The ICRtoP is pleased to share our latest Spotlight series post, highlighting the work of Lebanon-based member, the Permanent Peace Movement (PPM) in advancing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) norm. The Coalition spoke with colleagues at PPM about how the organization is engaging with its constituency in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to strengthen understanding of RtoP and overcome challenges facing the norm.
PPM created during a time of war to promote peace and reconciliation
For over 20 years, the Permanent Peace Movement has worked on building a culture of peace at the local, national and international levels to prevent and halt conflict and its reemergence, actions that directly impact atrocities prevention. PPM was established in 1989 at the height of the Lebanese civil war by a group of university students united by their determination to create a Lebanon free of conflict through promoting peaceful and non-violent resolution. To work towards achieving their vision and upholding these principles, PPM began and has continued implementing capacity building workshops for a range of audiences including students in schools and universities, civil society organizations, media personnel, political parties and civilians within local communities and refugee camps. These initiatives focus on achieving the overall goal of conflict resolution through advocating for dialogue amongst parties, promoting education and remembrance to foster healing and reconciliation, informing on the importance of arms control and how small arms and light weapons impact conflict, stopping the use of child soldiers, and so much more. Through this work, PPM has empowered individuals and institutions to play an active role in resolving crises before they reach the point where large-scale violence is committed. While their first RtoP-specific initiative began in 2012, you can see that PPM has been working to spread awareness on a number of agendas related to the Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of atrocities for many years.
First steps to advance RtoP in the MENA region
Believing in the importance of RtoP as a framework for the prevention of atrocity crimes and how the norm, if understood and operationalized, could impact the Middle East and North Africa, PPM took deliberate steps to raise awareness in the region through hosting the first-ever MENA regional workshop on RtoP in collaboration with the ICRtoP. Participants, which included civil society organizations from over 14 MENA countries and territories, a representative from Coalition member, the World Federation of United Nations Associations, staff from the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, and representatives from the League of Arab States and Lebanese Parliament during the first day, discussed a number of topics related to RtoP – from the development of the norm to RtoP’s regional applicability through country case examinations, to how RtoP relates to other agendas and what civil society can do to engage with regional and national actors to advance the norm. During the conference, Mr. Fadi Abi Allam, the President of the Permanent Peace Movement emphasized that understanding and developing mechanisms for early warning and early response, as well as supporting dialogue to address misunderstandings between parties are essential to find peaceful solutions to conflict and prevent RtoP crimes.
The hurdles facing work on RtoP
Despite the achievements of this workshop, advancing RtoP in the region is not without its challenges, especially following the military intervention in Libya in 2011 and the ongoing humanitarian crisis and civil war in Syria. Our colleagues at PPM raised the issue of the all too common misunderstanding of RtoP as a tool only for military intervention, a view held by many civil society organizations and political actors in and outside of the region. Another challenge closely linked to this is the belief that, hidden in the implementation of RtoP is a double standard whereby “superpowers” on the UN Security Council agree to act or exercise their veto power only when it’s in their best interest. PPM suggests that this latter obstacle is not helped by a general lack of trust and confidence they have found within the MENA region towards UN bodies and Member States, many of whom are largely considered biased, based on discussions about the Arab/Israel conflict. Additionally, depending on the country in question, there may be a number of more particular challenges for implementing RtoP that need to be overcome based on the political contexts.
But the hurdles won’t stop them – PPM’s next steps on RtoP
Despite challenges facing RtoP in the region, PPM is confident that through partnernships and training workshops, barriers to the advancement of the norm can be overcome.
For a long time, PPM has partnered with civil society organizations throughout the region and worked closely with policy markers at the national and regional levels. Since the Arab Spring, PPM has witnessed the creation of an opening for civil society engagement and collaboration with the League of Arab States (LAS), which could serve as an avenue to raise RtoP with the body and its Member States. While PPM has unofficially worked with the LAS since 2003, a more direct and formal partnership has begun to develop in the last year, following a regional dialogue meeting held in June 2012 between the League and civil society. Convened as a follow up to a larger meeting in 2011 hosted by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), the June dialogue led to the development of a longer term process for this engagement, including the League’s announcement of the creation of a body within its Secretariat to focus solely on coordination with civil society. While there is much to be excited about, our colleagues are quick to note that this process is still at the beginning and most basic stages, and initial progress has been slow. However, PPM, which is also a member of GPPAC and serves as their regional representative for the Middle East and North Africa, will be a critical partner for the LAS as it works to strengthen its engagement with civil society. They’re already working to promote some ideas for practical cooperation, including the possibility of establishing a focal point to exchange documents and information with civil society, or creating system for civil society to inform the LAS both on the continued development of this process and its work.
In addition to bringing civil society and the LAS together to not only increase general cooperation but also one day serve to advance RtoP, PPM is looking at how to strategically tackle some of the remaining obstacles facing the norm. Such work will require more than just them, as it takes actors at all levels strategically working together to truly create an environment where RtoP crimes will not be committed. Recognizing this, our colleagues at PPM said, “our region is facing real threats of mass atrocities…it is not possible for one entity to do everything on the Responsibility to Protect, but….options are available for everyone to contribute and make protection a possible alternative.” An initial and crucial step is to continue promoting a comprehensive understanding of RtoP as a norm that is based on prevention and assistance, so as to dispel the common misconception that RtoP is only intervention. To begin working to achieve this, PPM is developing a regional program and strategy to raise awareness on the norm, which will bring together a range of actors to discuss RtoP as a framework for the prevention of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide and their role in preventing and responding to atrocity crimes. PPM hopes that such a program will assist in convening civil society to increase their work on the norm, and increase understanding of RtoP amongst national and regional policy makers to ultimately assist in strengthening their capacity to protect populations. We look forward to seeing this work develop!