Category Archives: CivSoc

#R2P10: What Can Your Organization Do To Advance the Responsibility to Protect in 2015?

As part of the #R2P10 blog series, ICRtoP has prepared an infographic detailing ways that civil society organizations interested in advancing the Responsibility to Protect can use the 10th anniversary of its adoption as an opportunity to mobilize support at the national, regional, and international levels to strengthen approaches for the prevention and response to mass atrocities. Read on below! (click the image for an enlarged view).

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RtoP at 10 What do you think of our advocacy points? Have anything to add? What is your organization doing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect? Let us know by commenting below, or reaching out to us on Twitter  and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out our updated ‘Civil Society and RtoP’ educational tool  for suggestions on how CSOs can directly contribute to upholding protection obligations. 

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#R2P10: Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect at 10, Part 1: A Norm for Our Times

The following is the first entry in ICRtoP’s new ongoing ‘RtoP at 10’ blog series. The series invites civil society and academic experts to examine critical country cases, international/regional perspectives, and thematic issues that have been influential in the development of the norm over the past 10 years, and that will have a lasting impact going forth into the next decade.

Below is the first of a three part introduction  courtesy of Dr. Alex Bellamy, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect. In part one, Dr. Bellamy provides an overview of RtoP’s normative development before delving into the “Unfinished Conceptual Work” that remains. Read on to learn more.

 

A Norm for Our Times

Few ideas have travelled further, faster, than the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). In the ten years since its adoption by world leaders at the 2005 World Summit, RtoP has become a central part of the way we think about, and respond to, genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Whatever one thinks of its merits, it cannot be said that RtoP has failed to make itself relevant.

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Rwandans fleeing the genocide to neighboring Tanzania in 1994. UNHCR Photo.

RtoP has progressed farthest in its normative development. In its first ten years, the principle has established itself as a political norm. Today, we expect that states will protect their populations from the four atrocity crimes and are critical of them when they fail. Equally, we expect that the international community will do whatever it can to protect people from atrocities when their own state manifestly fails to do so.It was not always thus.

In the 1990s, the UN created a “Protection Force” for Bosnia that was not mandated to protect civilians and drew down its forces from Rwanda when genocide struck; in the 1980s, the international community was absent entirely when the Guatemalan government unleashed genocide on the Mayans; and in the 1970s, the international community sanctioned Vietnam for ending the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia that had claimed the lives of a quarter of that country’s population.

Today we expect better. More than two-thirds of the UN’s Member States voted to “deplore” the UN Security Council’s failure to protect Syrians from the tidal wave of abuse and mass killing that has afflicted their country since 2011. RtoP has appeared in more than thirty UN Security Council resolutions, in resolutions of the General Assembly’s third and fifth committees as well as its plenary sessions, in a series of informal Assembly dialogues and in Human Rights Council resolutions (see them all here). Over the course of these debates, conceptual uncertainty and determined opposition to RtoP have been gradually whittled away, replaced by a now broadly held understanding of what RtoP is that commands the support of a significant majority of states from every corner of the world.

That RtoP has largely won the battle of ideas about whether the community of states should protect populations from atrocity crimes, and the most appropriate framework for doing so is evident not just in the avalanche of resolutions and government statements, but in practice too. The international community is foregrounding the protection of populations like never before. In addition to referring to RtoP in the context of comprehensive resolutions addressing protection crises in countries such as Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur and Yemen and resolutions condemning atrocities and reminding actors of their responsibilities, as in the case of Syria, the UN Security Council has begun to specifically task its operations with the job of helping states to protect populations in countries such as South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic. Sometimes, as in efforts to prevent the escalation of violence in Kenya and Guinea, or to prevent its recurrence as in Kyrgyzstan, RtoP has proven to be one of the major catalysts for international action.

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What is the Responsibility to Protect? Click the infographic for a full view.

The principle also played a central role in elevating international attention to the chronic protection crisis in North Korea, to the point where, for the first time, the UN’s General Assembly, Human Rights Council and Security Council are all now seized of the issue. Shining a light on the crimes committed by that government and its agents has not only prompted that government to make some concessions, it has also made it more difficult for others to support it. There are unverified reports that late last year China handed a small group of North Korean refugees not back to Pyongyang, as has been its policy, but to the authorities in South Korea. If true, that would be a significant change of heart. Such progress on the human rights situation in the North Korea was unthinkable just a short time ago.

Together, these developments have made states more aware of their protection responsibilities. They have also made it less likely that perpetrators will “get away” with committing genocide and other atrocity crimes and more likely that the international community will take measures to protect vulnerable populations.

But having established itself as an international norm, RtoP now faces the challenge of making more of a difference to people’s lives, more of the time. As a practical doctrine, RtoP will be judged not on its ability to inspire warm words and comfortable resolutions but on the extent to which it helps bring real improvements for vulnerable populations. It already has been associated with a more resolute international attitude towards mass atrocity crimes. For example, the international community has not recoiled from Mali and the CAR, despite deliberate attacks on peacekeepers there, and in late 2012 the UN decided to open its gates and protect imperiled civilians in South Sudan.

At the same time, the dramatic rise of internal displacement, the Security Council’s failure to respond decisively to the tragedies in Syria and Sri Lanka, the international community’s inability to hold Libya together, and ongoing crises in South Sudan, Darfur, and the DRC that daily threaten the civilian population, remind us that there is no room for complacency. We need to redouble our efforts to implement what states agreed in 2005.  To do that, in the coming decade we will need to address the unfinished conceptual, institutional and operational work of building RtoP.

 

Unfinished Conceptual Work

Experience in the first ten years has revealed the need for the further conceptual development of RtoP. First, and perhaps most importantly, there is the question of non-state armed groups. As agreed in 2005, RtoP is a state-based principle, yet it has become painfully clear that in many parts of the world the principle threat to civilian populations comes not from states but from non-state armed groups such as the “Islamic State”, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and al-Shabaab.  The picture is further complicated by the fact that non-state armed groups can also sometimes play significant roles as protectors of civilian populations, as the Kurds’ stoic defense of Kobane recently demonstrated.  Not only do we need to further clarify the relationship between RtoP and non-state armed groups, we should also elucidate carefully the operational relationship between atrocity prevention and doctrines associated with counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

Islamic State fighters pictured on a militant website verified by AP. AP File.

This brings us to a related set of questions posed by extremely violent societies where the boundaries between “normal” or “everyday” violence and atrocity crimes are blurred. In these contexts, which include societies where violence linked to organized crime is so common that rates of violent death exceed those recorded in countries experiencing civil war and those where sexual and gender based violence is so endemic as to stretch our capacity to record it, the multiplication of individual crimes amount to patterns of violence not dissimilar to crimes against humanity. The relationship between RtoP and endemic violence needs to be carefully examined but there seems to be a prima facie case for thinking that, at the very least, efforts to reduce endemic violence ought to be considered part of RtoP’s agenda for prevention.

A third set of outstanding conceptual questions relate to the individual responsibility to protect. Thus far, RtoP’s common currency has been the collective: the state’s responsibility to protect; the international community’s duty to assist and take timely and decisive action when needed. Yet these collectivities are comprised of individuals and the courses of action they follow are determined by individual choices. Atrocities occur because military and political leaders choose to authorize them and armed individuals choose to commit them. Sometimes they might choose not to. The international community responds effectively to these crimes because officials choose to highlight them and political leaders choose to invest material and political capital in prevention and response. Equally, of course, they may choose not to. By their actions, countless bystanders can make it easier or more difficult for targeted individuals to survive.

Ultimately, like all social norms, whether RtoP becomes a daily “lived reality” depends on whether individuals in all parts of the world choose to make it so. In the face of genocide and mass atrocities, everyone – and not just those in the affected areas – has a choice to make about whether to employ their talents to help protect others, whether to stand aside in ambivalence, or whether to assist the perpetrators.  RtoP establishes a moral imperative for individuals to do what they can to protect others from atrocities. We need to better understand individual decision-making, the varied contributions that individuals can make, and the factors that push them in these different directions. Civil society should figure large in this work.

 

Be sure to check out Dr. Bellamy’s Reflections on RtoP at 10,  Part 2: Unfinished Institutional Work for insight on RtoP’s formalization into international and regional mechanisms for atrocity prevention. 

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The Power of the Private Sector – An Untapped Source of Atrocity Prevention

The following is a guest blog written by Conor Seyle, Deputy Director of Research and Development at the One Earth Future Foundation (OEF). OEF’s ‘ Responsibility to Protect and Business’ program focuses on the under-appreciated role that the private sector can play in assisting the state and civil society actors in the prevention of mass atrocities. This blog explores this dynamic, with a focus on the relationship between the private sector and civil society organizations, offering some concrete recommendations for overcoming traditional barriers to cooperation for the common interest of preventing atrocity crimes.

 

For many working to advance the causes of peace and human rights, the idea of cooperating with the private sector is met with skepticism at best, and hostility at worst.  One illustration of this mistrust can be found in an article published in 2000, which spent eleven closely-argued pages describing the various ways that corporations could be complicit in human rights abuses.  Typically, this suspicion comes from both awareness of the way that corporations have contributed to human rights violations in the past, and a concern that businesses are profit-motivated to the exclusion of all else.  This analysis is unfortunately short-sighted.

It’s certainly the case that businesses are profit-motivated: Milton Friedman once famously declared that The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits,” but this self-interest can also lead companies to support peace and stability.  In particular, when considering the case of the crimes considered collectively under the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the enormous impact that these crimes can have on stability and economic activity, this provides a compelling reason why the private sector should be willing and able to play a role in reducing conflict and supporting peace.

These practical reasons are in addition to the very human pressures that business leaders will be under to support peace and the reduction of atrocities. The four mass atrocity crimes that are specifically called out under RtoP are seen to be among the most abhorrent. Many business leaders are likely to share the general agreement that anything that can be done to stamp them out should be attempted.

 

The Case of Kenya and other Precedents

One key example of private sector action is found in Kenya.  Following the post-election violence of 2007-08, in which intertribal violence led to more than 1,300 deaths, Kenyans were left deeply traumatized.  In addition to their personal shock, the reverberation of the crisis was also felt in the pocketbooks of Kenyans: GDP growth dropped by more than three quarters.  As a result, in the lead up to the 2012-13 elections, a number of Kenyan institutions began to strategize on what they could do to prevent a reoccurrence of conflict.  OEF interviews with members of Kenyan business and civil society have pointed to the key role played by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).

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Laura Guibert and Gabriel Perez-Quiros, “Measuring the Economic Cost of the 2007/08 Post-Election Violence in Kenya,” https://editorialexpress.com/cgi-bin/conference/download.cgi?db_name=CSAE2013&paper_id=75

KEPSA members were interested in preventing a reoccurrence of violence for both personal and economic reasons, and as an umbrella association of private sector actors, KEPSA was able to take steps to prevent conflict as a collective force.  KEPSA organized a coordinated messaging campaign to promote a sense of a unified Kenya and to drown out any messages supporting factionalism.  In addition, KEPSA members participated directly in the politics of peace through legislative advocacy, supporting the country’s first public presidential debates, and through private diplomacy directed specifically at the presidential candidates encouraging them to support peace.

This illustrates several significant roles that private sector actors may be unusually well-suited to play in the prevention of RtoP crimes.  To the extent that business leaders in a country are seen as primarily profit-motivated, this projects a sense of neutrality and detachment from the underlying political dynamics of the conflict.  For similar reasons, public messaging campaigns and advocacy by private sector actors can add weight and legitimacy to an existing movement towards peace.  In addition, because of the key role of telecommunications in organizing modern conflict, telecommunications companies can have a more direct role to play: in Kenya, telecom giant Safaricom deployed a series of filters designed to block text messages with messages of hate and the incitement of violence.

At this point, many readers may respond with skepticism: if the value of businesses and business leaders is so obvious, then why aren’t they already at the table?  The fact is, many already are – in addition to the case of Kenya, a 2000 report by International Alert documented the role of the private sector in resolving conflict in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Philippines, as well as elsewhere.  However, this phenomenon is by no means widespread and universal.

A study of multinational corporations operating during the Israeli-Lebanon war found that many of the business leaders interviewed felt a real commitment to peace and an awareness of how damaging conflict was to their business.  The primary reasons they weren’t stepping forward to participate in peacemaking came down to three issues: a perception that it wasn’t their role, a perception that they wouldn’t be welcome at the table, and a sense that they didn’t know what they could specifically do to help.  In short, even the business leaders who wanted to do something weren’t sure they were welcome, and didn’t know exactly what they could do to help.

 

Civil Society’s Bridge-building Role

This suggests that there is a clear, and pressing, role for civil society organizations (CSOs) interested in peace and the prevention of mass atrocities: acting as a bridge between private sector actors and peacemaking processes.  There are a few concrete recommendations that we can make at this stage:

  1. Start to think of private-sector actors as partners.  Right now, the absence of private-sector entities in many peacemaking processes is a result of mutual confusion and inaction from both parties.  CSOs can help to fight this just by considering local industry and multinational corporations operating locally as stakeholders that should be reached out to.  One of the most important things CSOs can do is simply start to consider the idea that private sector partners will be valuable, and develop the necessary associated outreach.

 

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An advertisement for the peaceful public messaging campaign supported by Safaricom.

An important part of this outreach will be to develop concrete recommendations for what businesses can do.  While many companies are likely to be responsive to the idea that peace is supportive of their interests, they’re also likely to be just as much at sea about what they can do as many CSOs will be.  Consider several roles: history suggests that some of the most powerful roles are as a convener, direct engagement in private diplomacy, and public messaging campaigns to help develop peace movements.  However, these roles will need to be fit to the specific local context of the conflict: there’s no one-size solution to violence, and in the same way, there’s no one path for private-sector engagement.

 

  1. Work with and through business associations. The experience of KEPSA in Kenya illustrates the power of business associations rather than individual companies.  Many of the concerns of private-sector businesses have to do with a perception that they will be punished by the market or by competitors for time and money spent on things other than business activities, or a concern about getting involved in political activity outside their core interests.  Business associations neatly solve these problems: they are by their nature political actors already, and have the ability to be the face of a movement in a way that can allow individual businesses to play a positive role without worrying about the potential negative publicity that might accrue.

 

  1. Avoid the trap of thinking about the private sector only as a funder. The thief Willie Sutton supposedly said that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is,” and it’s easy for civil society organizations to look at well-funded companies from the same utilitarian point of view.  Business leaders are used to being approached to invest in new projects, and they’re likely to look on new requests for funding with a jaundiced eye.  In addition, limiting their role to simply funders robs CSOs of the ability to tap into the diverse political and direct benefits that businesses can offer to peacebuilding.  CSOs interested in business engagement are likely to have significantly more impact if they focus on operations and activities that private sector entities can do instead of just treating them as funders.

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    Infographic courtesy of Andrea Jovanovic/One Earth Future Foundation

In some ways, bringing businesses into the fold as proactive contributors to peace and the prevention of RtoP violations will require a shift in thinking from both civil society and businesses.  I was at an OSCE workshop on peace in Ukraine in late 2014, and I asked one of the other attendees why there were only civil society organizations and not businesses in the room.  She gave me a quizzical look and replied “oh, those guys only care about making money.”

The idea that this is exactly the reason why they would want to help resolve the conflict as soon as possible hadn’t yet percolated through the discussion.  Changing that is an issue of changing cultures, which is never easy.  If it can be accomplished, though, then this could represent a new and major step forward in resolving potential and ongoing conflicts that are ripe for the commission of atrocity crimes.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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Genocide Awareness Month: Creating the Will to Act

The ongoing crises and threats to civilians in Syria and Mali, in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) serve as reminders that mass atrocities are continuing the world over, and that more needs to be done to prevent and protect from these horrific crimes if we are to live up to the promise of “Never Again” . With the unanimous endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the 2005 World Summit, world leaders took a historic step by declaring that all governments have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. During the month of April, which serves as ‘Genocide Awareness Month’, civil society across the globe brings attention to ongoing atrocities and educates on what individuals, organizations, and stakeholders at all levels can do to stand up in the face of genocide. While governments have committed to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes, it is up to civil society and the general public to demand that world leaders uphold these responsibilities. Public demand, however, depends on public understanding and awareness of the ongoing crimes and available prevention tools. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protects global membership works to raise awareness on the prevention of genocide and other atrocities, not only in April but in their activities throughout the year. ICRtoP spoke with several Coalition members and close partners to gain insight on how they’re educating on genocide and how individuals and other NGOs can get involved. 

International and local efforts to build networks of advocates

The work of ICRtoP members and partners demonstrates the creative initiatives that civil society undertakes to increase understanding and knowledge on genocide prevention. United to End Genocide (UEG), and Vision GRAM-International, are two of the many organizations that believe building partnerships and working in networks builds the impact of individual activists, communities and organizations working to prevent atrocities across the globe. When we spoke with UEG, one of the largest activist organizations in the United States dedicated to preventing and ending genocide, our colleagues noted that their organization “believe[s] the only way to prevent mass atrocities and to end genocide once and for all, is to build a large, powerful activist network – a sustainable movement – that will sound the alarm and demand action by our elected leaders to protect all who face these threats, anywhere in the world.” They do this by rallying their network of hundreds of thousands of activists around what UEG calls  “action opportunities”, which have included circulating “a global petition calling for greater awareness and action to address ongoing abuses and suffering in Darfur“, and also , “ sounding the alarms about ominous warning signs of genocide by testifying before the U.S. Congress” on the situation in Burma. Meanwhile, Vision GRAM-International, a human rights organization working to promote and defend the rights of children and women in conflict zones in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, is currently recruiting local authorities, influential community members, former child soldiers, victims of genocide, churches, schools and other members of civil society to build a network of human rights activists within their local and regional constituency.  Vision Gram will then work to train their growing network “in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, and actions to prevent genocide,” to ensure that “actions of advocacy and lobbying are organized at local, national and international level in collaboration with several associations…to remind governments of their responsibilities to protect people against atrocities.” 

Educating actors at all levels through seminars, conferences and publications

Seminars, conferences and publications are useful tools for NGOs to educate and promote discussion amongst civil society, governments, regional and international bodies, and the UN to prioritize the prevention of, and identify strategies to, halt genocide and other atrocity crimes. One group that carries out this crucial and influential work is the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), based in New York City. AIPR, which is dedicated to training and assisting governments to fulfill their responsibility to prevent atrocity crimes, created the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention and established intergovernmental networks, in Latin America and Africa, to educate policymakers from around the world on the causes of and tools available to halt genocide. Additionally, AIPR releases publications and holds events, as explained by their Communications Officer and Alumni Network Director, Alex Zucker, “We co-organized ‘Deconstructing Prevention’ a public conference at Cardozo Law School in New York, and we are currently preparing a volume on the theory, policy, and practice of mass atrocity prevention, with contributions from leading scholars and practitioners, that we hope will become required reading for policymakers, scholars, activists, and students.” Furthermore, they have organized a panel on incorporating genocide prevention into the development agenda, which will be held on 18 April.

The reach of these global education efforts can be expanded through the translation of materials, and release of publications and briefings in numerous languages. These activities allow NGOs to broaden their audience when educating on country specific situations and atrocity crimes. Genocide Alert, based in Germany, uses it’s German-language platform on the Responsibility to Protect to provide an online “space for articles that relate to RtoP and Germany and current events, interviews and conference outcomes relating to RtoP.” They recently published a short German-language summary of the European Union Task Force Report on the Prevention of Mass Atrocities to engage German politicians on the report’s recommendations targeting how the European Union can improve its genocide prevention capabilities. Additionally Genocide Alert, who is “working with German politicians to integrate the responsibility to protect and related issues into the party platforms”, is using publications to ‘name and shame’, and plans to “publish a ranking of political parties in Germany evaluating their activities on genocide prevention and response in the past four years.” 

New and innovative tools for prevention: social media and technology

In the last couple of years we have witnessed the power of social media as an essential tool for bringing the world’s attention to a range of topics, but civil society is pushing the boundaries of technology by going beyond Facebook and Twitter to create new, interactive and innovative ways to carry out their work. Christopher Tuckwood, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, explains how his organization uses technology, saying that “Wherever possible and appropriate, we seek to incorporate new technologies (especially web-based and mobile ones) into our work. For example, we recently launched Hatebase, which is the world’s largest online database of hate speech.” With the database, they’ve developed risk assessments to identify concerning situations and threats of genocide, and then use that information to inform and advocate for other organizations to take preventive action. It is important to acknowledge that their work, however, does not just occur in cyberspace – but is complemented by on-the-ground action. For example they recently sent their first field mission to Kenya during the recent presidential elections where, as accredited election observers, they monitored first hand developments on the ground. Meanwhile, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), a global member-led network of civil society organizations who are actively working on conflict prevention and peace-building, has a set-up a the Peace Portal, which serves as “a unique online platform for learning, sharing and collaborating in the conflict prevention and peace-building field…The Portal encourages information sharing and participation from civil society and grassroots organisations, whose voices often can not find the online visibility they need.” 

Creating space for and promoting dialogue

Many of these organizations’ programs aim to encourage dialogue amongst different stakeholders to prevent atrocities. Dialogue between minority populations, civil society, government officials, and other actors can help reduce tensions between groups at an early and preventive stage, long before the escalation of a conflict, thus finding a peaceful and inclusive resolution before the risk of atrocity crimes becomes imminent. It can also build the confidence, skills, and capacity of all of these actors with the ultimate result of creating an environment for solving tensions and problems together. The Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM), an organization based in Costa Rica working to develop regional capacity for atrocity prevention through research analysis and advocacy campaigns, is just one example of an organization creating space for such dialogue. While the organization also relies on social media and technology to communicate its awareness message, an essential element of all four of its main projects is the promotion of dialogue as a tool for prevention. For example, its program “Dialogando” which literally means talking in Spanish, provides forums for discussions between civil society and governments to improve the capacity of law enforcement of the Ministry of Labour, and in turn the civilian protection framework, in Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Similarly, Lebanon-based organization, the Permanent Peace Movement, promotes peace throughout the Middle East and North African through their dialogue and awareness raising projects. Their program “Non-violence and Reconciliation in the Lebanese Mountains” uses dialogue to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation amongst local Lebanese communities in the mountain areas where violence that erupted in 2008 between different religious groups created a rift between previously peaceful villages. Working together, members of these communities produced a book to educate others and share successful stories about the co-existence between villages, which in turn reduced the likelihood of renewed violence.

Engaging national and regional actors

Preventing atrocity crimes does not stop at educating and raising awareness. It is essential to engage with national and regional actors in order to implement policies aimed at protecting civilians. As mentioned above, Genocide Alert’s primary focus is to engage directly with national political actors, and their programs include regular discussions on “genocide prevention, R2P and related issues with German parliamentarians and experts and make specific recommendations for a more effective German policy in regard to the responsibility to protect.”  In addition, United Nations Association-United Kingdom (UNA-UK) has a R2P Program, which seeks to put the Responsibility to Protect on the political agenda by galvanizing political support for RtoP and fostering an understanding of the concept within the public domain. They are attempting to consolidate a UK national RtoP policy network and build support within the UK government and national and regional political parties by engaging policy makers through reports and high-level round tables targeting decision makers. In South America, Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales, (CRIES) is working hard to bring the issue of RtoP amongst all actors in Latin America and Caribbean. In 2012 alone, through the release of their academic journal on RtoP and subsequent conferences, they engaged with a range of actors from representatives for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and politicians to academia and representatives of civil society organizations in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and at UN Headquarters in New York. This is not unlike GPPAC’s programs which strive “for multi-actor collaboration and local ownership of strategies for peace and security” by connecting “members with relevant individuals and institutions such as the UN, regional intergovernmental organisations, state actors, the media and academia.” An important element of their work is building the capacity of civil society organizations on how they can reach out and engage better with media and policy makers on these issues. Engaging regional, sub-regional and national actors in discussions on preventing atrocities ensures greater collaboration to build a stronger more comprehensive policy framework for protecting civilians from these most terrible crimes.

How can you or your organization get involved in raising awareness on genocide and RtoP?

There are a number of ways you or your organization can get involved in raising awareness of and preventing genocide and other RtoP crimes. You or your organization can:

  • Use Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms to instantly distribute your work and message. Genocide Awareness Month has a Facebook page where events and activities to promote awareness around the world are posted.
  • Stay informed of genocide prevention and advocacy campaigns by reading blogs and signing up for newletter updates; or get directly involved in the work of an organization, like joining one of United to End Genocide‘s action opportunities or contacting the Sentinel Project about becoming part of their team.
  • Connect with other groups and learn more on the work of civil society by using GPPAC’s Peace Portal, where users have the opportunity to publish material and reports – contributing to increasing the global conflict prevention and peace building knowledge base.
  • Contribute to the work of NGOs and discussions on mass atrocities by drafting articles on current situations, or organizing events. Genocide Prevention Network, an international organization, has created a directory of organizations involved in genocide awareness around the world. Find out who is working on genocide awareness in your country and region. 
  • Become part of the global movement advocating for the prevention of mass atrocities and advancement of RtoP by joining the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, a network of organizations dedicated to amplifying the voice of civil society as we push for governments, regional organizations, and the international community to strengthen their capacities to prevent and halt genocide.
  • You don’t have to be an adult or NGO to work to prevent mass atrocities. Youth can participate on a local level – for example in Costa Rica or the DRC: FUNPADEM involves youth in their programs, using art and sports to prevent atrocities, while Vision GRAM-International encourages communities to participate in awareness programs held at schools, health centers, social centers and churches. The Holocaust Museum in Houston, US provides a list of 30 things you can do for Genocide Awareness Month. 

It is now up to all of us to play a part, not only in April but all year round, to raise awareness to create the public and political will needed to prevent atrocities and act in the face of escalating violence.

Learn more on and connect with the organizations featured in this blog!

 

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Spotlight on the World Federation for the United Nations Associations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-blogged from IJCentral.

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

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

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

But, what is RtoP exactly?

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

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

How to get involved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full feature post.

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What’s Next for Syria?

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

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

Exploring Options for Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynch explains further:

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

 

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