An Indispensable Protection Tool? Assessing the Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has defied the efforts of international peacemakers for far too long. UN and regional interventions have had only a limited impact on bringing long-term peace and stability to a country that has been wracked by ongoing militia violence, foreign interference, abject poverty, a weak state, and other factors that have combined to create one of the world’s most intractable wars and persistent atrocity situations.

M23 Withdraw from Goma

M23 withdrawal from Goma. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

In recent years, eastern DRC has seen the worst of the fighting, most notably in 2012 when the 23 March Movement (M23) rebel group swept through the region, capturing Goma and committing a trail of abuses along the way. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) was heavily criticized for its perceived ineffectualness in preventing the onslaught.

Partly as a response to such criticism and with a determination to prevent further suffering of the civilian population at the hands of DRC’s numerous militias, the Security Council passed resolution 2098 authorizing the momentous Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The first of its kind, the force received an unprecedented offensive mandate and was unambiguously tasked with neutralizing armed groups.

Its rapid victory against M23 temporarily vindicated MONUSCO for its failure to prevent the rebel group’s rise, and has important implications for future peacekeeping missions with a chapter VII mandate to protect civilians. However, the alleged compromise of the UN’s traditional values of impartiality and non-use of force, along with concerns over humanitarian fallout and the long-term effectiveness of FIB have come into question. Such concerns, highlighted below, must be given consideration when assessing the brigade and its potential as a model for similar offensive operations and as a tool for implementing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

 

The Intervention Brigade after M23

Since the initial victory against M23, the euphoria surrounding the FIB’s accomplishments has dissipated and been replaced with a more cautious evaluation of its role, particularly as it pertains to impartiality, the potential humanitarian fallout, and the long-term viability of such an offensive mandate.

Loss of Impartiality –  In a recent article for African Arguments, Christoph Vogel gave an account of the FIB’s performance and warned that, in relation to operations against other armed groups such as the Masisi-based APCLS , “The indirect collaboration with one negative force aimed at neutralising another puts the FIB’s, MONUSCO’s, and more generally, the UN’s impartiality in to question.”

This perception has been further underscored by the many delays in pursuing the Hutu-dominated Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia, adding to suspicions that “…the FIB was largely created at the instigation of SADC to help its fellow-SADC member state, DRC, defeat the M23, which was backed by its enemy Rwanda.”

The neutrality of the FIB, and by association, MONUSCO as a whole, was also questioned in a report released by the International Peace Institute examining the legal ramifications of the brigade’s offensive mandate. The report concluded that due to its active involvement in combat activity, the force could indeed be considered a party to the conflict. This effectually renders MONUSCO’s protected status under international humanitarian law null and void. The loss of legal protection is indicated to have implications for the military and civilian staff alike, as both could potentially become legitimate targets for military action and even potential prosecution under international law.

In addition, the report also flagged the fact that the UN mission has generally remained mum over the well-documented human rights abuses committed by FARDC. It states that, “the Intervention Brigade’s mandate can be seen to privilege security issues over impartiality and human rights protection. It focuses on armed groups rather than the FARDC, which is a key part of the “cycle of impunity” and ongoing conflict…”

MONUSCO

MONUSCO Intervention Brigade on patrol in Kiwanja. UN Photo/Clara Padovan.

For obvious reasons, such complications could have serious implications for the mission’s ability to carry out its protection mandate. Accusations of partiality must be addressed if the force is to effectively fulfill its civilian protection mandate without politicization or being otherwise used as a tool to selectively fight the battles of its troop-contributing countries. Furthermore, the implications of being considered a party to DRC’s conflict could have a deterrent effect on states contributing or considering personnel contributions to the peacekeeping force.

Humanitarian Fallout – When the FIB was first announced, there was a flurry of civil society concern over the potential humanitarian impact that increased military activity could have on eastern DRC, including from ICRtoP member Oxfam International, which had one of the largest presences in North Kivu at the time.

Indeed, Medecins Sans Frontieres took an exceptionally tough stance against the brigade’s blurring of military and civilian activities, stating that it no longer wanted any military component of MONUSCO operating near its health facilities for fear of being targeted.

Thankfully, the humanitarian crisis that was envisioned by concerned organizations never came to pass. However, such fears have not been sufficiently assuaged. As long-awaited military operations against the FDLR loom, new calls for protection of civilians have arisen. According to Florent Mèhaule, head of the sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Kivu,

“One of the key issues in South Kivu could be humanitarian access due to both physical constraints and security… such an offensive will probably hamper any kind of access [to] negotiations with armed groups. In addition to difficult access, the weak humanitarian presence in the potential military operations’ areas will make it harder to quickly scale up large humanitarian operations if required.”

Possibilities such as this are reasonable concerns, and reports that OCHA and the UN refugee agency are currently working with MONUSCO, as well as local aid agencies, to develop contingency planning are welcomed.

Long-term solution needed – The final consideration is the degree to which military action is being narrowly viewed as the most important component in the struggle to bring stability to the region. Several NGOs and other experts have been quick to note that placing too much faith in this option could be counter-productive, if not harmful. For example, the Norwegian Refugee Council has stressed that:

 “Military operations alone cannot bring much-needed durable solutions to the long-standing problems which have troubled the region and its people for twenty years. The international community must focus on the deeper, uncomfortable issues that have defeated all efforts to bring peace to Eastern DRC until now.”

MONUSCO Uruguayan Peacekeepers intensify Patrol in Pinga

An Uruguayan member of MONUSCO speaking to civilians in Pinga. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

The organization has called for more investment in non-military measures, such as mediation between armed actors and support to local civil society organizations. Importantly, NRC and other groups have pointed to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) for the Great Lakes Region as an important referent for addressing the conflict’s root causes. A coalition of NGOs working in eastern DRC have made calls for an national oversight body to ensure Congolese authorities implement its commitments to the PSCF, further adding that:

“The operations of the new MOUNSCO Intervention Brigade” should be “clearly linked to the realization of the PSCF. This should include encouraging the UN Security Council to seriously consider suspension of the Brigade if it does not perform well or if the Congolese government does not make sufficient progress in implementing its PSCF commitments, particularly the development of a national security sector reform map.”

 

A Model for Future Intervention?

As the deadline that SADC and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region set for disarmament of the FDLR has come and gone, it is now said that military action to neutralize the group is “inevitable.” Given that the FDLR has been accused of numerous atrocities, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, proactive action to end this threat to DRC’s civilians is a positive use of peace enforcement under RtoP.

The FIB itself is a potentially useful model, given the effect that providing it with a unique and unambiguous mandate had on defeating M23, as well as in its less noted contribution to victory against the Ugandan Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Indeed, in his recent strategic review of MONUSCO the Secretary-General called the force “indispensible” in protecting civilians when Congolese authorities failed to do so.

Recalling the Office of Internal Oversight Service’s report released in March 2014, if the Security Council decides to pursue a similar option in the future, it could be an answer to the report’s findings that UN peacekeepers almost never use force for the protection of civilians, due to reasons such as unclear mandates and a lack of resources.

However, MONUSCO must be cautious in utilizing this tool. The concerns highlighted above represent real discomfort with the UN taking such an aggressive approach – a sentiment that has been shared by many UN member states that are leery of abandoning the organization’s traditional focus on consent, impartiality and the non-use of force.

In the DRC context, recommendations for monitoring and ensuring compliance with human rights standards, contingency planning to mitigate humanitarian fallout and to maximize civilian protection, as well as linking the FIB’s activities with broader peace efforts, should be heeded. On a more systemic level, the upcoming Secretary-General’s High-Level Review of Peacekeeping Operations, offers a chance to further assess the FIB’s performance, gleaning the positive lessons learned  and reconciling them with the legitimate concerns held by many NGOs and UN member states.

Leave a comment

Filed under DRC, Peacekeeping, Regional Orgs, Timely and Decisive Action

Buffer Zones and Local Freezes: What Hope for Ending Syria’s Civil War?

It is a stain on the collective conscience of the international community that after nearly four years of fighting, 200,000 killed and 10 million displaced, there is still little hope for an imminent end to Syria’s civil war. Regional and international efforts to end the conflict, documented in great detail in our ‘Crisis in Syria’ page, have had limited impact.

The rare consensus that allowed the Security Council to pass resolutions 2165 permitting cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid, and 2118 calling for the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical arsenal, were welcome developments. However, in practice, it has done little to relieve the suffering of civilians still caught in the slaughter.

SRSG at SC Stakeout

Staffan De Mistura as SRSG for Afghanistan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

Instead, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS or IS) has regionalized the war, bringing wanton destruction and the threat of genocide to neighbouring Iraq, while Turkey’s borders are currently threatened by the ISIS siege of Kobane.

Already, the conflict has consumed two astute international negotiators – Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi – both sent to Syria as joint UN/Arab League Special Envoys, and both unable to stem the bloodshed. The third to try his hand is Staffan De Mistura, a veteran diplomat who has served as the head of the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The siege of Kobane and the appointment of De Mistura have both brought with them new proposals for a gradual ease in the fighting aimed at creating space for a political solution. The Turkish proposal to create a ‘buffer zone’ along the Syria-Turkey border, and De Mistura’s local ‘freeze’ represent the latest attempts to change the conflict’s trajectory.

While similar in their aims, they differ in operational terms. Both, however, have invited criticism and praise that underscore the complexity of the conflict and any solution to it. The potential for these plans to bring immediate relief to civilians and a long-term settlement is measured through the vocal response of civil society and other influential voices below.

Buffer Zone: Bastion of Safety or Invitation to Bloodshed?

On October 10, 2014, the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P) expressed deep concern over ISIL’s offensive in Kobane, particularly for ethnic and religious minorities who have been the targets of ISIL’s murderous campaign throughout Iraq and Syria. The advisers warned that:

“ISIL and other armed groups have reportedly committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity…the situation in Kobane raises the credible prospect that the population is at imminent risk of being subjected to similar acts.”

The US and its allies have heeded calls for international action to prevent the slaughter of Kobane’s civilians, launching airstrikes on ISIL targets inside the city. However, there is broad agreement that more is needed.

Though scant on details, the Turkish requests for a protected “buffer zone”, if approved, could significantly change the dynamic on the ground. If implemented, the plan would see US aircraft utilizing the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey to launch strikes reaching from north of Aleppo to the town of Kobane to prevent further ISIS incursions. Simultaneously, Turkish special forces would enter Kobane to provide support to Syrian opposition fighters and its leaders, who would be free to use the zone to consolidate their efforts.

The plan also has a protective element to it. It seeks to prevent what UN officials have warned could become another Srebrenica by providing a safe haven for civilians who have been forced to flee or who remain caught in the fighting. In an interview with Syria Deeply, Ambassador Frederic Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, praised the idea for both its humanitarian and political appeal, suggesting that:

“There are very strong humanitarian justifications to be able to protect people inside Syria rather than see them race across borders as refugees.” He also adds, “…there needs to be the growth of decent, legitimate governance in Syria, governance that would ultimately be extended to all Syrians,” recommending that a buffer zone in Kobane could be the starting place.

Likewise, in an article for Foreign Affairs, J. Trevor Ulbrick acknowledged the urgency of the situation for Kobane’s civilians, justifying a buffer zone in RtoP terms. Ulbrick holds that:

The situation in northern Syria, where ISIS has attacked the citizens of Kobane with impunity, seems to fall squarely under R2P. The Assad regime is either unwilling or unable to protect the Kurdish civilians living there, who are now under imminent threat of being massacred by ISIS on the basis of their ethnicity.”

15293291489_af897deecd_m

Twin Explosions in Kobane, October 8, 2014. Flickr/Karl-Ludwig Poggemann.

Still, others are much more cautious and suggest a buffer zone may in fact run counter to the objective of civilian protection. For example, in another Syria Deeply interview, Elizabeth Ferris also raised the spectre of Srebrenica – though to remind of the tragic consequences of the UN’s inability to prevent a Serbian massacre in the supposed ‘safe zone’. She explains, “Any time you mix military action with the protection of civilians, you put them in danger. The Assad regime could argue that they are a military target and a threat to the regime.”

Similarly, in the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare blog, Ashley Deeks argues that couching the buffer zone in humanitarian terms, rather than the collective self-defence argument that currently underpins coalition operations, could undermine the tacit agreement with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, giving him “a stronger argument for claiming that the United States is engaged in an armed attack against it and for using force to protect its territorial integrity.” If indeed the ‘Article 51’ collective self-defense argument falls apart, there are also important implications for the legality of a buffer zone, which would then need Security Council approval to fulfill this requirement and to be considered as an action falling under the realm of RtoP.*

With reports that the U.S., France, and Britain are coming closer to accepting such a plan, all of these possibilities must be weighed carefully.

Local ‘Freeze’: Brave New Initiative or Same Old Formula?

The local ‘freeze’ proposed by Staffan De Mistura is another initiative that is currently on the table. The plan would look something like this: the government and opposition would agree to a UN-mediated de-escalation of the violence by ‘freezing’ the conflict in the iconic city of Aleppo. This would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to beleaguered populations, and a semblance of normalcy to be restored. Ultimately, it is hoped that the model can be transposed to other key cities to create the political space for a national peace process. It can also demonstrate the possibility of shifting the narrative of the conflict from the military to political.

De Mistura views the plan as going beyond simply “talking” about peace at the international level, to taking incremental steps to achieve a “bottom-up” solution. According to the UN Envoy, both the Assad government and the Syrian opposition are seriously considering the initiative.

Like a buffer zone, the freeze has invited optimism along with skepticism. Much of the latter stems from observing previous ceasefire agreements that have failed to produce results. A report commissioned by the London School of Economics and the Syrian civil society organization Madani analyzed four locally negotiated ceasefires in Homs, Aleppo, Barzeh and Ras Al-Ain.

The report outlines the salient factors that led to ceasefire collapse, including: military and strategic manipulation of the agreement to gain concessions; negotiations conducted in bad faith and with a lack of trust; the existence of war profiteers and other spoilers who stand to gain from prolonging the violence; the absence of an independent mediator; and the lack of a larger peace process in which to frame the ceasefire.

Many are concerned that De Mistura’s plan will suffer from similar setbacks. For example, Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace believes:

“The regime appears to be interested in ‘easing’ pressure on certain fronts, so that it can send its elite forces from one place to another…Alleviating the suffering of people is a good thing, but [de Mistura’s proposal] is a ‘time out,’ which the regime needs, before a resumption of hostilities takes place.”

Bahout also notes the lack of a parallel peace process as an impediment to the plan’s effectiveness. Such concerns should be considered seriously, for as Noah Bonsey of International Crisis Group warns, “Ceasefires don’t have an inherently positive value…Bad cease-fires end up costing more lives.”

Free Syrian Army soldier walking among rubble in Aleppo. Voice of America News/Scott Bobb.

Regardless of the risks, the lack of alternatives has led others, such as Coalition members PAX and Human Rights Watch, to view the freeze as the only viable way forward. PAX, in a recent policy brief on the subject, recognized that there are indeed risks associated, including the potential to manipulate the agreement for strategic gains. But under the proper conditions, it can also improve human security and allow for the development of local governance structures by civil society actors.

For this to occur, PAX cites a few crucial ingredients that have been missing from past ceasefire efforts. These include: UN third-party monitoring to ensure compliance with the terms of the freeze, including through sanctions if necessary; significant and sustainable improvement of the humanitarian situation; support and promotion of inclusive and responsive local government; securing buy-in and commitment of all local commanders in Aleppo; and a political framework that links the freeze to a broader peace process.

Steps such as these could potentially set the freeze apart from other failed initiatives. However, the damage done by previous ceasefire violations still hangs heavy. Indeed, the Syria National Coalition has reportedly stated it would reject the plan unless it is backed by a Chapter VII resolution and tied to a concrete peace plan such as the stalled Geneva talks. This reflects the reluctance to trust a government that has been all too willing to renege on past agreements. It also clearly shows that any chance for implementation will rely heavily on De Mistura’s ability to skillfully negotiate the terms with both parties.

No Perfect Solutions

Both of the above proposals follow the similar logic of creating zones of protection and stability that will ripple outwards, demonstrating the possibility of good governance and political agreement in the war-ravaged nation. However, De Mistura’s plan relies much more on consensus and cooperation, while a buffer zone is far more coercive in nature. Both utilize important RtoP tools, including mediation, humanitarian assistance, and potentially, the use of force for the immediate protection of civilians. However, as in any RtoP case, the proper course of action should depend on a careful analysis of the situation and the potential consequences of any intervention, in accordance with the UN Charter. Crucially, the precautionary “Do no harm” principle must continually be minded.

Ultimately, both plans bring with them the potential of failure and unintended consequences. However, the international community can no longer dither, and certainly the people of Syria can no longer wait. The sad reality is, as Alex Bellamy rightfully professes, “The time for perfect solutions is long past.”

 

* The Responsibility to Protect norm, as agreed to in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, does not sanction a unilateral military response or a response by a “coalition of the willing.” Any military response under RtoP must be authorized by the Security Council. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Arab League, genocide, RtoP, Syria, UN

Rights Up Front and Civilian Protection: An Uneven First Year

This November marks one year since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the momentous “Rights Up Front” action plan to put the protection of civilians and their human rights at the forefront of the UN agenda.

Born out of the tragedy witnessed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and the “systemic failure” that characterized the United Nation’s response, the initiative is meant to ensure that the inaction seen in Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and Srebrenica is never repeated.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Mr. Charles Petrie, Assistant Secretary-General, Independent Review Panel on Sri Lanka.UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By emphasizing timely reporting and early warning, Rights Up Front seeks to prevent human rights abuses before they rise to the level of mass atrocities.  Where prevention fails, the UN’s main priority will be the protection of civilians. In many ways, this is simply a reiteration of the core purpose of the UN. However, Rights Up Front is unique in that it offers a six-point plan directed at the UN Secretariat, funds, and agencies to institute changes that will lead to tangible improvements in prevention and response.

According to the Secretary-General’s summary of Rights Up Front, the six points are as follows:

1: Integrating human rights into the lifeblood of the UN so all staff understand their own and the Organization’s human rights obligations.

2: Providing Member States with candid information with respect to peoples at risk of, or subject to, serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law.

3: Ensuring coherent strategies of action on the ground and leveraging the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner.

4: Clarifying and streamlining procedures at Headquarters to enhance communication with the field and facilitate early, coordinated action.

5: Strengthening the UN’s human rights capacity, particularly through better coordination of its human rights entities.

6: Developing a common UN system for information management on serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Given the focus on the protection of civilians and prevention of mass atrocities, the initiative has clear potential for reinforcing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Indeed, RtoP was directly referenced in the Deputy Secretary-General’s informal remarks on Rights up Front to the General Assembly in December 2013. One year later, there have been some positive signs that Rights Up Front is starting to take hold, including the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)’s unprecedented ‘open-gate’ policy to protect civilians in South Sudan. However, the recently revealed controversies surrounding the United Nations/African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) suggest that the UN could once again be repeating the very mistakes that the initiative was designed to prevent.

 

Rights Up Front in South Sudan: An Imperfect Success Story

The record on Rights Up Front’s implementation has been mixed. While a system-wide plan such as this is bound to take time to run its course, there are some early examples of qualified successes, as well as some unacceptable failures.

The ‘success ledger’ includes the decision of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to open its gates to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing inter-ethnic violence between the Dinka and Nuer after the outbreak of civil war in December 2013.  The former Special Representative to the Secretary General reflected on the decision, confirming its adherence to Rights Up Front and stating “The fact that we opened our gates actually has saved very many thousands of people’s lives… There will be incredible challenges going forward with this decision, but it was the right one. It remains the right one.”

UNMISS provides water to civilians seeking shelter in one of its bases in Juba after outbreak of violence in December 2013. UN Photo/UNMISS.

Likewise, Oxfam’s head of humanitarian policy and campaigns, Maya Mailer, opined on how this development demonstrates progress in the mission’s policy towards the protection of civilians. She reflected on the mission, and its heavy state-building focus, as it was back in 2009, recalling that “…while the UN mission had a mandate from the UN Security Council to protect civilians, that came way down a long list of other priorities.” Mailer mentions both RtoP and Rights Up Front as potential influential factors in this shift.

Although the long-term safety of civilians seeking shelter in what are now being called Protection of Civilian sites is far from assured, this impromptu decision made in the face of an imminent massacre provides hope that the protection of civilians is indeed being prioritized among UN missions.

 

Darfur Controversy Risks Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

Nevertheless, it is easy to have one’s optimism dashed when observing recent events in the Darfur region of Sudan. Back in April, Foreign Policy broke a story alleging that through chronic underreporting, UNAMID had systematically covered up attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers carried out by forces acting on behalf of the Government of Sudan (GoS).

One example among the many includes a brazen attack by Sudanese troops and pro-government militias on a UN base in Muhajeria in April 2013. Though this particular violation occurred before Rights Up Front was initiated, to date, no one has been held accountable for the attack that left one Nigerian peacekeeper dead, and several more injured. Indeed, UNAMID still refuses to even acknowledge the government’s involvement, instead blaming “unidentified armed assailants.”

More recently, ICRtoP member, The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies has documented a “brutal campaign of counter-insurgency” led by the pro-government Rapid Support Forces throughout Darfur. The campaign of violence has been marked by aerial bombardments and ground assaults that have targeted civilians with increasing intensity since earlier this year. In spite of this, UNAMID continues to afford minimal priority to reporting on and ensuring accountability for such acts. This is evident in the most recent UNAMID controversy, in which allegations that the mission improperly investigated a mass rape in the town of Tabit has led to further accusations that it is covering-up the government’s transgressions.

Ostensibly, UNAMID has made the decision to omit mention of GoS involvement in attacks due to a lack of concrete first-hand evidence.  However, observers have pointed out that it is more likely that UNAMID’s lack of reporting was done to appease Khartoum, a government that is renowned for its obstruction of international peacekeeping efforts and the quest to achieve accountability for past atrocities committed by its leaders. Most notable among them is President Omar Al Bashir, who is wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

UNAMID leadership visit victims of ambush

Tanzanian UNAMID soldiers listen solemnly to a debriefing after an ambush by “unidentified assailants” that left 7 peacekeepers dead. UN Photo/ Albert González Farran.

If, as Human Rights Watch has suggested, Darfur represents a test-case for implementation of Rights Up Front, then it exposes some key areas in which it has been lacking. The incomplete reporting of GoS attacks indicates that UNAMID staff might not fully understand their human rights obligations or how to properly uphold them, as demanded in the first action point. Furthermore, it leads to a breakdown in the candid reporting to member states required for proactive and strategic engagement, as specified in point number two.  The fact that the mission has not issued a public report on human rights since 2009 reinforces this narrative. As ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda chided “UN reports are an important and increasingly unique source of public information about the situation in Darfur, and must be held to the highest standard for the sake of the victims…” 

This is especially important as improper reporting can also hamper the ability of the Secretary-General to carry out his ‘Article 99’ responsibilities to accurately pass information to the Security Council to inform their decisions on matters related to international peace and security. This in turn affects the ability of the Council to adjust mandates in a way that reflects the reality on the ground, depriving the mission of necessary resources and additional Chapter VII measures that may be required to protect civilians. Thus, the ability to leverage the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner, as specified in the third action point, is also compromised.

The Secretary-General has since responded to allegations with an internal investigation, and recently stated that he will take “all necessary steps to ensure full and accurate reporting by [the joint mission],” adding that “keeping silent or under-reporting on incidents involving human rights violations and threats or attacks on UN peacekeepers cannot be condoned under any circumstances.”

These developments are troubling, as they are a repeat of the patterns that led to the UN’s ineffectiveness in Sri Lanka. In spite of the positive progress in South Sudan, the case of Darfur suggests that the UN has yet to “fully learn the lessons of the past”, as instructed by Ban Ki-moon upon his announcement of Rights Up Front.

 

Strengthening Rights Up Front Implementation

For the potential of Rights Up Front to be realized, the UN will have to address the lingering deficiencies that jeopardize efforts to protect civilians. In August 2014, Daniel Bekele of HRW urged that:

“With the surge in Sudanese government-led attacks on civilians, credible public reporting on the situation in Darfur is more important than ever…The UN should not allow this core aspect of its work to be degraded, especially when the Secretary-General has pledged to put ‘Rights up Front’ in the UN’s work.”

Philippe Bolopion bluntly warned that the example of Darfur “should be a wake-up call to other U.N. missions, whether in Mali, CAR [the Central African Republic], Libya, or South Sudan, that proactive and transparent reporting on human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrators, is a core function of the mission…”

However, while it is important to ensure that timely and accurate information is reported, for example, through regular ‘horizon-scanning’ exercises, the political will to act on this information is also essential. In September 2014, the International Peace Institute held its annual Trygve Lie Symposium, this year focusing on Rights Up Front. As was mentioned by Helen Clark, action on the initiative depends on “speaking truth to power to the Security Council,” but also on the willingness of member states to act.

In this sense, it will also be necessary to build, “a broad coalition” involving a “range of regional groups,” so as to catalyze momentum among member states, urge the Security Council to take action, and garner support for funding and logistical contributions to UN missions. Panelists at the IPI symposium lamented such action as becoming increasingly difficult, though it underpins the viability of all UN efforts.

 

The Role of RtoP in Rights Up Front

With their many shared objectives, it is also essential to discuss the role of RtoP in strengthening Rights Up Front implementation. In her assessment of Rights Up Front for Opinio Juris, Kristen Boon made an important point regarding this relationship. While RtoP has indeed been cited as an important precursor, and the two are often mentioned in the same context, there has been little attempt to elaborate on specific measures under the RtoP toolkit that can reinforce the initiative. The same can be said about the ability of Rights Up Front to ensure more consistent application of the norm.

Pillay visits UNMISS

Former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng give a joint-press conference on South Sudan. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

The 2014 Secretary-General report on RtoP focused on international assistance to states to uphold RtoP (aka Pillar II), and provides the most direct linkage to Rights Up Front. The report welcomed Rights Up Front as an avenue for improving the UN’s ability to fulfill its second pillar responsibilities by improving early action and emphasizing the collective responsibility of the UN. In a separate section, the report identifies a role for the Human Rights Council (HRC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other relevant organs in encouraging states to uphold their primary responsibility by addressing human rights concerns.

Still, the report stops short of identifying particular aspects of each initiative that could serve to strengthen implementation of the other, or how relevant UN bodies, such as the HRC and the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) can complement one another in fulfilling RtoP or Rights Up Front.

A clearer articulation of this relationship could perhaps build on the recommendations for improved coordination made by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng at the HRC’s High-Level Panel on the Prevention of Genocide in March 2014. For example, Dieng recommended that the HRC adopt the OSAPG’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes to further guide its work. Such changes could help mainstream an atrocities lens throughout the UN system, and ensure that human rights abuses do not rise to the level of atrocity crimes.

 

One Year On, Critical Assessment Needed

While Rights Up Front is a promising initiative, noteworthy for rallying the efforts of the UN behind the human rights cause, implementation has been checkered so far. UNMISS’ open-gate policy in South Sudan is a positive example of a flexible response that prioritized the imminent protection needs of civilians. On the other hand, the debacle in Darfur has exposed weaknesses in human rights reporting, and an overall lack of transparency that runs counter to the noble intentions of Rights Up Front. To truly learn the lessons of the past and maximize civilian protection, an honest and more in-depth assessment of the initiative and its implementation is needed as its one-year anniversary arrives.

1 Comment

Filed under African Union, Human Rights, Peacekeeping, Prevention, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, UNMISS

No Protection without Participation: The Responsibility to Include Displaced Women

On October 28, 2014, the Security Council held its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) focusing on women as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The urgency of this matter cannot be understated, as the world reaches a grim milestone.

Security Council meeting on Women and peace and  security

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Security Council meeting on Women and peace and security. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Currently, the global population of displaced sits at approximately 50 million people – the largest number since the Second World War. What’s more appalling is that an astounding 80 percent of this population consists of women and children.

It was noted throughout the debate that in this context, women are at risk of a range of human rights abuses. These include gender-based discrimination in access to economic resources, education and employment, poor reproductive health care, and exclusion from decision-making and participation in most peace processes.

Furthermore, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Recalling Security Council Resolution 1820, rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as a threat to international peace and security, as well as serve as indicators of and/or constitute potential genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, making this an important issue for both the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and WPS.

The debate was part of the ongoing effort to evaluate implementation of Resolution 1325, a landmark Security Council decision that followed many incremental precedents in the advancement of women’s human rights, and subsequent resolutions that make up the WPS framework. The discussions held at this session made it clear that, while progress has been made with regards to upholding women’s rights and ensuring equal participation, there is still much progress to be made, especially as it concerns women who are refugees or IDPs.  The experience of women IDPs in countries plagued by atrocities such as Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan demonstrate the stunning lack of progress, as well as a failure of national authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect displaced persons within their borders.

 

Horrifying Conditions for Displaced Women

The latest Secretary-General’s report on Women’s Peace and Security takes special note of the plight of displaced women. The report explains that driving factors such as discriminatory gender norms, a lack of access to livelihoods and basic services, as well as unequal citizenship rights leave women and girls especially vulnerable to a range of rights violations.

Among the risks mentioned are exposures to sex and labour trafficking, SGBV, and early and forced marriage. In addition, women are experiencing a curtailment of their rights in relation to dress, travel, education and employment – particularly in areas where extremism is rampant.

The Secretary-General’s report notes several countries as being particularly affected, including atrocity-ridden Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Reports emerging from these countries bring the Secretary-General’s warnings to life, and shed light on the dire situations faced by displaced women.

For example, in South Sudan, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura told horrific tales of sexual violence that will “…haunt South Sudan for generations to come” and include “rapes, gang rapes, rapes with guns and bullets and sexual slavery,” committed by forces loyal to both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.  Many of these have occurred in the supposed safety of UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites and IDP camps.

In the Central African Republic, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that “where 20 per cent of the country’s population is internally displaced, 68 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.” They also note that access to education has been severely restricted, decrying that “ In Bossangoa region, education has ground to a halt almost completely, and in the country as  whole more than 70 per cent of potential pupils – at least 450,000 children – are currently out of school.”

Views of the Zaatri Refugee Camp

Syrian Refugees Crossing into the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

In Syria, the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that displacement has been “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”

A July 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented the abuses inflicted on women fleeing the frontlines of the country’s civil war. The organization warned that “Women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government.”

The examples from these countries are but a sample of the very real dangers faced by displaced women and girls, and the risks that they will become victims of RtoP crimes.

 

RtoP and Women’s Participation in the Context of Displacement

The deplorable conditions facing displaced women in South Sudan, Syria, and CAR represent a wider failure of national authorities to uphold their obligations to adequately protect IDPs and refugees within their borders.

Indeed, the broad range of rights abuses faced by displaced women are identified by the new  Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes, recently published by the Joint Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, as being a precursor to the commission of atrocity crimes.

The framework explains that of particular concern are “violations of civil and political rights” that may include “…severe restrictions to economic, social and cultural rights, often linked to patterns of discrimination or exclusion of protected groups, populations or individuals.”

Furthermore, as noted above, Resolution 1820 recognized for the first time that sexual violence could potentially constitute three of the four mass atrocity crimes and violations under RtoP, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Framework of Analysis also warns that increasing acts of sexual violence “may indicate an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes, or suggest a trajectory towards their perpetration. “

English classes for displaced women

UNAMID police facilitate English classes for displaced women in Darfur. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

While a range of actions need to be in focus when addressing these crimes, a partial explanation of the failure to curb these violations is the exclusion of women from decision-making–including on policies regarding IDPs/refugees and peace processes in general. This exclusionary trend is at odds with the commitments set out in the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and in particular, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, including Resolutions 1325 and 2122.

Resolution 1325 served as a landmark document, marking the UN Security Council’s recognition of the unique effects of conflict on women, and that their voices must be included in all stages of the peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding process. Through the adoption of Resolution 2122, the Council sought to strengthen the WPS agenda by explicitly focusing on the need to take further action to ensure women’s participation in all stages of conflict prevention and response. Without the recognition and inclusion of women, it is widely acknowledged that any strategy implemented will be “faulty” and unsustainable.

Thus, states hosting a displaced population have an urgent responsibility to protect women from these crimes, while the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance when authorities are failing as spectacularly as in the cases above. However, due to the indispensable nature of women’s involvement, protection cannot be fully achieved without their active participation and the facilitation of these efforts.

 

Ending Abuse through Gendered Strategies

Both civil society advocates and member states that participated in the open debate have offered recommendations that could help ensure protection obligations are upheld, and that the voices of women are included in the design and implementation of policies for the protection of the displaced.

In their civil society statement delivered at the WPS debate, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security called for a comprehensive and gender-sensitive protection effort for women in displaced situations.  They stressed that:

“…women must fully participate and be consulted systematically in decision-making, across all displacement settings, in humanitarian programming, and, of course, in the broader political, security and peace processes.”  To these ends, the provision of political and financial support, as well as specialized training to civil society and women’s human rights defenders were recommended.

The Permanent Representative of Lithuania highlighted  the importance of ensuring personnel involved in the protection of IDPs are well-versed in gender-sensitivity by “providing gender awareness training to peacekeepers, field staff and humanitarian actors, appointing gender advisors, and developing concrete indicators to assess implementation of gender mainstreaming policies.”

Suggesting examples of best practices, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet identified steps that have been taken to incorporate a gender perspective into IDP protection in peacekeeping operations.

UNAMID Civil Affairs Officers Meet IDP Camp Residents. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot.

One such practice was UNAMID’s establishment of a Women’s Protection Network in Darfuri IDP camps to elicit their participation in formulating protection strategies.  Another was the UNMISS advocacy efforts that led to a gendered approach to IDP camp management, including the appointment of female camp managers.

An important recurring theme was the extension of women’s empowerment to the socioeconomic sphere, as horizontal inequalities exacerbated by displacement create the conditions that leave women vulnerable to exploitation. They are also considered a common indicator of atrocity risk under the Special Advisers’ Framework of Analysis.

As the Nordic countries remarked in their joint statement delivered by Sweden, “Gender inequalities lie at the heart of the issue. Gender equality in political, economic, and social life is a goal in itself and also contributes to preventing sexual violence and armed conflict.” Recommendations made by states for reducing inequalities, including by improving access to services and livelihoods, are therefore critical.

No Protection without True Participation

By implementing gendered protection strategies, and ensuring the full participation of women in all matters related to the protection of IDPs, a double purpose is being served. Not only are national and international actors doing their part to satisfy obligations laid out in the WPS agenda, but they are taking steps towards fulfilling their responsibility to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. Furthermore, they are upholding their responsibilities to help improve the capacity of national actors to live up to their primary RtoP obligations.

As Edmond Mulet stated “We have a responsibility to better protect women, but protection cannot exist without genuine understanding of women’s rights and acceptance of their full participation, as demanded by resolution 1325 and all subsequent mandates on women, peace, and security.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Human Rights, Prevention, RtoP, South Sudan, Syria, Women

‘Denying the Means': Small Arms Proliferation and Mass Atrocities

In a previous post, Alexandra Hiniker of ICRtoP member, PAX, wrote a guest blog exploring the links between humanitarian disarmament and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), with a particular focus on cluster munitions.  She highlighted relevant assistance strategies that affect the ability of a state to uphold its primary obligation to protect populations. The piece was an entry that helped to illuminate the critical connection between RtoP implementation and another area within the peace and security agenda.

Rebel-fighters-plunder-ar-007

A Libyan weapons cache that was looted after the fall of Qadaffi. Sean Smith/The Guardian.

Equally important are efforts to stem the flow and illicit transfer of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).  A holistic approach to preventing the proliferation of this weaponry can also contribute to the overall goal of atrocities prevention.

Nowhere has this been made clearer than in Libya, where the collapse of the Qadaffi government and the security vacuum that has ensued has led to a state awash in legacy weapons that have spread throughout the Sahel-Sahara region and beyond. Many of these destinations also happen to be areas where the commission of atrocities have been well-documented.

 

Libya’s Insecure Stockpile

As a previous ICRtoP blog explains, post-revolution Libya verges on civil war, with the widespread proliferation of militias and a central government too weak and divided to restore order. In a state that has been described as one of the “largest arms purchasing countries in the world,” containing a stockpile consisting of tens of thousands of weapons, looting and diversion of arms by both militias and corrupt government officials has been rampant.

Indeed, the magnitude of the problem after the 2011 fall of Qaddafi led Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch to comment that he has “never seen weapons proliferation like Libya,” which has occurred on a scale  “…many times greater than other conflicts.”

The hemorrhaging of weapons is in direct violation of the arms embargo that the United Nations Security Council instituted after passing Resolution 1970 in 2011. A recent report submitted to the Security Council by a panel of experts on Libya released in March of 2014 details the extent of the violations.  It is striking for the fact that experts traced the flow of weapons leaving Libya to 14 other countries in the Sahel-Sahara region and the Levant.

Notable for this blog, is the ominous conclusion that “In terms of end users, while various types of individuals and armed entities are benefitting from the dissemination of Libyan arsenals…the materiel is likely to enhance the capacity of terrorist groups…”  This appears to have played out in tragic fashion most prominently in Mali and Syria.

 

 Libyan Arms Fuel Regional Conflicts

Mali is perhaps the most well known example of intra-regional transfer of weapons in the Sahel, where Tuareg rebels that participated in the Libyan revolution are believed to have brought back an abundance of conventional weaponry that fuelled the country’s instability in 2012.

Ansar_Dine_Rebels_-_VOA

Ansar Dine fighters in northern Mali. VOA

The panel of experts report explains that weapons from Libya reached Mali by land via neighbouring Niger, but also through Algeria and Tunisia.  The main traffickers include armed groups in northern Mali such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and Ansar Dine.

These extreme elements have been linked to numerous atrocities, including “rape, use of child soldiers, and pillaging of hospitals, schools, aid agencies, and government buildings…” in addition to “abductions and wilful killings of civilians as well as hostage taking.”

The nightmare in Syria that has been raging for three years and claimed the lives of nearly 200,000 also seems to have been inflamed by weapons from Libya. The report indicates that Syrian and Libyan nationals who are sympathetic to the Syrian opposition have utilized a network of arms dealers to finance and transfer weapons, allegedly cutting through Turkey, Qatar, and Lebanon by way of sea, land, and air.

It is conceivable that these weapons may have been used in, or made the commission of a number of atrocities possible. This is particularly so for extreme segments of the opposition who, largely due to the influx of weapons, are becoming “better equipped than other armed groups.”  This is a worrisome development underscored by the recent expansion of The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also referred to as ISIS or IS) from Syria into Iraq, and the resulting trail of atrocities that have been committed.

The Mali and Syria examples show that  when left unchecked, illicit transfers of SALW can and likely will find their way into other active crises, where according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, old insecurities lead to “…increased demand for and proliferation of small arms and light weapons,”  that tend to exacerbate the situation further.

 

SALW Linked to the Commission of Atrocities

As the deadly effects of SALW proliferation become acutely clear in places like Mali and Syria, the international community has begun to identify it as a major challenge to atrocities prevention. While it must be noted that the flow of arms from Libya is by no means the sole, or even the greatest cause of violence in these crises, they are what have been called atrocity ‘enablers.’

In 2012, Robert Zuber of the Global Action to Prevent War spoke to the relationship between arms flows and the commission of atrocities, noting that, “Illicit arms inflame conflicts that might otherwise be resolvable, including conflicts that have the potential to incite major violations of human rights, and even rise to the level of mass atrocities.”  He also stressed how the circulation of arms makes it more difficult for a government to dispense its primary responsibility to protect civilians.

Security Council Meeting on Small arms

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop convenes a high-level meeting on the issue of Small Arms and Light Weapons. UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

SALW proliferation is well within the purview of the groundbreaking Arms Trade Treaty, which recently surpassed the number of ratifications required for legal implementation. The treaty contains a key provision that forbids any transfer of weapons by a state party if there is reason to believe they could be used in the commission of atrocities.

In addition, Resolution 2117 was adopted in 2013 by the Security Council on the thematic issue of Small Arms and Light Weapons with the aim of encouraging practical steps to prevent their illicit transfer and misuse. The resolution was largely informed by a 2013 report by the Secretary-General on small arms that stressed the destabilizing impact of arms from Libya in the Sahel-Sahara region and the Levant, pinpointing both Mali and Syria as being particularly impacted.

The resolution further established the connection between SALW and RtoP, recognizing that, “…the misuse of small arms and light weapons has resulted in grave crimes,” and reaffirmed the importance of the Responsibility to Protect in preventing these violations.

 

International Efforts to Prevent Proliferation

Given the correlation between SALW proliferation and the commission of atrocities, it is critical that the international community take steps to stem the flow of arms from one conflict zone to another.

Implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty, which is scheduled to go into effect in December 2014, will be crucial in this regard.  It can ensure states achieve more effective stockpile management, including by improving physical security, record keeping, reporting, and other national and international measures to prevent diversion of arms through illicit channels.

Similarly, Resolution 2117 highlights the role of UN peacekeeping in providing national authorities with assistance in stockpile management and the implementation of civilian disarmament programs. It also encourages states to fully abide by UN-sanctioned arms embargos in an effort to curb violations such as those seen in Libya.

Further action was highlighted by participants at the recent Biennial Meeting of States on Illicit Trade in Small Arms in June 2014, which stressed implementation of existing mechanisms such as the 2001 Programme of Action on Small Arms and utilization of the International Tracing Instrument. Participants encouraged states to:

“…continue strengthening stockpile management, including physical security measures, particularly in conflict and post-conflict situations…” They also called for international assistance and capacity-building to harness new tracing and tracking technologies.

SRSG KOENDERS visit to Facobly

Destruction of Small Arms during Disarmament ceremony in Cote d’Ivoire. UN Photo/Basile Zoma

The recent launch of a pilot programme called the Small Arms Project being implemented in six communities in the Sahel-Sahara region by the European Union and ECOWAS demonstrates what potential action can look like. The programme is aimed at:

“…raising community awareness on the dangers associated with the illicit proliferation of small arms and armed violence; strengthening the capacity of security institutions and communities to enhance safety and above all encouraging voluntary weapons surrender/collection in return for community based development projects.”

 

Understanding Key Relationships for Improved Implementation

The importance of this type of assistance is clearly illustrated by the Libya case. Efforts to disarm militias and account for the legacy weapons of the Qadaffi government have been half-hearted and inefficient, leading to proliferation that has fueled highly volatile crises in places like Mali and Syria. The 2014 Secretary-General’s Report on second pillar international assistance recognizes the importance of effective action to deny would-be perpetrators the means to commit crimes, and further demonstrates the link between disarmament and atrocities prevention.

If the Responsibility to Protect is to be effectively implemented, its relationship between other peace and security dimensions will need to be explored further. Both Alexandra Hiniker’s and this piece on RtoP and disarmament identify overlapping goals and concerns. Continued research and exploration of how this area, as well as others within the peace and security field, can be leveraged to complement one another will be a key consideration as RtoP moves into its second decade of existence, and towards more concrete discussions on implementation.

 

For more information on individual atrocity situations, read our crisis pages. For more on the relationship between The Arms Trade Treaty and the Responsibility to Protect, read our Blog ‘When Arms get in the Wrong Hands. The Arms Trade Treaty and Implications for Upholding the Responsibility to Protect.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Arms Trade Treaty, Libya, Post-Conflict, Syria

Three Years On, Libya Still Providing Lessons for RtoP Implementation

NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya to prevent the imminent slaughter of Benghazi’s civilians, threatened by Moammar Qadaffi and his forces, was hailed by many as the first real test-case for implementation of the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) – and a successful one at that. However, the intervention also sparked controversy and raised important lessons about the norm’s implementation. Most prominently, many UN Member States expressed concern that through the course of pursuing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the mandate to protect civilians morphed into something that more closely resembled regime change.

A rebel mans an anti-aircraft gun in Ras Lanuf

A rebel manning an anti-aircraft gun during the 2011 civil war. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic.

This has since led to debates surrounding Security Council monitoring, and the relationship between RtoP and regime change. Three years later, as Libya sits on the precipice of civil war, it appears more lessons have emerged regarding the oft-neglected importance of providing states with post-crisis assistance to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocity crimes, as well as the necessity of employing RtoP measures that straddle the various pillars.

Libya on the Brink

Currently, Libya faces the genuine risk of sliding into civil war. Since Qadaffi’s overthrow, the country’s militias have run rampant, with no effective central government or security force to rein them in. Often, these militias have provided the only security guarantee for many of Libya’s tribes and city-states, while informal cooperation – and often competition – with the regular security forces is common.

Although a delicate balance of power previously kept the militias from engaging in all out fighting against one another, the election of a new Parliament on June 25th, 2014 dealt a significant blow to Libya’s Islamists. Instead of accepting the results peacefully, Islamists and their Misrata-based allies began a siege of Tripoli and its airport. The goal of the assault was to wrest it from the control of the Zintan-based militias they perceived to be Qadaffi sympathizers leading a counter-revolution. The alliance, named ‘Libyan Dawn’, has gone on to reconvene the former General National Congress in Tripoli, in opposition to the newly formed House of Representatives sitting in Tobruk. Simultaneously, the city of Benghazi has plunged into factional fighting as former Qadaffi General, Khalifa Haftar unilaterally launched operation ‘Libyan Dignity’, with the stated intention of ejecting Islamist militants that allegedly pose a threat to Libyan national identity.

As it stands, Libya therefore currently has two opposing governments sitting in different parts of the country, each backed by their own respective armed groups, but neither with any real authority. Militia violence continues to engulf several of Libya’s major cities, with recent reports  from groups like Human Rights Watch noting that since taking control of Tripoli and its airport, Libya Dawn elements have turned their aggression on civilian populations. Given this reality, the risk of mass atrocities is perhaps greatest since the 2011 uprising.

Humanitarian Consequences and Unfolding Atrocities

The recent bout of fighting between rival militias has had devastating consequences for Libya’s civilians. Recent figures provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimate that over 1,000 Libyans have perished, while 107,028 are internally displaced and an additional 150,000 have sought refuge abroad.  Meanwhile, those remaining in conflict zones are experiencing frequent shortages of food, water, gasoline, and electricity.

Fighting near Tripoli airport

Fighting near Tripoli airport leaves a trail of billowing smoke. Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images.

Amnesty International called attention to the indiscriminate nature of the violence, stressing that “The warring parties in Tripoli and Benghazi have displayed a wanton disregard for the safety of ordinary civilians who have found themselves mercilessly pinned down by indiscriminate shelling with imprecise weapons.” Citing the rising civilian death toll and the damage to civilian infrastructure, they warn that the failure to distinguish between military and civilian targets is punishable as a war crime under international law.

Notably, a local civil society organization called Lawyers for Justice in Libya has indicated that on top of the suffering caused by fighting, activists and civil society advocates are being targeted for assassination on a frequent basis, while both state and non-state detention facilities rampantly use torture against detainees, with little hope of due process. The group has warned that “the Libyan state’s ongoing tolerance of such grave acts may constitute a crime against humanity,” and has reminded the newly elected House of Representatives of their responsibilities and legal obligations under international law to prevent such action, and prosecute perpetrators.

The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed reports of torture and other abuses. The Office echoed warnings that such violations could constitute war crimes, stating “The direct perpetrators of any such crimes in Libya, as well as commanders who ordered or failed to stop the commission of such crimes, could be prosecuted, including by the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

Calls for Action and Forthcoming Assistance

The situation in Libya has deteriorated to the point that on August 13th the democratically elected government called on the UN to take action to protect civilians and help build state institutions. While specific protection measures were not mentioned, Libyan government officials have since suggested that a UN peacekeeping force tasked with disarming militias is needed. France seems to agree with this assessment, calling for “exceptional support” to Libya, and warning that the country could fall into chaos without UN intervention.

However, there appears to be little appetite for this on behalf of the UN and other members of the Security Council. Indeed, Bernadino Leon, the incoming head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has stressed that “…more conflict, more use of force will not help Libya get out of the current chaos.” Instead, he emphasized that Libya needs “a lot of international support” to back “Libyans who want to fight chaos … through a political process.

Likewise, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently elaborated on this sentiment stating, “There is no space for violence in the political transition process…Concerns must be addressed through inclusive political dialogue, including with those in Tobruk, Misrata, Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere.”

Accordingly, recent revelations that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates allegedly launched airstrikes against Islamist targets have been met with condemnation by both the Council and neighbouring states.

Security Council Meeting: The situation in Libya. Vote, 15 in favor.

Head of UNSMIL Bernardino Leon briefs the Security Council on the situation in Libya. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

On August 27th, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2174, which further confirmed the preference to settle the conflict through inclusive political dialogue. Additionally, as head of UNSMIL, Leon has sought to use his good offices to broker a ceasefire – an effort that may finally be yielding results. However, more coercive measures were also laid bare, as Resolution 2174 modified the sanctions regime established in Resolution 1970 to target those responsible for inciting current violence, though the Council has yet to release a new list of names for inclusion.

As for NATO’s involvement, the trans-Atlantic organization has been considering sending military assistance to the Libyan state for some time, but seems to have delayed these plans due to the volatile security situation. However, at the recent NATO Summit that took place in Wales, the organization confirmed its support for UNSMIL’s ceasefire efforts, and reiterated its willingness to provide assistance for security and defense institution building, as well as to forge a partnership under the Mediterranean Dialogue.

 

 New Lessons for Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect

Several atrocity indicators, as outlined in the Analysis Framework laid out by the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, have persisted since the NATO intervention of 2011. These include, but are not limited to: a permissive environment created by ongoing armed conflict, the presence of multiple armed groups and militias, impunity for past crimes, a history of mass human rights violations, and a lack of credible judicial, human rights, and security institutions.  These indicators underscore the importance of international assistance in completing Libya’s transition, as well as for preventing and halting fresh atrocities.

In his 2012 report ‘The Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response,’ Ban Ki-moon noted that  “Putting an end to the four specified crimes and violations in a particular situation should be the beginning of a period of social renewal and institutional capacity-building aimed at making future violence less likely.”

 The Secretary-General goes on to explain the importance of “building the institutions, legislation, practices and attitudes to lessen the likelihood of…[atrocity] reoccurrence.” This demonstrates that action taken by the international community to halt atrocities can and must also be used as to assist the state and strengthen its capacity to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect.

It also means that the Responsibility to Protect does not end once an atrocity situation does. Rather, it is an ongoing effort that requires the steadfast support of the international community. The case of Libya demonstrates this plainly, as insufficient attention to post-crisis institution-building has led to a Libyan state too weak to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocities.  As Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch has bluntly stated, “The international community that played such a pivotal role in abetting the revolution is failing in its duty to save it.”

Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly indicated that Qatar had allegedly launched airstrikes. The article has been revised to indicate Egypt and the UAE as the responsible parties. 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Justice, Libya, National Transitional Council, Post-Conflict, Rebuilding, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action

Civil Society Reflections on the Sixth General Assembly Dialogue on RtoP

On September 8, 2014, the UN General Assembly held its 6th annual informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect and the thematic issue of Pillar II international assistance. The following day, the ICRtoP Steering Committee also met for its annual meeting. Blog and Social Media Coordinator Matthew Redding sat down with some of our Steering Committee members, including Alex Bellamy, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APCR2P), Donald Deya, Chief Executive Officer of the Pan-African Lawyer’s Union (PALU) and current Chair of the ICRtoP Steering Committee, and William Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement- Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP) to get their unique perspectives on the General Assembly dialogue.

 

Regional Voices

In the wake of the dialogue, the ICRtoP was fortunate enough to obtain reflections on common themes and key statements from Steering Committee members representing diverse regions of the globe. With APCR2P’s focus on promoting RtoP in the ASEAN region through initiatives such as the High Level Advisory Panel on the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia, Alex Bellamy highlighted some developments seen from these member states. 20140908_162219

 “We’ve definitely seen stronger participation. In past years, we’ve had a difficult time persuading member states to participate. ASEAN states usually haven’t been forthcoming and now they’re expressing their views. This year we had 5 of 10, which is I think the highest number we’ve had. Of those, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand were incredibly strong. They were as strong a supporter of RtoP as any European or any other proponent of RtoP would be.

In regards to Indonesia, Bellamy noted their reaffirmation that “…they’ve always been supportive of RtoP, that they’re a champion of it, and that they are firmly committed to it.”  On Thailand’s statement, he drew particular attention to the mention of “…the empowerment of women and the importance of gender perspective,” while enthusiastically recalling that “The Philippines also had a strong endorsement of RtoP and expressed their desire to move the agenda forward towards implementation.”

On a less positive note, Bellamy referred to Malaysia’s statement, which showed that “Malaysia is cautious, it’s always been cautious. It’s concerned about things like conditionality, its concerned when it sees what it perceives as attempts to expand the concept. There was no movement in what Malaysia said this year from last year and the year before that…so we need to spend more time engaging with Malaysia.”

However, this was tempered with a reminder of the importance of Myanmar’s participation, “Myanmar was the 5th to contribute and I think it’s a really good sign. The following day, their legal advisor attended the launch of the High-Level Report on Mainstreaming RtoP in Southeast Asia and said that this [RtoP] was now customary international law. So Myanmar accepts the principle, but of course, there are all sorts of issues regarding their political transition – specifically in relation to the Rohingya situation, where there is deeply embedded discrimination against that group…It’s really encouraging that Myanmar is participating and it just shows how well embedded RtoP is becoming. It’s not surprising that they’re cautious, but it reminds that we still need to engage them more.”

Representing an organization that works closely with the African Union on legal and human rights issues, Donald Deya of PALU expressed somewhat mixed views on the African participation in this year’s dialogue.

Deya recalled that “In previous years the African Union Mission to the United Nations has made a statement, so I was disappointed to see that this year they did not.” Deya compared the absent AU presence with the strong European Union statement he believed the AU should have also delivered, given the large number of RtoP cases located on the African continent.

9c07b580-0c4a-4636-897d-3a86c606dad0

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivering his remarks at the opening of the GA dialogue.

He also added that he would have liked to see more statements from African countries in general, particularly from Kenya “…which is one of the areas in which the international community’s RtoP intervention has been successful.”

However, Deya was sure to mention that he was happy with the few African countries that did make statements. For example, when recalling Cote d’Ivoire’s  comments, he asserted that it was “…very useful, and of course their acknowledgement that assistance has been important from the international community in terms of pillar I and pillar II was also welcomed.”

 

RtoP Implementation at the UN

An important aspect of RtoP’s evolution is how it is prioritized and applied by the major organs of the UN, in particular the Security Council and the General Assembly. Speaking on behalf of the WFM-IGP – an organization that works tirelessly to improve the effectiveness of these bodies to ensure they better serve the world’s peoples – Bill Pace reflected on RtoP’s development at this level:

 “I am optimistic from the GA [General Assembly] meeting that governments are taking RtoP more seriously every year. This includes the Security Council, in spite some of the controversies over misuse, selective application, or inappropriate enforcement.”

Pace noted that there is certainly room for improvement given these controversies, and added that:

“Over the next decade, I hope the democracies of the UN system will continue to press the permanent and elected members of the Security Council to do peace enforcement and peacekeeping on a much more efficient, and non-selective level. In that regard the permanent members of the Security Council must be pressured to refrain from using the veto in situations where mass atrocity crimes under international law are being committed.” Encouragingly, the dialogue provided Pace with some hope, as he stated, “I am personally optimistic that the General Assembly and the Security Council are moving in that direction.”

 Importantly, he provided a reminder that next year will be the 10th anniversary of the 2005 World Summit and mentioned that, “The assessment we will be doing at the UN and within the GA may result in RtoP moving from an informal dialogue into a more formal agenda item that may be discussed and have a resolution every year.” He added that the Coalition would be actively involved in efforts to strengthen RtoP within the General Assembly.

 

General Reflections

Each interview concluded with some general thoughts on the dialogue, including some stand-out statements, and speculation on what the event means for RtoP moving forward. Bellamy singled out Iran as a surprisingly “fantastic” statement, noting that:

Iran has contributed before and has always been broadly supportive, though cautious. The positive thing about Iran’s statement is that there was no caution at all. This might be because of the subject matter and that international assistance is less controversial than pillar III and pillar I, but I think it’s also a sign that the consensus on RtoP is getting more deeply embedded.”

Bellamy also reflected on the evolving consensus and deepening shared understanding of what RtoP is, “A couple of missions talked about sequencing, but not very many and certainly much fewer than the year before. Also, nobody was disputing what RtoP is, what the three pillars are, what crimes it related to, or what the development mechanisms are.”

Bellamy ended with a couple of positive observations, concluding that “…now the debate really is shifting to this question of implementation, or what to do in practice, and not what the principle is and whether or not the Assembly is committed. Even Cuba and Venezuela have toned it down in terms of their comments, and I think this shows that there is a consensus and that the debate is indeed moving forward.”

10689959_10154609918820187_3844123021211632187_n

ICRtoP Steering Committee in discussions with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng.

Deya agreed with Bellamy on several points, noting that, “…there has been progress in the sense that a couple of years ago the level of suspicion and even outright hostility was quite palpable, and the number of states expressing these sentiments was quite high. But a lot of the skepticism has changed to support, even if it is conditional support.” 

He also agreed that consensus is deepening, stating that“…there is a sense of resignation where there is no longer a question of whether RtoP exists at the UN or the community of states. It’s more or less a comment on how we can do it better.” Deya also made note of the softening stance of traditional opponents such as Cuba and Iran, agreeing that Iran’s statement in particular was “quite positive.”

Additionally, Deya made an important point on the increased involvement of civil society, observing that “one of the things that has happened under the current joint office and the two current Special Advisers [on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect]  is that they have given more scope to civil society.”

As a sign of this progress, he recalled that there was “…more opportunity to address the interactive debate than ever before, with 4 civil society organizations that were allowed to speak.” Perhaps more importantly, he also noted “…the whole process of being consulted extensively by Dr. Welsh on the drafting of the Secretary-General’s report and the mobilization of the Coalition and its members is very positive. “

Pace recalled a different statement as being particularly notable. He expressed that there had been worry over Russia’s position, given current hostilities in Ukraine. However, ultimately he believed that the Russian statement “…was actually much better than expected.”

Pace’s concluding thoughts were a poignant way to summarize the dialogue. He took note of the broad participation from roughly 70 countries, some of which spoke for up to 28 countries in their region. He called the day-long event “quite an achievement” that demonstrated “growing political will,” evident in the diminishing number of skeptics in the General Assembly. Pace then provided a solemn reminder that the goal of RtoP and its measures under the various pillars is to bring about a reality where mass atrocities are an exception, rather than the rule and where application of the norm is a non-issue.

 

A detailed overview of the dialogue and a full listing of member state, regional and civil society statements are available via the ICRtoP website.

The opinions expressed in these interviews are those of the individuals featured, and do not represent the position of the ICRtoP.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Event, General Assembly, ICRtoP Members, Informal Interactive Dialogue, Second Pillar

The Unexplored Links between Humanitarian Disarmament and RtoP

The following is a guest post by Alexandra Hiniker. Alexandra is the Representative to the United Nations for PAX, an ICRtoP member, and founding member of the Cluster Munition Coalition. PAX works together with civil society organizations around the world as well as supportive governments and relevant international organizations to promote the cluster bomb ban. Before joining PAX, Alexandra spent five years working in three of the countries most affected by cluster bombs – Lebanon, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Unexplored Links between Humanitarian Disarmament and the Responsibility to Protect

5157261109_fb4921ce4f_m

Controlled demolition of cluster munitions in Laos. Tracie Williams/CMC.

As 100 governments gather in San Jose, Costa Rica, this week to discuss implementation of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), this post will look at the treaty from another angle – the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). While the inclusion of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty in the 2013 United Nations Secretary-General’s (UNSG) Report on RtoP established a clear link between arms transfers and the norm, there are also existing humanitarian disarmament treaties and processes, such as the CCM, that impact RtoP and the ability to protect populations from atrocity crimes.

By signing onto treaties such as the CCM, states are taking an important measure towards fulfillment of their Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. In light of the upcoming UN General Assembly dialogue focusing on Pillar Two of RtoP – the building of state capacity to protect populations from atrocity crimes – this analysis also highlights the CCM provisions that help states implement this second pillar, using the recent educational document  by the ICRtoP on clarifying Pillar Two.

Cluster Munitions Cause Unacceptable Harm to Civilians

Cluster munitions are weapons containing multiple submunitions, or bomblets, which can be dropped from the air, or launched from the ground or sea. At the time of use, the weapons cannot distinguish between military and civilian targets. Additionally, the weapons do not always go off as intended, leaving behind unexploded bomblets that become de facto landmines. These bomblets remain buried for decades after a conflict ends, not only killing and injuring innocent civilians, but also preventing any future development. Land contaminated with unexploded bomblets cannot be used to grow food, build roads, or construct hospitals and schools – although some people face such dire situations that they knowingly take risks simply to survive. According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, 60% of casualties occur when such activities are being undertaken, and one-third of all recorded casualties are children. Due to their indiscriminate nature, cluster munitions were banned through the Oslo Process, which resulted in the CCM.

1024px-BLU-26_cluster_sub-munition

Unexploded sub-munition buried in a field in Laos. Wikimedia Photo Commons.

The CCM, which contains similar provisions to the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, or Ottawa Convention, bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, and requires stockpile destruction and clearance of all known contaminated areas. The CCM also includes articles on victim assistance, international cooperation and assistance, and treaty universalization.

 

The Role of the CCM in RtoP’s Second Pillar

As the 2014 Report of the Secretary-General specifies one of the elements of Pillar Two is encouraging a state to uphold its Pillar One obligations. Therefore, encouraging states to adopt this treaty, as called for in the universalization clause in the treaty itself, as well as points on discouraging use of such weapons by any actor, are examples of Pillar Two action.

Another component of Pillar Two, building state capacity to protect, is an essential part of the CCM addressed in the provision on international cooperation and assistance. Technical and financial assistance can support ongoing efforts to clear affected areas, destroy stockpiles, and educate communities about the risks of living in contaminated areas. Additionally, support can go to providing victim assistance, which benefits not only survivors of accidents and their communities, but overall healthcare systems as well.

UNIFIL-soldiers arriving

UNIFIL solider guarding unexploded ordnance in Lebanon. UN Photo.

Indirect capacity development results from the required periodic reports on treaty implementation status, which leads government agencies and military branches that would not necessarily interact to cooperate and share information, contributing to overall strengthening of governance capacities.

Military cooperation at the international level also increases, as militaries often share information and expertise on technical issues, such as clearance and stockpile destruction. Affected states that have received capacity development support have even gone on to apply their skills and expertise to others through United Nations Peacekeeping operations. For example, Cambodia, one of the countries most affected by explosive remnants of war, began providing demining assistance to the United Nations Mission in Sudan in 2006.

A Relationship Needing Further Attention

As the recent Cluster Munition Monitor report shows, great strides have been made in ridding the world of these horrific weapons since the ban treaty entered into force. However, continued use in Syria, South Sudan, and Ukraine indicate that further efforts are necessary to fully achieve the CCM’s objectives. Treaty universalization, stronger and more consistent condemnation of increasingly rare use, and more follow-up on international cooperation and assistance requirements to clear affected areas, destroy stockpiles, and assist victims are a few examples of steps that can be taken.

Additional humanitarian disarmament processes underway can also contribute to strengthening the implementation of RtoP. These include, but are not limited to, nuclear weapons, depleted uranium, toxic remnants of war, and fully autonomous weapons. Practices and policies regarding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and casualty recording are additional areas that should also be further explored. It has long been acknowledged that humanitarian disarmament is a human rights and development issue, and international humanitarian law has developed in response to this challenge. However, identifying the connection between humanitarian disarmament and atrocities prevention is a relatively new objective. Further research and a better understanding of this connection with RtoP could help strengthen both agendas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arms Trade Treaty, Guest Post, Second Pillar

“Convert, Pay, Flee, or Be Killed” Iraq’s Minorities Under Threat

The rapid advance of the Islamist militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that began in June of 2014 shocked the international community due to its ferocity and the sheer inability of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to stop the group’s progress. ISIS has now taken control of significant portions of north-western Iraq, declaring its goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate through Iraq and Syria.  

ISIS fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP. AP File.

Throughout the ISIS onslaught and the ISF counter-offensive, civilian populations have suffered gravely. Among the most troubling consequences are the targeting and expulsion of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as mass displacement that has affected nearly 1.2 million Iraqis. The United Nations, civil society groups, and the wider international community have expressed extreme dismay at the unfolding situation, sounding alarm bells over the commission of atrocities and the worsening humanitarian situation.

The recent announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama that he had authorized airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops, in part to protect the Yazidi minorities stranded and besieged on Mount Sinjar, is reflective of the dire situation. Many have hailed this move, as well as the offer of various forms of assistance by European governments, as necessary measures to prevent the imminent genocide of the Yazidi population, and a clear example of upholding the second pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Encouraging as this is, premature celebration would be naïve, as much work remains to solve the political impasse and humanitarian emergency that prevents the Iraqi state from upholding its primary protection obligations.

ISIS Targeting Iraq’s Minorities

Since the early days of the ISIS advance, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch has documented  the persecution of minority groups in great detail. In a statement released in July, the organization noted the “killing, kidnapping, and threatening” of religious and ethnic minorities in Mosul and the surrounding area. Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson warned that “Being a Turkman, a Shabak, a Yazidi, or a Christian in ISIS territory can cost you your livelihood, your liberty, or even your life.” She went on to state that “ISIS seems intent on wiping out all traces of minority groups from areas it now controls in Iraq.”

Violence against Iraq’s minorities is alarming for the fact that such targeting is identified as an indicator for determining the risk of genocide under the Analysis Framework released by the Office of the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide.  Indeed, ISIS has gone about destroying religious and cultural relics deemed heretical, while most of the Christian population have fled Mosul after the July 19th ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or be killed. This practice has spread to other Iraqi towns in recent days, as ISIS has begun to challenge the Kurdish Regions of Iraq, resulting in more devastating consequences for minority groups.

5670456-3x2-940x627

Displaced Yazidis participate in demonstration at the Iraqi-Syrian border August 13, 2014. Reuters/Youssef Boudlal

The smoking gun that triggered a more proactive international response was the attack on the town of Sinjar that left approximately 25,000 Yazidi Iraqis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Before rescue efforts began, stranded Yazidis faced the very real risk of being slaughtered by ISIS as they attempted to leave, while those who remained were cut-off from adequate food and water supplies.  ISIS is believed to have killed several hundred Yazidis and threats from the Islamist group and other sympathetic Sunnis continue.

While it has been reported that many Yazidis have since been rescued, other accounts claim that those too weak to leave – namely children, the elderly, and the sick – remain immobilized on the mountain. Iraq’s Christian population faces similar dangers, as Qaraqosh – the  largest Christian town in Iraq – was recently overrun, creating 200,000 additional refugees that have faced the same ultimatum as those in and around Mosul.

UN Officials Respond to Mass Atrocities, Invoke RtoP

These worrisome developments have prompted a number of UN experts to express grave concern. The Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák has since stated that “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours – civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril.” She added that “the responsibility to protect populations at risk of atrocity crimes falls both on the Iraqi Government and the international community.”

The Special Advisers to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and The Responsibility to Protect, Adama Dieng, and Jennifer Welsh also condemned the attacks, warning that such acts “constitute grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity” Ominously, they also cautioned that “The reports we have received of acts committed by the “Islamic State” may also point to the risk of genocide.” Like other UN officials, they have called on regional and global actors to provide support to help avert further atrocity crimes.

Secretary-General meeting President elect of the Republic of Iraq. UN Photo.

Additionally, the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov drew special attention to the plight of vulnerable women, girls and boys after reporting that “Atrocious accounts on the abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner.” The two jointly condemned these acts of sexual violence as potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, while joining other UN officials in invoking RtoP.

 

RtoP’s Second Pillar in Action

While the term ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was not used directly in authorizing airstrikes in Iraq, the action taken by the U.S. and others was requested by the Iraqi Government, and done—at least in part—with the intent of preventing an imminent genocidal threat to civilians.  For all intents and purposes, the assistance offered constitutes a second pillar response to a mass atrocity situation.

As ICRtoP’s recent publication on the matter explains, pillar two can indeed include the use of force when requested by a sovereign state; though this is usually subordinated to capacity-building measures that allow states to uphold their primary protection obligations. The latter has been pledged by the UK and Germany and includes financial and non-lethal aid to the Iraqi army, in addition to France’s offer to transfer arms to the Kurds.

Prominent RtoP scholars and advocates have confirmed the legitimacy of the U.S. intervention, lauding it as an appropriate measure to protect Iraq’s minorities.  For example, Gareth Evans wrote in an article titled “The Right Iraqi Invasion” that:

The United States’ action is completely consistent with the principles of the international responsibility to protect (R2P) people at risk of mass-atrocity crimes…The US military intervention touches all the necessary bases of legality, legitimacy and likely effectiveness in meeting its immediate objectives.

Similarly, Alex Bellamy clarified the intervention’s second pillar nature by stating:

This US action to help protect Iraq’s civilians from ISIS sits squarely under pillar two of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, which relates to the international community’s responsibility to assist states to fulfill their responsibility to protect their populations…The use of force comes in response to a specific request for assistance from a member state—helping a state fulfill its R2P (as mentioned in paragraph 138 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome on R2P) and assisting a state under stress (paragraph 139 of the same agreement).”

Certainly, such assistance is a positive development for the Yazidi population, and a welcome example of the international community embracing its second pillar responsibilities. However, many challenges remain to permanently defeat the ISIS threat and to ensure all civilians are protected in Iraq.

 

A More Effective Pillar II Response

There is widespread acknowledgement that at the heart of the crisis is the political division between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds that has been fermented by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian form of governance, and prevented any unified response to extremism. In recognizing this reality, Obama reiterated a key tenant of the U.S. strategy when he authorized military action, stating that ultimately there can be “no military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”

It is worth noting again that while current U.S. action falls within the second pillar of RtoP, there are also non-military protection measures that can be taken. While this includes the financial and logistical assistance provided by European countries, additional contributions can include dialogue and mediation assistance to help Iraqis overcome divisive issues obscuring the path to reconciliation. It is also important that actors assess how their assistance affects the likelihood of the further commission of atrocity crimes, and that action is taken accordingly.

In this vein, the recent Security Council resolution that extended the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) recognized the importance of dialogue and reconciliation and stressed the need for continued support to the Iraqi people, civil society and the Government in this regard.

International Crisis Group also recommends that “International recognition of Maliki’s legitimacy, or that of any successor, should be contingent on statesmanship, namely immediate and consequential movement on the reforms expected of him for years,” thus ensuring that the patterns of exclusion and repression are not repeated.

14915495042_e027825f91_m

Iraqi Yazidis receive assistance at the Newroz refugee camp. UK DFID.

RtoP’s second pillar also outlines a role for international actors to assist Internally Displace Persons when the capacity of the state to protect these groups is weak or non-existent. To this end, Amnesty International has encouraged an expanded effort to provide relief,  statingThe Iraqi central government, the Kurdish Regional Government, donor countries and international agencies must take concerted action to provide safe shelter and humanitarian assistance to men, women and children of all backgrounds forced to flee in the face of such ferocious brutality.”

The recent UN declaration that Iraq has reached a third level humanitarian emergency was made in hopes that it will “facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements.” It is now mostly up to the international community to provide this support.

Uniting to Protect Iraq’s Civilians

In Iraq, there remains a dual challenge of ensuring the immediate protection needs of threatened populations, and achieving a long-term political solution backed by a unified government, representative of all segments of society.  Maliki’s recent decision to step down after tension over the selection of Haidar Al-Abadi as his replacement is a positive sign of progress. Further pressure from the international community is needed to encourage Iraq’s leaders to set aside political and sectarian grievances and unite for the common cause of defending Iraq’s civilians from the extremist threat and averting an all out civil war. As UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warnedThere is no way humanitarians can clean up the mess made by politicians. What they really need is peace.

For more information on the crisis in Iraq, see the country pages by ICRtoP and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Leave a comment

Filed under genocide, Reconciliation, RtoP, Second Pillar, Syria

Myanmar’s Controversial Census, Discriminatory Laws Further Stoke Atrocity Fears

Myanmar’s Rohingya population currently faces a worrisome combination of grave human rights conditions and a dire humanitarian crisis. For decades, the Muslim minority have been marginalized under the military junta and remain so since the country began undertaking some democratic reforms beginning in 2011. However, since 2012 the situation has become markedly worse following the violence and forced displacement inflicted upon them by Buddhist mobs in Rakhine state. An ICRtoP post from August of last year provides an overview of the deadly violence, detailing government participation and the response of civil society organizations.

Myanmar UN

UN Special Adviser on Myanmar meets with Buddhists, and Muslim refugees in March 2013. AP Photo/Khin Maung Win.

Since last covering the crisis, the situation remains largely unimproved and indeed appears to be worsening. 140,000 Rohingya have been forced into cramped displacement camps, criticised by international aid groups for their languid conditions. Some observers have even evoked the imagery of a “concentration camp”  to describe them. Many more Rohingya have fled, embarking on perilous journeys to neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand where they are exposed to the dangers of trafficking and other abuses.

Violent attacks continue, as for instance in January of 2014, when 40 men, women and children were killed in northern Rakhine, and as recently as a week ago when Buddhists mobs looted and attacked Muslim shops and mosques in Mandalay, killing 2 and injuring many more. Compounding all of this is the government’s decision to order the suspension of Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) operations in Rakhine State, cutting off a major source of humanitarian assistance and health care for displaced Rohingya. Other aid groups have since come under attack, further limiting assistance to populations in need.

Marginalization and persecution also continue, as Rohingya are denied the right to citizenship by the state. Restrictions on freedom of movement and policies for population control, including a two-child policy, also feature as official state decree. Such treatment is enforced by the state security forces and endorsed by the country’s majority Buddhist population, encouraged by extreme nationalist factions such as the 969 movementwho are convinced that Muslims threaten to overtake Buddhists as the dominant religious group.

 

Proposed Laws and the National Census Exacerbate Human Rights Concerns

The most recent Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar continued to express deep concern for the situation of the Rohingya. Recent developments do little to assuage such concerns. First, the government recently sponsored a discriminatory bill advocated by the 969 movement through way of petition that received 2.5 million signatures, many of which are believed to have been obtained forcefully. The bill places restrictions on religious conversion and inter-faith marriage, both policies seen to be aimed at placating the anti-Muslim sentiments of the 969 movement by unlawfully preventing the further spread of Islam. In response, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and Belief has called on the government to scrap the bill, claiming “State interferences into the right to change one’s religion or belief are per se illegitimate and incompatible with international human rights standards.”

Furthermore, the recent national census has now added to the potential discord, due to its controversial inclusion of data on religion, ethnicity and citizenship that groups such as International Crisis Group (ICG) warned would exacerbate inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions.  A last minute government decision to remove “Rohingya” as an official ethnicity, instead allowing the option to identify as “Bengali,” was the result of such tensions. The decision was largely taken due to threats of violence and census boycotts by Rakhine state Buddhists and the 969 movement, who objected to the Rohingya’s inclusion. Bowing to this pressure and labelling Rohingya as Bengali has been a common method used to paint the group as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Speaking to this, The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect criticised the decision, stating that “Denying Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the census…reinforces the dangerous perception that Rohingya are ethnic outsiders.”

 

Civil Society Warns of Myanmar’s “March to Genocide”

Many NGOs are raising alarm bells over the abuses being committed in Myanmar. For example, Bangkok-based ICRtoP member Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-BURMA) has done valuable work documenting human rights abuses through publications such as their “monthly bulletin”. The bulletin for the month of June, 2014 warns that “In Arakan [Rakhine] State, regime security forces and extremist Buddhist Rakhine continued discriminatory policies and open attacks on Rohingya communities.” The bulletin lists a number of incidents involving unlawful arrests, looting, and physical violence committed against Rohingya and their property.

Meiktila Mosque

A woman and her child walk past a damaged mosque after clashes in Meiktila. AFP/BBC photo.

Fortify Rights’ February 2014 report examined leaked documents that confirm and detail state-supported policies of persecution, primarily targeting the Rohingya. Their findings led them to conclude that:

The government policies…systematically single-out Rohingya as a group on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, and at times gender, stripping them of a range of human rights, including the rights to non-discrimination, health, nationality, and freedom of movement. The degree of deprivation is so severe that it would qualify as “persecution” as a crime against humanity under international law

In March, 2014, ICRtoP member United to End Genocide also commissioned a report, ominously titled “Marching to Genocide in Burma” based on a recent fact-finding mission. After witnessing the suffering of the country’s Rohingya, they made the alarming claim that “Nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today.

In yet another instance, Human Rights Watch reported in April of 2013 that “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.

 

The Responsibility to Protect in Myanmar

These findings make it clear that the government of Myanmar is failing its primary obligations to protect the Rohingya from a series of atrocity crimes. Sustained pressure and response from both national and international actors can convince the government to change course, end restrictive, discriminatory policies, and play a more active role in mitigating violence and hatred towards the Rohingya.

ICRtoP member U.S. Campaign for Burma has taken the initiative to encourage the U.S. government to use its rapprochement with Myanmar as an entry point to influence change. Such advocacy led the House of Representatives to pass House Resolution 418, urging the Burmese government to end the persecution of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.

Likewise, United to End Genocide has launched a public campaign aimed at the U.S. President and Congress. The campaign calls on the U.S. government to pressure the Myanmar government to rescind their expulsion of MSF, demand a credible and independent investigation into violence against the Muslim minority in lieu of the flawed Rakhine Inquiry Commission, and to update their sanctions list to include those responsible for the most recent violence. The campaign seems to have resonated in Congress, as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently called for a range of punitive measures against the government of Myanmar that includes visa bans, an end to U.S.-Myanmar military cooperation, and potential economic sanctions.

Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay

Police officers guarding a Muslim residential area in Mandalay. Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters.

The broader international community also has a key role to play. Given the potential for the census results to inflame further violence, ICG recommends that census donors accept responsibility for their lack of due diligence in ensuring a sound process, and encourage Myanmar’s government to reconsider the release of the results, given the sensitive political realities.  Refugees International has also recommended donors establish a “crisis cell” in cooperation with Myanmar’s Minister of Immigration and Population, Minister for the President’s Office, and the UN resident humanitarian coordinator to respond to any crisis associated with the census.

In addition, Fortify Rights has called on the international community to urge the government to abide by recommendations of the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, abolish local orders that restrict the basic human rights of Rohingya, and communicate to all national, local and community authorities that these practices are not to be encouraged or enforced.

Importantly, they also recommend the provision of “financial, technical, and advocacy support” for local human rights defenders. This constituent could be crucial in changing the government’s current course, and indeed a growing swell of civil society resistance from prominent groups such as the 88 Generation Student Group is increasing domestic pressure to end abusive and discriminatory practices.

There is some indication that this pressure is working, as the government has introduced a pilot program for validation of citizenship that may offer Rohingya a path to naturalization. However, the viability of this program is in question after controversy over the census. It has also been noted that such support runs the risk of putting these groups in danger, as overt assistance may be seen as reinforcing the Buddhist narrative that their way of life is under threat from both Muslims and the international community. Therefore, donors should be calculated in their support programming.

 

Myanmar’s Democratic Transition: Entry Point for Assistance?

Given the democratic transition occurring in Myanmar, it is easy to focus on this good news story and forget about the conditions making life for the country’s Rohingya insufferable. However, just as the country’s political opening has created the space for extremist voices; it also provides opportunity to foster a true democratic culture. The international community’s reengagement can be used as an entry point to provide assistance under the second pillar of RtoP, thus providing incentives and capacity-building for the government of Myanmar to uphold its primary responsibility. Addressing the question of citizenship and abolishing all current and proposed government policies that limit basic human rights would be a positive first step.

For more information on the crisis in Myanmar and how the Responsibility to Protect applies, visit our crisis page and our ‘At a Glance’ feature.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human Rights, Myanmar, RtoP, Uncategorized