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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.

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 ValueAlex 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.”

Photo: un.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.”

Syria: Draft Resolution in Security Council

On Wednesday, France, Britain, Portugal, and Germany submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council condemning the actions by the Syrian government against civilian protesters. Explicitly referring to the Syrian authorities’ responsibility to protect its civilian population and suggesting that the violent measures may constitute crimes against humanity, the draft resolution called for an end to the violence, the enactment of political reforms and an investigation of the situation in full cooperation with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The resolution also urged other states stop and prevent sales of arms and related supplies to Syria. Discussion on the draft resolution is to begin on Thursday with a vote taking place in several days. While the draft resolution has the support of as many as 11 of the 15 members of the Security Council including the United States, Russia and China have expressed strong reservations against it, leaving open the possibility of a veto.

The draft resolution follows last Thursday’s warning from Special Advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck, and Human Rights Watch’s report regarding the situation in Syria. Deng and Luck expressed alarm at the attack on the civilians, called for “an independent, thorough, and objective investigation,” and urged the Syrian government to cooperate with the inquiry and “to refrain from further attacks against the civilian population.” The Human Rights Watch report, in addition to detailing what it considered to be “crimes against humanity,” went further, recommending that the UN Security Council not only condemn the human rights violations, but also refer the violations to the International Criminal Court and adopting sanctions against Syrian officials if necessary.

Kyrgyzstan: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Reports

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International each issued new reports on the Kyrgyz government’s investigation into last year’s ethnic violence. As a result of the violence between the Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbeks, nearly 500, mostly Uzbeks, were killed, and 400,000 fled their homes. The Amnesty International report, which alleges that some of the atrocities against the Uzbeks may have constituted crimes against humanity, argued that the government did not fully investigate the violence perpetrated by the ethnic Kyrgyz and possibly even the security forces against the ethnic Uzbeks. Human Rights Watch detailed allegations of torture, as well as ethnic bias against Uzbeks during the trials following the investigation. Furthermore, the organizations expressed concerns that the government’s inadequate investigations may lead to future unrest between the two ethnic groups.

Bangladesh: War Crimes Tribunal

Bangladesh has been instituting a war crimes tribunal relating to its 1971 independence war against Pakistan. One to three million, mostly civilians, are estimated to have been killed, and approximately 300,000 women were raped. The tribunal, which is investigating the participation of Bengalis in the atrocities, is significant as it raises questions on whether accused war criminals should be tried in an international court or in a domestic tribunal, and whether countries without advanced legal systems have the capacity to properly deliver justice. The tribunal, charged with prosecuting genocide and crimes against humanity, is also important because it will be considering sexual violence as evidence in its decision-making. The court’s independence and fairness has been a point of contention, with Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association, and the International Centre for Transitional Justice all expressing concern over several aspects of the proposed legal proceedings. It remains to be seen whether the tribunal can proceed free from political pressure and according to international judicial standards.

Photo: Guardian

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has found two Croatian generals guilty (Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač) and acquitted one (Ivan Čermak) of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for acts committed by Croatian forces during Operation Storm between July and September 1995. The three officers were sentenced to 24 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively. The court found the crimes were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was permanent removal of the Serb population by force or threat of force, which amounted to and involved deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution through the imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures, unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian objects, deportation, and forcible transfer.

Rwandan Ambassador to the United States James Kimonyo, speaking to students and faculty of California Baptist University as part of the 17th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, called for genocide denial to be fought internationally, AllAfrica.com reported. “Denial is the last stage of genocide and it could be the beginning of another cycle of genocide, if left unchecked or stopped,” Kimonyo told the audience.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a compromise bill (H.R.1473) to fund the government until the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Save Darfur reported that, unfortunately, the Complex Crises Fund, which has enabled the United States to more effectively respond to situations where mass atrocities are occurring or likely to occur, was reduced by 20 percent compared to last year’s level. The Civilian Stabilization Initiative, which runs programs to mitigate conflict, was also reduced, by more than 70 percent. Funding allocated to the Civilian Stabilization Initiative serves to prevent violent conflict in areas critical to U.S. interests, inlcuding Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Photo: un.org

The AIPR blog is pleased to have Mary Stata of the Friends Committee on National Legislation posting this week as our first Guest Preventer:

On February 19, 1986, the United States Senate ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Significant pressure from Senator William Proxmire and the U.S. public paved the way for U.S. ratification. However, rather than meeting the aspirations of the Convention on Genocide to prevent future atrocities, the past 25 years have been witness to mass killings of civilians in the Balkans, Sudan, and Rwanda. The United States and the international community failed to prevent these atrocities despite access to intelligence on each escalating crisis. More recently, warning signs of impending violence in places like Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Kyrgyzstan did not lead to prompt policy reviews or preventive action.

The 2008 Genocide Prevention Task Force found significant gaps in U.S. policy and capacities to help prevent atrocities and offered a blueprint for improvements. The Obama administration and Congress have taken some steps toward implementing these recommendations, including Senate passage in December 2010 of a resolution (S. Con. Res. 71) calling for specific steps to improve U.S. capacities to prevent genocide and mass atrocities.

Despite these initial steps, the United States remains ill equipped to effectively prevent mass killings of civilians. Fortunately, a new movement of NGOs and grassroots activists is poised to work with Congress to translate the mantra “Never Again” into practical policy solutions. The Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby group in the public interest, convenes a working group focused on this policy agenda. The Prevention and Protection Working Group is an advocacy platform dedicated to preventing genocide and mass atrocities and protecting civilians threatened by this violence. Comprised of human rights, anti-genocide, humanitarian, peace, and faith-based organizations, the Prevention and Protection Working Group leverages its grassroots networks, media outreach, and Congressional and administration lobbying to strengthen U.S. civilian capacities to prevent genocide.

Significant work remains. The 112th Congress has yet to outline a human rights agenda, and no Proxmire-like leadership has yet stepped forward to champion the critical next legislative steps on genocide prevention. The solutions are known, but the practical policy steps have yet to be taken. The Prevention and Protection Working Group will work over the next year to enact policy that effectively prevents genocide before the killing starts.

To sign up for the FCNL newsletter on current legislation and other ways to take action on genocide prevention and related issues, click here.

Mary Stata is the Prevention and Protection Working Group Coordinator with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC.

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