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Responsibility to Implement:
Considering Civil Society’s Knowledge and Use of R2P

DPI-NGO

By MICHELLE EBERHARD

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:

  1. Monitoring and documenting crimes, including identifying indicators of mass atrocities
  2. Sharing early-warning information and assessments with other monitoring mechanisms
  3. Facilitating mediation, negotiation, and dispute resolution
  4. Assisting in the training of civilian protection personnel, including helping civilians to recognize indicators of mass atrocities
  5. Helping with recovery and post-trauma
  6. Supporting and enhancing regional and national justice systems
  7. Advocating for stronger resolutions through adopting legislation and strengthening domestic policies
  8. 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.”

Image: ulcm.org

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Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013

By ALEX ZUCKER

Birkenau barbed wire

On this day 68 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, created and operated by German Nazis. It is of course a day to remember. To remember the facts. To remember the horror. To remember the people. But it is also a day to remember to look forward.

More than 1.3 million children, women, and men lost their lives in the camp, according to the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, which maintains the site for memorialization and education. The vast majority of the people killed there were Jews — murdered as victims of the crime that we now recognize as genocide. At the same time, tens of thousands of other people were also deported to Auschwitz to die because of their identity — Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political prisoners. We remember them too on this day.

Each of the human beings slaughtered in Auschwitz–Birkenau, and killed in the Holocaust as a whole — beaten, worked, or starved to death, subjected to ghastly experimentation, raped, tortured, shot, hung, gassed and cremated — each of them came from a family. Each was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, wife or husband.

The testimonies of those who survived are one way we know of the suffering and commemorate the loss. Scholarly research helps us to understand how it happened, if less clearly or satisfactorily why. In fact we continue to discover new information about the Holocaust, and with it, our understanding of what happened continues to change.

Yet the promise that emerged from those events, the pledge of “Never Again,” remains to be fulfilled. That phrase, according to the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, first appeared on signs put up by prisoners in Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Very quickly it came to be understood to mean “No More Genocide,” and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, in 1948, seemed to represent a concrete and important step toward making good on that promise. Since then, however, not a decade has passed without a genocide or atrocity crimes of a similar scale taking place.

In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first running of its Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, named after the man who invented the term genocide and held on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in cooperation with the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum. While the museum is focused on memorializing and educating about the past, the Auschwitz Institute’s mission — building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide — looks squarely toward the future.

Our latest initiative — born in 2012 at the request of government officials themselves, with the Auschwitz Institute serving as catalyst — is the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. And today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are proud and excited to present a new model for organizing government to prevent genocide.

Argentina’s National Mechanism for Prevention of Genocide, conceived by the National Directorate on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with other national government institutions, is an attempt to put into practice the commitments Argentina undertook when it ratified the Genocide Convention in 1956.

Like the Atrocities Prevention Board created by the U.S. government last year, the Argentinean national mechanism provides for interagency coordination on the federal level. Unlike the U.S. board, however, Argentina’s proposal involves not only the federal government, but provincial (i.e., state) governments as well. Also unlike the U.S. model, it provides for ongoing training and development of education for all relevant civil servants in genocide prevention, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as “development of standards and criteria for evaluating mass media, communications, and public relations messaging.” Finally, it envisions coordination in policymaking and processing information with not only the UN but also relevant regional bodies.

The Auschwitz Institute does not believe there is only one way to prevent genocide. In every facet of our work, we support local solutions and insist that each state has the responsibility to develop a means of preventing genocide that makes sense for itself. We are encouraged to see a state like Argentina, with its own terrible legacy of state-sponsored atrocities, not only coming to terms with history but leading the way forward into the future.

So today, as we remember the horrors of the past, we may also take solace in knowing there is progress being made, and new ideas coming to life, in the effort to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.

Photo: Alex Zucker

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