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Should restricting access to aid be considered a crime against humanity under the R2P framework? Should R2P be expanded to include deliberate restriction of aid or willful abandonment of populations in the face of natural disasters? Part One of this two-part series outlined the debate that occurred in 2008 surrounding Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. It also highlighted the popular arguments for including instances of willful omission into the R2P framework. Part Two will explore the arguments against the expansion of R2P to include crimes of omission, in particular, willful inaction in the face of natural disasters. Furthermore, this part will attempt to find the best way forward that prioritizes the concern for civilians on the ground in natural disaster situations where potential crimes against humanity are occurring
Why Expanding R2P Will Hurt the Doctrine Through Ideological Overreach
Should the scope of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) include willful inaction in the face of natural disasters? The arguments against expanding the scope of R2P to include willful inaction in the face of natural disasters are often centered in the concern of ideological overstretch and safeguarding R2P from further backlash. Whether or not such instances should be considered R2P cases has surprisingly generated somewhat of a one-sided consensus within the international community concerning the Cyclone Nargis crisis in 2008.
Many prominent NGOs, the UN Secretary-General and his special adviser on R2P, pro-R2P governments and the usual skeptics have spoken out against extending R2P to cover the international response to natural disasters on the grounds that it would stretch the concept beyond recognition or operational utility. Their core argument is that R2P is already highly controversial –– broadening its scope would make its application much more difficult. Expanding the doctrine could have the perverse effect of weakening support for tackling the Rwanda-like crisis of tomorrow.
Even the most senior scholars on R2P, like the former Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Edward Luck, have expressed hesitancy over incorporating willful omission in the face of natural disasters into R2P. Luck suggested at the time of Cyclone Nargis that: “it would be a misapplication of responsibility to protect principles to apply them at this point to the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar.” Luck also mentioned that since the Outcome Document of the 2005 [World] Summit limited R2P to just four crimes, “we must focus our efforts on implementing these principles in these four cases.” UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, believed that the case of Myanmar was a humanitarian crisis and it should be dealt with it that way. According to Gareth Evans, if R2P “is to be about protecting, the Inuit people of the Arctic Circle from the ravages of climate change — if it is be about protecting everybody from everything — it will end up protecting nobody from anything.
Theoretically, the misapplication of the responsibility to protect to natural disasters might damage the R2P principle itself, making it more difficult to enact in genuine cases of genocide and mass atrocities. Paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome represent an agreed upon international consensus on the scope and breadth of the doctrine. These sections were carefully engineered by negotiators to ensure that R2P only apply to four crimes: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Expanding R2P to include natural disasters and grave humanitarian situations would be inconsistent with the R2P’s founding language. It would also validate the fears of many states that R2P would be used to further infringe on the sovereign rights of states.
The current vitality of R2P is intimately tied to the reality that there is a deep misunderstanding about R2P in the international community, as many governments misconstrue the norm as a Western interventionist ploy. With the BRICKS countries and many in the Global South still mistrustful of R2P, advocating the expansion of R2P in this climate could be devastating to the doctrine. Thakur Ramesh stated at the time of Cyclone Nargis that invoking R2P is justified to stop large-scale killings or ethnic cleansing, however it cannot be invoked in cases of natural disasters. Furthermore, the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P did recognize the possibility of a crime against humanity being committed if “the Burmese government is deliberately withholding aid to people who are facing immediate risk of death.” The Centre ultimately advised against labeling the Cyclone Nargis crisis an R2P situation, stating that: “At present there is no evidence of widespread intent by authorities to cause great suffering.” Beyond their doubts about what expanding R2P would mean for the future of the doctrine, it’s clear the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P, among others, determined there was not a sound legal foundation for labeling the crisis in 2008 as “R2P applicable.”
Legally, many argued at the time that blocking aid isn’t a violation of one of the four R2P crimes. For acts to constitute crimes against humanity there must be a clear pattern with obvious intent. Alex Bellamy made this point by reiterating that crimes against humanity involve acts committed as part of a systematic attack against a civilian population. Bellamy claimed that the government of Myanmar was not engaged in such attacks in the Irrawaddy Delta since it was not denying all aid, or preventing aid agencies already deployed in the region from going about their work. Furthermore, he believed there was no evidence of widespread intent by military junta to cause deliberate suffering and that proving so would be nearly impossible. Determining intent, according to many, is the main reason why Myanmar was not an R2P-applicable case (although many like Wong and Ford strongly disagreed). If cases of willful omission by governments legally triggered the R2P doctrine, there would still be compelling reasons R2P-based intervention would be an inappropriate path according to some.
The political opposition to expanding R2P to include natural disaster situations, specifically at the United Nations Security Council, can’t be overstated. Several Security Council members made it clear during that they would block any attempt to use the Council to impose assistance against the wishes of the Myanmar’s government. Additionally, Russia and China’s outright opposition to calls for R2P in such situations is a major obstacle and clear indication that invoking R2P would never get past the Security Council. During the Cyclone Nargis, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations rejected the possibility of forcibly delivering supplies without the junta’s consent and argued that R2P did not apply to natural disasters.
The positions of China and the ASEAN countries only grew stronger after France’s Foreign Minister called for invoking R2P. The reluctance of ASEAN to view Cyclone Nargis as an R2P situation was not only because they did not believe that the principle applied in this case, but also because they were concerned about the potential interference in a nation’s domestic affairs. China, for example, claimed that the situation in Myanmar was not a matter of “international peace and security” and didn’t apply to the Security Council. There were other pathways at the UN, China argued, more appropriate for coordinating the delivery of international assistance (a point also made by many opponents to applying R2P in Myanmar).
Another important counterargument to advocates of expanding R2P is that misapplying the Responsibility to Protect would make humanitarian conditions worse in Myanmar and elsewhere. Some commentators in 2008 were fearful of any forceful action by external actors to force aid into Myanmar for fear that their efforts would backfire and cut off the aid that was already successfully entering the disaster zones. Looking forward, they argued, efforts to apply R2P again, in a case of large-scale killings, could be undercut. In other words, they feared that invoking R2P in Myanmar could have endangered lives elsewhere tomorrow and possible even delayed immediately help for Nargis victims.
On this point, the impracticality and potential collateral damage associated with potential military action under an R2P mandated mission underscore the broad concerns from many in the international community about how R2P would be actualized. As Alex Bellamy stated in 2010: “those who have attempted to use R2P to justify the delivery of humanitarian aid against the wishes of the host state (Myanmar) have not really considered the practicalities.” From airdrops to full-scale invasions, it’s hard to see any viable and practical approaches to implementing R2P in a natural disaster setting without further harming the livelihood of civilians on the ground, he said. Bellamy aptly summed up the counter-productivity of potential intervention strategies: “The problem with these approaches is they threaten to divert attention away from the delivery of humanitarian relief, making cooperation with local authorities more difficult and regional support less forthcoming, ultimately delaying assistance to those who need it most.”
Andrew O’Neil stated in 2008 that a full-scale invasion with humanitarian goals would have improved the conditions of the victims on the ground. Bellamy and many others in the genocide prevention community had major problems with such proposals, more specifically, the time it would take to mobilize, the effect it would have on aid flows and the likelihood it would be met with military resistance by the junta. Airdropping aid was another possibility proposed by many, but Bellamy and others noted the imprecision of airdrops, the possibility of drops being seized by the government, and the need for medical care and water purification kits to be delivered on the ground.
It’s hard imagine aid being delivered effectively without the cooperation of the Myanmar’s government, on top of the fact that Myanmar government would have likely expelled all of the United Nations staff members who were managing ongoing aid operations. More useful and practical options include utilizing regional organizations in cooperation with the UN Secretary General’s office, along with pressure from the UN Security Council and the General Assembly. Working to secure pathways and facilitate the work of associated relief agencies like UNICEF, the World Food Programme and UNHCR are some of the more tangible steps that can be taken to help civilians on the ground.
Ashley McLachlan-Bent and John Langmore claimed that “although it may be weak when it comes to rebuking the misjudged actions of its member states, ASEAN in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis was, arguably, far more successful than any other attempts to engage the regime, conduct disaster assessments and facilitate the entry of aid into the country.” This reflects the sentiments felt by many, not only that invoking R2P during Nargis would have been counterproductive, both in terms of getting aid to civilians and in ensuring R2P’s utility in the long-term, but that there were more feasible options involving regional actors and the UN that were ultimately more constructive.
This brief has outlined the arguments for and against making R2P applicable in situations of natural disasters, or in cases of willful inaction by governments when their populations are facing humanitarian catastrophes. It is the hope that this piece helps one better understand the debate that occurred during the Cyclone Nargis crisis in 2008, as well as the continuing discussions within the international community on the appropriateness of viewing cases of willful omission through an R2P framework. While there were strong arguments made by many, including several of the founders of R2P, throughout the Cyclone Nargis crisis there remained several points that both sides agreed upon
Firstly, this is a debate that has waned since 2008 largely without a solution from the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community. Given the mass confusion and disagreement during the last natural disaster turned mass atrocity situation (Cyclone Nargis), not having this discussion in the present could sacrifice timely and coordinated responses in the future. Working through this complex issue and establishing a strong international consensus or framework of action might avoid the delayed action or ineffective cooperation that would occur the next time a Cyclone Nargis comes around. This isn’t an impossible feat – the line that divided those for and against applying R2P in Myanmar wasn’t that wide. For example, even those who’ve argued against incorporating such cases into R2P have conceded that a situation like Cyclone Nargis came awfully close to being an R2P situation. It is important to note that the international community has rarely seen such examples of intentional omission to act in the face of natural disasters – the mechanisms for action and opportunities for such debates have been few and far between. Given the acceptance by many that such acts constitute crimes against humanity, along with the rising severity in storms and destructive weather patterns due to the effects of climate change, it might be time to revisit this issue sooner rather than later.
Secondly, the torchbearers of the R2P doctrine would be wise to use this issue as an opportunity to refine and perfect the norm, specifically on how it would apply in specific cases. It’s important to remember that in 2008 the international community unanimously accepted that the R2P exists and does require states to protect populations at risk. Since then, the norm has only grown in acceptance and importance. The main question is not whether or not states accept R2P, but rather how to apply it. Not only is this of great importance in terms of working out the unique case of R2P and natural disasters, but it’s also reflective of the larger issues that face the R2P norm. Establishing consensus in order to shape a framework for applying R2P in unconventional cases (where crimes against humanity are occurring) remains a major challenge. Doing so while stressing an understanding of an R2P that flexes its preventative aspects (Pillars I and II) rather than interventionist ones will be just as important.
A new view of R2P, coined by Jarrod Wong as “a constructive interpretation,” can address some of the aforementioned challenges. According to Wong, this evolved view of R2P can “apply not just to a government’s failure to protect its people from affirmatively perpetrated mass atrocities but also from harm based on omission where the government’s failure to act also constitutes a crime against humanity under international law.” The constructive interpretation of R2P would remove the focus off of the reference to natural disasters and instead shift it to crimes of omission where the failure to act constitutes a crime against humanity under international law. It’s important to point out that “natural disasters” were originally among the categories qualifying for R2P, but were ultimately removed by the time the U.N. adopted the doctrine in 2005. Wong’s interpretation reflects the points made by many: that the focus on “natural disasters” avoids the important distinction that it’s not that disasters at fault, but rather the human element that can acerbate suffering and constitute a crime against humanity.
According to Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian foreign minister, “there is no moral difference between an innocent person being killed by machete or AK-47, or starving to death, or dying in a cholera pandemic that could be avoided by proper international responses.” Viewing R2P in such a way can provide for a more consistent approach to situations in which crimes against humanity are committed by willful omission. Ultimately, this is an issue that comes down to how one determined R2P should be used moving forward. Some claim that the international community should recognize that R2P “is not a delicate vase but a sturdy pot which states must be willing to take down off the shelf and use.” Others, more concerned with preserving R2P’s already fragile political capital, would be reluctant to agree that applying it in situations other than classic conflict-based crimes is constructive for both the norm and its future utility. The lack of consensus on how to apply R2P in cases of willful omission requires greater debate and increased attention. Doing so would prevent delayed responses to a future crisis, as well as the unconstructive and time-consuming political debates that would inevitably accompany it. Having constructive dialogue now on this complex issue might better protect civilian populations at risk in the future, which is what R2P ultimately was created to do.
Should restricting access to aid be considered a crime against humanity under the R2P framework? Should R2P be expanded to include deliberate restriction of aid or willful abandonment of populations in the face of natural disasters? This piece is the first part of a two-part blog series that will examine this largely unsettled issue from the point of view of the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community.
Since the advent and proliferation of the Responsibility to Protect norm (R2P), which emerged from the Conference on State Sovereignty in 2001, a global paradigm shift has begun to take root concerning the relationship between governments and their peoples. R2P puts forward that it is a state’s duty to protect their populations and that sovereignty should no longer be used a shield for governments to hide behind. In particular, states have a responsibility to protect civilians from four particular crimes, namely: crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The growing ubiquity of R2P and its institutionalization can be seen (in recent years) within the United Nations, regional organizations and capitals across the world, thus shifting the focus of international conflicts from the state to the human level. The debate and controversy surrounding R2P has been plentiful and typically focused on the question of sovereignty, the legitimacy (and effectiveness) of interventions and the utility of R2P as a normative framework for action. But lost aside these more prominent debates is a particular controversy that emerged after Cyclone Nargis in 2008 in Myanmar.
Prompted by France’s Foreign Minister invoking R2P at the UN in the wake of the Myanmar government’s reluctance to allow aid to civilians, a fierce debate ensued concerning the doctrine’s applicability in Myanmar, and more generally, its applicability to natural disasters. The question of whether or not a government’s refusal to aid civilians in a disaster setting constitutes an R2P case quickly became a hot topic in policy circles both in Turtle Bay and in other global political spheres in 2008. But due to blowback, any traction this idea had received has largely abated since. Given the recent cases of governments refusing to directly or indirectly assist civilians during natural disasters, namely in Darfur and Myanmar, the relevancy of this debate should be revisited. While many in the mass atrocity/genocide prevention community have shunned the prospect of natural disasters being considered as R2P cases, the legal and moral arguments for doing so shouldn’t be discounted. This piece will seek to outline the recent history of this debate, the prevailing arguments on both sides, and a way forward that most effectively prioritizes constructive action and policy-specific solutions over attention-diverting ideological and politically motivated debates.
Why Including Crimes of Omission into R2P is the Logical Evolution of a Doctrine
As set out in the 2005 UN Summit Outcome Document, R2P applies only to a state’s failure to protect its populace from mass atrocity crimes, i.e., “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.” The UN’s definition is distinctly narrower than the original expression of the doctrine (as formulated by the ICISS), as it specifically excludes instances such as “overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophes, where the state concerned is either unwilling or unable to cope, or call for assistance, and significant loss of life is occurring or threatened.” The result was what Alex Bellamy of the University of Queensland has called “R2P Lite”. Nevertheless, crimes against humanity remained a trigger for the invocation of R2P, according to the 2005 Outcome Document. The core question that had divided the international community in 2008 was this: could and should inaction of a government be categorized as a crime against humanity?
Some commentators believe that R2P can be applicable in such cases, specifically Gareth Evans (although his opinions reflect mixed views). In 2008, Evans claimed that “Myanmar’s failure to help its citizens and refusal to allow for the delivery of aid, [its actions] could be characterized as mistreatment of the population, and therefore an ‘attack’ against its population that intentionally caused great suffering.” Thus, in situations where a country denies aid and at the same time does not take measures to help its population, many believe the doctrine of R2P could be implemented on the basis of a “crime against humanity.” Also chiming in on this issue in 2008 was John Virgoe, the International Crisis Group’s Southeast Asia Director, who stated that whilst his organization wasn’t ready to call for an international intervention, the situation was approaching an R2P scenario because of the potential commission of crimes against humanity. Former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy was one of the most ardent supporters of viewing the situation in Myanmar through an R2P lens. Axworthy claimed that due to past failures in Darfur and Congo, the international community needs advocates who would support and advance R2P in situations where crimes against humanity are occurring. Axworthy also believed that “the application of R2P to the situation in Myanmar would be a strong demonstration, especially to Asian countries, of the importance and viability of this international norm.”
From a legal perspective, Jarrod Wong’s inquiry into whether crimes of omission fit the description of the Rome Statute’s definition of a “crime against humanity” is particularly useful. Wong points to Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines crimes against humanity as: “any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: murder, or other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.” Wong makes the point that triggering R2P for crimes of omission is justified by prevailing international criminal jurisprudence, and “there is no need to recognize natural disaster situations or any particular context involving harm by omission as a new and independent basis for invoking R2P.”
Theoretically, the only difference between crimes of commission, such as mass executions, and acts of omission, is in the severity of the crime not the type. According to Wong it is the state’s reluctance to act, not the natural disaster, that is considered the cause of the harm. If a state’s deliberate inaction can be identified as a crime against humanity, and the state is manifestly failing to protect its population, R2P should legally apply to the situation. Because of this, according to Wong, R2P can then be “applied equally to a state’s failure to protect its population from harm caused by its omission to act when that omission constitutes a crime against humanity.” Gareth Evans also stated that what occurred in Myanmar could classify as a crime against humanity in two ways. Firstly, it could classify as a crime against humanity by fitting the description of “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health”. Secondly, it may fit under the international crime of “extermination”, defined in the Rome Statute as including “intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population.”
Others have echoed Wong’s legal rationale by citing that the jurisprudence of international courts establishes that crimes against humanity can be caused either by acts of commission or omission, but only if those omissions are found with criminal intent. Stuart Ford found this point particularly important since many who reasoned that R2P did not apply to the situation in Myanmar claimed the junta’s blocking of aid was substantially different from deliberate state-sponsored killings that classically trigger R2P. But Ford effectively makes the legal case that “if killing via omission demonstrates the requisite criminal intent, it is just as much a crime against humanity as killing by commission.”
Judith Raffelseder’s legal dissection of this issue reached the same conclusion. The evidence of the situation proved that the military junta’s actions met the criteria of a crime against humanity because “it consisted of an organized pattern of non-accidental repetition of criminal conduct.” Raffelseder also concluded that the “blocking of aid was a crime against humanity that was part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.” Furthermore, Ford also concluded in his legal analysis that “all of the elements of a crime against humanity were present in Myanmar in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.” One of Ford’s central points was that while the legal foundations for triggering R2P in a case like Cyclone Nargis were quite strong, the political will to implement it wasn’t there (in fact it was quite the opposite). Given this strong legal foundation for classifying government refusal to aid civilians in the wake of natural disasters as a crime against humanity, and given the fact that the purpose of R2P is to provide a framework for which the international community can effectively address such crimes, it is hard to discount the rationale of those calling for R2P to apply in such situations.
Among the concerns of expanding R2P is that doing so would jeopardize its already fragile political standing and ultimately the effectiveness future applications. Politically, it’s apparent why natural disasters were ultimately removed from the list of crimes that would trigger R2P from the 2005 Summit Outcome document. But is R2P really at risk of being overexposed and overused, or is it just as much at risk of being diminished as a result of its underuse? Given the international paralysis on Syria, the unrelenting abuses in Darfur and ongoing mass atrocities in Myanmar, the consequences of failing to exercise R2P to stop atrocities is a somber indication that the former is proving to be the more perilous.
Proponents of employing R2P in Myanmar reasoned that the reluctance to do so in situations where natural disasters are intertwined with crimes against humanity contradicts the doctrine’s core intention: to save civilians lives. At the heart of this line of thinking is the idea that there is no moral difference between a government shooting 100 civilians or killing 100 by blocking access to clean water –– the result is the same. As Gareth Evans put it, “if what the generals are now doing, in effect denying relief to hundreds of thousands of people at real and immediate risk of death can itself be characterized as a crime against humanity, then the responsibility to protect principle does indeed cut in.” Roberta Cohen also argued in support of R2P’s applicability by stating “that the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis is a case for R2P because what started as a natural disaster turned into a man-made disaster, and the crime committed could constitute a crime against humanity.”
Realistically, it’s probably true that 99.9% of natural disasters would never fit the requirements of an R2P situation. The rarity of such situations might lead some to believe that its inclusion into R2P would be a pointless endeavor. But the situation in Myanmar showed that in the face of such a rare situation, the international community was truly divided on how to respond and unsure of the legality and appropriateness of applying R2P to such a unique situation. But even those who disagreed on R2P’s applicability agreed that it should not have been so easily ruled out. One of the founders of R2P, Ramesh Thakur, who disagreed that Cyclone Nargis was an R2P situation, publicly stated “it would be short-sighted to rule out the relevance and application of R2P should the situation not improve and people start dying in large numbers from the after-effects of Cyclone Nargis.” Another architect of R2P, Gareth Evans, agreed that “when a government default is as grave as the course on which the Burmese generals now seem to be set, there is at least a prima facie case to answer for their intransigence being a crime against humanity – of a kind which would attract the responsibility to protect principle.”
A core problem though is not the weak consensus on R2P’s applicability here, but rather the lack of clarity on how it could be put into practice in such situations. On this point, Judith Raffelseder alludes to the importance R2P can play in acting as a framework that can guide responses to such situations. She claims that “the international framework of disaster response laws does not, or only to a certain extent, provide an answer to the refusal of aid in the aftermath of a disaster, whereas the relatively new concept of R2P is a useful tool in this respect.” While any sort of military intervention triggered by R2P would have likely been counterproductive in immediately helping victims on the ground, placing the situation in terms of R2P could have been useful by stressing the non-military means of coercion that define R2P. Timothy Garton Ash, a supporter of employing the R2P doctrine in Myanmar, also wondered how the international community could use non-military means of coercion to help civilians on the ground. Ashley McLachlan-Bent and John Langmore put forth that “ASEAN was ideally placed to use the concept of R2P as a way of demonstrating to the region that the principle does not automatically imply military intervention, but offers a variety of diplomatic pressures and strategies to ensure the best outcomes for those suffering.”
Regardless of which side of the argument one lies on, there’s a clear gap in terms of how an international response should look like under the R2P framework. Such a lack of policy-specific solutions may impede the breadth of the international community’s toolkit the next time a Cyclone Nargis situation occurs. The international community must ask itself whether this inclusion of instances of willful omission (into R2P), be it in cases of natural disasters, be seen as either the latest stage of an evolving understanding of R2P, or an ideological overstretch that, although morally attractive, jeopardizes the future of the R2P doctrine.
The second part of this blog series will explore the arguments against the expansion of R2P to include crimes of omission, in particular, willful inaction in the face of natural disasters. Furthermore, this piece will attempt to find the best way forward that prioritizes the concern for civilians on the ground in natural disaster situations where potential crimes against humanity are occurring.
Establishing a “Culture of Remembrance and Non-Recurrence”:
Regional Approaches to Genocide Prevention
Genocide prevention requires a transnational commitment of states willing to collaborate and work together to recognize threats and identify means by which potential conflict can be avoided. In a similar way, reducing the risk of genocide necessitates a consistent sharing of ideas so that methods for prevention can be continually improved. One manner in which this dedication and cooperation is demonstrated is the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide, co-organized by the governments of Argentina, Cambodia, Switzerland, and Tanzania. The Forum, which was first held in Argentina in 2008, has continued to meet annually since 2010 and brings together scholars, diplomats, and activists to discuss emerging ideas in the realm of genocide prevention. In addition, the journal Politorbis issued a 2009 publication on genocide prevention that addresses many of the topics covered in the Forums.
The 2013 Regional Forum took place in Phnom Penh on February 28 and March 1, 2013, and included over 20 distinguished speakers from around the world. The discussion was opened by Mr. Federico Villegas Beltrán, Director General for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and International Trade and Worship in Argentina; Ambassador Dr. Christoph Burgener of Switzerland; Ambassador Liberata Mulamula of Tanzania; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers of Cambodia, His Excellency Dr. Sok An. Dr. An began by reminding the audience of the importance of genocide prevention in his own country, stating that “for Cambodia, the issue is not an abstract or theoretical one, but one that brutally and directly affected us, and still does today.” Dr. An also cited the importance of seeking justice for and remembering the victims, “to make sure such a tragedy will never recur,” emphasizing that “we regard remembrance of the past and of the victims as an essential prerequisite to non-recurrence.”
The Forum itself was comprised of five separate panels, the first of which was titled “What is genocide and how to prevent it?” During this segment, panelists discussed the definition of genocide and offered ideas on how to improve capacities to respond to early warning signs of violence. In particular, His Excellency Ouch Borith, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, mentioned that “the narrow or shallow perception of genocide may lead to failure in preventing genocide from its budding stage,” referring to the oversimplified belief that genocide only entails the killing of individuals, when in fact the Genocide Convention enumerates five criteria for the commission of the crime. Borith also stated that there are “still a lot of controversies and difficulties in quantifying the scope of violence to be labeled as genocide,” and cited the need for greater preventive capacity, particularly at the national level in regards to education, and social and religious institutions.
This panel also featured Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, and Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at Griffith Asia Institute in Australia. Dieng reiterated the importance of understanding the “root causes and dynamics” of genocide, and highlighted the important role that civil society has begun to play in making prevention and the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) stronger. Bellamy also outlined six specific points that would assist East Asia in its efforts to prevent genocide, including the development of what he calls an “atrocity prevention lens,” which “focuses on injecting atrocity prevention considerations into existing policies, programs, and capabilities and, when necessary, convening or coordinating these assets for prevention purposes,” as well as the creation of regional capacity for early warning and assessment through a collaborative effort between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat, the ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, and other relevant organizations.
The second panel, “Asian Experience and Visions for the Future,” included His Excellency Khuon Sudary, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Cambodia, and The Honorable Gareth Evans, Chancellor of Australian National University and Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Sudary emphasized the importance of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in seeking justice for the victims of the genocide. He also underscored the role of education, particularly in regards to learning about the Khmer Rouge, noting that “young people need to grasp the value of human rights and learn to use them effectively in order to prevent genocide in the future.”
Evans, who was a primary contributor in the creation of R2P at the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001, discussed the development of a Brazilian proposal called Responsibility While Protecting (RWP). This supplemental protocol to R2P is comprised of “two key elements: a set of agreed criteria to be taken into account before the UNSC mandates any use of force…and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that the scope and limits of such mandates continue to be debated by the Council during the implementation phase.” Evans also reiterated the imperativeness of developing “effective capability to initiate action and mobilize political will,” by creating “focal points” that have “direct access to high-level decision makers,” as well as enhancing “broad-based civilian response capabilities” and “[ensuring] that effective military capability is available to meet needs as they arise.”
Later in the evening, the third panel, titled “Africa, Latin America and Europe – Experiences, Lessons Learned and Ways Forward,” was held. Nathan Byamukama, Program Officer of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, spoke first. He discussed some of the responsibilities of the ICGLR, including collecting and analyzing information to identify situations that might develop into genocide, recommending measures to safeguard victims, monitoring Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs, and cooperating with civil society. Byamukama also cited several challenges that the ICGLR faces, like the politicization of the Committee and a funding deficit, but noted that it will continue to garner support from member states so as to strengthen its initiatives.
Byamukama was followed by Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina. First, Feierstein turned the concept of prevention on its head, stating, “I would suggest to change the perspective from what the super-powers should do to prevent genocide (the interventionist approach) to what they should not do: how to establish a system of controls to prevent such powers from acting in ways that increase the possibility of genocidal events through direct intervention, arms trade, support for destabilization or coups d’état, and so on.” Secondly, he noted the important role of regional mechanisms in preventing genocide, providing the example of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which is comprised of 12 Latin American nations and is charged with helping countries in the region mitigate conflicts. Since its inception in 2008, UNASUR has assisted in Bolivia, Honduras, and Ecuador, as well as in the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela in 2010.
The second day of the conference opened with the fourth panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of State and International Actors and Ways Forward,” which featured David Scheffer, UN Secretary General Special Expert on United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Scheffer emphasized the role of the ECCC as a deterrence mechanism, noting that it “is critical to breaking the cycles of impunity and putting down at least a caution sign for political and military leaders who might contemplate human rights abuses or atrocity crimes to achieve political and strategic aims.”
In the fifth and final panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of Non-State Actors and Ways Forward,” Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), discussed the role of civil society in the prevention of genocide. He explained the work of DC-Cam, which seeks “to establish a permanent presence and to play a leading role in this transformative effort” of policy change in post-conflict states. Chhang also stated that DC-Cam “has begun to build a permanent center to expand our work and ensure a long-term commitment to human rights and genocide prevention in Cambodia,” an initiative that centers on the belief that “genocide education is a key to liberating the victims of Khmer Rouge terror and transforming them into leaders in the global quest for human rights and dignity.” To increase genocide awareness, as well as the scope of the institution’s work, DC-Cam will also “promote memory and justice” by “[digitizing its] extensive archives and [making] them available to viewers at home and overseas.”
Given the variety of topics covered, as well as the global character of the dozens of panelists and speakers that offered remarks during the conference, the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide exemplifies a collaborative approach to educating on the past so as to avoid the commission of mass atrocities in the future. By meeting on an annual basis, the four member states that comprise the Forum also reaffirm their commitment to what many speakers emphasized in their presentations – that is, the desire to create “a culture of remembrance and non-recurrence” that recognizes the importance of preventing genocide everywhere.
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.”
Questions Concerning the Application of R2P
One of the most troubling crises in our world today is the conflict in Syria, where the United Nations estimates that 70,000 civilians have been killed and millions more people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance. The unrest, which began in the spring of 2011 with public uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s repressive governance tactics, quickly escalated into violence from both sides when the military started opening fire on groups of demonstrators, who subsequently formed an opposition government comprised of several rebel factions. The Syrian government pushed the envelope even further when it was discovered in November of last year that its troops were mixing chemicals necessary for carrying out a campaign of chemical warfare. While a potential catastrophe was likely avoided due to immediate condemnation from the United States and the rest of the international community, the fact remains that Syria has the capacity to use these weapons at a later time. More important, despite various efforts to end the conflict, neither Syria’s opposition forces — which have also been shown to be committing crimes against humanity — nor the United Nations has been able to stop President Assad’s murderous attack on civilians, which has resulted in continued destruction of life.
The world community acknowledges that the crimes and atrocities being perpetuated in Syria must end. However, the means by which such an outcome might be achieved remain a topic of debate. In an effort to facilitate discussion around this dilemma, the Peace Islands Institute’s Center for Global Affairs and the Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation collaborated to host an event on February 28 titled “Responsibility to Protect: Implications to the Crises in Syria and Other Nations.”
The program included brief remarks from moderator Roy S. Lee, the permanent observer for the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization to the United Nations and adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School, as well as presentations from Ambassador Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York, and Michael Doyle, the Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University.
Lee opened the program by addressing the dire circumstances in Syria. Specifically, he referenced nations’ attempts to persuade the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to refer Syria’s case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the UNSC’s rejection of a draft resolution that would have “come close to Chapter VII actions.” He also highlighted Syria’s recent mobilization of chemical weapons and cited growing concerns among human rights groups that “the time to act is already overdue,” meaning that the next step is to invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Finally, he noted the United States’ announcement earlier that day that it would be pledging $60 million to assist opposition parties in Syria.
Following Lee’s introduction, Ambassador Schaper began by contrasting the action taken in Libya and the inaction in Syria with respect to the norm of R2P, highlighting how R2P itself was created with the intention of acting as a bridge between moral responsibility and legal obligations. In particular, Schaper referenced paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, which appear under the heading of “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” and assert that while primary responsibility to protect lies with states themselves, the international community also has the duty to take collective action through the UNSC if states “manifestly fail” to uphold this responsibility. As such, Schaper called R2P an emerging norm that represents a “fundamental shift in the doctrine of sovereignty” and reflects “growing acceptance [of the belief that] a state is at the service of its citizens,” and not the other way around. In a similar way, he explained, “whether to act instead became an issue of how and when to act.”
Referring to recent successes of R2P in places like Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, and Libya, Schaper affirmed that “Syria is clearly an R2P situation” due to the crimes there, as well as the “clarity that the government of Syria is manifestly failing in its responsibility to protect.” He continually supported the use of R2P, given its validity, which lies in its “necessary legal basis through resolutions of the Security Council,” and suggested that the only viable option for Syria is to “go for a unified international approach to find a solution through a political tract.”
Professor Doyle expressed similar views, calling R2P “special” and “a landmark development in the international norm of human security.” Doyle’s subsequent remarks centered on what he termed the simultaneous license and leash offered by R2P. The license, he argued, is the capacity to “go beyond standard legal provisions seen in the UN Charter,” so as to invoke the “use of residual pressure” in crises like Syria. In contrast, the leash is represented by a restriction on the use of force to cover only four crimes (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity), as well as on the authority for making such a determination – that is, a resolution issued by the UNSC.
After providing a quick overview of international law in relation to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Doyle moved to the topic of legitimacy, and the question concerning when force could be used without UNSC approval. This discussion, he stated, was the impetus for the creation of the Canadian-led International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), which produced R2P in 2001 and presented it at the 2005 UN World Summit. In essence, by successfully narrowing down triggers for the use of force, R2P was viewed as something “that was within the purview of the Security Council,” and reflected both a license – the affirmation that the Security Council can, indeed, protect individuals – and a leash – that this exclusive authority is attached only to the UNSC.
In practice, Doyle cited the same examples mentioned by Schaper, and added a few words on the implications of R2P’s use in Libya and, so far, non-use in Syria, stating that some countries might now be feeling “buyer’s remorse.” Given that the crisis in Libya resulted in the death of Muammar Gaddafi and a subsequent regime change, Doyle commented on countries’ fears that R2P might be used in the future for purposes it was not initially intended to address. Nonetheless, Doyle strongly supported the positive potential offered by use of R2P in Syria, and offered two suggestions for action. First, he indicated the need for another conversation to take place on the circumstances under which R2P should be used. Second, Doyle said the UNSC should set up a subcommittee to monitor the implementation of R2P, upon its being authorized. The alternative, he surmised, would be a continued stalemate in Syria.
One of the most important concerns raised in the question-and-answer session was how to measure what is a “reasonable chance of success” as justification for military force under R2P. Doyle responded by underlining how difficult it is to ever prove successful prevention, as “we won’t know that [crimes] haven’t taken place” and thus cannot produce tangible evidence to support such claims. However, he did emphasize that the most essential component is the responsibility to rebuild – to help a people reestablish their own state – because “it would be a sad commentary on R2P if it was only [used for] military purposes.” Doyle concluded with perhaps an even better remark on “reasonable chance” criteria, insisting that success should truly be measured by whether or not it was acceptable to and accepted by those it hoped to – and hopefully did – protect.
Photo: Michelle Eberhard
In November 2012, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs released a publication, Civil Society and Disarmament 2012 – Applying a Disarmament Lens to Gender, Human Rights, Development, Security, Education and Communication: Six Essays. Given the Auschwitz Institute’s mission, this post focuses on the essay, “Minimizing the impact of illicit small arms and diverted weapons transfers in the commission of atrocity crimes, human rights violations and other violence” by Hector Guerra of International Action Network on Small Arms and Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict.
This piece centers on illicit small arms and the ways in which they contribute to mass atrocity crimes and community violence throughout the world. One statistic states that “of the 740,000 people who die each year as a result of armed violence, 500,000 are fatalities related to situations of violence other than armed conflicts, fatalities largely related to the use of small arms and light weapons.” The United Nations has endeavored to solve the problem of illicit weapons via various programs and protocols; this past summer, an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was negotiated. However, agreement on a final text was elusive and a new meeting will take place in March 2013.
According to the authors, “the irresponsible transfer of weapons and ammunition and the proliferation of illicit small arms have direct implications for our ability to secure our streets, deliver aid to unstable areas, prevent abuses of human rights and the commission of mass atrocities, and create environments conducive to full political and policy participation by women and cultural minorities.” Many ‘illicit’ weapons originate in the legal sector before moving through unregulated transfers into the wrong hands. The uses of such weapons have far-reaching dangerous impacts, including:
- Illicit arms perpetuate conflicts that could otherwise be resolved.
- Illicit arms undermine development and inhibit the flow of assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, and others in dire need.
- Illicit arms in the hands of both State and non-State actors have been used to violate civilian populations’ human rights and impede efforts to bring perpetrators to justice.
- Illicit arms and ammunition hinder the ability of governments to carry out some of their most important functions, including the primary responsibility to protect civilians from violence.
- Illicit arms “undermine the integrity of the security sector, creating or exacerbating levels of unacceptable risk for women and others seeking their proper place in society.”
- Illicit arms “contribute to cycles of violence and criminality that reinforce structures of poverty as women and men continue to expend large amounts of energy on security needs that could more beneficially be spent on pursuing educational and economic opportunity.”
All of the above is in addition to the immeasurable physical and psychological damage suffered by civilians as a result of illicit weapons access by criminals, insurgents, or other non-State actors. One of the most serious aspects of the proliferation of illicit weapons is “related to the role those weapons play in the commission of mass violence, including the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 and the massacre at Utoya, Norway in 2011.”
The UN has had the prevention of mass violence, both at the community level and within broader international legal frameworks, at the forefront of its agenda since its inception. Urgency in this area escalated in 2005 with the advent of the Responsibility to Protect norm. This is because the illicit trade in conventional weapons and ammunition severely complicates efforts to build State capacity and otherwise help governments fulfill their primary responsibility to protect their civilian populations. Moreover, their are staggering costs to fragile States from mass atrocity and other conflicts fueled in part by illicit weapons. For example, Africa loses ~$18 billion per year due to wars, civil wars, and insurgencies. Conservatively, armed conflict shrinks an African nation’s economy by 15%.
In order to combat the multitude of problems outlined above, governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders must work together. Concrete steps include:
- Exploring local and regional linkages between the presence of illicit arms and the threat of mass violence/human rights abuses.
- Calling attention to and addressing the linkages between legal arms sales diverted to non-State actors and criminal elements, and “the commission of human rights abuses, the suppression of access to jobs and services, and the chilling impacts of a compromised security sector on women’s participation in political and social life.”
- “Assist States, especially fragile States, to guarantee the security of existing weapons stockpiles (or remove them altogether), and help ensure marking, tracing and record keeping of arms that is cost-effective and sufficiently interactive with the highest international standards in this area.”
- Restricting the illicit flow/diversion of ammunition for small arms.
- Assisting States in promoting citizen disarmament.
- Assisting States in implementing important responsibilities resulting from the illicit arms trade, e.g., provide victims’ assistance and flag potentially diverted transfers.
Other resources include the UN’s recently revised Disarmament: A Basic Guide, and voices from impacted communities.
Today, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released the fourth issue of their bimonthly bulletin, R2P Monitor. This issue features Syria, Sudan, and DR Congo, all in “Current Crisis,” and Libya, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burma/Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa, with situations of “Serious Concern.” Current crises are those where mass atrocity crimes are occurring and urgent action is needed; serious concern indicates that there is a significant risk of occurrence, or recurrence, of mass atrocity crimes within the foreseeable future if effective action is not taken.
In analyzing the violence in Syria, the Centre touches upon mounting sectarian divisions (which we wrote about here back in February), as well as divisions within the United Nations Security Council. While they call on the Syrian government to “immediately cease attacks on civilians and adhere to [Kofi Annan’s] six-point plan,” collective action must also be taken by the Security Council, General Assembly, and the whole of the international community.
Similar necessary action is laid out for Sudan, where the government “should allow immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei and Darfur should be thoroughly investigated by a credible and independent body authorized by the UN.” The Security Council is also urged to take steps beyond an investigation in order to better secure a long-term conflict resolution.
In the case of Congo, the brunt of the responsibility for addressing the threat of terrorist factions and militias falls on the government and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Other parties charged with acting in this instance are international donors and countries with whom DRC shares borders.
As one would anticipate given the name and nature of the Centre and its publication, the key recommendations appear to be structured parallel to the pillars of R2P:
1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
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 email@example.com. 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.
The Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict recently published a policy brief titled “Operationalizing the Responsibility to Prevent.” What sets this paper apart from others of its ilk is the fact that it directly addresses the prevention aspects of R2P. Most importantly, the authors use what they refer to as a “crimes” approach to prevention. Within this framework exist three distinct dimensions involved in the commission of an atrocity crime: a perpetrator, a victim, and a permissive environment or situation. However, it is cautioned that one not be too rigid when labeling perpetrators and victims, as these identities can become fluid within a conflict situation.
The authors of the brief assert that, “Of the four R2P crimes . . . the legal category of crimes against humanity represents the best characterization of what the principle of R2P was designed to halt or address. [. . .] Research shows that crimes against humanity do not occur randomly, but often reflect a complex interaction of different actors over a long period of time.” The three stages during which conditions escalate to the level of mass atrocity crimes are 1) risk factors, 2) crisis & mobilization, and 3) imminent emergency. Systemic strategies, which are applied to the first stage, “seek to mitigate risk factors and build resilience in a broader group of states, which exhibit some of the so-called root causes of mass atrocity crimes.” In contrast, targeted strategies, which are necessitated by the second and third stages, “are designed to change either the incentives or situation of those contemplating or planning mass atrocity crimes, as well as the vulnerability of potential victims; they seek to shift the consequences of a potential course of action in a particular context.” (See page 9 for a table of targeted prevention tools.)
Lastly, when discussing mass atrocity prevention and the prevention of armed conflict, the paper makes two points: First, R2P crimes often occur in the context of violent conflict and second, “root causes” of genocide are similar to root causes of conflict. Yet it cannot be assumed that endeavoring to prevent, or even bring about an end to, conflict will necessarily reduce the potentiality of mass atrocity crimes. This is because
- While a large majority of mass killings since 1945 occurred within the context of armed conflict, at least a third of the cases did not.
- Some instances of mass atrocities occur under the “cover” of armed conflict, but are not directly linked to either the causes of that conflict or the conduct of the war itself.
- While strategies to prevent or resolve conflict tend to be aimed at eliminating or avoiding violence and the use of force, the prevention of mass atrocities—particularly at a late or imminent stage—may require military means.
- Armed conflict is regulated but not forbidden by international law, whereas mass atrocities are outlawed as crimes.
As such, it remains necessary to justify the need to act preventively and build generic capacity for prevention.
In advance of a workshop on Operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect: Building Trust and Capacities for the Third Pillar Approach, to be held April 26 at the Global Governance Institute in Belgium, the organizers put out a call for papers in January. The papers will address two areas: enhancing the legitimacy and consistency of the third pillar* approach, and improving the effectiveness of R2P’s civilian and military tools.
Per the policy brief, “The workshop is not concerned with the conceptual nature of the pillar itself, but rather on the range of peaceful and military measures and tools—such as economic sanctions, preventive diplomacy and mediation, fact-finding missions and, as a last resort, military interventions such as the implementation of no-fly zones and civilian missions—used for implementation.” Policy recommendations discussed at/born of the workshop will be contributed to the United Nations General Assembly informal interactive dialogue on the third pillar of R2P this summer.
NATO’s UN-approved mission in Libya has raised a number of concerns in regards to the actual carrying out of R2P. As noted above, intervention wasn’t solely intended to be of a military nature. The Libyan case therefore brings up questions of timeliness, legitimacy, proportionality, and effectiveness of this particular brand of action. Moreover, a greater emphasis on prevention would mitigate the need for intervention. Instead of reliance on the international community and the United Nations, regional actors such as the European Union and the African Union, should play bigger roles in responding to all stages of crises that would ultimately necessitate the invocation of R2P. Other elements of the principle to be discussed at both the workshop and the UNGA dialogue include trust-building, consensus-building, collaboration, transparency, capacity-building, early-warning systems, training, and a long-term holistic approach to crisis situations.
* The third pillar of R2P focuses on the international community’s responsibility to take timely and decisive action to prevent and halt genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in those instances where a State is unable or unwilling to protect its own populations.