be renamed “Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities” in the interest of simplicity: “A presidential body dedicated to the eradication of the methodical mass murder of innocents deserves more than to be lost in the stultifying jargon of government bureaucracy, where the APB will take its place in small, gray type next to its cousins, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the Architectural Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and the Joint Board For The Enrollment Of Actuaries.”

Less insightfully, as Time magazine noted, the Christian Science Monitor wondered what effect the APB would have on Libya, while The Atlantic worried about the propriety of and risks involved in more global intervention on the part of the U.S.

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Edward Luck, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, is warning that the deadly violence in Syria threatens to permanently divide the country along sectarian and ethnic lines. He points to the mixed composition of Syria’s population as increasing the potential risk of divisions and is therefore urging community and religious leaders and civil society groups to do all they can to help reduce communal tensions. Says Luck, “If you look at the demographic breakdown of the population in Syria, it’s a demographic minefield. And we’ve seen in this region of the world some terrible examples of what can happen when a country is divided along sectarian lines.”

As discussed on this blog in December, within the complexity of the Syrian uprising lies a risk of atrocities against a minority religious group, the Alawites (to which the family of President Bashar al-Assad belongs, as well as the security forces suppressing the dissent). The context/precedent for such a reprisal is discussed in the article “How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-Narrative”:

It is disturbing to note that in the Great Lakes, Balkans, and Trans-Caucasus, members of many ethnic groups articulate a version of history which emphasizes how they were historic victims of genocide, and how the inevitable response to this victimhood is to organize to inflict similar violence on the former perpetrators. These histories become self-justifying and self-fulfilling charters for genocidal violence. Interventions at any level in such cases need to be attentive to the layers of historical arguments and how they are deployed for political purposes. [emphasis added]

Mr. Luck is asking the international community, including the UN and regional organizations such as the League of Arab States, to be consistent and unified on the issue of reducing sectarian tensions. The Arab League has called for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission to resolve the crisis in Syria, though Russia said on Monday that a ceasefire would need to be established in Syria before such a mission could be deployed. If this plan does end up being implemented, Luck said it is “critical to ensure that any mandate explicitly refers to reducing sectarian and ethnic tensions and improving community relations.”

Photo: alarabiya.net

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

In an interview yesterday, Edward Luck, special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General for the responsibility to protect, offered wide-ranging comments on the concept of R2P, past, present, and future.

In explaining R2P’s origins, Luck cited massacres like the Rwandan genocide and Cambodia’s “killing fields,” which made clear the need for a framework of principles to help protect civilians while taking into account the international system’s deep-rooted notion of state sovereignty. R2P, as conceived in 2001, seemed to present a perfect middle ground, and according to Luck its evolution has so far been successful.

Apart from NATO’s heavily criticized intervention in Libya, and the mixed outcome of Côte d’Ivoire, Luck says R2P has helped in Kyrgyzstan and Guinea, although these cases received less media coverage. In Libya’s case, he argued, most of the negative response has focused on the use of force, which isn’t R2P’s main goal and therefore shouldn’t be the litmus test of its success.

“For us the job isn’t response, the job is prevention,” Luck said. “Many people think that responsibility to protect is all about the use of military force after the bodies start piling up. For us, that isn’t morally acceptable.”

On the topic of Syria, Luck discussed why it is that R2P was applied to help the Libyans while the Syrian people seem to have been abandoned, explaining it mainly in terms of the influence of regional organizations.

In Libya’s case, Luck said, “the Arab League, the African Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council, all acted before the Security Council did. . . . In this case it was really the way the [UN] Charter had meant it to be: the parties and then the regional bodies first try to resolve the differences.” This contrasts with Syria, where support for intervention from regional organizations has been absent.

Luck also cited the language used by Qaddafi, who referred to protesters as “cockroaches” and said he would “cleanse Libya house by house.” Assad, on the other hand, has been more careful. “We listen to what leaders say as well as watch what they do,” Luck said.

Speculating on R2P’s future, Luck says he hopes and believes that, rather than meeting its demise, R2P will become so absorbed into the way states think of their responsibilities, and so much a part of civil society, that his office at the UN “simply could go out of business.”

The interview fails to mention one glaring issue: namely, the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. By all accounts the regime in Khartoum, since June 5, has engaged in illegal policies that target civilians of specific ethnic groups for torture and arrest and murder. Criticism has been hurled at the UN and its member states for their lack of action and avoidance of the issues—as Luck himself does in the interview.

Genocide scholar Samuel Totten, who has written extensively on Sudan, wrote an opinion column last week arguing that South Sudan fits all the requirements for R2P intervention. Yet, he wrote: “the international [community] largely plays dumb, claiming ‘I see no evil’ and ‘I hear no evil.’ The latter, of course, conveniently translates into, ‘Thus, I do not need to deal with evil.’ Such a position is totally antithetical to the concept of The Responsibility to Protect. Indeed, it is akin to seeking an easy (and unconscionable) way out of acting responsibly.”

In contrast to Luck’s optimistic view of the future of R2P, Totten declared that it was “on the verge of becoming a dead letter.”

* Four former Guatemalan military officers are being tried for crimes against humanity they allegedly committed in 1982. They are accused of taking part in the Dos Erres Massacre, in which government forces murdered over 200 villagers suspected of being rebel sympathizers.

* Today a United Nations–organized seminar aimed at preventing genocide in South Sudan, hosted in the country’s capital of Juba, concludes. Special Adviser Francis Deng said the UN hopes to “prevent the new State from getting into. . . errors”—such as “discrimination, dehumanization, inclusivity, marginalization, and suppression”—that led to the breakup of Sudan.

* The Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, chose Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently on trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as their presidential candidate. Bemba is accused of leading militias that killed hundreds of civilians in the Central African Republic. 

* President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed the controversial British documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” claiming the footage, which purportedly shows the Sri Lankan army committing war crimes during the final weeks of the country’s civil war, was a “film” staged by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

* United Nations officials issued a statement saying Syrian authorities may have committed crimes against humanity in their suppression of the democratic uprisings sweeping the country. Citing reports of the murder and arrest of civilians, Francis Deng and Edward Luck called for an investigation and requested that the Assad regime abide by international regulations when responding to protests.

Photos (from top): thebellforum.com, realsociology.edublogs.org, Associated Press

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