All eyes on upcoming elections as Kenya works to prevent the recurrence of atrocities

The people of Kenya are just days away from casting their ballots on 4 March in the country’s first election since the 2007 presidential race which resulted in unprecedented ethnic violence, leaving over 1000 people dead and 600,000 more displaced.  A country with over 70 distinct ethnic groups – the five largest being Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, and Kamba – Kenya’s past elections have largely witnessed voting along ethnic lines. This year, eight candidates are running, among them Uhuru Kenyatta and his running-mate, William Ruto, both of whom have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the commission of crimes against humanity following the 2007 elections. While the Kenyan government has undertaken a range of measures to prevent a repeat of 2007’s deadly crisis, including the adoption of a new constitution to redistribute political power, the training of police and civil society to identify and monitor  hate speech, and educating the Kenyan population on the newly established electoral process , civil society organizations have raised alarm to the sizeable risk of violence that remains.  As several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have reported,  Kenya has already experienced election-related inter-communal attacks that left over 400 dead and upwards of 118,000 displaced during 2012 and early 2013.  This election, which is expected to be extremely close and require a second round, known as a “run off” (scheduled for 11 April), will prove a great test for the Kenyan government as it works to uphold its responsibility to protect its population from the recurrence of mass atrocities, as well as ensure a free, fair and transparent presidential race.

Kenya’s 2007 disputed election: a political and humanitarian crisis

SG Meeting

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre, head table), flanked by Kofi Annan (left, head table), former United Nations Secretary-General, and Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, participate in a meeting to end the two-week old deadly violence sparked by recent disputed results of the presidential elections, with the major parties to the conflict.
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The presidential election of December 2007 swept Kenya into a wave of ethnically charged violence following the contested announcement of incumbent Mwai Kibaki as president over the predicted favorite to win, Raila Odinga. The declaration of Kibaki as president, followed by the swiftness of his inauguration a handful of hours later, triggered widespread and systematic violence characterized by ethnically targeted killings, which evidence later showed to be largely pre-meditated by politicians and community leaders. Crimes committed included crimes against humanity – one of the four crimes and violations that all governments, including Kenya, committed to preventing and halting when endorsing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P). The international community acted rapidly to keep the volatile situation from deteriorating by deploying former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to serve as international mediator and head of the African Union Panel of Eminent Personalities.  The outcome of the Panel’s efforts was a power-sharing government that committed to address the long term issues and root causes of the conflict.

Pre-election preparation and reform: enough to prevent a repeat of 2007?

A range of preventive actions have been taken by the government, UN agencies, and civil society to prevent a repeat of the tragic violence that plagued Kenya five years ago.  Civil society and media representatives convened a forum organized by the Nairobi Peace Initiative – Africa and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, in Nairobi in early February 2013 to share their work to ensure peaceful elections, and discuss the concerns surrounding the poll with the goal of generating a collective voice and strategy for civil society and media.  At the national level, Kenyan authorities have trained hundreds of police and peace organization representatives in monitoring media and speech to bring attention to hateful language that can incite violence.  With the support of translators the monitors can identify hate speech in a range of dialects and, through partnerships with phone service providers, track phone messages too.

Monitoring will be crucial to determine the election results so organizations like the Carter Center, the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, and the Elections Observation Group, as well as the East African Community and the African Union, have dispatched teams to oversee the upcoming poll.

UN officials and agencies have been vocal and active as well, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling on all leaders to “abide by legal mechanisms and to send a clear message to supporters that violence of any kind would be unacceptable.”  The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, was in Nairobi in early February where he recalled the responsibility of the Kenyan authorities to protect and noted the need to ensure a swift response by the international community to prevent a repeat of 2007.  His office was there to work with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to support Kenya’s National Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, which included holding a five-day workshop on RtoP and the prevention of inter-communal violence. To ensure that all preparations are underway in the event of displacement, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, created a humanitarian contingency, with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons calling on the government and international community to do everything possible to prevent massive displacement.

The government itself has adopted numerous reforms to create the environment needed for peaceful and fair elections and to address the country’s deep seeded grievances.  While these actions should be commended, remaining challenges and incomplete reforms have left many NGOs questioning if the government’s response will be enough.

Constitutional reform

Following a 2010 referendum, Kenya adopted a new constitution to prevent ethnically charged politics and check the power of the executive.  This has been done by giving greater power and resources to local political leaders through the creation of what International Crisis Group (ICG) calls a “new level of governance”– the establishment of 47 districts each with their own governor, senator and assembly. The government has also adopted measures to ensure full geographic (and therefore ethnic) support for the president-elect by creating new voting rules that require the winning candidate to receive more than half of all votes and at least 25% in 24 of the newly established counties.  While these new rules will serve to spread power and responsibility to a range of politicians, the majority of Kenyans have not received the information needed to understand the new Constitution and voting rules, as the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) found in its report entitled Countdown to the March 2013 General Elections.  Through conducting polls and interviews throughout the country, KHRC’s research indicated that increased and continuous civic education is crucial “to secure an informed public for future elections.”

The devolution of presidential power is also meant to keep the nation from erupting into large scale violence; however the new counties and positions could very well create the likelihood for localized conflict.  This is in part due to the increased influence that local politicians will hold, which may lead “many local leaders seek to preserve the system of ethnic patronage that devolution was intended to remove.  As a result, the mobilization of ethnic grievances to garner political support remains rampant,” as the Global Centre for R2P (GCR2P) points out. These findings were echoed in ICG’s report entitled Kenya’s 2013 Elections, where the organization elaborates on how the constitutional changes can lead to risk of violence, stating that “although the new level of governance should give communities, including minorities, a greater say (…), it could also transfer political competition, violence and corruption down and create new minorities and new patterns of marginalization.”

Strengthening the security sector

Efforts were also undertaken to address the failures of the police to protect in the aftermath of the last elections. During the violent crisis, the government responded with excessive force, with Amnesty International (AI) recalling the role of police in “killing and injuring protestors and raping and sexually assaulting women and girls, particularly in opposition areas.”  The government subsequently established an ambitious framework which, as the International Center for Policy and Conflict in Africa noted, was meant to “establish and elaborate an effective system of democratic regulation and oversight of security services;” however, as AI points out, the framework has not been implemented to the fullest, and the capacity of security personnel remains an inherent problem, placing civilians at risk of violence yet again.

Little has been done practically to bring to justice those responsible for violent crimes committed following the previous election, and AI has stated that steps have actually been taken to cover up and politically manipulate cases against security personnel.  As a result, while conducting on the ground research, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has heard from countless Kenyans that “they view the police as ineffective and corrupt.” As the elections approach, police also remain understaffed and ill-equipped, with the Council on Foreign Relations reporting that the Kenyan force has about 70,000 police, “or roughly 160 per 100,000 residents, which is less than three-quarters of the 220 per 100,000 recommended by the United Nations.”  These forces will be stretched to their limits when tasked with patrolling the polling stations, which could exceed 40,000 nationwide.

Ending impunity

Upholding accountability for crimes committed during the 2007 election remains a critical challenge for Kenya, and one that has already had an impact on the elections.  HRW also pointed out that little has been done nationwide to arrest and prosecute civilians responsible for attacks on people and property, leaving those responsible for 2007 election-related violence free to repeat their actions.

At the government level, impunity has been stated to be at the heart of the 2007 crisis, with the final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence calling for the creation of a domestic special tribunal.  After two failed government attempts to establish the tribunal, Kofi Annan sent to the ICC the names of a dozen suspects deemed most responsible, leading to the opening of an investigation by the Court’s then-Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  From this investigation, six of the suspects, referred to in the media as the “Ocampo six”, were summoned to appear before the Court, ultimately resulting in the confirmation of charges for four of the “Ocampo Six”, including candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto.  The ICC indictments have influenced the presidential campaigns with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reporting that some are describing the polls as “a referendum against or for the ICC”.  The indictments have also resulted in an unexpected political alliance with the formation of the Kenyatta-Ruto ticket, as the two men are Kikuyu and Kalenjin respectively, two ethnic groups which violently targeted the other in 2007. Civil society organizations, including the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ-Kenya), the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC), and the International Center for Policy and Conflict, fought to keep Kenyatta and Ruto from running, arguing that their candidacy violated the integrity clause of the new Constitution.  The Kenyan High Court, however, disagreed, ruling that it would not intervene, ultimately giving the two men the green light to participate.  This ruling has led many to wonder about the practicality of a Kenyatta/Ruto presidency, with ICJ-Kenya noting in their report entitled If Uhuru Kenyatta or William Ruto is Elected President or Deputy President, that such a presidency would cripple the government because the country would be left with leaders who are unable to carry out their vast domestic duties due to repeated trips to the Hague.  As of 27 February, the trial dates remained up in the air as the Chief Prosecutor for the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, indicated that she would accept a postponement of the trials to August.  Kenyatta and Ruto had been slated to begin their trials on 10 and 11 April respectively, with 11 April being election run-off date.

What do these risks mean for the elections and the people of Kenya?

As FIDH notes, the pre-election environment has been “marked by political parties and alliances’ mobilization of the population along ethnic lines, the re-activation or creation of illegal gangs and militia groups (…), cases of civilians arming themselves as a preventive measures, the use of hate speech or inflammatory coded language by politicians, vernacular radio stations as well as through social media: in other words, all the ingredients that led to the 2007/2008 violence.”  But 2013 does not need to be a repeat of the cycle of violence that has plagued the country.  As put by ICG, “the people deserve better.  (…) they deserve the change to vote without fear and elect leaders committed to reform and ready to serve society as a whole rather than the narrow interests of elites.”

While the Kenyan government should be commended for the steps taken, more can certainly be done at the domestic and international levels to ensure free and fair elections and uphold the state’s responsibility to protect from mass atrocity crimes.  This can include publicly committing to respect election rules and, as KHRC’s research found, providing civic education about the electoral process.  As HRW recommends, the government can take direct measures through the deployment of police “in adequate numbers to areas of potential conflict and ensure that they perform their duties impartially and with full respect of the law”.  This point was echoed by the GCR2P, who also noted that state authorities should “warn all Kenyans (…) that they will be held responsible for inciting, aiding or perpetrating mass atrocity crimes.”  For actors at the regional and international levels, ICG has called on leaders to send messages urging against “political interference with the elections and especially against the use of or incitement to violence”.  These are just some of the many steps the government of Kenya and the international community can take to prevent the spread of post-election violence.  These preventive efforts drive at the very heart of RtoP, which not only calls for states to halt mass atrocities, but to protect from genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing happening again.  The people of Kenya deserve the opportunity to elect a new president without the fear of mass atrocities; the time for preventive action is now.

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Spotlight on the World Federation for the United Nations Associations

We are delighted to introduce to you a new Spotlight series on the ICRtoP blog, where you will be able to learn more about Coalition members and their ongoing activities and initiatives to advance the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) norm. 

The World Federation for the United Nations Associations (WFUNA), an ICRtoP member since 2009, launched its Responsibility to Protect Program in 2011. ICRtoP spoke with Laura Spano, RtoP Program Officer at WFUNA, who provided some insight into the goals of and challenges associated with WFUNA’s work on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

WFUNA strives to deepen the understanding of the RtoP norm and highlight its potential as a guide for national policy amongst NGOs around the world. WFUNA’s RtoP program provides this increased awareness to mobilize civil society to advocate for their national leaders to operationalize the norm. As Spano told us, “The main goal of the program is to mobilize and push for the political will to prevent and act in the face of mass atrocities.

WFUNA represents and coordinates a membership base of over 100 national United Nations Associations (UNAs), which link citizens to the United Nations by emphasizing the relevance of UN developments at the local level through teaching, advocacy, and exchange programs. Among other areas of collaboration, WFUNA has teamed up with several UNAs in different regions around the world to create activities about and build support for RtoP. The program seeks to empower UNAs to target advocacy to four key groups: civil society, the academic community, politicians and the media.

To this end, WFUNA conducts capacity-building trainings for NGOs in these regions, in partnership with national UNAs and others, including, on occasion, the ICRtoP. These trainings provide a comprehensive background on RtoP and on the role of actors in implementing the norm and expand on how civil society can continue raising awareness and engage in effective advocacy. WFUNA also maintains an online platform to facilitate collaboration across regions as well as the exchange of expertise and best practices from outreach, advocacy and teaching activities. “Working with UNAs allows WFUNA’s programs to generate a more nuanced national understanding of the norm as the UNAs have a good understanding of domestic policy gaps and where progress is needed,” said Spano. In addition, partnering with national UNAs, which often already have well-established networks of civil society actors in the country, streamlines the dissemination of information on RtoP and hence increases awareness of the norm. “Ideally, once we run our initial training,” Spano stated, “the UNA has enough knowledge to take the norm forward in a national context with the assistance and support of WFUNA.”

Progress is visible after just one year. WFUNA and UNA partners, in particular UNA-ArmeniaUNA-Georgia and UNA-DRC,  have trained 48 NGOs, produced a number of  articles on the norm, 5 toolkits which were translated into five languages, and produced a documentary feature on the current situation in the Middle East and the RtoP norm, which was broadcasted on national Armenian television.

Dag Hammarskjold Symposium: Youth from UNA-Uganda, UNA-Tanzania and UNA-Kenya discuss the importance of RtoP in East Africa.  Credit: WFUNA

Dag Hammarskjold Symposium: Youth from UNA-Uganda, UNA-Tanzania and UNA-Kenya discuss the importance of RtoP in East Africa. Credit: WFUNA

Another key component of the RtoP program in 2011 and 2012 was the Dag Hammarskjöld Symposium Series, which provided a regional forum to engage key stakeholders in the RtoP debate. Participants looked specifically at the tension between state sovereignty, the role of intervention, and the implications for the RtoP norm. The Series reached four continents with conferences in Kenya in June 2011, China in December 2011, Venezuela in February 2012 and India in October 2012.

During our conversation with Ms. Spano, she discussed the impact of the crisis situations in Libya and Syria on global opinion towards the norm, saying that WFUNA saw an increase in debate on the implementation of measures to respond to RtoP crimes, and a resulting “divergence in ideas and understandings of the norm from conference participants.”  Consequently, WFUNA’s work shifted, as appropriate, from its initial, primary focus on awareness-raising to narrower discussions to clarify misconceptions and assess the challenges associated with implementation. Nonetheless, Spano noted that across all regions, she saw a tangible increase in knowledge of the norm and its principles, which has allowed for more comprehensive discussions on RtoP tools to prevent atrocity crimes. According to Spano, the enduring challenge is to ensure that all actors understand that “the foundation of RtoP is really about prevention.”

WFUNA will continue to challenge misinterpretations of RtoP and ensure that the norm is understood by civil society, academics, politicians and the media, as well as other relevant actors. To stay up to date on WFUNA’s work with UNAs all throughout the world, be sure to visit their website.

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Filed under CivSoc, Human Rights, ICRtoP Members, Prevention, RtoP, Spotlight Post, UN

The Responsibility to Protect: a new norm to make ‘Never again’ a reality

Re-blogged from IJCentral.

This post was written for the IJ Central blog by Megan Schmidt, ICRtoP Outreach Officer, and Amelia Wolf, ICRtoP Social Media Coordinator and Blogger. 

 In the aftermath of the Holocaust, there was a resounding global outcry for the world to never again bear witness to mass murder.  But the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, and the crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo, East Timor, and Darfur, were gruesome reminders that the international community has failed to make this aspiration a reality.  From these tragedies came a historic shift in international relations: governments agreed that sovereignty would no longer be used as a shield to massacre populations and that there is, in fact, a moral obligation to prevent and halt the most horrific crimes known to humankind.  It was in 2005 at the World Summit at United Nations (UN) Headquarters, that governments unanimously endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P), committing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Civil society, which includes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions, and the media, has a critical role to play in ensuring that governments uphold their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities.  Since 2005, civil society support for RtoP has continued to increase, with more organizations raising awareness of RtoP and calling on their governments, regional organizations, and the international community to take action to prevent and halt these most serious crimes.

But, what is RtoP exactly?

The Responsibility to Protect is a new international norm founded on the prevention of four crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.  At the 2005 World Summit, which was the largest ever gathering of heads of state, all governments endorsed RtoP, making a commitment to protect their populations from these crimes.  The responsibility to protect populations starts first and foremost with the state.  Governments hold the primary responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their people, and to protect them from these horrific crimes.  The international community also has a responsibility. Neighboring countries as well as other governments, regional organizations, and the UN have an obligation to help states meet their protection obligations.  And should a state be unable to prevent RtoP crimes, or is in fact the perpetrator, the international community has a responsibility to take timely and decisive action to halt the commission of mass atrocities.

Despite growing support for RtoP, many misunderstandings remain. Some still confuse RtoP with the concept of humanitarian intervention, a principle that was fleetingly popular in the 1990s and focused on the right of a state to intervene in another country’s affairs.  This is far from what RtoP means.  RtoP is not based on the right of any state but on the responsibility of all governments to protect their populations from the most egregious crimes.  Another common misconception of RtoP is that the norm is just about the use of force, when in fact it is not only based on the prevention of mass atrocities, but includes a range of political, economic, and humanitarian tools for actors at all levels to implement to meet this goal, with military force as an option only when peaceful means have failed.  It’s important to remember too that RtoP actually places more restrictions on the use of force, since military measures can only be used when authorized by the UN Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter.

How to get involved?

Civil society has always been a driving force for the protection of populations and the advancement of the norm. With the articulation of the Responsibility to Protect, NGOs, academics and the media had a way to hold their governments and other states accountable for the prevention of mass violence. World leaders made a promise in 2005, and would have to make good on their commitments.

Building understanding of the norm by educating the public, governments, and regional actors is crucial to the prevention of RtoP crimes.  In an effort to ensure that the world is aware of this historic commitment and the responsibilities it entails, NGOs have and can continue to implement a wide range of educational and awareness raising initiatives.  Organizations have published journals focused on RtoP and related thematic issues, developed toolkits and informative documents on the norm, conducted research on the prevention of and response to RtoP crimes, and used social media to provide up-to-the-minute information on RtoP discussions and crisis situations.

As the Responsibility to Protect starts first and foremost with the state, civil society organizations can advocate for the strengthening of national and regional capacities to prevent RtoP crimes.  Organizations can take a wide range of action to achieve this goal and assist governments in upholding their responsibilities. This includes calling on politicians to make RtoP references, encouraging states to adopt legislation to protect the rights of vulnerable populations and ensure equality for all, and pushing governments to enhance or establish domestic and regional mechanisms to prevent mass atrocities.

Some organizations focus more specifically on monitoring and documenting country developments, and through their field presence, are equipped to provide early warning of potential crises.  NGOs can also dispatch fact-finding missions to uncover the truth in situations where conflict has begun.  These organizations can then alert actors at the national, regional, and international levels of potential or imminent threats to populations.  Especially in cases where there is no domestic or international presence, NGOs may be uniquely placed to act as “watchdogs” for human rights violations.

If tensions arise within or between communities, civil society can encourage all parties to negotiate to find a peaceful and sustainable non violent resolution or support the mediation efforts of others, such as national or regional actors, or the UN.  These groups can also train peacekeepers and the security sector so that they are able to identify risks of RtoP crimes and respond preventively if populations are under threat of mass atrocities.

The Responsibility to Protect does not stop just because a conflict does.

Historically, NGOs have played pivotal roles in post-crisis reconstruction to not only rebuild after mass atrocities have been committed, but to assist in conflict resolution efforts that prevent states from descending back into violence.  This can mean analyzing past cases to learn from failures and assess best practices, as well as developing RtoP indicators that would allow actors to better understand the risks to mass atrocities.  Reconciliation efforts are also crucial following a conflict, and NGOs often take part in strategizing and assisting with such peace processes, placing critical emphasis on the importance of ensuring equal representation and protection of rights for minority populations and vulnerable groups.

Joining these global efforts will help ensure that the world does not look away in the face of mass atrocities.  We can all agree that genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing must be prevented, but what is crucial is that actors at all levels commit to making this a reality.

You can hold your government and other world leaders, regional organizations and the UN accountable to their 2005 promise to protect populations from these horrific crimes. The Responsibility to Protect can be an effective tool to advocate for rapid responses to dire situations and long-term measures to stave off conflicts in the future. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “The Responsibility to Protect is a concept whose time has come”.

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Shocking report details the UN’s failure to protect the people of Sri Lanka

A United Nations (UN) report alleging the failure of the international body to uphold its responsibilities to protect civilians threatened by massive human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war was released on 14 November 2012, and quickly spurred impassioned reactions from civil society and UN actors. For many, the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka confirmed their earlier claims that the UN did not act rapidly or robustly to protect the people of Sri Lanka. For others, the report was a shocking reality check that the international community still has a long way to go to build the necessary political will and capacity to respond to these deadly conflicts.

Large-scale civilian suffering during the civil war

The final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, from August 2008 until May 2009, saw a dramatic escalation of violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting to establish the state of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country since the late 1970s. Violence was concentrated in the Wanni, a northern region, and clashes trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians without access to basic necessities or humanitarian aid.

At the time, several civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, criticized the UN for its limited efforts to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for likely war crimes and crimes against humanity. As noted in the report, the UN evacuated its staff in the Wanni in September 2008 when the government announced it would not be able to guarantee their security, and after that was largely unable to gain access to distribute humanitarian relief aid. With the end of the war in May 2009 came widespread calls to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the perpetrators of mass atrocities and UN efforts to protect civilians.  After a Panel of Experts, established by the UNSG, reported in April 2011 that many UN agencies and officials had not done enough to protect civilians, the UNSG created the Internal Review Panel on UN actions in Sri Lanka, which is responsible for the recently released report.

UN fails to protect Sri Lankan population

The report concludes that though the government and LTTE were primarily responsible for “killings and other violations” committed against the civilians trapped in the Wanni, the “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN.”

The report criticizes the UN for its overall lack of action on the crisis, condemning the evacuation of UN staff without protestation as a “serious failure”. According to the report, the UN system as a whole did not put enough political pressure on the government, and left its staff on the ground ill-prepared to deal with the escalating crisis. The report also draws attention to the fact that, though the UN officials had data on the number of civilian deaths and evidence that the government, in many cases, was responsible, they only reported on the violations committed by the LTTE. According to officials at the time, they were reluctant to release information about the government’s involvement out of fear it would further hinder their access to the population in the Wanni. The sole exception was a public statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 13 March 2009, in spite of strong criticism by most UN senior officials, which reported on the number of casualties and declared that actions by the government and LTTE “may constitute international crimes, entailing individual responsibility, including for war crimes and crimes against humanity”.  The report concludes that “in fact, with its multiplicity of mandates and areas of expertise, the UN possessed the capabilities to simultaneously strive for humanitarian access while also robustly condemning the perpetrators of killings of civilians.”

According to the report, the low level of commitment to civilian protection in Sri Lanka was exacerbated by the inaction of Member States, who failed to take up the escalating crisis in the Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly. To what extent was the commitment governments made in 2005 endorsing their collective responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity and war crimes considered during the crisis? The report notes that though RtoP was raised in the context of the war, states were unable to agree on how the norm could help the international community halt the ongoing violence. The report concludes that governments “failed to provide the Secretariat and UN [Country Team] with the support required to fully implement the responsibilities for protection of civilians that Member States had themselves set for such situations.”

Civil society and former UN officials clash over the report’s findings

Civil society organizations swiftly responded to the report, calling for accountability and to use the example of Sri Lanka as an impetus to strengthen UN protection capacities. On 14 November Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz called the report a “wake-up call for UN member states that have not pushed hard enough for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in the last phase of the war.”  Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch agreed, stating that the report serves as “a call to action and reform for the entire UN system.”  Additionally, Bolopion noted that “The UN’s dereliction of duty in Sri Lanka is a stark reminder of what happens when human rights concerns are marginalized or labeled as too political”.

Meanwhile, others reacted to the UN’s decision to evacuate its staff from the Wanni region. In reading the report, Edward Mortimer, who serves on the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and who formerly served as Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the UN, declared that he believed the UN left when they were most needed. The report, Mortimer stated, would show that the “UN has not lived up to the standards we expect of it…”

Benjamin Dix, a UN staff member in Sri Lanka that left the war zone, recalled his own doubts at the time, saying that he “believe[d] we should have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness….As a humanitarian worker questions were running through my mind – What is this all about? Isn’t this what we signed up to do?

Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the time of the crisis and one of those whom the report blames for underreporting the government’s responsibility for the violence, defended the UN’s actions. Holmes told BBC that “the idea that if we behaved differently, the Sri Lankan government would have behaved differently I think is not one that is easy to reconcile with the reality at the time.”  In an attempt to provide clarity on the UN’s decision not to report casualty figures, UN spokesperson in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the time, Gordon Weiss, stated that, “It was an institutional decision not to use those [casualty lists] on the basis that those could not be verified and of course they couldn’t be verified because the government of Sri Lanka wasn’t letting us get anywhere near the war zone.” However, his remarks starkly contrast the findings of the report.

Some took the opportunity to remind that the report highlighted the ultimate failure of the Sri Lankan government to protect its population from mass atrocities.Steven Ratner, a professor at University of Michigan’s Law School, stated, “the UN failed, but the Sri Lankan government is ultimately most responsible…They are the ones who have not begun a bona fide accountability process.”  Echoing this, Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz noted that “The report clearly illustrates the Sri Lankan government’s lack of will to protect civilians or account for very serious violations. There is no evidence that has changed.

Report shows challenges in implementation must not lead to inaction

The Secretary-General’s report not only shows the need to uphold the responsibility to protect populations in Sri Lanka by preventing a culture of impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes, it emphasizes the critical gaps that the international community must address to strengthen its political will and overall capacity to respond to emerging and ongoing situations of RtoP crimes.

With regard to the Responsibility to Protect norm, the report concludes that, “The concept of a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was raised occasionally during the final stages of the conflict, but to no useful result. Differing perceptions among Member States and the Secretariat of the concept’s meaning and use had become so contentious as to nullify its potential value. Indeed, making references to the Responsibility to Protect was seen as more likely to weaken rather than strengthen UN action.” This finding serves as a sober reminder to governments, UN officials and the international community as a whole that though we continue to address important questions about how to implement the Responsibility to Protect, these disagreements must never hinder our commitment to react when populations are in dire need of assistance.  The report as a whole underlines the prevailing importance of the prevention of and rapid response to RtoP crimes and violations by highlighting a tragic example of the consequences when the protection of populations is not prioritized.

The initial establishment of the Panel and the Secretary-General’s decision to make its findings public show a commitment to holding perpetrators of the crimes committed in Sri Lanka accountable. However, as Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion said, “While Ban deserves credit for starting a process he knew could tarnish his office, he will now be judged on his willingness to implement the report’s recommendations and push for justice for Sri Lanka’s victims.”  The UNSG stated that the report’s findings have “profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the Organization for help.”  We can only hope that this report will act as a much needed impetus to reform the system as a whole to better respond to protect populations from the most horrific crimes known to humankind.

 

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FEATURE: Responsibility while Protecting – the impact of a new initiative on RtoP

The “responsibility while protecting” (RwP) concept and its potential influence on the development of the Responsibility to Protect norm (RtoP, R2P) have been a source of ongoing discussion in recent months. RwP was first introduced by Brazilian President Dilma Raousseff as “responsibility in protecting” during her address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2011 and then expanded on in a concept note presented to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 9 November 2011 by Brazilian Permanent Representative, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti. RwP seeks to address concerns regarding the implementation of military measures to prevent and halt mass atrocities, emphasizing that prevention is the “best policy” and that the use of force in particular must be regularly monitored and periodically assessed so as to minimize the impact on civilians.

On 21 February 2012, the Brazilian Permanent Mission organized an informal discussion on RwP with Member States, UN actors, and civil society organizations. Debate has since continued, most recently at the fourth UNGA informal, interactive dialogue held on 5 September, with many commentators and scholars reflecting on how RwP will impact RtoP and more importantly, the international response to future situations of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. The ICRtoP Secretariat reached out to civil society organizations with a series of questions in order to map the origins of RwP and analyze the concept’s influence on the Responsibility to Protect.  

Read the full feature post.

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What’s Next for Syria?

On 20 July, with only 13 hours left before the expiration of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) mandate, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2059 drafted by the United Kingdom and cosponsored by France and Germany.  The Resolution restructured the mandate to facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian regime in accordance with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s July 2012 report on UNSMIS, and extended the mandate for a “final” 30 days with a possible renewal if there is a cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a decrease in violence by all parties.

Despite the renewal of the UNSMIS mandate, divisions amongst Council Members remain a barrier to implementation of further diplomatic, political, economic and, as a last resort, military measures by the UNSC aimed at halting the violence in Syria. While much of the debate within the international community has remained focused on what steps the UNSC, specifically, should take to halt the violence, the Council’s lack of decisive action has led commentators to make recommendations for measures to be taken by national- and regional-level actors.

Exploring Options for Syria

Reflecting on the deteriorating crisis, civil society organizations, regional actors, commentators and specialists in fields related to conflict and mass atrocity prevention have provided a wide range of “next steps” for Syria.

As the expiration of the UNSMIS mandate rapidly approached, several international actors provided suggestions for a restructured mandate. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in a letter to UNSC Ambassadors stressed the importance of strengthening the UNSMIS mandate and urged Council members to include within the mission an intensified human rights component with specialists to act as “impartial ‘eyes and ears’ of the international community.” FIDH noted, “Upholding human rights and working to protect civilians in Syria is an imperative that goes beyond the political differences of members of the Security Council. We call on the Security Council to fulfill this shared responsibility to Syrian civilians.” FIDH also urged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Similar suggestions were put forth by Amnesty International (AI) following the 19 July double-veto. AI also called for the inclusion of an adequately staffed human rights component as well as providing expertise in related fields and resources to document and report findings and progress. AI wrote, “The failure today of the UN Security Council to deliver better human rights protection for Syrians will embolden those responsible for the crimes and violence wracking the country.”

While FIDH and AI have discussed measures to improve UNSMIS, other international actors and commentators have focused specifically on how a political transition would be orchestrated.

Steven Heydemann, senior advisor at the US Institute of Peace‘s Middle East Initiatives, in his article “The end game in Syria,” brings light to a transformation of perspectives by international actors due to recent developments, saying, “These trends all point to one conclusion: the end of the Assad regime is drawing nearer. The relevant question is no longer whether the regime will fall, but when and, even more importantly, how.”

Similarly, Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, in his article “The Solution in Syria Must Be Political” stressed that a “Yemen-style” solution is the most plausible as it would stop the bloodshed- the main goal of all actions being taken in Syria. This process would involve a temporary transfer of power, followed by a UN-Arab League-mediated dialogue on the political future of Syria. This, however, has its drawbacks as a transition of this style would likely grant amnesty to Assad, as seen with the political process in Yemen.

Also arguing in favor of a political solution, and reflecting on the discord between UNSC members in “No room for foreign military intervention in SyriaJohn Hubbel Weiss, associate professor of History at Cornell University,argues that any attempt to act under Chapter VII of the Charter would only be vetoed by Russia, as was seen on 19 July. Instead, he believes that the only way to convince Assad to take a less-violent course of action is if the Syrian population and civil society from within the country call for and/or take action themselves.

While some still believe that there are feasible options for bringing an end to the crisis in Syria, either through the facilitation of a political transition or implementation of more robust measures, others do not believe it is possible for the international community to successfully and effectively operationalize stronger measures than what has been implemented thus far.

How Russia Divided the World”, an article written by Michael Ignatieff, an original member of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which initially articulated the Responsibility to Protect in 2001, presents a grim outlook for the future of Syria and RtoP more broadly. Ignatieff states that the divisions within the opposition leave no opportunities for successful military intervention, such as air strikes, safe havens or buffer zones and, that because there is not an established power to take authority once the Assad regime falls, there is no sense in toppling the regime via military measures.

Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute, was no more optimistic in his article “A Syrian intervention must be weighed against the costs.” He claimed that it was unlikely for diplomatic and political measures to be successful, and instead, military measures, such as air strikes or no fly zones, were increasingly “the only way to fulfill our responsibility.” Yet he delved deeper to state that, although military intervention may be the only tool left untested in Syria, military tactics may not be feasible or halt violence. White sees another barrier to implementing further measures if the RtoP entails a responsibility to assist post-crisis, and states that “If so, we have a problem, because the West has no capacity to shape Syria’s trajectory after Assad.”

In response to White’s argument, Tim Dunne and Sarah Teitt from the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, an ICRtoP Steering Committee Member, published “Firing blanks at R2P.” Dunne and Teitt reiterated the idea that coercive military measures are not the solution to ending the crisis, and went further to suggest that a resolution was slowly becoming viable, “not through the overt threat or use of force but through tireless diplomacy on the part of the UN and through unrelenting scrutiny by humanitarian NGOs.”

Advocates for military intervention –in various forms- have voiced their ideas as well. One commentator on military measures is Ausama Monajed, Executive Director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC), who puts forth a set of steps in his article “The Price of Apathy: Why the World Must Intervene in Syria” that the international community should take to immediately halt the bloodshed, including arming the rebels, establishing safe zones inside bordering countries, and creating buffer zones along the Syrian border. These steps are what Monajed refers to as a “viable alternative” and what he believes will lead to and trigger an increase in mass defections, which could serve to facilitate the fall of the Assad regime and an end to the conflict. He believes that those who still advocate for the imposition of sanctions to “bankrupt Assad” should take heed that Russia and Iran remain “staunch, wealthy allies.”

Despite the enduring deadlock within the UNSC regarding further implementation of preventive measures, an array of tools to halt the violence in Syria remains at the disposal of regional, national and civil society actors. In this sense, the Responsibility to Protect remains a crucial framework through which to view the crisis and assess achievable and effective tools to protect populations.

With the establishment of UNSMIS, the international community took action in a timely and decisive manner, to ensure an observer presence on the ground. However, divisions within the Council continue to pose a great barrier to UNSC authorization of further non-military and if necessary, military measures, to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. With a 30 day renewal of UNSMIS, the Council must work creatively to overcome their differences, and be prepared to respond collectively to the situation in a flexible, timely manner.

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Filed under Arab League, CivSoc, Monitoring Mission, Prevention, Security Council, Syria, Timely and Decisive Action

Stopping genocide and mass atrocities – the problem of regime change

In a post for Protection Gateway, Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at Griffiths University and frequent author of books an journal articles on the Responsibility to Protect, argues that in certain situations where mass atrocity crimes are being committed, “regime change is sometimes needed to bring the killing to an end.” Acknowledging concerns that this could lead, “unscrupulous governments to justify armed intervention for their own selfish purposes,” Bellamy proposes five checks to prevent against such abuse: authorization by the United Nations Security Council; a recognition of humanitarian duties; an obvious connection between justifications for the intervention and known facts on the ground; the calibration of ends and means for the intervention; and evident commitment to long-term peacebuilding by the international community. Bellamy’s full post can be read here:

Stopping genocide and mass atrocities – the problem of regime change.

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Secretariat of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, its Member Organizations, or its NGO Supporters.

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As South Sudan Marks One-Year Anniversary, RtoP Remains Essential As Country Confronts Challenges Moving Forward

South Sudan marked the one-year anniversary of its independence from Sudan on 9 July, with the official Twitter account of the Government of South Sudan (GRSS) sharing its optimism for the future, and President Salva Kiir vowing to work towards a more complete independence for the country at the celebrations in Juba.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also extended his congratulations to the people of South Sudan for “realizing their long-held aspirations” of independent nationhood.

One year on, however, the world’s newest nation has endured a number of challenges that have wracked its first year of independence, and will continue to threaten its stability as it enters its second year of nationhood.

Border Clashes, Oil Dispute with Sudan

To begin, the split with Sudan has not brought about a peace dividend between the two countries. An oil dispute over pipeline fees with Sudan led the South to halt the production and export of oil in January, which has amounted to an apparent economic disaster in South Sudan.  Protracted skirmishes over natural resources and contested border areas have also nearly led to open war between the two nations, with civilians often caught in the crossfire.

In April, South Sudanese forces captured Heglig, an oil-town in Sudan, which was met with immediate condemnation from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), as well as threats from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to overthrow what he called the “insect” government in South Sudan. In the aftermath, Sudan has been charged with conducting cross-border aerial bombardments on South Sudanese territory on 23 April and 9 May, in direct violation of the UNSC Resolution 2046 of 2 May, which called for an immediate end to hostilities between the two countries.

While an uncertain verbal agreement struck on 8 July between the two countries currently holds a fragile peace in place, a number of outstanding provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the decades-long Sudanese civil wars and led to the creation of the independent state of South Sudan, remain unresolved, including the status of disputed border areas in Abyei, issues of citizenship, and the sharing of oil revenues.

Amnesty International charged in an 8 July press release that a failure of leadership in Juba and Khartoum has led to increased tensions and conflict between the two countries, The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect reiterated this message, stating that the failure by both Sudan and South Sudan to resolve outstanding issues has resulted in the commission of mass atrocities in both countries. With the UN-imposed deadline of 2 August to resolve outstanding CPA issues fast approaching, the threat of a return to violence between these two countries, along with it the commission of mass atrocities, remains. In response to this, a global campaign backed by over 150 human rights activists, civil society organizations and faith leaders called We Choose Peace urged the UN, the African Union, and the League of Arab States to persuade the governments of South Sudan and Sudan to resolve the remaining CPA issues and cease all hostilities.

Ethnic Violence in Jonglei State, Human Rights Concerns

Internal violence has also marred South Sudan’s first year as a nation, with widespread ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes claiming the lives of nearly 900 in Jonglei State between December 2011 and February 2012.  In a 25 June report by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), entitled Incidents of Intercommunal Violence in Jonglei State, the ethnic clashes were characterized as, “one of the biggest challenges for the GRSS [Government of the Republic of South Sudan] since independence in terms of testing its capacity to protect civilians and to demonstrate its capacity to impose law and order.”

The report subsequently describes how, despite warnings of an impending attack by a large number of Lou Nuer,  the GRSS was “slow to respond”, and failed to prevent or contain the violence. As the report reads, at the heart of the failure by the GRSS to uphold its primary responsibility to protect civilians was a lack of capacity:

Supported by UNMISS, the Government made efforts to contain the violence but these were constrained by the weak capacity of GRSS institutions, particularly local government, security and justice, a lack of human and logistical resources and the tenuous control that state institutions have over territories such as Jonglei, which have been marginalised and neglected over many years.

The report also reflects on the capacity gap faced by UNMISS to assist the GRSS in responding to the crisis:

While UNMISS, as part of its mandate to support the government in protecting civilians, used its resources to the maximum and the actions of both the Mission and the SPLA [Sudanese People’s Liberation Army] contributed to saving lives, it too faced serious constraints to fulfill its mandate obligation in this regard.

As we detailed in a February blog post, the ethnic violence in Jonglei State not only confronted South Sudan’s ability to uphold the first pillar of RtoP – its primary responsibility to protect civilians – but also exposed key challenges for the international community in fulfilling its second-pillar responsibilities of assistance and capacity building:

With the GRSS unable to uphold its responsibility to protect its population without international assistance, UNMISS sought to support national action through preventive deployment, fulfilling RtoP’s second pillar. At the same time, however, UNMISS itself is reeling from a capacity deficit – most importantly, in flight-ready helicopters – which has obstructed the force from effectively carrying out its civilian protection mandate during the recent outbreak of inter-ethnic violence. Thus, although the Security Council established UNMISS in a timely and decisive manner – and with a Chapter VII mandate to protect civilians by “all means necessary” – the force itself has been constrained from providing protection for the South Sudanese population.

Compounding the challenge of upholding pillars one and two has been a lack of accountability for the violence. In a 5 July news release, Coalition-member Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the GRSS to address the issue of impunity, as well as much-needed human rights reforms, ahead of independence celebrations, stating:

“The government has yet to demonstrate that it will respond to the violence appropriately by actually identifying and prosecuting those responsible,” Bekele said. “South Sudan needs justice, in addition to peace efforts, to stem the violence. The absence of justice contributes to the cycles of attacks and counterattacks across the country.”

The International Federation for Human Rights also documented concerns over the human rights situation in South Sudan in a 6 July report published to mark the first anniversary of the country’s independence, which catalogued concerns over violations of women’s rights, infringements of freedom of expression, and illegal arrests and detention.

 RtoP Essential Moving Forward as South Sudan Confronts Challenges

On top of South Sudan’s internal struggle with ethnic violence and human rights, as well as the looming threat of a return to war with their neighbours to the north and a dismal economic situation, Oxfam International has stated the country is, “facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the war in 2005.” The World Food Programme (WFP) has also reported that levels of hunger and malnutrition in South Sudan are higher now than they were one year ago, affecting nearly 4.7 million people. Tied to this is the conflict with Sudan, which, according to the WFP, “continues to produce a flow of refugees and displaced families, who put further strain on an already overstretched food supply system.”

As South Sudan begins its second year as a nation, the path ahead is fraught with an interconnected web of political, economic, and humanitarian challenges that, if left unresolved, would threaten to subvert the dream of a, “peaceful, prosperous, secure and stable South Sudan.” It is critical that lessons learned from the December 2011-February 2012 violence in Jonglei be institutionalized so as to improve the manner in which the GRSS and UNMISS confront any threatened or actual outbreaks of mass atrocity crimes in the future. In this sense, the Responsibility to Protect remains a critical framework for South Sudan and the wider international community as the world’s newest nation struggles with the extraordinary challenges it faces.

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A “Responsibility Not to Veto”? The S5, the Security Council, and Mass Atrocities

A bloc of small countries – the so-called Small-Five or S5, comprised of Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland – was forced to withdraw their draft resolution at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 May, which sought to amend the working methods of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Among other measures that were aimed at “enhancing the accountability, transparency, and effectiveness” of the UNSC, a notable element of the S5 resolution recommendation No. 20 that urged the Permanent Members (P5) of the UNSC – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States – to agree to refrain from using their veto power to block collective Council action to prevent and halt genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. As the S5 stated in their 4 April speech to the UNGA, in which the bloc introduced the resolution, their work stems from the commitments made at the 2005 World Summit:

“The recommendation #20 to refrain from using the veto to block action in situations of “atrocity crimes” (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity) is in line with the 2005 World Summit resolution which states, in its paragraph 139, that the, “international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use the appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

The idea of such restraint on the Council’s veto power in situations of mass atrocities was expressed in the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), the ground-breaking document that first articulated the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P). As the report stated:

“An issue which we cannot avoid addressing, however, is that of the veto power enjoyed by the present Permanent Five. Many of our interlocutors regarded capricious use of the veto, or threat of its use, as likely to be the principal obstacle to effective international action in cases where quick and decisive action is needed to stop or avert a significant humanitarian crisis. As has been said, it is unconscionable that one veto can override the rest of humanity on matters of grave humanitarian concern. Of particular concern is the possibility that needed action will be held hostage to unrelated concerns of one or more of the permanent members – a situation that has too frequently occurred in the past.”

As such, ICISS recommended that the UNSC agree to a “code of conduct” with regards to their veto power. Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) , an ICRtoP member, has explored this notion of a code of conduct, or a “responsibility not to veto” (RN2V) further in a 2010 paper that seeks to advance the understanding of the initiative and the RtoP. As CGS’s paper explains:

“Momentum for the idea of a responsibility not to veto continued in the debates leading up to the World Summit in 2005. However, the final version of the outcome document did not address any measures that would limit the P5’s veto powers in relation to situations of mass atrocities.  According to accounts of the long process of drafting the outcome document this particular omission was due in large part to P5 pressure.”

Despite its omission in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the idea for an RN2V would re-emerge with the UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, with Ban Ki-moon stating:

“Within the Security Council, the five permanent members bear particular responsibility because of the privileges of tenure and the veto power they have been granted under the Charter. I would urge them to refrain from employing or threatening to employ the veto in situations of manifest failure to meet obligations relating to the responsibility to protect, as defined in paragraph 139 of the Summit Outcome, and to reach a mutual understanding to that effect.”

Despite the endorsement by the UNSG and the efforts of the S5, as well as the work of civil society in advancing the RN2V concept, the veto has remained a complex issue in formulating collective responses to situations of mass atrocities, as evidenced recently by the situation in Syria. On two occasions over the course of the government-led crackdown, China and Russia employed their veto powers (on 4 October 2011 and 4 February 2012) to block Council action aimed at resolving the crisis, which were widely believed to have been employed as an expression of their respective national interests in the situation, and their concerns over the implementation of Resolution 1973 in Libya.

And as Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy noted on 15 May, the S5 draft resolution led to a rift within the UN, pitting the bloc of small countries and the supporters of their resolution against members of the P5, which felt the resolution would impede their prerogatives. Ultimately, the RN2V and other provisions in the S5 resolution would not be voted on, as the S5 dropped their motion as the UNGA was set to meet. As Lynch writes in his 16 May post on his Foreign Policy blog:

The U.N. secretary general’s top lawyer today effectively killed off an initiative by five small U.N. member states to press the U.N. Security Council to allow greater outside scrutiny of its actions…the initiative failed after the U.N.’s lawyer, Patricia O’Brien, recommended that the resolution require the support of two-thirds of the U.N. membership, rather than the simple majority required for most U.N. General Assembly votes.

Lynch explains further:

Under the U.N. Charter, a General Assembly resolution requires the support of a simple majority, unless it involves particularly “important questions,” like an amendment of the U.N. Charter, in which case it would require a vote by two-thirds of the General Assembly. But in 1998, the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the assembly would not adopt any resolution “on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters” without a two-thirds majority.

According to Lynch, the Swiss representative to the UNGA withdrew the motion when this recommendation was made, suggesting that the S5 bloc did not have the support of two-thirds of the Assembly on its resolution.

Ahead of the consideration of the S5 resolution by the UNGA, the ICRtoP – as well our partners at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) – sent a letter to all Heads of State and Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 14 May expressing its support for recommendation No.20. The letter from the ICRtoP stated:

[…] this provision reflects the historic decision in the 2005 World Summit document which states that the international community, through the UN, has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; and that when a  state is manifestly failing, the international community has a responsibility to take timely and decisive response, including measures authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII…Tragically, almost every year and even at present the international community witnesses Council deliberations where use of the veto (or its misuse) is inconsistent with these provisions – a situation that this measure in the resolution attempts to address…This recommendation within the S-5 resolution would enhance the goal for preventing and ending impunity, and strengthen the responsibility of States, the international community, the UN and the Security Council to prevent and stop the commission of these crimes.

The RN2V remains an important initiative that will likely continue to be advanced at the UN and in national capitals by like-minded governments, often working in tandem with an engaged and supportive civil society, that strive to ensure that early and flexible responses to protect populations are available to the international community when faced with cases of mass atrocities. While the withdrawal of the S5 resolution may have been a setback, and current Security Council practice dictates that a “responsibility not to veto” is far from being accepted by the P5, the RN2V idea is certainly here to stay.

Further reading:

Global Action to Prevent War: Small-5 Propose GA Resolution on Improving Working Methods of the Security Council

“Small Five” Challenge “Big Five” Over Veto Powers – IPS News Agency

 

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Filed under CivSoc, First Pillar, General Assembly, Libya, Prevention, RtoP, Second Pillar, Security Council, Syria, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action

The G8 – An Untapped Forum for Advancing R2P

A guest post special to ICRtoP’s blog by Naomi Kikoler, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), on tonight’s G8 +5 Summit and the role the body can play in implementing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) and preventing mass atrocities. 

This evening a small but exclusive group of world leaders, the G8+5,[1] will sit down for a ‘working dinner, leaders only’ to discuss regional and political security issues. Not on the table formally, but should be as it speaks to core interest of each participating state and the organization, is the urgent need to advance the global commitment to the responsibility to protect (R2P) by prioritizing the prevention of mass atrocities.

G8 summits have increasingly, in their discussions on international peace and security, delved into matters directly relevant to R2P. As a group of likeminded states (with the exception of Russia) on human rights issues, with each summit there has been a growing willingness to raise and speak out on mass atrocity situations.

At the 2011 Deauville Summit, G8 members jointly declared that “Qadhafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy.” At that same summit they also discussed and expressed concerns about the risks facing civilians in Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Burma.

That these concerns were included in the final joint communique shows that the G8 can be an important forum for building consensus amongst members, notably Russia, on contentious issues related to R2P. For example, the strong language on Libya and Syria at last year’s summit came at a point when Moscow was critical of NATO’s implementation of United Nations (UN) resolution 1973 and was blocking UN Security Council action on Syria.

The G8 has also played an important role in operationalizing R2P – even prior to the 2005 commitment. As G8 scholar John Kirton notes, “the G8’s most decisive achievement was in preventing a major genocide in Kosovo, by agreeing on military action in 1999.” Faced with a paralyzed Security Council, G7 leaders authorized an air campaign carried out by NATO to halt and avert atrocities in Kosovo which Russia subsequently supported.

While the G8 has had conflict prevention on its agenda in the past, there has been no formal discussion of the need to prioritize the prevention of mass atrocities. As Libya has shown, halting atrocities once they have begun is an incredibly difficult task. It is a costly undertaking, especially in an economic downturn. It also requires considerable political resources and energy to mobilize the Security Council and other relevant actors, and to sustain domestic support for action. As the leading world economies, the G8 has an incentive to see the emergence of an international prevention agenda and to be at the fore of such efforts.

How then can the G8 fulfill its potential as an agenda setter on R2P and more specifically on prevention? For starters states should include a re-affirmation of their 2005 World Summit commitment to R2P, and the importance they place on early prevention, in the final Summit Communique. They should also outline the steps that they individually and collectively will endeavor to take to advance an international prevention agenda. These steps should include at the national level three things: (1) issue an official statement outlining the priority the government places on prioritizing atrocity prevention and R2P; (2) appoint a senior-level government official to serve as an R2P focal point to help improve intra-state and inter-state coordination on mass atrocity prevention; and (3) undertake a review of existing domestic capacities for mass atrocity prevention.

The G8 members should also use the opportunity to start a conversation with the +5 states, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, about mass atrocity prevention. The G8 presents a unique forum to start crafting an international prevention agenda. Because averting and halting mass atrocities requires a collective response, the effectiveness of the G8’s efforts will depend on the support of states like the +5.

As the leaders sit down for dinner tonight to discuss Burma, Syria and ‘others,’ may they discuss not only what needs to be done to save lives today, but what they, the G8 and +5, can do together to prevent crimes from occurring in the future.

The comments expressed above are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the GCR2P or the ICRtoP. 


[1] Attending the G8 Summit this weekend are the G8 member states: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. They will be joined by five influential powers: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

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Filed under G8, Guest Post, Human Rights, Libya, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action