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On October 13-15, the Stanley Foundation convened U.S. government officials and mass atrocities specialists for a discussion called “Structuring the US Government to Prevent Atrocities: Considerations for an Atrocities Prevention Board,” as part of its 52nd annual Strategy for Peace Conference. Two months prior, the Obama administration mandated the creation of a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), per the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force.

The participants concluded that the cases with which the APB would be faced would fall into one of two categories: “situations of high, imminent or ongoing risk that have already mobilized internal focus and high-level attention vs. slow burn or “over the horizon” crises that have yet to trigger high-level concern and a cohesive policy approach.” Accordingly, the APB’s role would differ depending on which type of crisis they were responding to; the group went on to identify other potential roles for the APB outside of crisis-specific engagement. Another focal point of the discussion was implementing the APB concurrently with the Department of State and USAID’s 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review in order to foster mutual reinforcement.

Also this month, the Stanley Foundation’s Rachel Gerber wrote an op-ed titled “Prevention: Core to the Responsibility to Protect,” in which she explains that the R2P principle is comprised of three pillars: 1) the primary responsibility of the state to protect its populations from four circumscribed mass atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes); 2) the concurrent responsibility of the international community to assist states in their efforts to do so; and 3) the responsibility of the international community to take collective action should national authorities fail to protect their populations from imminent or unfolding atrocities. R2P was formulated with the intention of preventing, and not solely responding to, mass atrocities. Gerber asserts that doing so requires a framework to be utilized throughout all phases of potential crisis—before crises emerge, as crises appear on the horizon, and following atrocities. While such a broad array of actions may not realistically fit into a single policy doctrine, it is imperative that R2P inform policy approaches across the crisis spectrum.

The Stanley Foundation in May released a policy report titled The Role of Regional and Subregional Arrangements in Strengthening the Responsibility to Protect. Based on the proceedings of a conference hosted by the foundation, the report analyzes the differences in methods of implementation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) across different regional organizations.

The report hails the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as one of the most successful in incorporating R2P. The authors attribute this in part to Europe’s commitment to the principles of human rights and conflict prevention and response, which were articulated and matured in European-level institutions before being addressed at the international level. For Europe the provisions of R2P have long been the norm.

Asian regional organizations—specifically the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—have developed impressive policy frameworks to promote regional compliance with R2P. The problem, says the report, lies not in commitment but in capacity: ASEAN is too underfunded to develop adequate crisis prevention and response tools, or to sponsor programs that properly promote norms without outside help. Despite this, one of ASEAN’s greatest strengths is the dialogue it maintains with international organizations—cited as a key factor to successful implementation of R2P.

In the Americas, R2P faces ideological resistance. The Organization of American States (OAS) has tried to balance a firm belief in protecting human rights with an equally firm belief in territorial sovereignty. This has resulted in skepticism towards what some countries within the OAS view as the interventionist tendencies of R2P, leading to policies that are “more reactive that proactive.”

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have good policies in place, but lack the capacity needed to enforce the policies. While their flexibility allows for a huge array of responses, ranging from political pressure to military force, a lack of capacity has hamstrung their ability to respond to crisis effectively. The authors of the report give the example of the AU’s inability to muster sufficient military force from member states in response to the recent crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.

Despite vast differences between these regions, the report recommends some universal policies necessary for successful implementation of R2P. These include a high level of public engagement and education concerning R2P; the creation or modification of institutions that can viably perform the tasks necessary; and continued development of the capacity of regional arrangements to respond.

Photo: UN.org

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