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The United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) is currently undertaking a project that examines the relationship between the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the Protection of Civilians (PoC) in armed conflict situations. UNU-ISP co-organized and participated in three academic–practitioner workshops in 2011, held in Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. Through dialogue and discussion, critical feedback was gathered to refine the handbook for protection actors. The handbook was presented to the UN Secretariat in New York last month, and further disseminated to policymakers and officials of member states.

Having coined the phrase Protection of Civilians, the Fourth Geneva Convention has become its firm international legal establishment. According to Dr. Vesselin Popovski of the UNU-ISP, after the world failed to protect the civilian Kosovo Albanians “from ethnic cleansing in 1998-99 — followed by controversial unauthorized military intervention by NATO in March 1999, an International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was formed.” It was through an ICISS debate on humanitarian intervention that R2P was ultimately formulated and “became a worldwide shared emerging norm in 2005 when almost 150 world leaders — the biggest ever gathering of Heads of State in history — adopted the document “World Summit Outcome.”

PoC and R2P are alike in that they are both concerned with civilian suffering and mass human-induced violence. In order for the R2P threshold to be met, atrocity crimes–genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity–must be planned and systematic. PoC, on the other hand, is only applicable in situations of armed conflict. Dr. Popovski writes,

To summarize: in many situations, the two circles of R2P and POC can overlap — for example, when war crimes against civilians or crimes against humanity (including ethnic cleansing and genocide) are committed during armed conflict. A situation that would fall under POC, but not R2P, is the protection of civilians threatened by escalating armed conflict if mass atrocities are not planned and committed. And a situation that would trigger R2P, but not POC, is a threat from mass atrocities planned outside an armed conflict.

Moreover, situations may start out otherwise but later metastasize into an armed conflict, thus raising demands for PoC. To further differentiate the two concepts, R2P is a matter for States only, but PoC can be obligatory for non-State actors. As mentioned above, R2P and PoC share similar humanitarian concerns, “yet their specificity is important. R2P…does not undermine; rather, it serves as a catalyst for action — it can mobilize political will and complement the PoC agenda.”


Yesterday, the French National Assembly (France‘s lower house of Parliament) approved a draft law outlawing genocide denial. This includes the killings of more than one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers during World War I; though Turkey does not classify the killings as a genocide, France officially did so in 2001. The bill still needs Senate approval, and is expected to be debated early next year. In the interim, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoganhalted bilateral political and economic contacts, suspended military cooperation and ordered his country’s ambassador home for consultations.” Erdogan also retaliated by accusing France of massacring 15% of the Algerian population while France ruled Algeria from 1945-1962. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan expressed gratitude for what he considers France’s commitment to human values, but the Organization of Islamic Cooperation rejects the bill and Turkish President Abdullah Gül said France should withdraw from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group if the bill becomes law. The Armenian National Committee of America put out a statement to “mark the event and call President Obama to carry out his promise on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as well as the Congress to put the 304 resolution to the vote for the recognition of the Armenian genocide.”


Libya: Arrest Warrants for Key Government Figures

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants today for Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi, his son Salif-al Islam, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Al-Sanussi. The trio has been accused of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in the murder and persecution of protestors during the uprising that swept the country earlier this year. While Qaddafi has ultimate control over the Libyan government, Salif-al Islam and Al-Sanussi are considered to have been instrumental in the development and execution of the violent strategies used in the government’s crackdown on the dissention that precipitated the ongoing civil war.

Despite celebration in the rebel capital of Benghazi, government officials there admit that the arrest warrants may make negotiating Qaddafi out of power near impossible. Al Jazeera reported that the rebel government has “made it clear that the door has been shut to any peaceful political settlement of this conflict. They are worried that [Qaddafi], who now is a prisoner in his own country, will fight until the end, until death.”

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Trials Begin

Trials have begun today for four former Khmer Rogue officials accused of helping to orchestrate the mass atrocities committed under the regime’s rule from 1975 to 1979. Prosecutors for the UN-backed tribunal are claiming that each of the four defendants had direct influence in developing or executing government policies that caused the death of around 1.7 million Cambodians.

All four have pleaded not guilty to charges that include murder, genocide, torture, and religious persecution. Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge second in command, apologized for the deaths but maintains that government officials were acting as liberators, protecting the nation from Vietnamese military incursion. Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, whose ideology heavily influenced government policies, says he was unaware of the killings. The former foreign minister, Ieng Sary, a trusted member of  the regime’s inner circle, is claiming double-jeopardy, citing his conviction in a trial in 1979, for which he later received a pardon. His wife, Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister, who is accused of planning mass killings, said she was also unaware of the atrocities being committed and places the blame instead on Nuon Chea.

The trial is immensely “complex,” according to the New York Times. It includes “a 700-page indictment, hundreds of witnesses, thousands of pages of documentary evidence, scores of lawyers in the courtroom and three working languages — Khmer, English and French.”


Sudan: Genocidal escalation?

Military operations by the Sudanese Army continue in the state of South Kordofan in a resurgence of violence that many fear is indicative of a return to genocidal conflict. Attacks by government troops have so far been concentrated in areas accused of having been friendly to Southern rebels during the decades-long civil war.

Reports have surfaced that government soldiers are carrying out house-to-house arrests and executions based on individuals’ ethnic affiliation, and purposely targeting civilians during military operations. There have also been unconfirmed reports of mass graves around the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli.

The UN peacekeeping force in the area has proven too small to adequately protect civilians. The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have already been displaced, and that if the fighting continues, aid organizations will be unable to reach at least 400,000 people reliant on them for food and other necessities.

President Bashir has said the government attacks are in response to Southern aggression against Northern forces. But many believe that Bashir initiated the fighting to prevent the oil-rich disputed border region from seceding along with the rest of the South come July 9, when the country is due to split into two independent states.

Libya: New documentation of crimes

The Guardian reported that dozens of files pulled from police stations and army bases in Misrata directly implicate Muammar Qaddafi and other senior Libyan officials in war crimes. In response to the discovery, the International Criminal Court’s lead prosecutor called for arrest warrants for these individuals.

Qaddafi denies accusations that he has violated international human rights law in attempting to squelch the revolution in Libya. But the recently unearthed documents include direct orders from him and other high-ranking military and government officials sanctioning illegal actions against both civilians and combatants during the siege of the city.

In one instance a command was given to stop all supply trucks from entering Misrata, effectively leaving its inhabitants without food, water, or fuel. In another, an order was given to hunt down wounded enemy combatants, violating the rules of war laid out in the Geneva Conventions.

The documents were only saved thanks to a few young Libyan lawyers who persuaded protestors to protect the buildings against arson. According to the Guardian, this “represent(s) a landmark in international justice because no significant war crimes trial in the short history of international courts has had access to documents directly implicating the lead players in the commission of war crimes.”

Photo: ENOUGH Project

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