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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.

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The Third Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide took place April 4-6 in Bern, Switzerland, co-organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) with the foreign ministries of Argentina and Tanzania.

FDFA Secretary of State Peter Maurer, in his statement opening the forum, asserted “how important it is to ensure regional ownership in order to prevent the threats of genocide and mass atrocities.”

As he pointed out, “The special advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide and for the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Francis Deng and Mr. Edward Luck, have repeatedly called for the creation of regional mechanisms to adapt and implement the policies developed at the multilateral level.”

On the topic of how governments can incorporate genocide prevention into their work, Maurer highlighted the fact that policy discussions “are now increasingly centered on how to set up effective prevention architectures.”

Policy areas Maurer gave special attention to were transitional justice and early warning.

Noting “the relation between prevention and the struggle against impunity,” Maurer emphasized: “When atrocities have been committed, violators need to be judged, and the societies need to be rehabilitated in order to ensure the guarantee of no repetition. Effective transitional justice strategies are crucial to preventing recurrence of such tragedies.”

In conclusion Maurer stated: “In order to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies we need to work on strengthening the already existing early warning systems. We need to link them with the appropriate decision-making structures to ensure that risks are taken into account early on by decision makers, and that proper decisions are made on time.”

Photo: All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity

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