In the Central African Republic, Urgent Challenges Mean UN Peacekeeping no ‘Silver Bullet’ Solution

On April 10, 2014 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 2149 authorizing a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the violence-stricken country of the Central African Republic (CAR). The negotiations in the lead-up represented months of calls to strengthen the African Union and France’s existing forces – known respectively as the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) and Operation Sangaris – from UN officials, civil society organizations and the Transitional Authorities of the CAR.

Resolution 2149

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2149 (2014), establishing  MINUSCA.UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The resolution authorized the transfer of authority from MISCA to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) effective as of September 15, 2014, while also reminding CAR’s transitional government of their primary responsibility to protect civilian populations. This has been hailed as a critical step in ending the chaos that has plagued the country since the Seleka military coup of March, 2013. The remarks of U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power immediately after its adoption were reflective of many:

“Today the Security Council took an important step toward bringing an end to the atrocities, inter-religious fighting, and humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic by authorizing the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation… Having just returned from CAR this morning, I can personally attest to the critical urgency of bringing more security to the Central African Republic.”

The resolution is also notable as the third reference of 2014 to the Responsibility to Protect in a Security Council mandate. However, this is no cause for premature celebration and certainly no ‘silver bullet’ solution.

At present, MISCA and French troops face a complex series of challenges that have prevented the proactive pursuit of their protection mandate and an end to the violence primarily being carried out by the Christian anti-Balaka against the Muslim population. These challenges will not vanish with the announcement of a UN peacekeeping operation, especially as its full mobilization is estimated to take several months. A close examination of parts of the new UNSC resolution reveals its robust and ambitious nature, but must also be considered through the lens of current efforts, noting that many of the same challenges facing MISCA and Sangaris will also await MINUSCA.

 

Miguel Medina, AFP

Chadian MISCA soldiers on patrol in Bangui. Miguel Medina/AFP

Protection of Civilians

Importantly, resolution 2149 commits MINUSCA to the protection of civilians, “without prejudice to the primary responsibility of the Central African Republic authorities… from threat of physical violence, within its capabilities and areas of deployment…”

The additional 10,000 troops and 1,800 police and gendarmes authorized for MINUSCA certainly have the potential to improve protection capacities. However, joint patrols and disarmament efforts by MISCA and Operation Sangaris have so far failed to protect vulnerable civilians and prevent the further breakdown of law and order.

An Amnesty International report  released in February warned that the ethnic cleansing of Muslims was underway and highlighted the failure of international and regional peacekeepers to prevent it.  MISCA and French troops have reportedly been reluctant to engage anti-Balaka forces and have also been largely limited to Bangui in their operational reach. As of April 3, the situation was largely unchanged. Human Rights Watch observed several attacks on small village communities, prompting a researcher to state:

“Peacekeepers are providing security in the main towns, but smaller communities in the southwest are left exposed…International peacekeeping forces should redouble efforts to prevent attacks and protect people from these horrific assaults.”

The latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report estimates that about 632,700 remain internally displaced while another 316,918 have fled to neighbouring countries. Insecurity and the threat to the Muslim population remain so urgent that France and the United Nations have recently agreed to help facilitate their transfer to safer areas in the North and into Chad.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has attributed many of these shortcomings to the fact that international peacekeepers are “under-resourced and overwhelmed”. A larger troop presence could encourage a more proactive pursuit of the civilian protection mandate, and the recent deployment of an 800-strong European Union ‘bridging force’ is welcome in this regard. However, in his six-point plan the Secretary-General has rightly called for more funding and logistical support to assist MISCA in the meantime. Likewise, Refugees International stated in a press release following the adoption of the resolution that:

“There are tens of thousands of vulnerable Central Africans who need protection and assistance…Clearly, a UN peacekeeping operation, once fully deployed, can contribute to peace and stability over the long term. But this mission will not address the atrocities, displacement, and dire humanitarian needs on the ground today.”

Accordingly, they have highlighted some priorities for assistance, including the deployment of additional police personnel to urban areas, increased logistical support in the form of air and ground mobility, the fast-tracking of civilian human rights and civil affairs officers, and increased funding for humanitarian aid.

 

Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Support for National and International Justice and the Rule of Law

Two other important and related aspects of resolution 2149 are geared towards improving the human rights situation and ensuring justice and the rule of law. The mission seeks to do this by providing human rights monitors and support to the International Commission of Inquiry. It will also support and assist the Transitional Authorities in prosecuting those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including through cooperation with the International Criminal Court. The mandate prioritizes strengthening judicial capacities and human rights institutions, as well as building an accountable, impartial and rights-respecting criminal justice system.

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Bernard Acho Muna, Chairperson of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

These measures are necessary for ending the current environment of “total impunity” described by Ban Ki-moon. However, this has proven difficult for MISCA and Sangaris. Part of this is due to the fact that they have no reliable national partner on the ground.  There is currently no functioning justice system, and limited police and court proceedings. In a recent article for the Global Observatory, Marina Caparini outlined ways in which UN police peacekeepers can make a difference in ensuring justice and upholding the rule of law:

“International police contribute to the reform, restructuring, and rebuilding of host state police and law enforcement agencies, through the provision of material support and infrastructure such as the refurbishment of police stations, and through the transfer of knowledge via training, monitoring, mentoring, and advising…”

In the long-term, efforts such as this will be essential for developing the Central African state’s ability to carry out rule of law duties and protect the human rights of its citizens. However, Thierry Vircoulon, writing for Coalition member International Crisis Group, has identified the immediate deployment of police resources as an urgent priority, given the escalation in mob violence in Bangui and elsewhere.

 

Transfer from MISCA to MINUSCA

Lastly, it is worth highlighting issues surrounding the transfer of authority from MISCA to MINUSCA. Several obstacles regarding political frictions, the issue of vetting and due diligence, as well as funding and troop contributions have been flagged.

On the political front, Arthur Boutellis and Paul D. Williams point to past difficulties transitioning from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Tensions were identified surrounding insufficient UN consultations with the AU, unclear sequencing, a lack of Security Council funding commitments, disagreement over the mission leadership, and negative AU perceptions of UN operations, which they perceived as too risk averse.

Such problems led Boutellis and Williams to conclude that, in the case of the AFISMA-MINUSMA transition, it revealed “considerable mistrust between the two organizations.” Currently, there is some indication that political tensions may also be arising in CAR, both between the AU and the UN, and MISCA and Sangaris. This could hamper efforts to get the mission off of the ground in a timely manner.

Press TV File photo

African Union troops dawn blue berets after transfer of authority from AFISMA to MINUSMA in Mali. Press TV/ File Photo.

Another noteworthy challenge will be the vetting and due diligence process to ensure that troops being folded into MINUSCA from the existing MISCA operation have not been involved in human rights abuses. Here, there is a dilemma, as the largest AU troop contributor – Chad – was recently involved in an incident in which Chadian peacekeepers opened fire indiscriminately on unarmed civilians. Chad has since withdrawn their troops, but regardless of whether Chad is part of the future UN force, ensuring that troops adhere to the highest standard of international humanitarian and human rights law according to the criteria outlined in the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, is essential for the proper protection of civilians.

Lastly are the challenges of garnering sufficient funding and troop contributions. Commenting on both of these issues, Mark Leone Goldberg wrote for UN Dispatch that:

“Despite these high profile demonstrations of support, traditional donor countries have been relatively stingy when it comes to helping pay for these operations. A pledging conference for the African Union peacekeeping mission, known as MISCA, fell about $100 million short of its $420 million goal”

He goes on to note that the new UN mission will have a price tag of roughly $800 million – $1 billion.

On the issue of troop contributions, Goldberg also added that – without a standing army – gathering enough troops and police personnel could be a lengthy and uncertain process. On this he pointedly states, “If key UN member states make this mission a priority, it will get off the ground quickly. If they do not, it will languish.”

Many challenges to peace and stability remain in the Central African Republic; spite the news of a UN peacekeeping operation. However, if the international community is to successfully meet its potential “R2P moment of truth”, calls to immediately improve protection capacities must be heeded, political will must remain in abundant supply, and political, financial, and logistical challenges need to be overcome.

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Clarifying the Protection Debate in the Crimean Peninsula

Russian Intervention and Justification

Recently, the world has watched tensely as the situation in the Crimean territory of Ukraine reached a dangerous point of volatility. Upheaval that began with the EuroMaidan protests led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Yanukovych, who was swiftly replaced by an interim coalition government.  Long a strategic and symbolically important region, Russia wasted little time descending on the autonomous Crimean Peninsula.  The rhetoric of Russian authorities would suggest that the intervention was necessary for the protection of the Russian-speaking population, allegedly threatened by ultranationalist elements of the new Ukrainian government. In early March, President Vladimir Putin appealed for the use of military force in such terms:

In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory (in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) … I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in the that country,

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Unidentified soldiers believed to be from Russia on patrol at Simferopol Airport in the Crimea Peninsula. Elizabeth Arrott/VOA

In the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the protection argument:

“I reiterate, we are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights – the right to live, and nothing more,”

The recent referendum paved the way for an official Russian annexation of its former territory, assured to Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum after previously being given by Nikita  Khrushchev in 1954.

 

Russia’s Past Misuse of RtoP vs. Current Rhetoric

Commentators in various media outlets have been quick to denounce Russia’s legal justification for the intervention. Many have likened Russia’s rhetoric to the language used to justify their actions in Georgia during 2008. At that time, Russian leaders explicitly linked their motives to the Responsibility to Protect. Then, Lavrov clearly stated:

According to our Constitution there is also responsibility to protect – the term which is very widely used in the UN when people see some trouble in Africa or in any remote part of other regions…the laws of the Russian Federation make it absolutely unavoidable to us to exercise responsibility to protect.

Such articles have rightly emphasized that, as in Georgia, Russia’s actions in Ukraine do not constitute an RtoP-style intervention. For starters, the interpretation of RtoP endorsed by all countries at the 2005 World Summit pertains only to the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Thus far, there is no evidence that any of these crimes have occurred or are in imminent danger of occurring in relation to ethnic Russians. Furthermore, any military intervention must also be authorized by the Security Council.  In this case, Russia has acted unilaterally.

While it is important to clarify that Russia’s actions cannot be justified in RtoP terms, it is equally important to note that Russian leaders have not made specific reference to RtoP. When they attempted this rhetorical approach in 2008, they faced strong backlash from state and civil society advocates of the norm. An examination of Russian rhetoric throughout the current crisis reveals that, instead, the language has focused on preventing violence and protecting the human rights of Russians. Explicit mention of RtoP has been noticeably absent.  In its current phase – when one of the primary challenges facing RtoP is its normalization into international politics – such discursive subtleties are significant.

 

Violations of International Law and the Threat to Minorities

This is not to say that Russia’s intervention is moral or indeed legal. The intervention is a flagrant violation of an international diplomatic agreement, namely the Budapest Memorandum. This agreement committed Russia and other signatories (Ukraine, The United States and the United Kingdom) to refraining from the use of force to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. Furthermore, as an occupying force Russia must abide by international humanitarian and human rights law regarding their conduct under such circumstances. Any violation committed by local authorities or proxy forces can in fact be considered Russia’s responsibility. The conditions under which the secession referendum was held has also raised questions over the validity and legitimacy of the results.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine. UN Photo.

The case can certainly be made that minorities are under threat in Crimea, though not necessarily groups identified by Russian authorities. While the Ukrainian government’s decision to repeal a law ensuring Russian language rights was controversial, it has since been reinstated. However, there is a real concern that Crimea’s Muslim Tatar population – long the subject of persecution and even mass deportation under Stalin – may face backlash and discrimination for their support of the Ukrainian government, as the result of Russian annexation. ICRtoP member Minority Rights Group Internationalhas already documented incidents reminiscent of those experienced under the Soviet regime. A recent press release warned:

“Minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous community of approximately 300,000 in the peninsula, are becoming more and more exposed to intimidation and violence. Recently, doors of Crimean Tatar residents were marked by X, a sign evoking memories of their 1944 deportation to Central Asia during the Stalin regime.”

The release continues to note media involvement in inciting discrimination, as well as evidence of increased militarization witnessed in the formation of Crimean self-defence groups. Human Rights Watch has also been monitoring these developments, warning of unaccountable militant groups that have been implicated in acts of torture and disappearances. Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director stressed:

“Crimean authorities are allowing illegal and unidentified armed units to run the show in the peninsula, and to commit crimes that go uninvestigated and unpunished, as if there is a legal vacuum.”

In such an environment of impunity, with ethnic tensions running high and the ever-present risk of Russian and Ukrainian military action, a peaceful settlement to the conflict is essential for avoiding an escalation in violence.

 

Looking Ahead: Overcoming the Security Council Impasse for Peaceful Settlement

With Russia’s involvement in the conflict, it will be difficult to pass any Security Council resolution.  A previous draft urged the protection of the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, while also committing parties to protect the rights of minorities. Unsurprisingly, Russia exercised its veto to strike down the motion. ICRtoP member The World Federalist Movement – Institute of Global Policy issued a statement to General Assembly (GA) member states regarding the use of the veto as set out in Article 27 of the UN Charter, and urged action in the face of its misuse:

79th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 68th session

A view of the electronic board displaying the votes of member states at a General Assembly Plenary Session on Ukraine. UN Photo.

The veto is not to be used when a permanent member is party to a dispute before the Security Council. The veto of 15 March 2014 is another example of permanent members using the veto contrary to the purposes and principles, letter and spirit of the UN Charter…It is imperative the larger membership instruct and confront the Security Council when it takes decisions not in accordance with the UN Charter.”

On March 27, 2014 a resolution put forward by Ukraine and 50 co-sponsors was approved by the GA, supporting Ukraine’s position and deeming the referendum that led to Russian annexation invalid.

Other measures to de-escalate the crisis have been taken by UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) officials. A team of UN human rights monitors have been dispatched and the OSCE has officially announced an observer mission. Furthermore, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly reached a preliminary agreement with the Ukrainian government on the establishment of an international commission aimed at resolving the crisis. Such measures could contribute to a peaceful settlement and avoid wider human rights abuses.

 

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RtoP: Key Developments in 2013

In the following blog, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) takes a look back at some key developments of the Responsibility to Protect in 2013. This is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the past year, as the protection of civilians should not be oversimplified and there are many important questions that remain on how to best operationalize RtoP. The developments included below do however demonstrate growth in RtoP, the framework for protecting populations from atrocity crimes, and it highlights opportunities for further advancements.

I. Encouraging Progress from Governments, Regional Bodies and the UN

A new Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect

Òthe Responsibility to Protect:  State Responsibility and PreventionÓ

Dr. Welsh, new Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect, addresses the UN

After a year-long absence in the Special Adviser post, the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) announced on July 12 the appointment of Dr. Jennifer Welsh as his Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect. Since taking up her new role, Dr. Welsh has been swift to show that she and her office are champions of the Responsibility to Protect by diving right into addressing the tough issues facing the norm and working to develop and implement her work plan for advancing RtoP. In an interview with The Stanley Foundation, Dr. Welsh outlined that her two main priorities are going forward in 2014 are to:

 

Advance Pillar Two of the principle in terms of both clarifying how states’ capacities to protect can be enhanced through international assistance and identifying particular mechanisms that need to be created or reformed to better provide that assistance”

“Work to embed the principle more firmly within the processes and structures of the United Nations, particularly in terms of human rights, conflict prevention, and protection of civilians.”

United Nations General Assembly Holds 5th Dialogue on RtoP

The UNSG’s 2013 report on RtoP, “Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention,” and the UNGA dialogue itself focused on the importance of preventing atrocities at home and the primary responsibility of all member states to protect populations within their borders from RtoP crimes and violations. The report and dialogue offered a range of preventative measures, examples and policy options for member states to implement RtoP domestically to build a society’s resilience to the outbreak of atrocity crimes. The UNGA meeting, the fifth of its kind, saw the highest turn out since the first RtoP dialogue in 2009, with the participation of 68 governments, one regional body, and two civil society organizations. From its intervention delivered at the dialogue, ICRtoP concluded:

it is clear we are not debating principles of the norm but are now thinking about how best to operationalize RtoP and the prevention of atrocity crimes…the international debate on possible response options reminds us that the use of military force is only one tool within the RtoP framework.”

View the Coalition’s summary of the report and dialogue for more information. Also important to note that 23 countries directly referenced RtoP at the 68th Opening Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Member States call for P5 to Prioritize Protection over Veto Use

A heated debate was back on the agenda this year – the use of the veto by the Security Council’s five permanent members, with new proposals and continued discussion on the issue within the United Nations.

A new initiative, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT), was launched by a group of states to partly address, within its broader work on Council reform, the much contested proposal of the use of the veto by calling on the P5 to refrain from using this power in situations where RtoP crimes and violations are imminent or ongoing.

At this year’s 68th General Assembly debate, 9 states – Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Slovenia– echoed the point calling for the limiting of the veto in RtoP situations in order to, according to Liechtenstein enhance the Council’s effectiveness – and its credibility.”

Security Council meeting and voting on draft resolution on Syrian matters.

Draft Resolution on Syria Vetoed in Security Council. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

French Foreign Minister Fabius offered a solution in his 4 October Op-Ed in the New York Times that in these situations: “the five permanent members of the Security Council — China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States — themselves could voluntarily regulate their right to exercise their veto…the change would be implemented through a mutual commitment from the permanent members.”

While the proposal was hit with some criticism as to what constitutes such a situation, others, like David Bosco, of Foreign Policy, were more positive at Fabuis’s novel introduction of a mechanism for “determining what constitutes such a situation.” Discussions and action on this call have continued into the New Year, something we will be following closely to see how these developments progress.

Arms Trade Treaty signed: A historic step in preventing the transfer of weapons

MONUSCO

Weapons retrieved in DRC. UN Photo

History was made in 2013 when, after a seven-year process at the UN, the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 2 April 2013. Its adoption was soon followed by the signing of the treaty by 79 governments. Of particular interest for RtoP advocates was Article 6 of the treaty which seeks to prevent the transfer of conventional arms if a State Party has knowledge that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and attacks directed against civilians. The signing represents a historical step that Human Rights First believes:

sends a strong message to those countries committing mass atrocities, like the current Syrian regime, as well as those who are arming them, like Russia. It makes clear that the arms trade status quo is no longer internationally acceptable and that nations…will no longer stand idly by as weapons are provided to countries seeking to harm civilians.”

II. Applauding Success without Turning a Blind Eye

Use of Chemical Weapons Unites UNSC on Syria

In a rare instance of unity on the crisis in Syria, 2013 saw the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) take action in response to the use of chemical weapons after investigations confirmed attacks killing a high number of civilians in rebel-held areas outside of Damascus. When responding to condemn the horrific use of such weapons and recalling the responsibility of the international community to hold perpetrators accountable, UNSG Ban Ki-moon reminded us that:

“While the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, the mass loss of civilian life – whether due to conventional or non-conventional weapons — is also intolerable.”

Shelling in Homs, Syria

Shelling in Homs, Syria. UN Photo

In turn, the UNSC passed Resolution 2118, requiring Syria to destroy its stockpile and prohibiting future weapons use, development and transfer. Following this Resolution, the Permanent Five continued to collaborate to deter further loss of civilian life. After months of the UN, US and Russia trying to get both sides to agree on a political solution to the conflict, the UNSG announced in late 2013 that peace talks, or “Geneva II”, aimed at implementing a peace plan were set for January 22.

Despite this, we cannot ignore the horrific situation that continues for the people of Syria. Fierce clashes and infighting between rebels has led to rising deaths, and the humanitarian situation remains dire, with thousands of displaced living in abandoned buildings without enough food, clean water or medicine. While the Geneva II talks should be supported, the ongoing crisis must remain a focus of the all actors within the international community to ensure that the protection of populations from atrocity crimes is the central priority for all discussions and measures taken. This includes safeguarding the safe delivery of aid, restraining the regional spread of the conflict, denying support to armed groups who commit war crimes and upholding restrictions on arms trade.

Central African Republic: Collective Action by the International Community

First Phase Digital

Central African Republic. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

After being largely ignored by the world for decades, 2013 saw the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) come into the spotlight. Despite reaching a peace agreement in January of 2013, Séléka rebels again seized the capital, Bangui, in March. Since August the armed clashes have increased, reports of human rights violations and crimes against humanity have emerged, and the risk of a religious war are escalating.

When the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng began using the words “genocide” and “risk of atrocity crimes”, it sent ripples through the international community. Regional organizations, including the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, government and UN officials began speaking out and taking action. As tension heightened and pressure increased, the UNSC responded by passing Resolution 2127, authorising the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission to CAR.

While these actions should be applauded, the people of CAR continue to find themselves victims of gross human rights violations and atrocities. Human Rights Watch believes a full-fledged UN mission is necessary as it would: “come with civilian expertise to help rebuild the country…UN experts could monitor and report on human rights violations and help re-establish the judicial system, disarm and reintegrate combatants, and reconstitute the security forces.” To address the situation, sustained attention is needed, with the international community keeping CAR a priority on its agenda and ensuring it re-evaluates the effectiveness of the resolution to implement further appropriate action.

Post-crisis Reform Leads to Peaceful, Free and Fair Elections in Kenya

At the beginning of 2013, all eyes were on Kenya as they cast their vote in the country’s first election since 2007 when unprecedented ethnic violence, leaving over 1000 people dead and 600,000 more displaced, followed the announcement of results. As we watched Kenya avoid escalating violence ahead of and following the 2013 elections, many civil society organizations shared their analysis and recommendations on the reforms and actions undertaken by the government and international community to ensure such peace. International Crisis Group explained it as an outcome of “a general consensus between the political elite and the citizenry not to bring Kenya to the brink of civil war again. International pressure…media self-censorship, restrictions on freedom of assembly, and deployment of security forces to potential hotspots also helped avert unrest.”

Kenya, as the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect outlined in their Occasional Paper on the elections, demonstrates “how investment in non-coercive measures like strengthening the rule of law and tackling hate speech, can help prevent atrocities when reforms are undertaken early, with sufficient resources and international support”, with the country serving as “a successful example of R2P in practice.” While such success must be applauded, the reform momentum of the Kenyan government with the support of the international community must continue well beyond the 2013 elections. More work remains to be done in a range of areas like police reform and accountability and the need to encourage the government to promote trust and reconciliation, a stronger judiciary and end impunity.

After a Turbulent 2012 M23 Rebels Sign Peace Agreement with DRC Government

MONUSCO Mission in Bunia

MONUSCO support local communities in DRC. UN Photo/Myriam Asmani

While the UN is still concerned about armed groups in Eastern Congo, according to Voice of America, the progress in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) demonstrates what a big difference a year makes and signs of hope that protecting civilians with new measures is possible: “At the start of the year people there were still reeling from the shock of the M23 rebels capturing the provincial capital, Goma, in November [2012]…By November [2013], M23 had surrendered.”

Since surrendering, the M23 have signed a peace deal with the government of the DRC agreeing that Those who are presumed to have committed criminal behavior in terms of international law, war crimes or crimes against humanity will not be reinserted into society.” Timo Muelle of the Enough Project attributes this development to new tools introduced to bring peace to the region, declaring that “the intervention brigade and MONUSCO played an essential role in helping the Congolese army to defeat the M23 in early November.”

As 2014 begins, maintaining the political will and ensuring that signatories to the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation in the DRC fulfill their commitments to prevent the reoccurrence of and address the crimes committed in DRC will remain crucial. This is, is especially, important in light of reports of the M23 continuing to recruit and the perennial threats of other rebel groups in the country and region.

III. Looking back to go forward

While, in 2013, the RtoP norm faced hurdles, it also encouraged more government, regional organization, and UN involvement on the ground and debate of best practices for effective prevention and response. A reflection of the past year shows that there was not only substantive discussion on RtoP, but also examples of its applicability in practice, such as in DRC, and Kenya. RtoP clearly remains high on the agenda of the international community.

Despite these developments, now is not the time for complacency. Unfortunately, the end of 2013 saw South Sudan spiral out of control. Political divisions and accusations of an attempted coup by former Vice President Machar on President Kiir exacerbated ethnic tensions and has sparked armed clashes between government forces and rebel groups. The situation has led to fears of atrocity crimes and a possible civil war as an estimated 10,000 have already died and nearly 400,000 people have been displaced by the violence. The severity of the situation in South Sudan demonstrates that we still have a long way to go in the protection of populations from atrocity crimes. If nothing else, South Sudan demonstrates exactly why we need to continue to work toward atrocity prevention and strengthening the RtoP framework.

Check out our crisis page for more on the situation in South Sudan.

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Putting Down their Cards: Limiting the Veto in RtoP Cases

 “How can we as a body allow unarmed civilians; men, women and children to be slaughtered, time and time again? (…) Will the Security Council, the body charged with maintaining peace and security, stands idle when chemical weapons or worse are deployed on the homes of those whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?…In the months ahead, I will reach out to my counterparts in Great Britain, France, Russia and China to begin a conversation on how we can use this paramount responsibility which we share, the veto, in a more responsible manner that can protect those who most need the United Nations to act, while preserving our national sovereignty.”

Those are the words the CEO of the non-governmental organization and ICRtoP Member, Global Solutions.org, wishes United States President Barack Obama had said at the 68th United Nations General Assembly Debate.

While the United States remained mute on this matter, other countries did not. Earlier this month, the Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius reminded us that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC),“constrained by vetoes, was powerless in the face of the Syrian tragedy…For all those who expect the United Nations to shoulder its responsibilities in order to protect populations, this situation is reprehensible.”To overcome such paralysis in situations of mass atrocities, Foreign Minister Fabius offered a solution“Our suggestion is that the five permanent members of the Security Council — China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States — themselves could voluntarily regulate their right to exercise their veto. The Charter would not be amended and the change would be implemented through a mutual commitment from the permanent members.”

As you will see from our blog on this very topic last year, France’s proposal is not a new one . The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty report, which outlined the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P), also suggested that the permanent members (P5) of the UNSC refrain from using their veto power in RtoP situations. This call was later echoed in the 2004 report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which included a recommendation for the P5 to refrain from the use of veto in cases of genocide and other large scale human rights violations. However, according to former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock, former Canadian Ambassador to the UN, the call for veto restraint was abandoned during negotiations on RtoP paragraphs within the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document because “fierce P5 opposition forced negotiators to drop the demand or risk losing approval for R2P altogether.”

The issue of refraining from the use of the veto was raised more recently in 2012, when the “Small Five” countries (S5) – Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland – initiated a resolution on the working methods of the UNSC that included a recommendation calling on the P5 not to wield their veto power in cases of atrocities. However, according to Friedrich Ebert Stiftung‘s (FES) latest report, “Reforming the Working Methods of the UN Security Council: The Next ACT”, the P5 actually “undertook concerted action to prevent member states from casting a positive vote” for the S5′s initiative, which was later dropped.

While the resolution was not adopted and the S5 ultimately disbanded, a new initiative, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT), was launched in 2013. Led by 21 governments seeking to improve the working methods of the UNSC, the ACT has followed in the footsteps of the S5 in its efforts to address the much contested proposal of the use of the veto in the UNSC. To achieve its goals, the ACT has developed a series of smaller groupings underneath the larger umbrella of Council working methods reform initiatives, with each group being led by various governments. As such, the work on the veto falls within the scope of the Accountability and Veto cluster.

Increasing and Diverse Support for Limiting the Veto

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, casts his veto against a draft resolution on the situation in Syria in 04 February 2012 (UN Photo, Paulo Filgueiras)

Security Council meeting and voting on draft resolution on Syrian matters.
Russia and China vetoes. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The governments in ACT don’t stand alone on this issue. As the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) highlighted, the trend to call for such restraint at the 2012 and 2013 General Assembly Debates on RtoP continued at this year’s 68th General Assembly debate, when 9 states – Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Slovenia – called for the limiting of the veto in RtoP situations. The reason is simple, as Liechtenstein clearly stated:-“our inability to respond to the crisis in Syria demonstrates a crucial weakness in the system,” so restraining the veto for actions to end or prevent atrocity crimes “would be crucial to enhance the Council’s effectiveness – and its credibility”.

Chile agrees that using the veto in such cases “prevents the Council from effectively defending the most fundamental values and principles of mankind.” Even France, a P5 member, understands that “if we do not wish to lose our legitimacy, we must learn from the recent blockages to avoid running into such difficulties in the future”.

But the discussions on the UNSC veto are not just happening within the UN. Earlier this year, in April, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which recommends to the Council “to propose…the adoption of a voluntary code of conduct which would limit the use of the right of veto in cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity”.

It’s a Matter of Self-Interest

The right to veto, as Daniel Wand from the British Institute of International and Comparative Law outlines, “allows the states to safeguard their national interests…It was however only to be used in extreme circumstances where a clear and direct threat to national interest existed.” Wand continues to point out, though, that historically this power has been abused, leaving the UNSC “paralysed and unable to sanction intervention in circumstances where mass atrocities are occurring, such as occurred in Bosnia, Srebrenica and Rwanda.”FES agrees, and highlights the case of Syria to show the inability of the Council to respond, which“ has undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the Council.”

Pointing out that an overall abolition on the veto will “simply not happen,” the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Murray McCully, called for the P5 to be more restrictive on whether a situation falls within their governments’ national interests. Challenging the P5 at the 2012 UNGA debate, he called for consideration ofa process by which they collectively and voluntarily agree to confine their use of the veto to those issues that clearly and directly affect their vital national interests, and that they voluntarily agree not to use their veto in situations involving mass atrocities.”

Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez took the opportunity during her country’s August 2013 presidency of the UNSC to state that the veto is an outdated safeguard used during the Cold War to prevent a “nuclear holocaust”. It is now unnecessary as the US and Russia both sit at the same table. Claiming “we can’t deal with the problems in this new world with old instruments,” she suggests an alternative by comparing the situation “with South American regional and subregional organizations where resolutions are taken on the basis of unanimity when there is a conflict.”

Understanding the French proposal: something new, or maintaining the status quo?

Axworthy and Rock, confident of change, assert that in the “longer term, we are going to need limitations on the use of the veto in such cases [Syria]. Perhaps adopting rules on the use of force would soften P5 resistance. And those who use the veto to deny protection…should face significant consequences.”

David Bosco, writer for Foreign Policy, highlights the problematic nature of limiting veto use, reminding that “what constitutes a ‘mass-atrocity situation’ is largely in the eye of the beholder. Almost all…conflicts feature atrocities of one sort or another.” Yet he is positive towards the French proposal, as it suggests a mechanism for determining what constitutes such a situation.

The criteria for implementation, according to Fabius, would be simple:

At the request of at least 50 member states, the United Nations Secretary General would be called upon to determine the nature of the crime. Once he had delivered his opinion, the code of conduct would immediately apply.” Bosco believes “the notion of a combined role for the General Assembly and the Secretary General is innovative.”

The ICRtoP Secretariat, in conversations with UN officials in New York, learned that additional criteria for deterring the P5 from using their veto power may also be considered, including statements by the UN Special Advisers Office on the Prevention of Genocide and RtoP as well as findings by commissions of inquiry established by the UN. A key issue would remain, however, as Bosco points out, because realistically there would still be the possibility that “Russia and China are going to be very hesitant to adopt any code of conduct that restricts the veto power.” While FES is optimistic that pressure will “mount on the US given that the incoming UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, is a prominent advocate of the mass atrocity prevention” Global Solutions.org, which has been campaigning for the “Responsibility Not to Veto” (RN2V) since 2010, disagrees that the US has made any headway, stating that “even senior figures in the Obama administration who are…supporters of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine have made no public mention of RN2V.”

It’s important to note that according to Fabius, the proposal would exclude cases where the vital national interests of a permanent member of the Council were at stake” so as to be “realistically applicable,” which very well might quell concerns of hesitant members of the P5. A key topic during ICRtoP’s discussion with UN officials was whether or not the proposal would lead to real change given that the P5 could still use their veto power if it was in the name of “vital national interests.” The point was raised that in order to counter this problem, “national interests” could be defined to be more in line with the UN Charter, which allows states the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations” while simultaneously ensuring that such a definition does not jeopardize prevention and response under the RtoP framework.

A Final Push for an Effective and Legitimate Security Council

It is clear that for this proposal to become a reality and to ensure that national interests do not hold the Council hostage, as some argue is the case with responding in Syria, civil society needs to come together and push for a more effective, legitimate and accountable UNSC. If the proposals on the veto put out by the ACT initiative and the French are implemented, it could lead to substantial changes and a more effective system to ensure that the international community is able to uphold its responsibility to protect in the face of atrocities. This is something civil society should support, because as FES articulates, “what is at stake here is not just the Council’s reputation. The UN as a whole, indeed the world as a whole, could profit.”

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Clarifying the Debate: Where RtoP really stands on Syria

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends donor's meeting on humanitarian aid to Syria.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre left) addresses a meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Syria’s civil war, which has resulted in more than 100,000 people killed to date and led to over 2 million refugees, has, for months, demanded an urgent response to deter further massacres. With the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on August 21st, killing a reported 300 to 400 people and injuring several thousands, the US, UK and France have all been considering an imminent military response. After first proposing a resolution in the UN Security Council authorizing all necessary means to protect civilians, the UK held a vote in parliament which ultimately ruled out possible military action. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing force against the Syrian government (which will then be voted on by the Senate). Meanwhile, Russia has argued for the need to wait for the results from UN inspectors as to whether or not chemical weapons were used. France, while first backing the US, has indicated they too now want to wait for the results of the UN inspectors before condoning any military action. Arguments attempting to justify, legalize and legitimatize a military attack have intensified, including efforts to use the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm as justification for the use of force. This post draws on the discussions surrounding the latest debate; outlines some of the main issues; and clarifies how RtoP should and should not be applied to the case of Syria.

Evaluating the Motivations Behind the Use of Force

In her article “Responsibility to Protect – Or to Punish” Charli Carpenter, a professor and author on civilian protection, identifies two distinct conversations about the legitimacy of a military campaign – whether military action is an appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons and whether force is an appropriate means for protecting civilian populations from atrocities committed at the hands of their government. Questioning the motives of intervention, Carpenter concludes that “the goal of upholding the chemical weapons taboo is not the same thing as the goal of protecting civilians…If the goal were really to protect civilians, the West would have intervened long ago”.

James Kearney and Alexandra Buskie, of the UK-based organization and ICRtoP member, UNA-UK, in their article, “Responding to Protect Civilians in Syria?” agree. Rather than the intervention being about the the immediate protection of Syrian civilians from mass atrocities, it is accountability for…the use of chemical weapons that forms the basis of President Obama’s ‘red line’.

Lakhdar Brahimi, Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States for Syria, addresses international law in the case of Syria. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

If the goal is to protect civilians, NGOs such as the UNA-UK, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggest that the US wait for the UN investigators to finalize their report so there is “no doubt”. Until then, the question of whether the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its population remains open. Even then, Annan asserts that it is the Security Council who “has moral responsibility to find a common ground after the chemical attacks.”

Does military intervention have a legal foot to stand on?

There is confusion over the legal basis for the use of force in Syria. Ian Hurd, professor and author of “Bomb Syria, Even if It is Illegal” explains Syria is party to neither the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, which bans those who have signed the Convention from developing, producing and stockpiling of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction nor the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which seeks to prohibit the production of chemical weapons and mandates their destruction. Regardless, Hurd claims that Syria has violated humanitarian principles if found guilty–specifically, the prohibition on the indiscriminate killing of civilians set out in the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Additionally, according to the United Nations Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Jenifer Welsh, “the use of chemical weapons during armed conflict is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.” In the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, heads of state affirmed they had a Responsibility to Protect populations from war crimes.

However, according to Gareth Evans who co-chaired the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which first articulated RtoP, “The trouble is that even the most extreme breach of international law [the use of chemical weapons] does not in itself legally authorise a coercive military response.”

Professor Craig Martin says the U.S. is using the principles of the Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention to provide a legal justification for intervention without UN authority. Gerard Gallucci, a retired U.S. diplomat and UN peacekeeper, expands on this in his article “R2P and International Law”, underlining that the U.S.’s tendency to cite RtoP as the authority for moving forward on military strikes without the Security Council is “a facetious argument” because RtoP is “meant to guide the international community, and particularly the Security Council in their decision on use of force.” RtoP never legitimizes the use of force unless it is approved by the UN Security Council “in line with Chapter 6, 7 and 8 of the UN Charter”. This has been confirmed by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and reiterated by UN Special Envoy to Syria Lahkdar Brahimi, who emphasized that “international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council.”

RtoP: Military Action, the Last Resort and the Moral Imperative

The city of Homs in Syria faces new rounds of shelling. UN Photo/David Manyua

Despite no legal justification for the use of military force without approval through the UN Security Council, some say intervention is still a valid option. Evans believes that, while there is no legal justification under customary international law to intervene militarily, there is the moral grounds to intervene and the international community needs to “find one [a justification] in the Charter”.

John Holmes, chair of the International Rescue Committeeconcludes in his article “Does the UN’s Responsibility to Protect necessitate an intervention in Syria?” that “justification for any military response cannot be punishment, but has to be deterring further use of such weapons, and protecting civilians in particular.

If the motivation for military intervention is protecting civilians, Carpenter argues that RtoP does indeed come into play, and the Security Council must decide if the “threshold” of last resort can be applied. She adds further that the Council needs to “consider both just cause in terms of civilians lost” and “right intention”, whereby the goal would have to be protecting civilians as far as possible, rather than national interests. She acknowledges that RtoP requires policymakers to “weigh in just cause against the question of whether there is a reasonable prospect of success at reducing civilian bloodshed” andto select the best type of intervention to meet the goals”.

Benjamin Shinglers article“Does world’s ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians justify a Syria strike? echoes this conviction, saying that“R2P should be acted upon, according to the UN doctrine, only if the following provisions are met: the force used is proportionate to the threat and likely to succeed and unlikely to cause more harm than good.” It is important to note that while RtoP states that military intervention should only be taken at the last resort, there are no agreed-upon guidelines on when and how to implement that use of force.

Will Intervention Cause More Harm than Good?

While there are no hard and fast rules of when the last resort has been reached, Evans, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) draw on the Precautionary Principles of the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty to outline that military action needs to be judged by its effects in protecting all Syrian civilians” to avoid attacks that could cause disproportionate harm to civilians compared to the expected military gains. Acknowledging this argument, the conclusion by Holmes is that “however supposedly surgical the strikes, significant numbers of civilians are likely to be killed”. Genocide Alert provides an analysis on the consequences of military intervention. They conclude that while there is the chance that deterring the use of chemical weapons could increase the protection of populations against future attacks, there is no direct protection provided by any current intervention plan. Rather, they argue that unless careful planning and execution takes place to protect civilians, the Syrian government could retaliate against the population. When considering intervention, HRW shares the position of Genocide Alert that the protection of civilians must be the top priority, stating that “any armed intervention should be judged by how well it protects all Syrians civilians from further atrocities.” Should military intervention take place, HRW asserts that “feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and ensure that civilians are not objects of attacks” is essential.

While Gilberto Rodrigues of Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales agrees that civil society should not support unilateral attacks in the name of the Responsibility to Protect, he suggests that if armed intervention is endorsed by the Security Council, then this body should take into consideration Brazil’s responsibility while protecting, which sets limits on the use of force to ensure military intervention actually achieves the goal of protecting civilians.

Beyond Military Intervention: More Targeted Dialogue

Beyond debating the justification of RtoP in the case of Syria, a number of NGOs and journalists have touched on the need to explore other policy options to find a resolution. Roméo Dallaire, distinguished fellow of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, thinks there should have been an intervention more than a year ago when the situation was ripe for civilian protection. It should’ve been on the ground and it should have been an intervention…to protect the civilians instead of having to see the civilians arm themselves and fight.” Now, Dallaire is convinced military intervention is likely to do nothing. Alex De Waal and Bridget Conley-Zilkic of the World Peace Foundation agree with this point in their article “What Sir William Would Do in Syria”, stating that it is folly to think that airstrikes can be limited: they are ill-conceived as punishment, fail to protect civilians and, most important, hinder peacemaking…the most convincing punishment would come through an international war crimes tribunal outside Syria.” Professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro extend on this in their article, “On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn’t Optional” identifying a number of things US President Obama can do before resorting to military action, and therefore highlighting “the choice between military force or nothing is a false one.”

A number of NGOs have published statements condemning the use of chemical weapons. In a letter to the US President Obama 25 other NGOs, including the Friends Committee on National Legislation, asserted that military strikes are not the answer to the crisis in Syria and there is “no solution other than a political one.” They in turn call upon Obama to intensify diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed.

This point is echoed by the statement of International Crisis Group (ICG), which believes that the “debate over a possible strike…has obscured and distracted from what ought to be the overriding international preoccupation: how to revitalise the search for a political settlement.”

Convinced that US action has nothing to do with the interests of the Syrian people but rather the government’s need to reinforce its credibility, ICG asserts that any solution to the crisis can only be achieved through “a sustained ceasefire and widely accepted political transition.” ICG argues this, declaring that,

This requires a two-fold effort lacking to date: developing a realistic compromise political offer as well as genuinely reaching out to both Russia and Iran in a manner capable of eliciting their interest – rather than investing in a prolonged conflict that has a seemingly bottomless capacity to escalate.”

Genocide Alert and UNA-UK agree that this requires inclusive dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders.

There is no military solution to this conflict?

To date, RtoP has been invoked in the crisis by officially reminding Syria of its responsibility to protect its populations over 12 times through UN resolutions of the Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council. The UN Secretary-General has also used his power to shape how the conflict is understood, while a number of countries have placed sanctions against Syria. In this regard, RtoP has been successful at keeping the international community engaged on the urgent need for a resolution in Syria.

The use of force is only one tool under the RtoP norm. As it is still unclear whether military intervention would ensure that Syria will uphold its responsibility to protect and would not cause more harm than good, there is an importance to continue to prioritize diplomatic measures to resolve the conflict. While some argue there is justification for military intervention under RtoP, others like Kofi Annan truly believe “there is no military solution to this conflict”. More alternative solutions need to be considered, because in the long-term, holding to account those who have committed atrocities; ensuring an inclusive political peace and reconciliation process; and upholding the protection of the human rights of all ethnic and religious groups will be needed to protect against the future commission of RtoP crimes.

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Whose side is the government on? Targeting of the Rohingya in Myanmar/Burma Leaves Civil Society Demanding Action

On 3 June 2012, the killing and reported rape of a Buddhist woman followed by the massacre of ten Muslims traveling in Rakhine state marked the beginning of a series of violent attacks against the Rohingya communities, their townships and residents in Myanmar/Burma causing widespread destruction of Muslim neighborhoods, mosques and villages and massive displacement. Human Rights Watch‘s (HRW) report All You Can Do is Pray, documents a number of violent incidences against the Rohingya, a minority Muslim population that has long been discriminated against in Myanmar/Burma and the region, since the attacks; including government backed “crimes against humanity” committed against them during a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”. Despite the government appointed Rakhine Commission’s attempt to provide recommendations for improving the ethnic tensions between the Rohingya and the Buddhist populations in Myanmar/Burma, the report failed to effectively tackle the discrimination against the Rohingya. Instead, authorities continue to reinforce the segregation of this population through discriminatory laws and practices that underpin their lack of citizenship and their mistreatment, while also ignoring the violent attacks on Muslim neighborhoods that have continued.

Civil society and UN actors point to the government’s involvement

Under the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), it is the primary responsibility of the state to protect all populations from crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide and war crimes, but in Myanmar/Burma, the government is not assuming this role. To alleviate this tension between the Rohingya minority and the Buddhist population, the Rahkine Commission, a 27 member body which was appointed in August 2012 to examine the causes of the violence between the groups, called for a doubling of security forces in Rakhine State. This is concerning given the number of reports pointing to the involvement of those tasked to restore order – the government, local security forces (including police, inter-agency border control and the army) – in the victimization of the Rohingya. At the United Nations (UN) level, UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights situation in Burma, Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana has said Muslims were clearly targeted with brutal efficiency during attacks on property and the killing of a several Rohingyas. He went on to confirm he received reports of “state involvement in some acts of violence”, including military and police standing by while atrocities are committed as well as evidence of direct involvement of supporting well organized Buddhist gangs in their attacks. One of Burma Campaign UK‘s, latest reports concluded that the targeting of the Rohingya – which includes attacks based solely on identity and the implementation of a number of discriminatory laws, such as the 1982 Citizenship Law denying the population citizenship – violates at least eight international human rights laws and treaty obligations. The UN and a number of civil society organizations, including Amnesty International (AI) and Burma Campaign UK, have expressed concern over the lack of recommendations of the Commission to address issues related to impunity, and the discriminatory laws, as well as the state’s failure to stop “incitement of hatred and violence against Muslims.” The government has failed to address the root causes of the clashes between the groups and implement effective policies to tackle intolerance and promote religious and societal harmony, which, as the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) declares, shows that the government, is “failing their duty of the Responsibility to Protect.”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, visits displacement camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State UN Photo/David Ohana

Quelling ethnic tension: Beyond the Commission’s recommendations

Civil society organizations have been at the forefront of demanding action and issuing recommendations to quell ethnic tensions, which vary from calling for the implementation of comprehensive reconciliation plans, urging the international community to pressure the government to reverse discriminatory policies, establishing an in-country office UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and addressing the humanitarian situation with unrestrictive access for aid delivery. The most debated issues are how to end impunity and resolve the statelessness of the Rohingya population caused by the 1982 Citizenship Law, which does not recognize Rohingyas as one of the 135 legally recognized ethnic groups in Myanmar/Burma.

Calls for ensuring justice and putting an end to impunity

According to ALTSEAN-Burma, and Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the Commission has failed to hold accountable those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas. Echoing this, Mr. Quintana stresses that holding to account those responsible will also be an integral part of restoring relations of trust and harmony between different ethnic and religious communities.” Group such as AI and GCR2Phave recommended impartial investigations to tackle the culture of impunity while HRW has more controversially called for “an independent international commission to investigate crimes against humanity.” At the government level, the United Kingdom is a little apprehensive to undertake such bold action, stopping short of proposing to set up an independent international investigation, but rather asking for the Myanmar/Burma government to conduct an “independent investigative work” to assess “whether ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed” - a step Burma Campaign UK believes is useless unless it is an “international” investigation. Mr. Quintana, concerned about how accountability will be ensured going forward, supports AI‘s suggestions that in addition to ending impunity a “comprehensive reform of the security forces, including the establishment of robust accountability mechanisms, adequate vetting systems and training on relevant international standards, is also essential.”

Deciding on what it means to be Burmese

While accountability for past crimes is vital, preventing further tensions requires addressing the root causes of the problem as well. At the heart of the issue is the government’s 1982 Citizenship Act, which denies the Rohingya population national citizenship. Under international human rights standards no person can be left stateless and therefore this denied access is a form of discrimination that needs to be urgently addressed. As if statelessness was not enough, there are a number of other restrictive laws and tight regulations, including restrictions on travel, birth, death, immigration, migration, marriage and land ownership, that target the Rohingya and deny them basic rights guaranteed in international law. Civil society organizations, such MRG, were hoping the Commission would call for a review of the 1982 Citizenship Law; however, the government made it clear it has no intention to do so. In fact, the authorities seem adamant to continue the policies reinforcing the Two-Child Policy that controls the growth of the Rohingya population, an action that HRW declares “could amount to crimes against humanity” and as such must be publicly revoked immediately. Burma Campaign UK‘s approach is different, believing that a cultural change is just as important as the reversal of the discriminatory laws. According to the organization, the society needs to decide what it means to be Burmese and “there needs to be an acceptance that Burma is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country and people from different ethnic groups can live side by side.”

The Responsibility to Assist

RtoP outlines that it is also the responsibility of the international community to assist in building the capacity of states to ensure the protection of populations against any of the four crimes and violations. For the Asia-Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect, this should be in the way of building the capacity of Myanmar’s/Burma’s authorities to manage ethnic relations and inter-faith communal dialogue. Others, like the GCR2P, are calling for the international community to pressure the government to prioritize the development of a comprehensive reconciliation plan to engage ethnic minorities. Targeting the European Union, Burma Campaign UK, and MRG have urged the bodynot to lift sanctions against the government and have encouraged that diplomatic relations with Myanmar/Burma must remain limited. Meanwhile, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the persecution and violence of the Rohingyas, and requesting the revocation of the discriminatory polices. Regardless of the action that has been taken or called for, as Burma Campaign UK points out, the international community must remind the government of their international commitment to the responsibility to protect, and to put pressure where needed to demand action to protect populations.

Going forward: Protection free of discrimination

While RtoP outlines the obligations of all governments and the international community to to protect populations from atrocities, in the case of Myanmar/Burma, amounting evidence suggests more needs to be done to ensure such protection. As UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said in his March 25 statement on the crisis, there is a considerable risk of further violence if measures are not put in place to prevent this escalation.” As many civil society groups have said, both the international community and the Myanmar/Burma authorities need to come together and implement measures to prevent future crimes and address the underlying issues that foster the continued discrimination against the Rohingya; however, exactly how this is to be done remains unclear and debated. As AI declares, what is certain is that “the Myanmar authorities are responsible for ensuring protection of people, their homes and livelihoods. While doing so, they must ensure protection of all communities without discrimination.”

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Spotlight Member Series: The Permanent Peace Movement

The ICRtoP is pleased to share our latest Spotlight series post, highlighting the work of Lebanon-based member, the Permanent Peace Movement (PPM) in advancing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) norm. The Coalition spoke with colleagues at PPM about how the organization is engaging with its constituency in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to strengthen understanding of RtoP and overcome challenges facing the norm.

PPM created during a time of war to promote peace and reconciliation

For over 20 years, the Permanent Peace Movement has worked on building a culture of peace at the local, national and international levels to prevent and halt conflict and its reemergence, actions that directly impact atrocities prevention. PPM was established in 1989 at the height of the Lebanese civil war by a group of university students united by their determination to create a Lebanon free of conflict through promoting peaceful and non-violent resolution. To work towards achieving their vision and upholding these principles, PPM began and has continued implementing capacity building workshops for a range of audiences including students in schools and universities, civil society organizations, media personnel, political parties and civilians within local communities and refugee camps. These initiatives focus on achieving the overall goal of conflict resolution through advocating for dialogue amongst parties, promoting education and remembrance to foster healing and reconciliation, informing on the importance of arms control and how small arms and light weapons impact conflict, stopping the use of child soldiers, and so much more. Through this work, PPM has empowered individuals and institutions to play an active role in resolving crises before they reach the point where large-scale violence is committed. While their first RtoP-specific initiative began in 2012, you can see that PPM has been working to spread awareness on a number of agendas related to the Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of atrocities for many years.

First steps to advance RtoP in the MENA region

Believing in the importance of RtoP as a framework for the prevention of atrocity crimes and how the norm, if understood and operationalized, could impact the Middle East and North Africa, PPM took deliberate steps to raise awareness in the region through hosting the first-ever MENA regional workshop on RtoP in collaboration with the ICRtoP. Participants, which included civil society organizations from over 14 MENA countries and territories, a representative from Coalition member, the World Federation of United Nations Associations, staff from the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, and representatives from the League of Arab States and Lebanese Parliament during the first day, discussed a number of topics related to RtoP – from the development of the norm to RtoP’s regional applicability through country case examinations, to how RtoP relates to other agendas and what civil society can do to engage with regional and national actors to advance the norm. During the conference, Mr. Fadi Abi Allam, the President of the Permanent Peace Movement emphasized that understanding and developing mechanisms for early warning and early response, as well as supporting dialogue to address misunderstandings between parties are essential to find peaceful solutions to conflict and prevent RtoP crimes.

Participants attend first MENA roundtable for civil society on RtoP.  Photo credit: PPM

Participants attend first MENA roundtable for civil society on RtoP. Photo credit: PPM

The hurdles facing work on RtoP

Despite the achievements of this workshop, advancing RtoP in the region is not without its challenges, especially following the military intervention in Libya in 2011 and the ongoing humanitarian crisis and civil war in Syria. Our colleagues at PPM raised the issue of the all too common misunderstanding of RtoP as a tool only for military intervention, a view held by many civil society organizations and political actors in and outside of the region. Another challenge closely linked to this is the belief that, hidden in the implementation of RtoP is a double standard whereby “superpowers” on the UN Security Council agree to act or exercise their veto power only when it’s in their best interest. PPM suggests that this latter obstacle is not helped by a general lack of trust and confidence they have found within the MENA region towards UN bodies and Member States, many of whom are largely considered biased, based on discussions about the Arab/Israel conflict. Additionally, depending on the country in question, there may be a number of more particular challenges for implementing RtoP that need to be overcome based on the political contexts.

But the hurdles won’t stop them – PPM’s next steps on RtoP

Despite challenges facing RtoP in the region, PPM is confident that through partnernships and training workshops, barriers to the advancement of the norm can be overcome.

For a long time, PPM has partnered with civil society organizations throughout the region and worked closely with policy markers at the national and regional levels. Since the Arab Spring, PPM has witnessed the creation of an opening for civil society engagement and collaboration with the League of Arab States (LAS), which could serve as an avenue to raise RtoP with the body and its Member States. While PPM has unofficially worked with the LAS since 2003, a more direct and formal partnership has begun to develop in the last year, following a regional dialogue meeting held in June 2012 between the League and civil society. Convened as a follow up to a larger meeting in 2011 hosted by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), the June dialogue led to the development of a longer term process for this engagement, including the League’s announcement of the creation of a body within its Secretariat to focus solely on coordination with civil society. While there is much to be excited about, our colleagues are quick to note that this process is still at the beginning and most basic stages, and initial progress has been slow. However, PPM, which is also a member of GPPAC and serves as their regional representative for the Middle East and North Africa, will be a critical partner for the LAS as it works to strengthen its engagement with civil society. They’re already working to promote some ideas for practical cooperation, including the possibility of establishing a focal point to exchange documents and information with civil society, or creating system for civil society to inform the LAS both on the continued development of this process and its work.

In addition to bringing civil society and the LAS together to not only increase general cooperation but also one day serve to advance RtoP, PPM is looking at how to strategically tackle some of the remaining obstacles facing the norm. Such work will require more than just them, as it takes actors at all levels strategically working together to truly create an environment where RtoP crimes will not be committed. Recognizing this, our colleagues at PPM said, “our region is facing real threats of mass atrocities…it is not possible for one entity to do everything on the Responsibility to Protect, but….options are available for everyone to contribute and make protection a possible alternative.” An initial and crucial step is to continue promoting a comprehensive understanding of RtoP as a norm that is based on prevention and assistance, so as to dispel the common misconception that RtoP is only intervention. To begin working to achieve this, PPM is developing a regional program and strategy to raise awareness on the norm, which will bring together a range of actors to discuss RtoP as a framework for the prevention of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide and their role in preventing and responding to atrocity crimes. PPM hopes that such a program will assist in convening civil society to increase their work on the norm, and increase understanding of RtoP amongst national and regional policy makers to ultimately assist in strengthening their capacity to protect populations. We look forward to seeing this work develop!

To stay up to date on PPM’s work, be sure to like their Facebook Page, follow them on Twitter and visit their website!

 

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The Case of José Efraín Ríos Montt: Hitting the Reset Button on Justice in Guatemala

When former Guatemalan leader, José Efraín Ríos Montt, was found guilty of genocide on 10 May, it was a historical moment not only in the country, but for the world. It was the first time a former leader had been put on trial and convicted of genocide – one of the four crimes and violations within the Responsibility to Protect frameworkby a national, rather than international, court. For the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, a Guatemala-based organization founded by survivors of the state’s military campaign against indigenous villages 12 years ago, the conviction was “an opportunity to recuperate the truth that has been denied to our families and to the Guatemalan society…it was an opportunity to confront the past and address the root causes of the discrimination” they had suffered. Human Right Watch‘s Americas Director, José Miguel Vicanco, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also welcomed the verdict, with USHMM stating that it “sent a powerful message…to the world that nobody, not even a former head of state, is above the law when it comes to committing genocide.” It was a victory for justice and the ongoing fight against impunity as well as another step towards healing for the victims and society – until the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on 20 May . We are now left to wonder where the case stands, what this will mean for the victims and what effect this will have on justice and reconciliation in Guatemala.

Atrocities committed – the crimes and the verdict

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A woman from the Mayan population of Quiche region of Guatemala – an indigenous group in Guatemala who have felt persecuted for decades. UN Photo/John Olsson

An estimated 200,000 people were killed and over 1 million displaced during Guatemala’s 36 year-long civil war, which spanned from 1960-1996, with some 83% of the victims being indigenous Ixil Maya. Ríos Montt was sentenced by Guatemala’s top court to 80 years in prison for his role as the “intellectual author” of the killing of 1,771 people and the displacement of tens of thousands during his 17 months as president between 1982 and 1983. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the key question throughout the trial was whether Ríos Montt intentionally targeted Ixil Mayan communities while conducting the counterinsurgency campaign waged against guerillas operating in the Ixil region. Despite strong evidence against him, which included testimony by over 100 witnesses – including psychologists, military personnel, and victims -who told horrific stories of killings, sexual violence and the destruction of communities, Ríos Montt denied his role in ordering the genocide of the Mayan population, saying, “I never authorized, I never proposed, I never ordered acts against any ethnic or religious group.” Nonetheless, on 10 May, Judge Jazmin Barrios, announced that the court found Ríos Montt did plan and order the brutal campaign. In reading the summary of the verdict, Judge Barrios statedWe are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group” which had been considered public enemies of the state and an inferior race, and concluded that the “violence against them, was not spontaneous but planned.

An imperfect trial? Prosecution challenges the Ríos Montt proceedings

With Ixil Mayan witnesses and victims testifying about massacres, torture, systematic sexual violence and the destruction of the Mayan culture, the trial, which began on 19 March, stirred up much interest and debate in Guatemala and abroad. While international human rights organizations celebrated the conviction, it was met with some controversy at home. The Constitutional Court was the target of lobbying by opponents to the verdict, including the state’s powerful business federation, Cacif, because they believed such a case tarnished the reputation of Guatemalans, equating them with the Nazis.

The trial proceedings themselves were also rife with drama and complications. From the beginning, one of Ríos Montt’s lawyers, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, challenged Judge Barrios’ legitimacy, accusing her of bias and partiality. This claim that the court was unable to deliver a fair verdict and the attempt to challenge the judges led Mr. Garcia Gudiel to be expelled on the first day, although he would be later reinstated. The issues didn’t stop there, as the rest of the defense team stormed out of the court on 18 April in protest at what they called “illegal proceedings”. The next day Mr. Garcia Gudiel was again expelled, this time for a few hours, after accusing Judge Barrios of failing to hear his legal challenges. The defense team used the second expulsion to declare to the Constitutional Court that their client was deprived of the lawyer of his choice, leading to an order that there be no sentencing until the issues had been resolved. The tribunal, however, disobeyed that order and issued their sentence of Ríos Montt’s case.According to Geoff Thale, an expert on Guatemala at the Washington Office on Latin America, as evidence presented during the trial clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill members of the Ixil group, his legal team’s only “tactic was to go after the judges who presided over the case.” The prosecutors consistently asserted that the defense strategy relied on constitutional challenges to delay or obstruct the trial. As the trial came to an end, defense lawyers announced that they would appeal, and appeal they did. This led to the three-to-two ruling by a panel of Constitutional judges to annul everything that had happened during the proceedings since 19 April, when Ríos Montt was briefly left without a defense lawyer and the trial should have come to a halt until the unresolved defense appeals had been resolved.

Hitting the reset button on justice?

The details of the annulment and how the trial plans to “hit the reset button” to 19 April remain unclear. The Constitutional Court has said that statements delivered in court before 19 April would stand, but all testimonies after that would be invalid, and the closing arguments would have to be given again but, as legal experts have said, repeating the final days before the same tribunal would amount to double jeopardy. As we wait to understand the possible outcomes of the Constitutional Court decision what is certain is that the decision was a blow to human rights advocates everywhere who “had called his conviction a sign that Guatemala’s courts would no longer allow impunity for the country’s powerful.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights criticized the “abusive use of the appeal [for legal protection] as a delaying practice” to prevent human rights prosecutions. According to Minority Rights Group International, “this ruling of the Constitutional Court shows the weakness in Guatemala’s justice system,” and serves as a barrier to achieving accountability. Impunity Watch also released a critical statement on the situation, saying, “The decision of the Constitutional Court legitimizes the systematic and abusive legal procedures and formalities, widely condemned by Guatemalan society and international organizations…The politicized environment that is serving as a framework for the decision of the Constitutional Court only reinforces the country’s existing social perception that justice in Guatemala is neither independent nor impartial and that it favors those with the power and money to position themselves above the legal system.” While the attempt to seek justice is not over, the survivors and victims who gave evidence of the systematic violence may have to face a return to court, presenting a potentially serious challenge as “they may have lost their faith in the country’s legal system.”

Breakdown in trust: what does this mean for Guatemalan society?

Civil society representatives work on issues of justice and security for indigenous people in Guatemala City. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Finding Ríos Montt guilty of genocide showed the Ixil Mayan population that the violence and brutal crimes committed against them would not be accepted and that perpetrators, regardless of their level of power, would be held to account. It offered hope to victims of atrocities around the world that justice can be served. Before the announcement of the annulment, Impunity Watch celebrated and declared that “this is an example of how justice should be the vehicle to generate social trust in the state. It can end violence, polarization and conflict.”

Amnesty International believes that, by overturning the historical verdict, the Constitutional Court has snatched away the rights of the Ixil Mayan people to truth, justice and reparations. According to the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, the annulment has taken place in the context where business elites and groups linked to the military, which was responsible for carrying out the violence, rejected the sentence. By rejecting the original verdict, and in turn supporting human rights perpetrators, these groups have encouraged social polarization, and present another barrier to reconciliation within the country. As Manfredo Marroquin, the President of Accion Cuidadana, a non-governmental organization committed to building democracy in Guatemala, puts it, “Impunity remains the only law of force in Guatemala” where the extreme weakness of the justice system makes the country “a major threat to regional democratic coexistence.”

The future of the Ríos Montt case

While no one knows what will happen next, we do know, as UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, reiterated, that ”the victims of the atrocities committed during the civil war in Guatemala and their families have waited many years for justice…[and] Justice delayed is justice denied.” We have seen in far too many countries what happens when states fail to bring those responsible for serious and massive human rights violations to justice – tensions, discrimination, and continued conflict. As Mr. Dieng reminded us, only with justice and accountability for atrocity crimes “can Guatemala consolidate its peace process and build trust and confidence among its diverse population. Such trust and the credibility of its institutions are indispensable for the prevention of future abuses”.

For more information on the trial, visit the Ríos Montt Trial website.

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RtoP and Rebuilding: Preventing atrocities through post-conflict reconstruction

In the lead up to the World Summit, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, noted that “roughly half of the countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence within five years.” RtoP was first put forward in the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, with advocates embracing it as a full spectrum of responsibilities from prevention, to reaction and rebuilding. When governments unanimously endorsed RtoP in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the “responsibility to rebuild” was not included (presumably because rebuilding was to be the focus of the newly created Peacebuilding Commission), but rebuilding obviously plays a large part in preventing a return to conflict and the commission of atrocity crimes. This leaves us asking – What is the responsibility of actors in post-atrocity situations? With a number of states – Libya, te d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, and Kenya – emerging from bloodshed in recent years, it is important to understand how actors can effectively contribute to the rebuilding process.

What does post-crisis reconstruction after mass atrocities entail? 

Mass atrocities – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing – are the most extreme forms of violence and often literally destroy a country by leaving it with collapsing infrastructure and destabilized political, judicial and legal systems. These institutions often need to be rebuilt from scratch and on top of this, the social fabric – how members of a society interact with each other – breaks down, and mistrust and suspicion predominate between the fractured communities.  As can be expected then, rebuilding is a complicated and multi-faceted process, and includes a range of measures that can be taken by actors at all levels to assist in reconstruction. Such measures may include fostering political inclusiveness and promoting national unity, reforming legislation, ratifying relevant treaties, promoting human rights, monitoring elections, improving judicial processes, reintegrating ex-combatants and others into productive society, curtailing the availability of small arms, providing psychological support and reparations to victims, and establishing truth and reconciliation commissions. It is critical that these efforts not only serve to bring security to a country or region, but also address the causes of the conflict and mistrust between communities.  Without this complete approach, it is likely that continued suspicion could fester, risking a return to the deadly cycle of violence. What this demonstrates is that no single measure in the rebuilding process stands alone, but rather that all action must be linked to ensure a holistic approach that achieves long-term stability.

Responsibility to Rebuild in Practice

But what does rebuilding look like in practice?  As the cases of Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Sri Lanka show, post-conflict countries are fragile and the tasks before them complex, as each state faces unique challenges based on its past, the causes of the conflict, and the level of destruction experienced.

Libya: Weapons continue to destabilize a nation and the region

The international community upheld its responsibility to protect populations in Libya by taking swift and coordinated efforts to halt the bloodshed and imminent threat to the people of Benghazi at the hands of the Gaddafi government, which had resorted to force against what began as a peaceful popular uprising. However, rebuilding remains an ongoing challenge as the countless weapons, which flooded the nation during the crisis following the arming of the opposition by outside states, continues to destabilize security in Libya and surrounding countries. While measures were taken to secure anti-aircraft missiles, nearly every adult male carries a weapon, and countless more arms that went missing have turned up in the hands of rebel forces in Mali. This is not to say the government and international community have done nothing since the crisis – both have remained engaged in the justice process by attempting to eliminate impunity through the national judiciary and the International Criminal Court, and have provided economic support, with the European Union giving an economic package to combat post-crisis challenges and the United States unfreezing assets worth US $32 billion. Yet as Ramesh Thakur argues, the challenges we see today demonstrate that more needs to be done to prevent revenge killings, reprisal attacks and the return to mass violence by establishing security and law and order and disarming the country.

Côte d’Ivoire: The struggle for justice and reconciliation 

Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire continues to struggle to rebuild by holding perpetrators accountable following the disputed 2010 presidential election between former President Laurent Gbagbo and recognized election winner Alassane Ouattara that left hundreds dead, thousands displaced and descended the country into war. Since the crisis, claims of one-sided justice have emerged – further perpetuating divisions between communities and causing an increase in attacks. Pro-Ouattara forces were quick to seek justice by arresting Gbagbo on 11 April 2011. They re-established key institutions such as courthouses and prisons, and assured that all responsible for atrocities would be held accountable. Yet, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, tensions remain as the special unit established to investigate crimes has charged more than 150 people, but all only from Gbagbo’s supporters. If continued, this would ignore the risks associated with giving one side of the conflict a free pass for committing atrocities, which could have devastating outcomes for the people and the country. As HRW states, “the impunity of today leads to the crimes tomorrow”.

Sri Lanka: “Exclusive development” renews tensions

Following the 30-year civil war that arose out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority and ultimately destroyed the country’s infrastructure, halted development, and resulted in the commission of RtoP crimes – including 40,000 killed in the last months of the conflict – the Sri Lankan government began to rebuild. The government has driven development by addressing housing needs and providing safe drinking water and electricity. With the building of highways and airports, the government has begun to extend transportation and develop the tourism industry. These efforts, however, have not been without their challenges.  Firstly is the fact that some areas of the country remain devastated and uncultivated, leading, as International Crisis Group (ICG) points out, to renewed tensions between communities as some Tamils believe the development process has been selective and the government has undertaken efforts to impose Sinhala culture on Tamil communities across the country.  Then there’s the issue of accountability, with HRW noting that the government has resisted taking meaningful steps to investigate and prosecute government forces for alleged war crimes and failed to implement most of the accountability-related recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. ICG recommends that the international community increase pressure on the government to make it more accountable and to expand the democratic political role for the Tamil minority. The failure to address these social aspects of rebuilding may risk reviving Sri Lanka’s violent past.

Preventing atrocities in the long-term

Just as every crisis is unique, so is every path for reconstruction.  While the process of rebuilding a society following atrocity crimes remains an imprecise science, what these cases demonstrate is that there needs to be a holistic approach where security, justice and reconciliation and sustainable development are able to be achieved. The responsibility of all actors is not just to act to prevent or respond to imminent threats but assist in rebuilding efforts to ensure that populations are not threatened by the reoccurrence of atrocities.  As the UN Secretary-General reminds in his 2009 report on RtoP, “The surest predictor of genocide is past genocide,” so we need to be sure that the world’s attention goes well beyond stopping the most immediate threats, and includes long-term commitments to preventing atrocities.

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Genocide Awareness Month: Creating the Will to Act

The ongoing crises and threats to civilians in Syria and Mali, in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) serve as reminders that mass atrocities are continuing the world over, and that more needs to be done to prevent and protect from these horrific crimes if we are to live up to the promise of “Never Again” . With the unanimous endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the 2005 World Summit, world leaders took a historic step by declaring that all governments have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. During the month of April, which serves as ‘Genocide Awareness Month’, civil society across the globe brings attention to ongoing atrocities and educates on what individuals, organizations, and stakeholders at all levels can do to stand up in the face of genocide. While governments have committed to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes, it is up to civil society and the general public to demand that world leaders uphold these responsibilities. Public demand, however, depends on public understanding and awareness of the ongoing crimes and available prevention tools. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protects global membership works to raise awareness on the prevention of genocide and other atrocities, not only in April but in their activities throughout the year. ICRtoP spoke with several Coalition members and close partners to gain insight on how they’re educating on genocide and how individuals and other NGOs can get involved. 

International and local efforts to build networks of advocates

The work of ICRtoP members and partners demonstrates the creative initiatives that civil society undertakes to increase understanding and knowledge on genocide prevention. United to End Genocide (UEG), and Vision GRAM-International, are two of the many organizations that believe building partnerships and working in networks builds the impact of individual activists, communities and organizations working to prevent atrocities across the globe. When we spoke with UEG, one of the largest activist organizations in the United States dedicated to preventing and ending genocide, our colleagues noted that their organization “believe[s] the only way to prevent mass atrocities and to end genocide once and for all, is to build a large, powerful activist network – a sustainable movement – that will sound the alarm and demand action by our elected leaders to protect all who face these threats, anywhere in the world.” They do this by rallying their network of hundreds of thousands of activists around what UEG calls  “action opportunities”, which have included circulating “a global petition calling for greater awareness and action to address ongoing abuses and suffering in Darfur“, and also , “ sounding the alarms about ominous warning signs of genocide by testifying before the U.S. Congress” on the situation in Burma. Meanwhile, Vision GRAM-International, a human rights organization working to promote and defend the rights of children and women in conflict zones in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, is currently recruiting local authorities, influential community members, former child soldiers, victims of genocide, churches, schools and other members of civil society to build a network of human rights activists within their local and regional constituency.  Vision Gram will then work to train their growing network “in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, and actions to prevent genocide,” to ensure that “actions of advocacy and lobbying are organized at local, national and international level in collaboration with several associations…to remind governments of their responsibilities to protect people against atrocities.” 

Educating actors at all levels through seminars, conferences and publications

Seminars, conferences and publications are useful tools for NGOs to educate and promote discussion amongst civil society, governments, regional and international bodies, and the UN to prioritize the prevention of, and identify strategies to, halt genocide and other atrocity crimes. One group that carries out this crucial and influential work is the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), based in New York City. AIPR, which is dedicated to training and assisting governments to fulfill their responsibility to prevent atrocity crimes, created the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention and established intergovernmental networks, in Latin America and Africa, to educate policymakers from around the world on the causes of and tools available to halt genocide. Additionally, AIPR releases publications and holds events, as explained by their Communications Officer and Alumni Network Director, Alex Zucker, “We co-organized ‘Deconstructing Prevention’ a public conference at Cardozo Law School in New York, and we are currently preparing a volume on the theory, policy, and practice of mass atrocity prevention, with contributions from leading scholars and practitioners, that we hope will become required reading for policymakers, scholars, activists, and students.” Furthermore, they have organized a panel on incorporating genocide prevention into the development agenda, which will be held on 18 April.

The reach of these global education efforts can be expanded through the translation of materials, and release of publications and briefings in numerous languages. These activities allow NGOs to broaden their audience when educating on country specific situations and atrocity crimes. Genocide Alert, based in Germany, uses it’s German-language platform on the Responsibility to Protect to provide an online “space for articles that relate to RtoP and Germany and current events, interviews and conference outcomes relating to RtoP.” They recently published a short German-language summary of the European Union Task Force Report on the Prevention of Mass Atrocities to engage German politicians on the report’s recommendations targeting how the European Union can improve its genocide prevention capabilities. Additionally Genocide Alert, who is “working with German politicians to integrate the responsibility to protect and related issues into the party platforms”, is using publications to ‘name and shame’, and plans to “publish a ranking of political parties in Germany evaluating their activities on genocide prevention and response in the past four years.” 

New and innovative tools for prevention: social media and technology

In the last couple of years we have witnessed the power of social media as an essential tool for bringing the world’s attention to a range of topics, but civil society is pushing the boundaries of technology by going beyond Facebook and Twitter to create new, interactive and innovative ways to carry out their work. Christopher Tuckwood, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, explains how his organization uses technology, saying that “Wherever possible and appropriate, we seek to incorporate new technologies (especially web-based and mobile ones) into our work. For example, we recently launched Hatebase, which is the world’s largest online database of hate speech.” With the database, they’ve developed risk assessments to identify concerning situations and threats of genocide, and then use that information to inform and advocate for other organizations to take preventive action. It is important to acknowledge that their work, however, does not just occur in cyberspace – but is complemented by on-the-ground action. For example they recently sent their first field mission to Kenya during the recent presidential elections where, as accredited election observers, they monitored first hand developments on the ground. Meanwhile, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), a global member-led network of civil society organizations who are actively working on conflict prevention and peace-building, has a set-up a the Peace Portal, which serves as “a unique online platform for learning, sharing and collaborating in the conflict prevention and peace-building field…The Portal encourages information sharing and participation from civil society and grassroots organisations, whose voices often can not find the online visibility they need.” 

Creating space for and promoting dialogue

Many of these organizations’ programs aim to encourage dialogue amongst different stakeholders to prevent atrocities. Dialogue between minority populations, civil society, government officials, and other actors can help reduce tensions between groups at an early and preventive stage, long before the escalation of a conflict, thus finding a peaceful and inclusive resolution before the risk of atrocity crimes becomes imminent. It can also build the confidence, skills, and capacity of all of these actors with the ultimate result of creating an environment for solving tensions and problems together. The Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM), an organization based in Costa Rica working to develop regional capacity for atrocity prevention through research analysis and advocacy campaigns, is just one example of an organization creating space for such dialogue. While the organization also relies on social media and technology to communicate its awareness message, an essential element of all four of its main projects is the promotion of dialogue as a tool for prevention. For example, its program “Dialogando” which literally means talking in Spanish, provides forums for discussions between civil society and governments to improve the capacity of law enforcement of the Ministry of Labour, and in turn the civilian protection framework, in Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Similarly, Lebanon-based organization, the Permanent Peace Movement, promotes peace throughout the Middle East and North African through their dialogue and awareness raising projects. Their program “Non-violence and Reconciliation in the Lebanese Mountains” uses dialogue to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation amongst local Lebanese communities in the mountain areas where violence that erupted in 2008 between different religious groups created a rift between previously peaceful villages. Working together, members of these communities produced a book to educate others and share successful stories about the co-existence between villages, which in turn reduced the likelihood of renewed violence.

Engaging national and regional actors

Preventing atrocity crimes does not stop at educating and raising awareness. It is essential to engage with national and regional actors in order to implement policies aimed at protecting civilians. As mentioned above, Genocide Alert’s primary focus is to engage directly with national political actors, and their programs include regular discussions on “genocide prevention, R2P and related issues with German parliamentarians and experts and make specific recommendations for a more effective German policy in regard to the responsibility to protect.”  In addition, United Nations Association-United Kingdom (UNA-UK) has a R2P Program, which seeks to put the Responsibility to Protect on the political agenda by galvanizing political support for RtoP and fostering an understanding of the concept within the public domain. They are attempting to consolidate a UK national RtoP policy network and build support within the UK government and national and regional political parties by engaging policy makers through reports and high-level round tables targeting decision makers. In South America, Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales, (CRIES) is working hard to bring the issue of RtoP amongst all actors in Latin America and Caribbean. In 2012 alone, through the release of their academic journal on RtoP and subsequent conferences, they engaged with a range of actors from representatives for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and politicians to academia and representatives of civil society organizations in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and at UN Headquarters in New York. This is not unlike GPPAC’s programs which strive “for multi-actor collaboration and local ownership of strategies for peace and security” by connecting “members with relevant individuals and institutions such as the UN, regional intergovernmental organisations, state actors, the media and academia.” An important element of their work is building the capacity of civil society organizations on how they can reach out and engage better with media and policy makers on these issues. Engaging regional, sub-regional and national actors in discussions on preventing atrocities ensures greater collaboration to build a stronger more comprehensive policy framework for protecting civilians from these most terrible crimes.

How can you or your organization get involved in raising awareness on genocide and RtoP?

There are a number of ways you or your organization can get involved in raising awareness of and preventing genocide and other RtoP crimes. You or your organization can:

  • Use Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms to instantly distribute your work and message. Genocide Awareness Month has a Facebook page where events and activities to promote awareness around the world are posted.
  • Stay informed of genocide prevention and advocacy campaigns by reading blogs and signing up for newletter updates; or get directly involved in the work of an organization, like joining one of United to End Genocide‘s action opportunities or contacting the Sentinel Project about becoming part of their team.
  • Connect with other groups and learn more on the work of civil society by using GPPAC’s Peace Portal, where users have the opportunity to publish material and reports – contributing to increasing the global conflict prevention and peace building knowledge base.
  • Contribute to the work of NGOs and discussions on mass atrocities by drafting articles on current situations, or organizing events. Genocide Prevention Network, an international organization, has created a directory of organizations involved in genocide awareness around the world. Find out who is working on genocide awareness in your country and region. 
  • Become part of the global movement advocating for the prevention of mass atrocities and advancement of RtoP by joining the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, a network of organizations dedicated to amplifying the voice of civil society as we push for governments, regional organizations, and the international community to strengthen their capacities to prevent and halt genocide.
  • You don’t have to be an adult or NGO to work to prevent mass atrocities. Youth can participate on a local level – for example in Costa Rica or the DRC: FUNPADEM involves youth in their programs, using art and sports to prevent atrocities, while Vision GRAM-International encourages communities to participate in awareness programs held at schools, health centers, social centers and churches. The Holocaust Museum in Houston, US provides a list of 30 things you can do for Genocide Awareness Month. 

It is now up to all of us to play a part, not only in April but all year round, to raise awareness to create the public and political will needed to prevent atrocities and act in the face of escalating violence.

Learn more on and connect with the organizations featured in this blog!

 

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