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Responsibility to Implement:
Considering Civil Society’s Knowledge and Use of R2P
In 2001, the Canadian-based International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) produced a report called The Responsibility to Protect (now often abbreviated as “R2P”). The concept of R2P — as endorsed, in modified form, by the United Nations World Summit in 2005 — centers on the belief that while each state “carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing,” the international community also has a “responsibility to assist” states in achieving this objective. Emphasizing the contingency of state sovereignty and non-interference in a state’s internal affairs, R2P has challenged previously held norms of humanitarian intervention and persuaded the community of nations to reexamine its approach to future crises that threaten to destabilize countries around the world.
The real test of R2P’s effectiveness, however, remains its ability to be implemented in situations that fit the criteria for its application. Much of this responsibility lies with civil society and member states, which are tasked with identifying crises for which invoking R2P might be an appropriate response to conflict. The challenge in doing so is to apply R2P in a consistent manner, as the legitimacy and continued relevance of a developing norm is greatly tied to the international community’s perceptions of its use. As such, it is important that the international community also understand precisely what R2P is intended to be used for.
One way to achieve this is by continuing to educate both NGOs and other members of civil society about R2P, as well as clarifying elements of R2P that have been misconstrued or incorrectly perpetuated. In order to facilitate this, the United Nations’ Department of Public Information-Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI-NGO) held a briefing entitled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: The Role of Civil Society and Member States” on March 14 at the International Social Justice Commission Salvation Army. Moderated by Gail Bindley-Taylor, United Nations Information Officer at the UN Secretariat, the presentation included remarks from Gillian Kitley, Senior Officer in the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect; Sapna Considine, Deputy Director of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect; and Naomi Kikoler, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Following a brief overview of how conflicts in the 1990s, including the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, prompted the international community to develop a new approach to state sovereignty as embodied in R2P, Bindley-Taylor turned the floor over to Kitley, who spoke about some of the contemporary aspects of R2P. In particular, Kitley noted a few of the recent advances in its implementation, including an increase in research being done on the topic, as well as the growing number of national focal points within member states. In addition, she cited that R2P, which “is now firmly on the international agenda,” has also “become part of [the] diplomatic language” of governments, international organizations, and commissions.
In regards to the UN’s invocation of R2P, Kitley commented on how the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has gone through long periods of both use and non-use of the document. In doing so, she also highlighted concerns over the controversial use of R2P in Libya, as the outcome of this crisis left many international actors wondering if the goal of R2P was “regime change rather than [being] purely aimed at civilian protection.” Stating that this lack of understanding indicated the necessity of developing guidelines for use of force by the UNSC, Kitley reinforced that coercive measures under R2P are rare, and that she thus “[considers] the concerns of member states to be unnecessary.” Instead, she offered the “actual willingness of states and the international community” to promote R2P as being the primary obstacle to its effectiveness.
The second speaker, Considine, centered her commentary on the role of civil society organizations, stating that “R2P is a vital new tool for civil society to hold governments responsible” when they fail to protect their citizens. Considine divided her talk into two sections, the first of which addressed how the “existing work [of NGOs] already contributes” to the work of R2P. Here, she noted eight specific examples:
- Monitoring and documenting crimes, including identifying indicators of mass atrocities
- Sharing early-warning information and assessments with other monitoring mechanisms
- Facilitating mediation, negotiation, and dispute resolution
- Assisting in the training of civilian protection personnel, including helping civilians to recognize indicators of mass atrocities
- Helping with recovery and post-trauma
- Supporting and enhancing regional and national justice systems
- Advocating for stronger resolutions through adopting legislation and strengthening domestic policies
- Supporting local communities in building capacities to recognize threats
In the second section, Considine discussed how NGOs might do more, and focused on four areas of improvement: building understanding of R2P, so as to clarify misconceptions and promote knowledge of the document; “[advocating] for increased norm support for R2P;” strengthening an R2P constituency; and continuing to advance research and policy development initiatives.
Kikoler, the last panelist, focused on what R2P means for the people on the ground, stating that its main purpose is to “strengthen the architecture of prevention.” She began with a personal anecdote of the time she spent in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, which she contrasted with her grandfather’s survival of Auschwitz during the Holocaust. “What on earth can ‘never again’ mean?” she asked, citing how 50 years after her grandfather’s ordeal, people in another part of the world still experienced the same horrors of genocide. She answered her own question by simply stating that our task today is to ensure that “[never again] doesn’t continue to mean nothing.”
Specifically, Kikoler posited two challenges to “never again”: the consistency of response, which she exemplified by contrasting Libya and South Kordofan; and a “failure to prioritize prevention.” Here, Kikoler focused in particular on the financial aspect, noting that it is less costly to prevent atrocities from occurring than to respond to a situation that has already turned to violence. For example, she discussed the potential of using funds to prevent hate speech, promote education, combat incitement by the media, and assist early-warning groups in an effort to prevent rather than react to conflict. “What can it look like, and how much does that cost?” she asked. Citing the 2013 elections in Kenya at the end of her presentation, Kikoler offered this instance as an example of how the international community “can develop some best practices . . . on how prevention can make a difference.”
As Kitley stated during the question-and-answer session, “We shouldn’t be looking only at imminent situations.” Indeed, if a conflict has escalated to the point of “imminence,” the opportunity for prevention has likely passed. This is yet another example of the critical role of civil society and member states in the dissemination of information on R2P, as well as in assisting the effective implementation of its parameters. While R2P remains imperfect and will likely require continual advancements in both its understanding and use, Kikoler said it best when she ended the conference by stating that “it is better to try to do something than to dismiss R2P in general.”
Michael Dobbs’s column in Foreign Policy is currently examining the use of intelligence in genocide prevention, including posting reconnaissance imagery. According to STAND National Director Daniel Solomon, “While Dobbs recognizes the obvious benefit of hindsight in his brief analytical overview, he faults the intelligence community for its failure to recognize the integral relationship between military mobilization and mass atrocities in the Serbian military’s Srebrenica offensive.” Though Dobbs’s series is focused on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the exposition he provides is equally applicable to the case of Sri Lanka.
Reporting for Truthout, Emanuel Stoakes writes that it is believed the State Department holds “a live file containing evidence of multiple offences committed by both sides during the [Sri Lankan civil] war, including testimony from [a former Army general] and other military, diplomatic and civilian figures.” Furthermore,
During the war, the United States used satellites to carefully monitor events in the Vanni region of the island where the war’s last battles occurred. Images sourced from the State Department have been referenced in a number of reports by non-governmental organizations and others, which provoked some speculation as to the evidence the US has which remains undisclosed to the public.
Another example of how intelligence comes into play in the Sri Lanka example is the fact that on May 1, 2009, Foreign Minister Palitha Kohona told Al Jazeera that the Sri Lankan government had shelled a government-declared no-fire zone after he had denied such action in a previous interview. When confronted with satellite imagery that appeared to show shell damage and indicated the use of weaponry with the no-fire zone, Kohona claimed that this occurred before any civilians were in the safety area.
At present, no Sri Lankan civilian or military chain of command member has been prosecuted for alleged offenses committed during the war.
How can media coverage tell us when a genocide is happening? This is the subject of a fascinating article published Tuesday on ForeignPolicy.com.
“What Did We Know — and When Did We Know It?” (by Michael Dobbs, who is following the Mladic trial for the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) looks closely at about 1 minute of video footage shot by a Serbian journalist on July 13, 1995, during the genocide of Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica.
The first part of the video (repeated subsequently in slow motion) shows prisoners gathered in a field, guarded by soldiers in uniform. The second part was taken by Petrovic as he drove back toward Srebrenica through the village of Kravica while the massacre was underway. You hear shots ring out, mingled with the throbbing beat of music from the car radio. In addition to the crumpled bodies (more visible in the slow motion part of the video that begins at 0:50), you see the bullet-spattered façade of the warehouse and empty white buses (used to transport the prisoners).
This footage aired the next day on the Belgrade TV station Studio B, with the murdered Bosnian Serbs described as “dead Muslim soldiers.” One journalist—Robert Block, Belgrade correspondent for the Independent in London—saw the footage and immediately suspected a massacre. He went to the television station and asked to see the footage in slow motion. The next day he published a story titled “Bodies pile up in horror of Srebrenica.”
As Dobbs points out:
If a lone reporter was able to reach such conclusions on the basis of examining a few seconds of video footage, think what a powerful intelligence agency would have been able to do had it been explicitly tasked to gather evidence of war crimes. We now know that the CIA had additional imagery of the Kravica events that was captured in real time, but not analyzed for many weeks.
Given that massacres in the area continued for another week after the footage was broadcast, if intelligence analysts had been paying attention, many lives might have been saved.
From a prevention point of view, what’s important is for intelligence agencies—and journalists—to be on the lookout for signs of atrocity crimes, especially when there is violent conflict going on.
Dobbs will be writing more articles about the use of intelligence in genocide prevention, which you can follow here.
AIPR Communications Intern Christopher Kousouros files this report from a panel discussion on The Media in Srebrenica.
On Monday a panel discussion was held in New York on the media’s role in uncovering the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and, given the upsurge of citizen journalism, the evolution of the media’s structure and role in preventing future atrocities.
The discussion, organized by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, featured the following speakers: Laura Silber, an investigative journalist who interviewed Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic soon after the genocide took place; Michael Dobbs, who wrote the first in-depth article about Srebrenica; Emma Daly, communications director at Human Rights Watch, who was a journalist covering the Bosnian war at the time of the genocide; and David Rohde, the journalist who exposed the mass graves outside Srebrenica, leading to the uncovering of the genocide that took place.
Srebrenica proved indicative of the abilities and limitations of investigative journalism in the ’90s, before the advent of the citizen journalism that has so critically reshaped the media’s role today. In the early ’90s, there were journalists from all over the world in Bosnia. In fact, Michael Dobbs claimed that the media played a decisive role in creating the six safe areas, Srebrenica among them, in 1993. Professional media coverage was one of the most effective weapons Bosnians had to get the international community involved.
However, by July 1995, Srebrenica had been cut off to all journalists. Consequently, it was only when news started trickling out of the city, by way of escaped Muslim men arriving in Tuzla, that thanks to investigative reporting by people like David Rohde, the genocide was uncovered. In other words, investigative journalism at the time was capable only of exposing the genocide after the fact, but since no reporters were allowed into the city, as is usually the case in areas under threat of genocide, no one was able to get word out in time to prevent it. Dobbs was the first to write an in-depth report on the genocide, but it came in October, three months later.
Times have changed. With the advent of citizen journalism, on-the-ground coverage of events in places inaccessible to professional journalists is available virtually everywhere, whether via cell phones or social media such as Facebook and Twitter. According to Dobbs, if this kind of technology had been available in 1995, it would have been much harder to cover up and carry out the genocide in Srebrenica. However, these new technologies also present a problem, in that it is sometimes near impossible to confirm the stream of information pouring out of places like Syria and Sri Lanka, where professional journalism has been effectively eliminated.
The media, however, hardly bear all the responsibility for the international community’s failure to prevent genocide in Srebrenica. Ivan Barbalić, a representative of the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations, was present at the panel discussion and said enough evidence was in fact available. He said that while technologies like cell phone video recordings and Facebook weren’t available in 1995, media institutions like Headline News and CNN were providing enough real-time coverage in Bosnia for decisionmakers to conclude that something was going to happen in Srebrenica. He believes that the writing was on the wall, and that the failure to act belongs to the international community as a whole. He points specifically to the lack of political will in institutions such as the UN.
Nevertheless, Barbalić also pointed out the decisive role that citizen journalism has played in the Arab Spring, and said that had this information been available in 1995, perhaps the genocide could have been prevented. In discussing the Libya intervention, he said, “When Libya was opening up, the information coming from the media was very important to create a complete picture: ‘If we don’t do something, there will be major bloodshed in Benghazi.’ ” The coverage provided by Libyan citizens effectively made it impossible for the international community not to intervene in Libya, but in places like Syria and Sri Lanka, where there is a virtual blackout of professional media coverage, the ability to verify information that might drive the international community to act is largely absent.
Looking towards the future, all of the panel speakers agreed that professional journalism still holds an important role in preventing and exposing mass atrocities. They believe that new technologies and citizen journalism can be a very powerful resource, but one that needs to serve a complimentary role with the professional media, which are charged with providing verifiable facts that can influence international action. Without reliable information from places like Syria, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, the atrocities being committed will not be brought to light, let alone prevented from happening in the first place.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has launched a new website, “The Mladic Files,” documenting Ratko Mladic’s trial in The Hague. The project will also explore the larger framework, such as if future mass atrocities can be prevented by bringing past and present perpetrators to justice. Mladic was indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed while commander of the Bosnian Serb Army during the 1992-95 Balkans conflict; the project leader is the Museum’s Goldfarb Fellow, prize-winning foreign correspondent and author Michael Dobbs, who will not only observe the legal proceedings in The Hague, but also interview Mladic’s victims and cohorts, as part of his investigation into the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. All of Dobbs’ findings will be posted to the project’s blog.
The Museum has long spotlighted the atrocities that occurred in the Balkans, with a particular focus on the Sreberenica massacre, one of only a few cases the international community has deemed genocide. As such, the Museum has also been monitoring the arrests and trials of those accused of crimes against humanity in the region. The Committee on Conscience, a standing committee of the Museum’s Council, is the guiding force behind the Museum’s work on genocide and related crimes against humanity. The Committee on Conscience is mandated with alerting the national conscience, influencing policy makers, and stimulating worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.
* In discussing case studies of the use of the Responsibility to Protect concept (R2P) in Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alex Vines highlights the importance of regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States, and the cohesiveness of interventionists. R2P was deployed in Côte d’Ivoire because of the fear that significant numbers of civilians were at risk, whereas R2P has not been applied in Congo because a UN mission partially charged with protecting civilians already exists. Vines maintains that R2P, despite the popular understanding of it, is about more than military force, since in many cases it is better not to engage militarily.
* In a novel attempt at genocide prevention, North Carolina State University researchers are hoping to use a population’s health and prenatal care as an identifying risk factor. In analyzing the remains of Bosnian Muslims from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and analyzing epidemiological data from the World Health Organization on Rwandan and Yugoslavian refugees, the researchers found high frequency of malnutrition, poor health, inadequate prenatal care, and related problems across these populations. NCSU researchers consider these conditions strong indicators of genocide risk because they are illustrative of the population’s marginalized societal status.
* In order to better prevent and respond to genocide and other mass atrocities, President Obama last month ordered an interagency review with the goal of creating an Atrocities Prevention Board. For the board to be effective, Professor Walter Reich of George Washington University argues that it must include independent experts from outside the government—such as specialists in international affairs, international law, and human rights.
* After months of debate, Israeli courts ruled in favor of extraditing Aleksandar Cvetkovic to Bosnia to stand trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Cvetkovic, who immigrated to Israel in 2006, was arrested in January by Israeli authorities after Bosnian-based courts accused him of participating in the Srebrenica massacre.
* Two Burmese men living in Australia admitted to committing crimes against humanity—including the arrest, torture, and execution of civilians—during Burma’s political turmoil of the late 1980s. The men reportedly admitted to the crimes out of guilt.
* A Sri Lankan government report said that while state forces may have caused civilian deaths during the final months of the country’s civil war, they did not violate international law. The report, issued by the Ministry of Defense, did admit to accidental civilian deaths, but a large portion was devoted to criticizing the conduct of the rebel Tamil Tigers. Said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch: “This is just the latest and glossiest effort to whitewash mounting evidence of government atrocities during the fighting.”
* Responding to reports that ICC charges against Muammar Qaddafi might be dropped if he agrees to step down, Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch wrote that “instead of putting a conflict to rest, a de-facto amnesty that grants immunity for crimes against humanity may just spur another cycle of grave abuses while failing to bring peace.”
Photos (from top): Interpol, topnews.in, tntmagazine.com
The Affiliation of Christian Engineers has embarked on a new drive to obtain signatures on a petition against mass atrocities in Darfur. The ACE, a faith-based grassroots organization that is part of the Save Darfur Coalition, has been circulating a petition for over a year calling on the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) and other engineering professional societies worldwide “to take actions necessary to: 1) stop the mass atrocities in Darfur and create a sustainable peace in the region, 2) protect civilians in Darfur as this happens, and 3) bring justice and accountability those most responsible for the mass atrocities in Darfur.” The ACE bases its petition on the engineering profession’s Code of Ethics, which stresses the responsibility towards “safety, health and welfare of the public.”
Citing the importance of oil in the political and security dynamics of Sudan, and the role that engineers play in locating, extracting, transporting, and refining Sudanese oil, the petition says “we will openly work to persuade all Engineers and Engineering societies around the world to influence those Engineers now working in Sudan to play a positive role in persuading the all parties to adopt the above objectives” and calls on members of the WFEO to use “their skills to help the people of Darfur, such as providing services to the refugee camps, medical professions, and those who are working to bring peace to the region.”
Bosnia: 16th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre
July 11, 2011, marked the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The murder of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys following the fall of the town of Srebrenica marked one of the darkest moments of the 1992–95 Bosnian War. The town was supposed to be protected and disarmed by UN peacekeepers after being declared a safe haven in 1993, but Bosnian Serb troops captured the town and rounded up the refugees who had sought UN protection before systematically killing the men and boys and raping the women.
This week, Bosnians from all over the world gathered to commemorate the massacre, marching along the escape route and praying at mass graves along the way. An important part of each year’s commemoration is the burial of bodies found in mass graves and identified through DNA testing. This year, 613 victims, the youngest of whom was 11 years old, were newly identified, bringing the total number of named victims to 6,481. This year’s commemoration was also attended by the president of Croatia and the Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three-way presidency.
This year’s anniversary falls amid the capture of Ratko Mladic, commanding general of the Bosnian Serb forces that committed the massacre, and a Dutch court’s ruling holding the Dutch government responsible for the Dutch peacekeeping force’s expulsion of Srebrenica refugees from the UN compound under pressure by Bosnian Serb forces. Mladic is currently on trial at the ICTY, while the Dutch court ordered the Dutch government to compensate the plaintiffs.
In related news, the “Mapping Genocide” project became public last Friday. The 17 maps in the interactive online project track events before, during, and after the fall of Srebrenica, giving viewers access to documents, profiles, reports, and videos related to the massacre. The project, produced by the Sarajevo-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights, was put together based on material provided by the UN and the Bosnian Serb government as well as the ICTY’s rulings.
Image: Engineers Petition for Darfur
Former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladic, was captured in Serbia on May 26 after evading arrest for almost 16 years. He is awaiting transfer to The Hague, where he will stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He faces charges of genocide in connection with the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. His capture is a positive step towards ending impunity for genocide, Al Jazeera reported.
Bernard Munyagishari, a former Hutu militia leader suspected of masterminding the Rwandan genocide, was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo after evading capture for nearly 17 years. He is wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape. “The prosecutor [Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow] hailed the DRC authorities for their co-operation in executing the warrant of arrest, despite the hurdles encountered in tracking down the fugitive,” the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said. The ICTR indictment states that Munyagashari helped prepare and plan the 1994 genocide.
Satellite images provided by the Enough Project have confirmed that the Sudanese government has been attacking Abyei. “Images show the destruction of a southern-aligned base at Todach by tanks or other armored vehicles, fires burning at the town of Dungop, and the presence of northern attack aircrafts and bombers capable of reaching Abyei town within an hour. Images also show that a former Misseriya encampment at Goli has largely been vacated, confirming reports of Misseriya movements further south.” The Satellite Sentinel Project produced a ‘human security crisis alert’ detailing their findings.