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Responsibility to Implement:
Considering Civil Society’s Knowledge and Use of R2P
In 2001, the Canadian-based International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) produced a report called The Responsibility to Protect (now often abbreviated as “R2P”). The concept of R2P — as endorsed, in modified form, by the United Nations World Summit in 2005 — centers on the belief that while each state “carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing,” the international community also has a “responsibility to assist” states in achieving this objective. Emphasizing the contingency of state sovereignty and non-interference in a state’s internal affairs, R2P has challenged previously held norms of humanitarian intervention and persuaded the community of nations to reexamine its approach to future crises that threaten to destabilize countries around the world.
The real test of R2P’s effectiveness, however, remains its ability to be implemented in situations that fit the criteria for its application. Much of this responsibility lies with civil society and member states, which are tasked with identifying crises for which invoking R2P might be an appropriate response to conflict. The challenge in doing so is to apply R2P in a consistent manner, as the legitimacy and continued relevance of a developing norm is greatly tied to the international community’s perceptions of its use. As such, it is important that the international community also understand precisely what R2P is intended to be used for.
One way to achieve this is by continuing to educate both NGOs and other members of civil society about R2P, as well as clarifying elements of R2P that have been misconstrued or incorrectly perpetuated. In order to facilitate this, the United Nations’ Department of Public Information-Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI-NGO) held a briefing entitled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: The Role of Civil Society and Member States” on March 14 at the International Social Justice Commission Salvation Army. Moderated by Gail Bindley-Taylor, United Nations Information Officer at the UN Secretariat, the presentation included remarks from Gillian Kitley, Senior Officer in the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect; Sapna Considine, Deputy Director of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect; and Naomi Kikoler, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Following a brief overview of how conflicts in the 1990s, including the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, prompted the international community to develop a new approach to state sovereignty as embodied in R2P, Bindley-Taylor turned the floor over to Kitley, who spoke about some of the contemporary aspects of R2P. In particular, Kitley noted a few of the recent advances in its implementation, including an increase in research being done on the topic, as well as the growing number of national focal points within member states. In addition, she cited that R2P, which “is now firmly on the international agenda,” has also “become part of [the] diplomatic language” of governments, international organizations, and commissions.
In regards to the UN’s invocation of R2P, Kitley commented on how the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has gone through long periods of both use and non-use of the document. In doing so, she also highlighted concerns over the controversial use of R2P in Libya, as the outcome of this crisis left many international actors wondering if the goal of R2P was “regime change rather than [being] purely aimed at civilian protection.” Stating that this lack of understanding indicated the necessity of developing guidelines for use of force by the UNSC, Kitley reinforced that coercive measures under R2P are rare, and that she thus “[considers] the concerns of member states to be unnecessary.” Instead, she offered the “actual willingness of states and the international community” to promote R2P as being the primary obstacle to its effectiveness.
The second speaker, Considine, centered her commentary on the role of civil society organizations, stating that “R2P is a vital new tool for civil society to hold governments responsible” when they fail to protect their citizens. Considine divided her talk into two sections, the first of which addressed how the “existing work [of NGOs] already contributes” to the work of R2P. Here, she noted eight specific examples:
- Monitoring and documenting crimes, including identifying indicators of mass atrocities
- Sharing early-warning information and assessments with other monitoring mechanisms
- Facilitating mediation, negotiation, and dispute resolution
- Assisting in the training of civilian protection personnel, including helping civilians to recognize indicators of mass atrocities
- Helping with recovery and post-trauma
- Supporting and enhancing regional and national justice systems
- Advocating for stronger resolutions through adopting legislation and strengthening domestic policies
- Supporting local communities in building capacities to recognize threats
In the second section, Considine discussed how NGOs might do more, and focused on four areas of improvement: building understanding of R2P, so as to clarify misconceptions and promote knowledge of the document; “[advocating] for increased norm support for R2P;” strengthening an R2P constituency; and continuing to advance research and policy development initiatives.
Kikoler, the last panelist, focused on what R2P means for the people on the ground, stating that its main purpose is to “strengthen the architecture of prevention.” She began with a personal anecdote of the time she spent in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, which she contrasted with her grandfather’s survival of Auschwitz during the Holocaust. “What on earth can ‘never again’ mean?” she asked, citing how 50 years after her grandfather’s ordeal, people in another part of the world still experienced the same horrors of genocide. She answered her own question by simply stating that our task today is to ensure that “[never again] doesn’t continue to mean nothing.”
Specifically, Kikoler posited two challenges to “never again”: the consistency of response, which she exemplified by contrasting Libya and South Kordofan; and a “failure to prioritize prevention.” Here, Kikoler focused in particular on the financial aspect, noting that it is less costly to prevent atrocities from occurring than to respond to a situation that has already turned to violence. For example, she discussed the potential of using funds to prevent hate speech, promote education, combat incitement by the media, and assist early-warning groups in an effort to prevent rather than react to conflict. “What can it look like, and how much does that cost?” she asked. Citing the 2013 elections in Kenya at the end of her presentation, Kikoler offered this instance as an example of how the international community “can develop some best practices . . . on how prevention can make a difference.”
As Kitley stated during the question-and-answer session, “We shouldn’t be looking only at imminent situations.” Indeed, if a conflict has escalated to the point of “imminence,” the opportunity for prevention has likely passed. This is yet another example of the critical role of civil society and member states in the dissemination of information on R2P, as well as in assisting the effective implementation of its parameters. While R2P remains imperfect and will likely require continual advancements in both its understanding and use, Kikoler said it best when she ended the conference by stating that “it is better to try to do something than to dismiss R2P in general.”
Attention, GenPrev fans! Next week is your lucky week if you live in New York, as there are five events related to GenPrev happening over three consecutive days.
First and foremost (from our point of view) is a talk titled “What Does It Mean to Prevent Genocide?” by Auschwitz Institute executive director Tibi Galis (pictured here), at 6:15 p.m., Tuesday, June 12, at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Tibi’s talk will emphasize that, although increasingly conflated and confused, genocide prevention and humanitarian intervention are two different things. He will then enter into conversation with Kyle Matthews of the Will to Intervene project. To attend the event in person, register by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Admission is $25. Otherwise you can watch the live webcast here.
Also on Tuesday, June 12, at 4:30 p.m, is a reception for civil society organizations engaged in the Responsibility to Protect, at the office of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (708 Third Avenue, 24th floor):
In preparation for the informal dialogue in the General Assembly on response measures available under the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) invites you to attend an informal reception with civil society colleagues on the Responsibility to Protect. This reception is being held in cooperation with New York–based ICRtoP member, Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW).
The reception will feature a short talk by Mr. Hermann Hokou, legal scholar and activist from Côte d’Ivoire, who will discuss the election violence of 2010–11, how the conflict was handled by the international community and what we can learn in addressing other crises. Also in attendance will be NGO colleagues from Brazil, Belgium, Armenia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Romania and Canada, in town next week to share the experiences of their organizations, working to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, as well as reflect on their efforts to entrench RtoP at the national and regional levels.
The third event on Tuesday, June 12, is a discussion on “Preventing War, Violence and Genocide: Critical New Approaches to Making Prevention Work,” at 1 p.m. at the Church Center for the United Nations (777 UN Plaza at 44th Street, 2nd floor). Guest speaker Kai Brand-Jacobsen, director of the Department of Peace Operations at the Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania, will address the following:
War, armed violence, genocide and mass atrocity have devastating impacts – costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians every year, destroying economic and human development and security, and devastating lives and societies. Yet major steps have been taken to advance the prevention of violence and armed conflict. This talk will review critical breakthroughs and practical experiences in the prevention of war, violence and genocide. Combining on the ground experience and practical evidence with critical breakthroughs in peacebuilding and prevention, this event will challenge and inspire policy makers, practitioners, diplomats, politicians, analysts, experts and all participants, and look practically at how to make prevention work.
Finally, on Monday, June 11, and Wednesday, June 13, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung will be presenting Global Civil Society Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect:
FES New York supports a series of meetings organized by Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW) and its partners from civil society organizations from various continents on the emerging norm of the “Responsibility to Protect.” The discussions on June 11 will address how various UN Mandates can contribute to prevention, and reflect on balanced and robust responses to the threat of mass atrocities. On June 13, special attention will be given to the proposal for a United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS).
We hope you can make some or all of these events. If not, be sure to stay tuned for recaps.
In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2009 Report Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, he outlines the three pillars of the principle:
- The enduring responsibility of the State to protect its populations, whether nationals or not, from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement.
- The commitment of the international community to assist States in meeting those obligations.
- The responsibility of Member States to respond collectively in a timely and decisive manner when a State is manifestly failing to provide such protection.
In response to the common misunderstanding of the third pillar as use of force, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect has created a new educational document detailing the third pillar’s range of measures and key actors.
And in furtherance of international commitment to the principle, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect this week wrote an open letter to the United Nations member states, urging them to prioritize setting goals for advancing R2P over the next year. Former diplomats and UN officials wrote how this year alone, lives were saved in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Libya through international efforts to uphold R2P. Specifically, they called on member states to:
- Appoint a senior government official as a national focal point for R2P.
- Encourage all relevant UN agencies and departments to incorporate an R2P perspective into their activities.
- Use the tools available to the General Assembly to uphold R2P and take preventive and protective action.
- Work together to develop additional goals and benchmarks for advancing R2P.
Addressing the opening of the General Assembly this week, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (pictured above) spoke of the importance of international law, the International Criminal Court, and upholding the rule of law. He stressed the importance of developing common practices and the capacity to actually implement R2P.