Thoughts on the 12 July UN General Assembly Dialogue on RtoP

On July 12, the General Assembly convened its 3rd annual informal interactive dialogue on RtoP. The dialogue, which focused on the role of regional and sub-regional organizations in implementing the Responsibility to Protect, was held in response to the 27 June report by the Secretary-Generalon the same topic.The dialogue was an opportunity to advance the General Assembly’s consideration of RtoP, specifically regarding the role that regional organizations play in preventing and halting mass atrocities and how to strengthen regional capacity to protect civilians.

The President of the General Assembly (PGA), Joseph Deiss, chaired the dialogue, which featured two panel discussions split between the morning and afternoon sessions. The first panel, which focused on “Regional and sub-regional perspectives and experience”, included statements from  Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR); Knut Vollebaek, High Commissioner on National Minorities at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and Victor Rico Frontaura, Secretary of the Secretariat for Political Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS).

The second panel discussion, which commenced the afternoon session of the GA dialogue, was led by Dr. Ed Luck, the Special Advisor to the Secretary General (SASG) on RtoP, and Dr. Francis Deng, the SASG on the Prevention of Genocide. The two SASG’s focused on “United Nations perspectives and experience”, and responded to questions and comments raised by member states.

A total of 43 members states and 4 representatives from civil society spoke over the course of the day-long dialogue, including two members of the ICRtoP steering committee, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and Institute of Analysis & Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.

Below are some thoughts on the meeting:

  • Strong support for role of regional, sub-regional orgs in RtoP implementation: Member states that gave remarks supported a strong role for regional and sub-regional organizations, particularly with regards to early warning, assessment, mediation, and contributions to both diplomatic, and when and if necessary, military solutions to RtoP situations.
  • Prioritizing prevention: Member states that participated in the dialogue made it very clear that the prevention of mass atrocity within the RtoP framework should be prioritized moving forward. In this regard, member states remarked on the critical importance of strengthening early warning, mediation and other tools for prevention.
  • Pillar 3 and emphasizing the use of force as a last resort: Member States emphasized that third pillar response includes peaceful, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian means, with the use of force as a last resort. Several Member States expressed interest in continuing discussions on the implementation of pillar 3, supporting the proposal in the Secretary-General report to hold next year’s debate on the issue.
  • Concerns over implementation of UNSC Res 1973 in Libya: A number of states raised concerns over the implementation of RtoP in response to the situation in Libya, specifically with regards to use of force by the NATO-led operation.
  • Diminishing number of norm detractors: A prominent feature of UN discussions on RtoP has been the diminishing number of norm detractors: Those states who vocalize that RtoP is a new form of Western imperialism, or outright deny the existence of an agreement over an RtoP. Only three states (Cuba, Venezuela, and Pakistan) offered explicitly negative statements towards the norm at the dialogue, with many of the traditional detractors posing important questions with regards to RtoP implementation and the role of regional and sub-regional organizations. The need to safeguard the norm from abuse was also a prominent point raised by many smaller, southern states.
  • Strong session from the SASG’s:   Both SASG’s were vocal in the need to move towards more consistent and effective implementation of the norm, and not allow continued debate over the norm to hamstring the UN to protect civilians when necessary. Dr. Luck was perhaps most vocal on the need to recognize that prevention, while an integral focal point of RtoP, can never be perfect and that UN members must consider timely and decisive action when prevention fails. As he aptly stated in his opening remarks: “A stool with two legs will not stand.”
  • Lack of African, Asian representation: Unfortunately, both the African continent and the Asia-Pacific region were under-represented at the dialogue. While the AU made a statement, only three African countries (Guinea, Kenya, Morocco) made remarks. No statement was given on behalf of ASEAN, and only six countries (Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea) from Asia-Pacific gave a statement. A potential explanation for this limited participation is the competing Ministerial and Security Council meetings that had been scheduled at the same time. Furthermore, the Secretary-General’s report was only published a few days prior to the dialogue, giving member states little time to prepare statements.
  • Importance of civil society reaffirmed: The integral role of civil society in contributing to the evolution and implementation of RtoP was reaffirmed at the dialogue. UN officials including the SG, PGA and the SASG’s, along with a number of member states, all remarked on the need for continued civil society engagement on the norm moving forward.

As always, we want to bring you into the RtoP conversation, so we’ve got some questions for you!

  • What are your thoughts on the role of regional and subregional organizations in implementing RtoP?
  • Should the preventive elements of the RtoP framework be prioritized moving forward? If so, what happens when prevention fails?
  • Do you think that the diminishing number of norm detractors means a growing trend towards a more widespread international acceptance of the norm?
If you missed the UN dialogue on RtoP and want to view its entirety, they’re hosted here and here via UN News & Media. Also, be sure to follow our wesbite as we work to complete our database of member state and civil society speeches offered at the debate. Did you attend the UNGA dialogue and have thoughts to share? Be sure to comment below!


Filed under CivSoc, Event, Libya, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, UN

2 responses to “Thoughts on the 12 July UN General Assembly Dialogue on RtoP

  1. Russy D. Sumariwalla

    It is indeed sad that the three countries present at the dialogue had a negative view of the R2P norm. They have forgotten that at the 2005 World Summit held at UN, 150 heads of State and governments unanimously adopted the R2P norm. The current situation in Somalia where UN has officially declared a case of famine, indicates that the UN system is woefully inadequate to deal with multiple cases of atrocities inflicted on civilians by their own governments or shown no capacity or interest in preventing such atrocities by the respective governments. This calls for a thorough review and invention of new mechanisms to deal effectively with such exigencies as they occur. Thank you for the opportunity to comment

    • You raise some good points, Russy. However, we must do well to remember that RtoP’s scope is ‘narrow but deep’, applying only to situations of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. This was outlined in the Secretary-General’s 2009 Report, and has been widely accepted by Member States, making the ‘narrow but deep’ approach the consensus to work with moving forwards at the UN. Thanks for your comments, we hope you continue to converse with us!

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