On January 18th, the Stanley Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York and MacArthur Foundation hosted a conference that brought together practitioners from all levels and academics to discuss the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) for its tenth anniversary.
A star-studded cast of panelists addressed the attendees, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prosecutor-elect of the ICC Fatou Bensouda, Under-Secretary General (USG) for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, USG for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, USG, Executive Director of UN Women Michele Bachelet, and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic. Civil society was also well-represented among the panelists, including Louise Arbour, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, Noel Morada, Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect – both ICRtoP members – and Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Marking the tenth anniversary of the publication of the ICISS report, the conference was a significant and timely review of the past, present and future of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). With the recent situations in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, the conference served as an important forum to discuss, debate and better understand the ‘lessons learned’ from the manner in which the international community responded to those situations. R2P: The Next Decade was also an honest forum for reflection on the implications of the above situations for the norm moving forward, particularly with the ongoing violence in the Sudans and Syria. The conference was live-streamed on Fora.tv, and was live-tweeted by a number of organizations and individuals (including ICRtoP) on the #R2P10 hashtag.
In this post, we walk you through the major themes discussed at R2P: The Next Decade, featuring important commentary from the panelists, and links to videos and tweets. For more important thoughts from those live-tweeting the conference, see our Tweeting R2P: The Next Decade post.
Debate on RtoP’s ‘Added-Value’
Important points were raised regarding the norm’s added-value from 2001 onwards, particularly in mustering the political will and resources from the international community to respond to the situations where one or more of the four RtoP crimes are threatened or have been committed. RtoP scholar and University of Queensland Professor Alex Bellamy argued at the panel on R2P as a Tool – Indentifying Past and Potential Added Value that the norm has fundamentally changed the international debate from no longer focusing on ‘whether to act, but how to act.’
At the same panel, Ramesh Thakur, a former member of ICISS, responded to questions regarding the pedigree of the norm by raising the important point that ‘RtoP as a ‘northern concept’ is not correct…the protection of peoples is reflected within a diverse array of cultures and religions’.
In a debate that erupted at the same panel on the norm’s status as a ‘tool’ or a ‘principle’, Dr. Ed Luck, the Secretary-General’s Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, refuted the idea that RtoP is a tool, stating that ‘tools are used whenever it is handy’ and ‘can serve other agendas’. Instead, Dr. Luck asserted that ‘RtoP is a principle with a number of tools at its disposal’ to respond to very different situations.
At the final panel of the day - R2P in 2022 – Hervé Ladsous, the USG for Peacekeeping Operations, echoed the call of the Secretary-General to make 2012 the ‘year of prevention’ by stressing the importance of ensuring national governments possess the capacities to prevent the four RtoP crimes from occurring, consistent with RtoP’s 1st pillar.
In bringing practitioners and academics together, R2P: The Next Decade was an enlightening and honest forum for debate and discussion on the norm itself, leaving attendees with a more holistic picture of its formation, it’s implementation, and its added-value. The day ended in with what MacArthur Foundation Senior Vice President Barry Lowenkron called ‘sober optimism’: A recognition of the progress that has been made with RtoP, the great potential for the norm’s future, but an awareness of the challenges that RtoP supporters faced in realizing that potential. In short, echoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, everyone at the conference was left knowing that while much work is to be done, RtoP is indeed ‘here to stay’.
The ICC: A Viable Tool in the RtoP Framework
Prosecutor-elect of the ICC Fatou Bensouda offered her insight on the relationship between the Responsibility to Protect and the International Criminal Court (a topic we’ll be exploring further on this blog, so follow this site). Speaking at the final panel, R2P in 2022 , Bensouda suggested that ‘holding leaders accountable for RtoP crimes will have a deterrent effect on others who may be considering their commission’. As such, the incoming Prosecutor was firm in asserting that the ICC was a viable tool in the RtoP framework.
Important questions were raised at the panel on R2P as a Tool – Indentifying Past and Potential Added Value chaired by Louise Arbour, the President and CEO of the International Crisis Group. Arbour raised concerns about the Court’s relationship with the UN Security Council, particularly the Council’s power to refer situations to the ICC despite the fact that three veto-wielding permanent members – the United States, Russia and China – have not ratified the Rome Statute. The International Crisis Group President also worried about the efficacy of ICC referrals in the midst of hostilities in country-specific situations. Luck shared Arbour’s concerns, but responded by asserting the importance of the ICC ‘as one of the few tools we have to remind leaders of accountability for the commitment of RtoP crimes’.
The lively debate on the relationship of the RtoP and the ICC was an important theme at the conference, and attendees left with compelling points to consider how the ICC fits into RtoP framework and its role in preventing and responding to the four RtoP crimes.
The Role of Regional and Sub-Regional Organizations
The role of regional and sub-regional organizations in the RtoP framework was discussed at length at the conference, particularly regarding their ability to confer legitimacy to the international community’s efforts to respond to country-specific situations.
While touting their preventive and response potential, Francis Deng, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, noted the need to build and strengthen the capacities of regional and sub-regional organizations in order to implement RtoP, stating, ‘While there is a lot to be said for regional organizations, there are weaknesses with their capacities even if they offer legitimacy’. This was a common thread in last year’s General Assembly informal interactive dialogue on RtoP, which explored the role of regional and sub-regional organizations. For more information please see our report.
Liberata Mulamula, Former Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), stressed how RtoP had been brought ‘home’ by the sub-regional organization at R2P – Policy Approaches Since 2005 in DRC, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Libya, which has been a significant factor in how engaged the ICGLR has been on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities.
At the same panel, Knut Vollebaek, the High Commissioner on National Minorities for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), indicated that while the European body does not directly use RtoP language in its work, he believed that it is ripe for institutionalizing the norm.
Civil Society’s Importance in the RtoP Framework
There was widespread agreement at R2P: The Next Decade of the critical role that can be played by civil society in upholding the RtoP. The involvement of the International Crisis Group, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and a number of academics confirmed the importance of civil society in furthering the global discourse on the norm in all regions.
In his keynote address, the Secretary-General noted the importance of civil society in stating that the four RtoP crimes are unlikely to occur where ‘civil society is robust’. The Secretary-General also affirmed the importance of the United Nations working in collaboration with civil society even in times of crisis, highlighting the role that civil society organizations can play in mitigating violence in both Syria and South Sudan.
In calling for 2012 to be the ‘year of prevention’, the Secretary-General clearly sees an important role for civil society in the RtoP preventive framework, which was echoed by speakers in a number of different conference panels.
On Libya and Syria
Libya was a major topic of discussion at R2P: The Next Decade, with most speakers offering their insights on the response of the international community to the situation and its implications moving forward, especially in Syria. An article from Mark L. Goldberg at UN Dispatch sums up the discussion at the conference well:
As Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister who is one of the intellectual fathers of the Responsibility to Protect put it, “Libya is a textbook case for the application of the R2P.” He’s right. The intervention happened quickly, helped avoid a potential mass atrocity in Benghazi, and had the formal backing of the Security Council. This is pretty much how it is supposed to work.
But success in Libya may have come at the expense of intervention (even non-military intervention) in Syria. NATO’s interpretation of the Security Council mandate helped it achieve its goals with efficiency, but it poisoned any chance that the Security Council would coalesce around R2P when a future crisis arose.
“Syria is the collateral victim of Libya the same way that Rwanda was the collateral victim of Somalia,” said Jean Marie Guehenno, the longtime head of UN Peacekeeping. In other words, just as the Black Hawk Down made western powers wary of even contemplating a humanitarian intervention in Rwanda three years later, the steamrolling of non-western interests in the execution of the Libyan intervention is coloring Russia, China other non-western powers’ approach to Syria.
This was reflected in the comments made by Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Hardeep Singh Puri, in the aftermath of the Secretary General’s keynote to the conference, who questioned whether the international had to ‘step in through the use of coercive force’. The Ambassador would later share his thoughts on RtoP and the situation in Libya in an interview with the Stanley Foundation.
Despite the Secretary-General’s pleas to the regime of Bashar al-Assad to cease it’s crackdown against civilian protesters, expressed in this tweet, a consensus seemed to emerge at R2P: The Next Decade that the manner in which Resolution 1973 was implemented will be a deterrent to more robust action on behalf of the Security Council.
Focus on Brazil’s ‘Responsibility While Protecting’
Another theme of conversation at R2P: The Next Decade was Brazil’s ‘responsibility while protecting’ (RwP) concept, which it has officially circulated to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.
Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, was a speaker for the R2P in 2022 panel, and explored the concept further, stating that Libya was a ‘defining moment’ that informed RwP’s elaboration. While she recognized that ‘stronger measures were necessary’ to send a message to the Gaddafi regime to cease violence against protesters, the Brazilian mission felt that the Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1973 authorized a ‘blank cheque with no control over what was to be done or who was to do it’ in Libya. Ambassador Viotti also expressed the fact that her country, along with others at the Council, felt ‘in the dark’ with regards to the Libya operation.
As a direct result, the Brazilian President, Dilma Roussef, elaborated the need for ‘responsibility while protecting’ at the opening of the 66th session of the General Assembly, which Ambassador Viotti expressed was to show ‘how important our concerns with Libya were’. As evident in her segment of the final panel, Brazil’s objective with its ‘responsibility while protecting’ concept, is to reassess the manner in which the use of force is employed to protect civilians. This is particularly timely as the General Assembly is set to discuss the 3rd pillar of RtoP – timely and decisive action – in 2012.
Other speakers, including the UN Secretary-General, Gareth Evans, Dr. Ramesh Thakur and Dr. Ed Luck, offered their thoughts on Brazil’s RwP concept. The Secretary-General threw his full support behind the idea, but cautioned that the consideration of RwP must not lead to inaction:
‘Historically, our chief failing as an international community has been the reluctance to act in the face of serious threats. The results, too often, have been the loss of lives and credibility that haunt us ever-after. Let us not let the pendulum swing back to the past. Let us not make the best the enemy of the good.”
While supporting the RwP idea in principle, both Dr. Ed Luck and Gareth Evans were cautious about Brazil’s desire to sequence the pillars of RtoP in responding to any particular country-specific situation. Luck asserted that RtoP’s pillars ‘are parallel’ and that the international community must be preparing for contingencies through all three at local, regional and global levels. Evans firmly echoed this by stating that the danger of the Brazilian initiative was its emphasis on the need for the pillars to be chronological, which he said ‘cannot be the case’. In the question period to the final panel, Lt. Gen (Ret’d) Senator Romeo Dallaire raised concerns that Brazil’s RwP would lead to a ‘dissecting of RtoP to death’ that might lead to inaction in country-specific cases.
Nonetheless, the attention given to Brazil’s RwP concept at R2P: The Next Decade provides a fairly certain forecast that it will motivate reflection during the General Assembly’s informal interactive dialogue on RtoP’s 3rd pillar this year, and be integral to the norm’s development moving into the next decade.
Resources & Further Reading
Our congratulations and sincere thanks to the three sponsors for organizing and hosting R2P: The Next Decade.