UN Peacekeeping: New Trends and Implications for Civilian Protection

UN Peacekeeper day Congo

International UN Peacekeeping Day celebration in DR Congo. MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani

International peacekeeping is a vital tool in the United Nations’ proverbial ‘toolbox’ for upholding its Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).  May 29 was celebrated as International UN Peacekeeping Day to the refrain of “Force for the Future,”  kicking off a six-month initiative to raise political support for the modernization of UN peacekeeping with the hopes of further realizing its value and cost-effectiveness, and meeting the present realities faced by today’s ‘blue helmets’.

In the words of the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edward Mulet, “The world is changing. The threats are changing. The levels of conflict are changing in many places in the world…so we have to adapt and we have to evolve and we have to learn how to deal with these new challenges.”

These new challenges are linked to a number of features of modern conflict. Today’s conflicts tend to be intra-as opposed to inter-state, and disproportionately affect civilians populations who are often targeted by armed groups. Conflicts are becoming more complex and multi-dimensional, as are the threats they produce. Furthermore, it is common for operations to be launched in the midst of a conflict, where there is in fact no peace to keep. These developments are challenging the precepts that characterise what has been called the ‘holy trinity’ of ‘classical peacekeeping,’ namely: host-government consent, impartiality, and minimal use of force.

Protection of Civilians (PoC) and Other Evolving Trends

A recent report by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the implementation of Protection of Civilian (PoC) mandates in UN peacekeeping operations touches on an important evolutionary characteristic of “modern” operations. The report notes that to date, thirteen UN peacekeeping missions have included a robust PoC mandate – nine of which are current. In addition, several have included an “all means necessary” stipulation under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The PoC agenda evolved from the same discourse that spawned RtoP and shares much of the underpinning legal and moral justification. Indeed, the two agendas reinforce each other in many ways. However, it is important to note that PoC and RtoP remain separate areas. A crucial distinction is that RtoP is narrowly focused on the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. RtoP does not extend beyond these crimes, though it does extend to situations outside of armed conflict. On the other hand, PoC is narrowly focused on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, but applies to a larger range of human rights violations than just the four crimes. For more information on the distinctions and similarities between the two agendas, visit ICRtoP’s PoC information page.

Operation unified Response

Brazilian peacekeeper on patrol in Haiti. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David A. Frech/Released)

Along with the proliferation of PoC mandates and Chapter VII authorizations, developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may be indicative of another new trend. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2098 established the UN ‘Force Intervention Brigade’ (FIB) in DRC, providing MONUSCO with the capacity and authorization to proactively engage in the protection of civilians through disarmament of Congo’s many armed groups, unambiguously approving the use of force with “targeted offensive operations.” The brigade played a decisive role in the defeat of the M23 movement last year. However, as it stands now, this remains an exceptional case and indeed was only agreed to by Russia and China on this condition.


How effective have PoC Mandates Been?

While it is important to continuously adapt to new challenges, it is also important to assess how these are being implemented in actuality.

On the issue of civilian protection, OIOS found several obstacles to the effective implementation of PoC mandates. Strikingly, the report found that, for a number of reasons, force is almost never used to protect civilians – even as a last resort and with legal authorization to do so. Such reasons include the interpretive viewpoint of mission commanders, an aversion to putting troops in harm’s way, a shortage of troops and resources, fear of consequence for the misuse of force, and confusion over how the notion of consent applies in instances where government forces appear to be instigating or perpetrating violence against civilians.

OIOS made a number of recommendations for improving this record, importantly pointing to the necessity of bridging operational understanding at all levels to mend the broken “chain” of activities designed to protect civilians. It also recommended reporting to the Security Council in the event that instructions are not fully carried out in regards to civilian protection, along with improved coordination between peacekeeping and humanitarian entities.


Security Council Holds Open Debate on New Trends in UN Peacekeeping

The open debate held on June 11, 2014 brought together troop, police and finance-contributing countries (TCCs, PCCs, and FCCs respectively) to discuss these findings, as well as other recent trends in UN peacekeeping.


Head of Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, inspects an Unmanned/Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for use in eastern DRC. MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

A concept note that preceded the debate highlighted technological innovations that have presented the UN with new tools for carrying out their mandates more effectively. This includes the use of Unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UUAVs) and new medical and engineering equipment. Such technological innovation is said to“… contribute to the fuller implementation of mandates by peacekeepers and improved safety and security of personnel, as well as better situational awareness.” 

The note also mentions that missions have become much more multi-dimensional in nature, with military, police and civilian components deployed by various international actors existing simultaneously. This covers the full spectrum of intervention, from the brokering and monitoring of a ceasefire, to disarmament, reconciliation, peacebuilding and statebuilding activities.

Thus far, these have been implemented within a “fragmented policy and legal framework”, making consensus and standard guidance crucial – particularly as the time-honored principles of neutrality, consent and minimal use of force are being challenged.

Different Perspectives on Peacekeeping Developments

While 47 delegates made statements during the debate, a few samples from major TCC, PCC, and FCCs illustrate the scope of concerns.

As the third largest African troop and police contributing country, as well as the current Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Rwandan Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana touched on some key issues. The Ambassador voiced his support for robust peacekeeping mandates stating:

“Given the nature of current threats to peacekeeping, Rwanda believes that the deployment of robust peacekeepers is essential to not only effectively protect civilians but also to protect themselves in increasingly hostile and volatile environments.”

However, he qualified this statement with the warning that:

“…we cannot expect peacekeepers to engage in robust peacekeeping tasks without necessary preparation and resources. If we do not have the ability to insert forces and to conduct casualty and medical evacuations or airlifts, then we have major problems and should not have deployed in the first place.”

On the question of new technologies, Gasana recognized its value as a key enabler, but simultaneously cautioned that, regarding the use of UUAV’s, “Questions still exist regarding control of information collected, confidentiality, and third party impartiality.” The concern over use and legalities were common themes among many member states.

United Nations peacekeeping operations

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers his remarks at the open debate on June 11, 2014. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis of the Permanent Mission of the United States spoke for the world’s largest FCC, and mirrored the concerns of other countries that insist the traditional model of peacekeeping is outdated. Like Rwanda, they were supportive of more robust peacekeeping mandates. The focus of their concern was on ensuring mandates are implemented as effectively as possible, particularly given the bleak findings of the OIOS report. Reflecting on this, the Ambassador lamented:

“At its essence, the report reveals a significant gap that has emerged between the commitments we set down on paper – which constitute a responsibility to act – and the way missions perform in practice. The larger this gap grows, the more vulnerable civilians become, and the less credible this organization and the peacekeepers representing it become.” The Ambassador urged consideration of the report’s conclusions.

Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, the Permanent Representative of India provided a different perspective. A noted skeptic of the expanding role of UN peacekeeping, India was particularly vocal in its opposition to the FIB:

In our view, such a mixing of mandates directly affects the operational effectiveness of the peacekeeping operation, exposing traditional peacekeepers to unnecessary threats from armed internal conflicts which the United Nations has not itself instigated.”  

Furthermore, India bemoaned the lack of funding and resources being volunteered for peacekeeping operations, particularly in complex and multi-dimensional environments:

On the one hand, the new mandates of UNPKOs are ambitiously drafted, running into many pages, as good governance templates. On the other hand, the very same pen-holders drafting these new mandates cavil at having to pay more money for peacekeepers tasked to implement these mandates.”

India’s comments represent a number of states who expressed similar reservations over the use of force and overly-ambitious mandates, seen as threatening classical peacekeeping.

Key Recommendations for Improvement

Though an outcome document has yet to emerge from the debate, it is possible to piece together some of the main recommendations to address concerns of TCCs, PCCs and FCCs alike. These include:

  • Inclusive consultations between the Security Council and the General Assembly to derive consensus on delicate issues, such as use of force, equipment and mission costs.
  • Providing clear mandates with standard operating procedures plainly defined.
  • Better communication at command and tactical levels to bridge the gap between planning and implementation.
  • A standard regulatory framework for the use of new technologies, such as UUAV’s.
  • Improvement of inter-mission cooperation to fill logistical and capacity gaps and leverage synergies.
  • Matching ambitious multi-dimensional mandates with adequate resource and funding commitments.
  • Continuing to recognize and create an enabling environment for activities that lead to sustainable peace and development – including incorporating a Women’s Peace and Security lens, security and justice sector reform, and dialogue and reconciliatory efforts.

Steps such as these could help reconcile the need for innovation and adaptability with the concerns of states that are leery of leading UN peacekeeping too far from its roots. Ultimately, this will ensure peacekeeping operations are better prepared and equipped to protect vulnerable civilians from mass atrocities, securing its status as a key tool in the RtoP toolkit and making it a true “Force for the Future.”

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Spotlight Member Series: The Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

In the re-launch of ICRtoP’s ‘Spotlight Member Series’, we turn our attention to one of our Canadian coalition members – The Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Recently, the organization has been active in promoting The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P) through scholarly and political engagement within Canada and beyond, with campaigns like “From the Rwandan Genocide to the Responsibility to Protect: A Journey of Lessons Learned” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Read on to find out more about their great work:


Founding Objectives – Continuing Canada’s Leadership on the Responsibility to Protect


The Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

 When the international community was faced with the critical question of how to reconcile the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities with state sovereignty, the Canadian government was at the forefront of efforts to address this challenge. They emerged as a key government-sponsor of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), which led to the groundbreaking 2001 ICISS report that gave birth to, ‘The Responsibility to Protect’.

However, in recent years Canada’s leadership on advancing RtoP has waned due to changes in government and its priorities. Many organizations recognized this missing gap in the Canadian leadership since the endorsement of RtoP in 2005, including our colleagues at the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (CCR2P) – an independent non-partisan research organization in the Munk School of Global Affairs established in 2010.  According to co-founders Victor MacDiarmid and Tina Park, “We felt a compelling need to continue Canada’s leadership on the R2P principle through research and advocacy,” which the Centre has strived to do by promoting scholarly engagement on RtoP at all levels.


Advancing RtoP through Research, Advocacy and Networking

We asked our partners at CCR2P to share some of their initiatives for advancing the RtoP principle and were impressed with the activities used to further dialogue with the academic community, political actors, civil society groups and the general public.  One forum is their annual conference that has brought together notable Canadian personalities such as Hon. Bill Graham, the former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence, Ms. Naomi Kikoler from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, as well as other international scholars and policy-makers.

More recently, the organization has been expanding its efforts and is becoming increasingly innovative in their means of promoting RtoP. In the spring of 2014, CCR2P co-hosted a campaign with the International Relations Program and the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History at The University of Toronto (U of T) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide (which largely created the impetus for the RtoP principle) and the journey of lessons learned.


CCR2P student panel discussion featuring Lloyd Axworthy and Madeleine Albright.

The ‘Rwanda20’ campaign consisted of many events, including their annual conference “From the Rwandan Genocide to the Responsibility to Protect” featuring Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the Responsibility to Protect, as keynote speaker. Additionally, they hosted a student panel discussion with Dr. Madeleine Albright and Hon. Lloyd Axworthy  and conducted outreach to ten high-schools in the Greater Toronto Area for a workshop on genocide education using the ICRtoP toolkit. Lastly, utilizing different media platforms, CCR2P generated discussion and debate, creating a publication series called “Canadian Voices on R2P” with the Canadian International Council (CIC)’s OpenCanada.org . A film festival called “Eyes on Genocide” covering the Rwandan Genocide, the Armenian Genocide and the Cambodian Genocide was also held.

This multi-faceted campaign was complemented by the launch of CCR2P’s ‘R2P Scholars Network’ – a program aimed at connecting junior and senior researchers working to advance the RtoP principle to “collectively work together in promoting R2P-related scholarship and activism.” The global network consists of 24 fellows ranging from the Hague Institute for Global Justice to Yale University, and is rapidly expanding. A CCR2P Journal with contributions from their fellows is planned for release in 2015.


Focus on Building the Knowledge Base for RtoP

Already, CCR2P’s student researchers have been carrying out important work. The Parliamentary Division based at U of T tracks the Canadian government’s policy on RtoP, as well as different ways in which RtoP has been reflected in Canadian foreign policy since its inception. On the crisis in Syria research is being conducted to analyze the civilian impact, most notably using infographics to educate and call for timely protective action, and to trace humanitarian aid to Syria to better understand distribution. Additional research is being conducted on the African Standby Force and implications for RtoP as well as how new surveillance and military technologies can help spur effective mass atrocity prevention.


CCR2P researchers and panelists at the 2014 annual conference.

Perhaps the most innovative CCR2P contribution is their R2Plive.org database, which tracks and catalogues various RtoP-related findings online, reporting in a real-time basis andcategorizing them by variables such as region of origin, key themes, language, genre, and more. This useful information hub aims to eventually cover all six official UN languages and add to its current 3000+ articles.


Providing a Platform for Discussion to Influence Canadian Policy

When asked what future policy developments CCR2P wished to see in regards to RtoP and Canada’s involvement, our partners pointed to their plan to host an all-party panel discussion to advocate for a national RtoP focal point in the fall of 2014. The RtoP Focal Point initiative is one mechanism for domesticating genocide prevention strategies, as well as expanding the global “community of commitment” to RtoP, which to date, Canada has yet to join.

Many influential Canadian voices featured in CCR2P’s publication series with the CIC have echoed such sentiments for renewed Canadian leadership. For example, Naomi Kikoler wrote in her piece, ‘Time for Canada to Recommit to R2P’ that:

Canada is largely absent from conversations about how to ‘domesticate’ R2P… we are not part of this broader effort to coordinate and systematize early warning and timely action… Canada should be advancing R2P domestically by appointing an R2P Focal Point and leading efforts to operationalize R2P internationally, including by defending R2P from detractors and taking action to save lives…

Others such as Roméo Dallaire and Canadian senator Hugh Segal added to the choir of voices calling for Canada to follow countries like the United States in internalizing genocide prevention strategies, and to lead international efforts towards more effective and timely peacekeeping responses.

These would be crucial steps in reigniting Canada’s strong support of the RtoP norm and addressing the missing gap in leadership that was the impetus for launching the CCR2P. Their efforts in this regard, along with all ongoing research and awareness-raising activities are both welcomed and applauded by the ICRtoP.

 Stay up to date on the work of CCR2P by following them on Twitter, liking their page on Facebook and visiting their website.

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Filed under CivSoc, ICRtoP Members, RtoP, Spotlight Post, Uncategorized

Crisis in Nigeria: A Case for RtoP’s Second Pillar


Protesters take to the streets of Abuja to demand the release of the abducted girls. AFP/Getty Images.

In recent days, there has been unprecedented international attention on the Boko Haram threat in Nigeria. Largely spurred by the appalling kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok and the ensuing social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls, popular pressure has forced western governments to take notice and answer the Nigerian government’s request for assistance in their efforts to combat Boko Haram and rescue the kidnapped girls.

Such action is consistent with pillar II of the responsibility to protect (RtoP), which calls on the international community to provide assistance and capacity-building to states that are under stress and unable to protect their civilian population from mass atrocity crimes. Nigeria is a strong case for RtoP’s second pillar, as numerous sources have warned the despicable acts occurring in the country can amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a United Nations Security Council (UNSC)press statement, the Council condemned the Boko Haram attacks and stressed that “all perpetrators of such acts must be held accountable at national or international levels, and that some of those acts may amount to crimes against humanity under international law.”

Amnesty International echoed these concerns, based on interviews with residents, lawyers, human rights campaigners, and hospital staff, as well as satellite imagery. Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director for Africa stated that:

The escalation of violence in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014 has developed into a situation of non-international armed conflict in which all parties are violating international humanitarian law.  We urge the international community to ensure prompt, independent investigations into acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”


International Action

The 2009 Secretary-General’s Report “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” suggests that pillar II assistance can take any of the following forms: (a) encouraging States to meet their responsibilities under pillar one; (b) helping them to exercise this responsibility;  (c) helping them to build their capacity to protect ; and (d) assisting states “under stress before crises and conflicts break out.” The report lays out a variety of tools for delivery that range from education and training, diplomacy, and development assistance, to military support and consent-based peacekeeping.

The type of assistance that has been forthcoming so far is mostly in line with the military option. This includes intelligence, surveillance, and technical support for hostage negotiations and counter-terrorism efforts offered by the UK, US, France, and China. On April 17, France hosted a security summit gathering regional African heads of state from Nigeria, Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger. Here, regional cooperation and information and intelligence sharing were emphasized as crucial mechanisms in the fight against Boko Haram.


The Paris Summit for Security in Nigeria. Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images.

While these developments are welcomed, it would be wise to heed warnings about the limitations of such action. This type of technical military assistance – while a good short-term measure for rescuing the kidnapped girls – does not address the structural weaknesses of the Nigerian state, or the dubious human rights record of their security forces.


The Limitations of Military Assistance in Nigeria

Sarah Margon of Human Rights Watch offered a searing indictment of the government’s military response that reveals a stark conundrum:

The tactics of the government security forces are barely more palatable than those of the militants themselves. Nigerian security forces are known for raiding local communities, executing men in front of their families, arbitrarily arresting and beating people, burning residential property and stealing money while searching homes.

Meanwhile, in writing for UN Dispatch, Mark Leone Goldberg stressed the multi-dimensional nature of the crisis:

“#StrengthenInstitutionsofGovernance doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as #BringBackOurGirls but the fact is, the inability to deliver healthcare, security, education, and other basic services fuels the instability that gives rise to militant groups like Boko Haram


A Nigerian soldier patrolling the streets of Baga in Borno State, April 30, 2013. Pius Utomi Ekpei AFP/Getty Images.

This demonstrates the complex challenge that faces efforts to assist the Nigerian state in combating Boko Haram and bringing stability to the country. In this sense, what is required is what is referred to in the 2009 Secretary-General’s report as “conflict-sensitive” development analysis to alleviate, and not exacerbate, conditions that may lead to mass atrocity crimes. Approaching the crisis through this lens reveals a need for what the Secretary-General describes as “…assistance programmes that are carefully targeted to build specific capacities within societies that would make them less likely to travel the path to crimes relating to the responsibility to protect.

In the case of Nigeria, provision of technical military assistance without sufficient attention to the egregious conduct of the state security forces, or underlying societal issues that  create the breeding ground for radicalism, risks becoming a mere “band-aid” solution. Worse, it may intensify conditions leading to mass human rights violations.


Conflict-Sensitive Pillar II Assistance: Recommendations from Civil Society

For truly effective pillar II assistance that will strengthen the Nigerian state’s ability to uphold its RtoP while simultaneously addressing root causes, several ICRtoP members and civil society groups have provided useful recommendations.

In the article mentioned above, Coalition member HRW recommends that in assisting the Nigerian government, the United States should follow their own federal due diligence laws to ensure that no military personnel accused of human rights violations are involved in operational planning or initiatives, while encouraging the Nigerian government to conduct impartial investigations of any personnel that have been involved in such crimes. According to Magnon, “To do any less might make the situation worse — and make the U.S. complicit in Nigeria’s abuses.” The same can be said for other states offering assistance.

International Crisis Group has called on Nigeria’s international partners to support domestic initiatives such as a Far North Development Commission, anti-corruption campaigns, small business investment and other programs that address poverty, youth unemployment and women’s lack of empowerment. Doing so will “switch from a mainly military approach to the challenge from Boko Haram, and radicalism in general, to one more attuned to root causes.” This is essential, as it has been noted that corruption and underdevelopment motivate Boko Haram’s youth recruits more than an extreme Islamist agenda.


A UNDP-supported Nigerian school. Bridget Ejegwa/UNDP

From a regional standpoint, African civil society group African Women’s Development and Communication’s Network called on regional organizations such as the African Union and ECOWAS to provide “…substantive support to the Nigerian Government to address the underlying systemic issues, including the climate of violence and insecurity in which groups like Boko Haram thrive,” highlighting the importance of ensuring safe spaces for education and justice for crimes committed in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

A local Nigerian organization, The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria also stressed a multi-disciplinary approach to combating Boko Haram, while making specific recommendations to “engage the communities with a view to restoring/building public confidence and cooperation with the police/security forces,” emphasizing the crucial role of civil society in cultivating positive relationships.

Such recommendations are representative of a range of options that are more long-term and deep-rooted than military assistance alone.  They satisfy the different forms of second pillar assistance identified in the 2009 Secretary-General’s report, with a focus on such interconnected  issues  as socio-economic development, improving access to justice and the rule of law, and reform of the security sector. The latter was recently reaffirmed as a critical tool for conflict prevention in a UNSC resolution and linked directly to the state’s ability to uphold RtoP by Ban Ki-moon. This is particularly relevant in the Nigerian context, and in delivering appropriate second pillar assistance, context is everything.

For a detailed overview of the conflict in Nigeria within the context of the Responsibility to Protect, visit our recently updated crisis page.

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Filed under African Union, Human Rights, RtoP, Second Pillar

No Stability Without Accountability

On 15 December 2013, political tensions within South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), boiled over. In Juba, members of the presidential guard loyal to President Salva Kiir fought those who supported former Vice-President Riek Machar. Violence spread quickly throughout the capital and into Unity and Jonglei states, taking on a worrying ethnic dimension as Dinka and Nuer – Kiir and Machar’s ethnic groups, respectively – targeted one another. (See our South Sudan page for more details about the crisis). 

As the Security Council prepares to meet on Friday, 2 May on the situation in South Sudan (with a briefing from UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng), ICRtoP releases its latest blog piece. Written by ICRtoP’s Aisling Leow, the blog examines the most recent shocking ethnic violence in the South Sudanese towns of Bentiu and Bor, the latest attempts at peace talks and mediation, and the ultimate need for accountability. 

Attacks in Bentiu and Bor, April 15-17 

While South Sudan has been consumed by violence since December, the events of two weeks ago are arguably the most shocking of the conflict. On the 15th and 16th of April, predominantly Nuer rebel forces captured the town of Bentiu in Unity state, killing at least 400 in ethnically targeted violence. The following day, a Dinka group gained entry to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Bor and opened fire on its mostly-Nuer inhabitants. Initial reports stated that at least 58 people were killed, and 100 wounded, including two UN peacekeepers.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the Bor attack as a war crime, a move followed by the Security Council and several states. UNMISS has decried the killings in Bentiu, and the use of hate speech over the radio. Civil society groups have been vocal, including Coalition member United to End Genocide, and have called for a full cessation of hostilities and an investigation into the violence.

There has also been increased activity at the UN. The Security Council has held an emergency meeting on 23 April 2014, while Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Adama Dieng, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, have travelled to South Sudan on 28 April at the Secretary General’s request.

But where do we go from here? As the world wakes up to an ongoing crisis suddenly highlighted by the attacks in Bentiu and Bor, it should be aware of the possible ‘next steps’ in the international community’s response and the undeniable necessity of ensuring accountability for such atrocities.

The Immediate Need for a Ceasefire

In the short-term, everything hinges on an enforced ceasefire. Speaking in Juba on 28 April, Pillay said the ‘immediate concern’ was that both parties respected the cessation of hostilities agreement – signed on 23 January 2014, and largely ignored since.

Peace negotiations mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – a regional organisation – are the most promising efforts toward this end. In fact, the talks have been described by Herve Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as ‘the only game in town’. But this is worrying, given that the status of Phase II negotiations seems to have alternated between ‘delayed’ and ‘stalled’ for the past three months.

To keep parties at the table, the international community has threatened targeted sanctions against those who undermine the peace process. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry may impose unilateral American sanctions during his upcoming visit to East Africa. And the Security Council is reportedly considering sanctions too.

Along with the release of four political prisoners in Juba (a previous sticking point in negotiations) these measures are cause for cautious optimism as the third session of talks resume. But US Ambassador to South Sudan, Susan Pagesays she can’t see progress in negotiations without a ceasefire – a worrying catch-22.

One measure meant to ‘reinforce or realize the cessation of hostilities’ was the IGAD Protection and Deterrence Force (PDF) authorised on 13 March 2014. These forces would protect the IGAD teams that have been monitoring the current ‘ceasefire’ since the beginning of April.

There was talk that the force might cooperate with UNMISS on this front, but the PDF has yet to be deployed, and UNMISS has its hands full with more than 75,000 people sheltering in overcrowded UN compounds.

Critical Humanitarian Crisis

Supporting humanitarian access is vital, as ongoing fighting disrupts aid deliveries to 4.9 million people in need of assistance. According to Amnesty International, the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan will kill more people than the conflict.

A ceasefire is crucial to protect a population threatened not only by conflict, but also by the most devastating famine anywhere in 30 years. In light of this, on 29 April 2014 the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Toby Lanzer called for a month-long truce in May to allow people to plant and cultivate before the rains come.

But on 30 April, after meeting both Kiir and Machar, Pillay described the leaders’ reaction to the proposal as ‘luke-warm’.  At the press conference in Juba, Pillay’s remarks reflected the thoughts of many:

“If, in the very near future, there is no peace deal… I shudder to think where South Sudan is heading”.

The Ultimate Need for Accountability

Unfortunately, the events of April 15th – 17th are, as former BBC correspondent James Copnall puts it, ‘only one in a long series of massacres… stretching back decades’. Indeed, many in the rebel army – the force reportedly responsible for massacre in Bentiu – say they joined because of the massacre of 200-300 Nuer by the Dinka in the first days of the war.

At the heart of the problem is South Sudan’s culture of impunity. David Deng, director of the South Sudan Law Societysays it plainly: “No one in South Sudan has ever been held accountable for anything”.

This lack of accountability is – metaphorically – part of the country’s DNA; the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)instrumental to the birth of South Sudan as the world’s youngest country, had only a ‘vague reference’ to reconciliation, and ‘nothing in terms of real accountability for past human rights’. This was in spite of a bloody fight for independence from Sudan (1983-2005), marked by its own massacre in 1991, where 2,000 people are estimated to have died.

Accountability is important not only because it brings justice to victims, but also because it acts as a deterrent to future crimes, and facilitates reconciliation for wounded communities.

As actors pursue a peace agreement in Addis Ababa, the international community has been clear about the need to end impunity this time around – in ‘marked contrast’ to roughly ten years ago, says Amnesty International.

Civil society has been at the forefront of this movement. Days after the attack, the International Centre for Policy and Conflict stressed that:

“Kiir and Machar must unequivocally renounce senseless criminal ethnic violence being committed by their militia supporters and take concrete positive steps to secure peace and stability”.

Citizens for Peace and Justice, based in Juba, called on the government and opposition to:

“Publicly denounce crimes committed by your forces and hold accountable those who directly target civilians as well as those with command responsibility over the acts”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the United Nations Security Council should request a fact-finding mission, and also called on the government of South Sudan to investigate the attack in Bor. Daniel Bekele, HRW Africa Director, warned that:

“[C]ommanders and leaders responsible for abuses on both sides have been let off the hook for too long… Unless they are held accountable for their crimes, the ethnic violence will continue to engulf this young country, with UN peacekeepers left to pick up the pieces.”

On 24 April 2014, in a press statement released following their emergency meeting, the Council asked for an ‘urgent investigation’ into the attack in Bentiu. In the meantime, UNMISS has said the mission’s comprehensive report on human rights violations in South Sudan – due in ‘the coming weeks’ – will cover the attack in Bentiu.

But the most promising avenue for accountability in South Sudan may be the African Union Peace and Security Council Commission of Inquiry – the first of its kind.  Established on 30 December 2013, the commission’s first field mission is taking place between 24 April and 1 May.

The commission’s mandate is challenging, as it is expected to not only investigate the crimes, but also make recommendations on the ‘best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation, and healing’.

Adama Dieng has called the commission a ‘ground-breaking development and a policy watershed’. Analysts say the commission is important not only for South Sudan, but for Africa more widely, given its unique position as a precedentAccording to Casie Copeland, an analyst at International Crisis Group, the commission is an opportunity for the AU to ‘define action in situations of mass atrocities elsewhere on the continent’.

A ceasefire will not be enough for a country where a conflict characterised by ‘tit-for-tat attacks’ has had a ‘brutalising effect’ on its population. If there is to be lasting peace in South Sudan, there is an overwhelming need to end impunity. Dieng’s remarks in Juba on 30 April are clear on this point:

“As we search for peace in this young nation, we must also ensure that those responsible for crimes committed here must be held to account. There can be no peace without justice. The current culture of impunity will only serve to undermine our efforts. We have learned this the hard way, from events in other places, including from the genocide that took place 20 years ago in Rwanda”.

South Sudan urgently needs a ceasefire, but the world’s newest country will not achieve stability without accountability.

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

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

Resolution 2149

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

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

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

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

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


Miguel Medina, AFP

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

Protection of Civilians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Transfer from MISCA to MINUSCA

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

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

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

Press TV File photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clarifying the Protection Debate in the Crimean Peninsula

Russian Intervention and Justification

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

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


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

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

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

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


Russia’s Past Misuse of RtoP vs. Current Rhetoric

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

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

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

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


Violations of International Law and the Threat to Minorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Looking Ahead: Overcoming the Security Council Impasse for Peaceful Settlement

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

79th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 68th session

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

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

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

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


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RtoP: Key Developments in 2013

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

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

A new Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect

Òthe Responsibility to Protect:  State Responsibility and PreventionÓ

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

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


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

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

United Nations General Assembly Holds 5th Dialogue on RtoP

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

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

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

Member States call for P5 to Prioritize Protection over Veto Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Weapons retrieved in DRC. UN Photo

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

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

II. Applauding Success without Turning a Blind Eye

Use of Chemical Weapons Unites UNSC on Syria

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

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

Shelling in Homs, Syria

Shelling in Homs, Syria. UN Photo

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

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

Central African Republic: Collective Action by the International Community

First Phase Digital

Central African Republic. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONUSCO Mission in Bunia

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

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

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

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

III. Looking back to go forward

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

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

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

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Putting Down their Cards: Limiting the Veto in RtoP Cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing and Diverse Support for Limiting the Veto

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Matter of Self-Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Push for an Effective and Legitimate Security Council

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

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Clarifying the Debate: Where RtoP really stands on Syria

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

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

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

Evaluating the Motivations Behind the Use of Force

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

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

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

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

Does military intervention have a legal foot to stand on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Intervention Cause More Harm than Good?

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

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

Beyond Military Intervention: More Targeted Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no military solution to this conflict?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quelling ethnic tension: Beyond the Commission’s recommendations

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

Calls for ensuring justice and putting an end to impunity

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

Deciding on what it means to be Burmese

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

The Responsibility to Assist

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

Going forward: Protection free of discrimination

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

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