Category Archives: CivSoc

New “At a glance” Series Looks at Key Measures Under RtoP’s Third Pillar

Since 2009, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has held an annual informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P). The discourse is based in part on reports published by the UN Secretary-General ahead of the meetings exploring measures within the norm’s scope or the role of various actors.

These dialogues are an important opportunity for Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations and civil society to discuss the norm’s implementation and assess best practices from past crisis situations. This year, the General Assembly plans to discuss the broad range of political, economic, humanitarian and, if necessary, military response measures available to actors at the national, regional, and international levels within the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon addresses attendees at the 2010 informal interactive dialogue on early warning, assessment and the Responsibility to Protect. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

ICRtoP encourages actors at all levels to participate in this timely discussion and generate constructive conversation on the regional and international community’s response to imminent threats or occurrences of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, the Coalition has developed a clarifying document about the spectrum of measures available within the norm’s third pillar and how these measures can be employed by actors at all levels.

In order to foster a more complete understanding of RtoP’s third pillar ahead of this summer’s UN General Assembly dialogue, ICRtoP will be publishing a new series of “At a Glance” educational tools on the role of actors and measures available to prevent and halt mass atrocities. Each “At a Glance” will provide an overview of how a specific measure or group of actors fits within RtoP’s third pillar, debates and challenges regarding implementation, and steps that can be taken at all levels to strengthen prevention capabilities.

The first document, published on 12 April, focuses on Preventive Diplomacy and the Responsibility to Protect, a particularly timely topic in the wake in joint United Nations-League of Arab States Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s efforts to find a mediated solution to the crisis in Syria. As the “At a Glance” explains:

Within the RtoP framework, preventive diplomacy offers a set of tools to be used on a case-by-case basis by a wide range of actors to peacefully respond to threats and occurrences of mass atrocities by facilitating political solutions. Quiet diplomacy and engagement behind the scenes gives all parties an opportunity to participate in dialogue outside the international spotlight and on their own terms.  Mediation, often led by appointed diplomats or special envoys, allows for encouragement from the international community to build political will for peaceful settlement if parties are reluctant to negotiate. Other important tools include political missions, which are civilian-led and can facilitate dialogue to prevent escalating threats or assist in rebuilding efforts such as inclusive governance or reconciliation; and peacekeeping missions, which incorporate preventive diplomacy into their security-based mandates and offer political support to encourage peaceful conflict resolution.  

The publication also looks at the challenges associated with Preventive Diplomacy, and the steps national, regional, and international actors, including civil society, can take to strengthen the manner in which this measure is implemented to respond to country-specific situations.

The latest “At a Glance”, published on 27 April, discusses the role of International and Regional Justice mechanisms in responding to threats of mass atrocities. The recent examples of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing its first ever verdict in the case of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on 14 March, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruling on 25 April that former Liberian President Charles Taylor was guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, have shown international and regional justice mechanisms at the fore of the fight against impunity. As the publication states:

Within the RtoP framework, international and regional justice mechanisms and institutions contribute to the prevention of and response to threats of mass atrocities by ending impunity, deterring would-be perpetrators, and delivering justice to victims. Under RtoP, the state bears the primary responsibility for the protection of its population, and is thus held accountable for the commission of mass atrocities.  Many judicial bodies interpret this responsibility by investigating cases where populations are at risk, and then indicting, trying and sentencing individual perpetrators, regardless of rank or title, for the commission of one or more of the RtoP crimes. These institutions work to facilitate transitional justice, ensuring accountability for massive human rights violations and establishing a basis for sustainable peace and reconciliation.  

The “At a Glance” also elaborates on the challenges faced by these bodies, the role of national governments and civil society in strengthening them, and the existing mechanisms at the regional and international level, including an overview of the ICC, the International Court of Justice, ad-hoc tribunals and special courts, and regional judicial bodies.

The publications on Preventive Diplomacy and International and Regional Justice are just the first two of a series of seven “At a Glance” documents, in which the following measures will be covered (by order of publication):

  • The Use of Force
  • Monitoring, Early Warning and Response
  • The Role of Actors within the United Nations
  • Targeted Sanctions
  • The Role of Regional and Sub-Regional Arrangements

Our Coalition hopes that these publications will foster a more complete understanding of the wide range of measures available to the international community when a state manifestly fails to protect its population from mass atrocities, and will contribute to constructive international conversation on the norm’s third pillar.

Download the following educational tools:

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Filed under CivSoc, Human Rights, Informal Interactive Dialogue, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action, UN

Kony 2012 and the Responsibility to Protect

On 5 March, Invisible Children (IC) released their viral sensation, “Kony 2012“, which called for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the commander-in-chief of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilian populations in Uganda.

IC’s Kony 2012 sought to raise awareness about the past atrocities of the LRA and their continued crimes against civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. It was also a call for action, with a particular emphasis on increasing pressure on policymakers in the United States government, which deployed 100 soldiers in October 2011 to assist Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and South Sudan in their military efforts against the LRA.

Spreading like wildfire on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, the video also attracted much criticism. IC was charged with oversimplifying the LRA conflict and omitting the voices of northern Ugandans by Mark Kersten and Patrick Wegner, two bloggers at Justice in Conflict with experience working in LRA-affected areas in Uganda. Mahmoud Mamdani, a professor at Makere University in Kampala, Uganda, deplored IC’s focus on a military solution to the LRA. Alex De Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, targeted the video for “peddling dangerous and patronizing falsehoods that it is up to the United States to help solve the problem of the LRA.

In response, IC issued a Q&A rebuttal to these critiques on their website, and have since released a second video, entitled “Kony 2012: Part II: Beyond Famous”, which the organization states, “offers a closer look at the LRA and explores the solutions put forward by leaders of the currently-affected areas of CAR, DRC, and South Sudan, where local communities continue to live under the constant threat of LRA violence.”

The idea behind Kony 2012 is not new,” the narrator of the video states as the video opens. “In 2005, world leaders unanimously agreed at the United Nations to uphold the Responsibility to Protect. This states that every single person on the planet has inherent rights that should be defended against the worst crimes against humanity, first by our own countries, and then by the global community, no matter where we live.”

Flashing pictures of Syria and Sudan, and transitioning to the focus on the atrocities committed by the LRA in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan, the film states, “Although most of the world has agreed to this in theory, in far too many cases, we have failed to live up to our promise…This is why we made this film.”

RtoP, Kony 2012, and Beyond

IC has situated the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the heart of their film, and premised their recommendations – continued and/or increased military participation by the United States in LRA-affected regions to assist the regional forces of Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and South Sudan, and sustained political support for the initiatives of these countries and regional organizations, like the African Union (AU), to remove Joseph Kony from the battlefield by either arresting him or killing him – on the norm as well.

This post will thus expand on the discussion of RtoP, and examine this new, international norm in the context of the LRA conflict and its application in response to threatened and actual atrocities against civilians in the region.

RtoP’s scope is narrow, but deep, meaning that it applies only to the threat or occurrence of four specific crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleanings – but provides for a wide range of measures that extend beyond military intervention, including preventive diplomacy, economic sanctions, monitoring missions, and the involvement of regional and international justice mechanisms. The primary responsibility to protect populations from these crimes lies first at the national level, but regional and international actors also have a responsibility to provide assistance and capacity-building to individual governments in upholding this responsibility. In the event of a failure by a state to uphold its protection obligations, these actors have a responsibility to use political, economic, humanitarian, and if necessary, military tools available within the RtoP framework  to prevent and respond to threats of mass atrocities.

The LRA Conflict and RtoP

Kony and the senior commanders of the LRA stand accused of committing widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape, mutilation, intentionally directing attacks against civilian populations, pillaging, and the abduction and forced enlistment of children. As unanimously endorsed by UN Member States in  2005, paragraphs 138-139 of the World Summit Outcome Document articulate that war crimes and crimes against humanity are two of the four crimes under the RtoP framework.

As Coalition Steering Committee member Human Rights Watch (HRW) documents in their Q&A on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, the impact of the operations of the LRA in northern Uganda, where their insurgency began in 1987, was disastrous for civilians, and has induced long-term implications:

“The human toll has been most severe in northern Uganda. Between 1987 and 2006, at least 20,000 Ugandan children were abducted. More than 1.9 million people were displaced from their homes into camps and tens of thousands of Ugandan civilians died…Addressing the aftermath of the war and displacement, however, remains a massive challenge.”

But since being pushed out of Uganda by the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) in 2006, the LRA has moved into the neighbouring countries of the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan. According to HRW, the LRA “remains an immediate menace” to those populations:

“Since September 2008 the LRA has killed more than 2,600 civilians and abducted more than 4,000 other people, many of them children. More than 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes; very few have any access to humanitarian assistance.”

A particular episode in late 2008 and early 2009, the December to January “Christmas Massacres”, highlights the terror and criminality of the LRA. After refusing to sign on to the Juba peace process in 2008, in response to the December 2008 “Operation Lightning Thunder” – a joint offensive by Uganda, the DRC and South Sudan, and supported by the United States – the LRA retaliated with vicious attacks in northern DRC between 24 December 2008 and 13 January 2009. The group also allegedly carried out a massacre of 321 people in the same region of DRC a year later in December of 2009, and abducted 250 others.

Joseph Kony, leader of Lord's Resistance Army, and target of IC's Kony 2012 advocacy campaign. (Photo: Stuart Price/Associated Press)

The LRA is thus allegedly responsible for the widespread commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least two countries, Uganda and the DRC. And while their numbers have supposedly dwindled in light of increased regional military pressure, civilians remain at risk. As a 28 July 2011 report from Coalition Steering Committee member Oxfam International, We are entirely exploitable’: The lack of protection for civilians in Eastern DRC’, states, the majority of people polled in an LRA-affected region felt less safe in 2011 than in 2010.

The report details that in the communities surveyed in Eastern DRC, the LRA was described as the main perpetrator of killings, torture, and abductions as well as of looting, destruction of crops and rape.

In light of the litany of past abuses by the LRA, and the continued threat of mass atrocities posed by the organization in its current areas of operation, the Responsibility to Protect remains an important framework through which national, regional, and international actors can focus their efforts of protecting populations.

However, as critics of Kony 2012 have noted, while the atrocities committed by the LRA are egregious, the group is just one part of the conflict that has spanned over 25 years and across four countries in Central Africa.

In a recent op-ed published in the Washington Times entitled The Other Half of the Kony Equation, Maria Burnett and Elizabeth Evenson, both HRW employees, also highlight the problematic record of the Uganda government’s involvement during the fight against the LRA. Noting that the LRA emerged in large part due to the marginalizing policies of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni towards the people of northern Uganda, Burnett and Evenson state, “On a lesser scale than those of the LRA, crimes by government forces nevertheless included deliberate killings, routine beatings, rapes, and prolonged arbitrary detention of civilians.”

They assert that there has been no justice for victims of these abuses by the UPDF, with the government stating that those responsible have been investigated and prosecuted, but not publicly releasing any information on the trials. And nearly seven years after releasing the indictments for the top LRA leadership, Burnett and Evenson also state that the ICC has not examined abuses by the UPDF or the Museveni government, which has, “eased pressure on Ugandan authorities to hold their forces to account.”

This remains a crucial issue for Adam Branch, a senior research fellow at the Makere Institute of Social Research in Uganda and professor at San Diego State University, in his op-ed for Al-Jazeera, Kony Part II: Accountability, not awareness. Reflecting on IC’s focus on the efforts of Ugandan and regional forces, Branch states:

“[…] The new strategy ignores the Ugandan military’s abysmal human rights record in neighbouring countries, of great concern if Uganda is to take the lead role in the campaign…Kony Part II aligns itself closely with the ICC’s Moreno-Ocampo, who has shown himself nothing if not unaccountable to the victims to whom he claims to bring justice. Moreno-Ocampo has been perfectly willing to offer impunity to the Ugandan government in order to secure the government’s co-operation in the ICC investigation of the LRA, ignoring the demands from Ugandan human rights activists that the ICC indict both sides, instead of taking sides.”

These concerns over the alleged abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government strike at the core of RtoP: All states made a commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing in their endorsement of the norm at the 1005 World Summit. As such, in the context of the LRA conflict, the individual governments bear the primary responsibility for the prevention of these most egregious crimes. Regional and international actors, in recalling their responsibility to protect, must also be available to assist these nations in ensuring the safety of civilian populations.

Responding to the LRA Conflict

Kony 2012 Part II details IC’s four-point “Comprehensive Approach” to stopping Kony and the LRA in 2012, which highlights IC’s civilian protection initiatives in the region, including establishing radio stations that can broadcast and warn civilians against potential attacks, efforts to ensure the peaceful surrender of LRA soldiers, the importance of engaging in post-conflicting reconstruction and rehabilitation in LRA-affected areas, and finally, the arrest of top LRA leadership.

The video states, “Unless Kony and his top commanders surrender, or are arrested, their atrocities will not stop.” This stems from their assertion that negotiations between governments opposed to the LRA have failed to bring about an end to violence, and that the group has consistently used peace negotiations as a means to resupply and rebuild, often through carrying out mass abductions.

Joseph Kony (centre, in white) surrounded by leadership officials of the LRA, including the now-deceased Vincent Otti. (Photo: Reuters)

As such, Kony 2012 Part II calls for the international community to strengthen the ongoing military efforts of the African Union (AU) and regional governments (Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan, and the CAR), which IC states is, “the best way to apprehend top LRA leadership.”

Since 2008, these governments have coordinated militarily against the LRA, conducting joint operations in an attempt to apprehend or kill Joseph Kony and cease atrocities against civilians. Aside from the concerns raised over alleged abuses of human rights committed by the UPDF and other national armies in the region, these troops also suffer from a lack of necessary equipment, including heavy-lift and transport helicopters, and effective training, which has hampered their individual and coordinated military responses to the LRA. Such gaps in capabilities have thus made it difficult for these countries to effectively uphold their primary responsibility to protect civilians from LRA attacks.

Recognizing this, international actors have moved to bolster these efforts. The United States, dispatched 100 military advisers to the region in October 2011 to provide “information, advice, and assistance” to the national armies of Uganda, the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan. And in March 2012, the African Union announced that it would move to form a 5,000-troop strong brigade, drawing from troops from Uganda, the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan, to synergize their efforts in seeking to stop Kony through coordinated military action.

But Wegner at Justice in Conflict notes that despite these actions, and the potential for greater coordination by regional governments, the African Union, and the United States, the use of force has yet to be successful in the fight against the LRA:

“Military operations have so far failed to stop the LRA….Rather, they provoked retaliations and civilian casualties. During the UPDF led offensives to stop the LRA in northern Uganda and southern Sudan (now South Sudan), the LRA managed to outmanoeuvre the UPDF and spread the conflict consecutively to previously peaceful parts of the north and eventually even to eastern Uganda where civilians bore the brunt of the fury of the LRA.”

The United Nations also has various peacekeeping missions present in the region, including a UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which has the authorization by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to use force to protect civilians, and is deployed in LRA-affected areas in the DRC.  But HRW notes that:

“The UN’s various initiatives regarding the LRA have lacked coordination and impact. While the UN missions have attempted to respond to LRA threats to civilians, it has rarely been a top priority for any of the missions and resources are often directed elsewhere.”

Civil society organizations, particularly those working on the ground in LRA-affected areas, have an all-too important role to play in the effort to protect civilians. Groups that monitor the movements of the LRA and provide early warning of attacks may ensure better civilian protection on the ground, and can alert the actors involved of the risk of imminent atrocities.  Civil society is also integral to the ongoing assessment of coordinated efforts against the LRA, and raising awareness regarding the progress of civilian protection in the region. Their work with victims and affected communities is also crucial to facilitating rehabilitation and post-conflict reconstruction, which are necessary to build a sustainable peace in LRA-affected areas.

As the international community works to protect populations from these massive human rights violations, it is crucial to reiterate the narrow, but deep scope of the RtoP. All states agreed to the responsibility to protect their populations from the crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, the norm provides for a broad range of political, economic, humanitarian, and if necessary, military measures that actors at all levels, including civil society, individual states, regional and sub-regional organizations, and the United Nations can implement to assist individual governments in upholding their responsibility to protect. If civilians remain at risk in spite of such measures being employed, actors at all levels must assess the tools available to them under the RtoP framework to ensure atrocities are prevented and effective civilian protection is provided.

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Filed under African Union, CivSoc, DRC, Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Joseph Kony, Kony 2012, Lord's Resistance Army, Post-Conflict, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, Third Pillar, Uganda, UN

Civil Society Advocacy Aims to Ensure Constructive 2012 UN Dialogue on RtoP

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will host an informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect this summer (date yet to be announced). The dialogue will be the third of its kind since 2009, and is an opportunity for discussion between Member States, regional and sub-regional arrangements, and civil society on the norm and its implementation. This year, the dialogue will be on measures under the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect framework – timely and decisive action.

Each dialogue is based, in part, on a report published by the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) ahead of time, which explores aspects of the prevention and response to mass atrocities and roles of various actors within the RtoP framework. A report for this year’s dialogue has yet to be released.

Civil society plays an important role ahead of the dialogues, engaging UN Officials, regional and sub-regional organizations, and Member States to provide constructive remarks, working together to educate on the thematic focus of the dialogues, participating in the meetings themselves, and publishing reports in their aftermath.

The dialogues have served as an important forum to stimulate discussion on the implementation of RtoP, emphasize the importance of prevention, and advance the normative consensus at the UN and in national capitals. They have also attracted an increasing number of attendees since the first meeting in 2009, including from civil society organizations.

Both ICRtoP and the Global Centre for R2P issued statements at the 2010 dialogue on Early Warning, Assessment and RtoP in 2010. Civil society was also represented in the opening panel during this dialogue. The following year, during the dialogue on The Role of Regional and Sub-Regional Arrangements in Implementing the RtoP, the Coalition, Global Centre, Initiatives for International Dialogue (based in the Philippines), and the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University gave remarks.

Members of the ICRtoP Steering Committee and Secretariat with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former President of the UNGA Joseph Deiss, Special Advisors Francis Deng (Genocide Prevention) and Dr. Ed Luck (RtoP), and other panelists at the 2011 dialogue on the role of regional and sub-regional arrangements.

The thematic focus of this year’s dialogue will be measures under the third pillar of the RtoP framework. Third pillar tools range from diplomatic, to economic, legal, and military, and enable flexible, rapid responses to country-specific situations. In light of recent cases including Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan/South Sudan, and Syria – where such third-pillar measures have been implemented in efforts to protect populations from mass atrocities – the dialogue will serve as a timely opportunity to address concerns held by some UN Member States over RtoP’s implementation, reflect on best practices and lessons learned, and foster informed conversation on clarifying what RtoP’s third pillar entails and how to operationalize these measures.

Underlining the importance attached to this summer’s dialogue, 38 civil society organizations* from around the world participated in a sign-on letter coordinated by the ICRtoP Secretariat, which was sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the UNGA, Abdulaziz Al Nasser, and the UNSG’s Special Adviser on RtoP, Dr. Edward Luck, on 23 March.

The letter calls for an announcement of a date for the dialogue, and asks that the UNSG’s 2012 report on measures within RtoP’s third pillar be released at least two months ahead of the dialogue, following a consultative process with civil society. As the letter reads:

“Only if published well in advance, can your report be a crucial resource for Member States, regional organizations, and UN offices and departments to prepare for a constructive dialogue. Regional meetings of NGOs and diplomats ahead of the dialogue are an opportunity for these actors to reflect on the report. This will result in increased participation from Member States and regional organizations, as in past years they have lacked adequate time to prepare remarks for the General Assembly….This year’s dialogue can act as a forum to further the commitment of all actors to protect populations from mass atrocities, fostering discussion on how we can all work towards the effective use of the full spectrum tools under the third pillar of RtoP.”

Recognizing the central role that regional and sub-regional organizations play in preventing and halting mass atrocities, and the need for these organizations to be involved in ongoing discussions of RtoP, ICRtoP also sent a letter addressed to 14 such organizations** on 22 March to encourage their attendance and active participation at this summer’s meeting.

Our letter to these organizations draws on the active role played by these organizations in response to country-specific situations where mass atrocities are threatened or have occurred. From the African Union-facilitated mediations in response to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, to the deployment of an international policing operation in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the diplomatic moves by the League of Arab States, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council to resolve the current crisis in Syria, the efforts of regional and sub-regional organizations are critical to fostering a more comprehensive understanding and robust discussion on third pillar measures under the RtoP framework.

For more information on regional and sub-regional arrangements and regional entry points for the prevention of mass atrocities, please see our regional pages: Africathe AmericasAsia-PacificEurope, and the Middle East.

As the summer nears, civil society has indicated its willingness to be an active participant in this year’s dialogue, as it has been in the past. The announcement of a date for the upcoming dialogue, a published report from the UNSG well in advance to provide the opportunity for wide-ranging consultations, and a commitment by regional and sub-regional organizations to participate in the meeting would be welcome first steps in ensuring the fourth informal interactive dialogue on RtoP is the most comprehensive and attended dialogue yet.

*The 38 civil society organizations that signed on are as follows: A Billion Little Stones (Australia), Act for Peace (Australia), Aegis Trust (United Kingdom), Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (Australia), Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition, Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (Canada), Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (Liberia), Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (Australia), Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (Colombia), Citizens for Global Solutions (United States), Coalition for Justice and Accountability (Sierra Leone), Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales (Argentina), Droits Humains Sans Frontières (Democratic Republic of the Congo), East Africa Law Society (Tanzania), Genocide Alert (Germany), Global Action to Prevent War (United States), Global Justice Center (United States), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (The Netherlands), Human Rights Watch (United States), Initiatives for International Dialogue (The Philippines), Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation (Belgium), Mindanao Peaceweavers (The Philippines), Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (Canada), Pan African Lawyers Union (Tanzania), Permanent Peace Movement (Lebanon), R2P Student Coalition (Australia), Réseau de Développement et de Communications de la Femme Africaine (Mali), Semillas para la Democracia (Paraguay), STAND Canada (Canada), United Nations Association – Denmark (Denmark), United Nations Association – Sweden (Sweden), United Nations Association – UK (United Kingdom), United to End Genocide (United States), West Africa Civil Society Forum (Nigeria), West Africa Civil Society Institute (Ghana), World Federalist Movement – Canada (Canada), World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy (United States, The Netherlands) and World Federation of United Nations Associations (United States and Switzerland).

**The 14 regional and sub-regional organizations are as follows: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, African Union, Caribbean Community, European Union, East African Community, Economic Community of West African States, Gulf Cooperation Council, Intergovernmental Authority for Development, International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, League of Arab States, Organization of American States, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Southern African Development Community.

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al-Senussi Arrest: Conflicting Extradition Requests, Concerns About Libya’s Justice System

 Abdullah al-Senussi, a former Libyan Colonel and Chief of Military Intelligence under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, and wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was arrested in Mauritania on 18 March by Mauritanian and French officials.

Abdullah al-Senussi was arrested by in Mauritania on 18 March 2012. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on two counts of crimes against humanity for his role in the Libyan government's crackdown against protesters last February. (Photo: Paul Hackett/Reuters)

The arrest has led to conflicting calls for al-Senussi’s extradition from the ICC, France, and Libya. The Court has called for Mauritania’s cooperation, based on UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (in which the situation in Libya was referred to the ICC), in surrendering al-Senussi to the Hague for investigation into his role in the commission of crimes against humanity in the country last year,.

press statement from the Office of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, indicated that the government was pressing for al-Senussi’s extradition to France to serve the life sentence that was handed down to him in abstentia for his role in the bombing of flight UTA 772, which claimed the lives of 170 people on 18 September 1989.

Meanwhile, Libya’s provisionally-ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) has urged Mauritania to extradite al-Senussi to face justice in Libya, and dispatched its Deputy Prime Minister, Mustafa Abu Shagour, and a delegation of senior officials on 20 March to press for a decision. Libyan officials have expressed that their Courts are ready to hold a trial for al-Senussi.

According to an Al Jazeera report on 21 March, Shagour acknowledged that he had reached an agreement with Mauritanian officials that would see al-Senussi transferred to Libya, despite continued pressure from Paris. Mauritania has not yet confirmed this decision.

These developments come as as civil society expresses the urgent need to transfer al-Senussi to the ICC, rather than to face justice in Libya. ICRtoP member organization Human Rights Watch, and others including Amnesty International, members of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) called for such action without delay.

Regarding Mauritania’s responsibilities, the CICC reminded on 19 March that Security Council Resolution 1970 encouraged states to cooperate with the Court’s investigation into Libya, including the arrest and surrender of suspects:

“Although Mauritania is not a State party to the Rome Statute – ICC’s founding treaty – United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1970 – which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC – while recognizing that “States not party to the Rome Statute had no obligation under the Statute”, urged “all States and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully with the Court and the Prosecutor.”

The CICC’s release goes on to state:

“While the Libyan authorities retain pri­mary jurisdiction over crimes committed in their territory, they are legally bound to facilitate the transfer of the suspects to the ICC, unless Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC) decides that the case is no longer admissible before the Court because the Libyan authorities are investigating or prosecuting the same individuals for the same crimes at national level.”

But, as Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Donatella Rovera, stated in a press release on 19 March 2012, concerns remain over Libya’s ability to ensure a fair trial for al-Senussi:

“The news of al-Senussi’s arrest is an important moment for the victims of his alleged crimes in Libya. But Libya’s court system does not function and its justice system remains weak and unable to conduct effective investigations into alleged crimes against humanity, none of which are crimes under Libyan law. The ICC remains the best-placed mechanism for accountability in Libya.”

This has been echoed by Human Rights Watch and FIDH, who have also raised concerns over Libya’s troubled transition into the post-Gaddafi era, which includes the fact that thousands remain in detention under the control of militias, with widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Both organizations have thus impressed upon the need for al-Senussi to be sent to the ICC instead of being tried in Libya.

Protesters demonstrate against the ongoing militia violence and pervasive lawlessness in Tripoli, Libya. (UN Photo/Iason Foounten)

However, No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), an Italian non-governmental organization that runs a transitional justice program in Libya, has called specifically for al-Senussi to be tried in Libya. In a 17 March press release, the organization stated:

We take this opportunity to recall the wishes of the victims, and of the people of Libya, that both Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Mr Senussi be tried in Libya, to face justice in the same place in which they allegedly waged their brutal attacks. According to the principle of complementarity, the ICC has jurisdiction only if the Libyan authorities are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute the crimes of which they have been accused. Libya is certainly willing, as they have proved by requesting Mauritania to transfer Mr Senussi to face charges before the Libyan courts.”

NPWJ followed this call by encouraging the international community to provide assistance to Libya as it seeks to be able to try both Abdullah al-Senussi and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who, also wanted by the ICC, was arrested by militias from Zintan on 19 November 2011, and remains in custody in Libya. If, however, Libyan authorities were found unable to try al-Senussi, NPWJ said it would join other civil society organizations in calling for Mauritania to transfer the former Gaddafi-era official to the ICC.

The debate over where to extradite al-Senussi has thus reinforced the necessity of a holistic approach to international assistance in Libya’s post-conflict transition.

As Libya’s new authorities push for al-Senussi to be tried in their courts, concerns over the state of the judiciary and reported conditions in detention centers are a striking reminder of the potential risks of al-Senussi’s extradition to the country. Overall, the present situation raises serious questions about the ability of the post-Gaddafi system to deliver a fair trial that bestows justice to the victims of government-perpetrated crimes during the revolt.

At the May-June 2010 Kampala Review Conference of the ICC, the Court’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) adopted a resolution which premised that states willing but unable to fulfill their Statute responsibilities in investigating and prosecuting individuals accused of Rome Statute crimes should be provided with the necessary tools needed to do so. If Mauritania does proceed with al-Senussi’s extradition to Libya, international assistance by the Court, members of the ASP, and civil society will be crucial to ensuring that the trial meets international standards.

The state of the judicial system and its capacity to hold fair, domestic trials reflect the broader challenge confronted by the new Libya as it struggles to consolidate security, build the rule of law, and promote respect for human rights – all integral in upholding its primary responsibility to protect its populations. Consistent with the second pillar of the RtoP, the international community must be prepared to provide assistance and capacity-building to the new Libyan authorities as the transition continues.

Click here for our post on the relationship between RtoP and the ICC.

Click here for our look at the anniversary of the Libyan protests and the challenges faced by the NTC in the post-Gaddafi transition.

Click here for our feature on the Responsibility to Protect in the aftermath of Libya, with voices from our civil society member organizations.

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Civil Society Reflections on the Lubanga Trial

The International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered its first ever verdict on 14 March in the case of the Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, marking an historic day for the international legal body and the fight against impunity for the gravest breaches of international law. The decision was also an important milestone for the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), as the ICC is an important tool under the norm’s preventive framework. The verdict sent a clear message to perpetrators of war crimes that such acts would not go unpunished.

The Court found Lubanga, the former President of the Union des patriotes Congolese (Union of Congolese Patriots or UPC) and Commander-in-Chief and political leader of UPC’s military wing, the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo (Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo) (FPLC), guilty of committing war crimes – in particular of conscripting, enlisting, and actively using children as soldiers – in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between September 2002 and August 2003.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, found guilty by the International Criminal Court for actively using children under the age of 15 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ICC/CPI/Evert-Jan Daniel/ANP)

Today, impunity ends for Thomas Lubanga and those who recruit and use children in armed conflict,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.In this age of global media, today’s verdict will reach warlords and commanders across the world and serves as a strong deterrent.”

Civil society organizations, including ICRtoP members Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), as well as the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Amnesty International, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) lauded the Lubanga verdict as an important step for the ICC in deterring and preventing egregious violations of international law.

CGS CEO Don Kraus remarked on the importance of the Lubanga verdict for the ICC and the rule of law:

“Lubanga’s guilty verdict is a landmark moment in the short history of the Court…“During the past decade we witnessed the Court mature from a fledgling institution, to one that delivers results, holds mass killers accountable, and helps bring justice to their victims. The precedents set in this case will affect how the ICC administers justice for the rest of this century, if not beyond.”

On the message the decision sends to would-be perpetrators, Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, stated:

The verdict against Lubanga is a victory for the thousands of children forced to fight in Congo’s brutal wars. Military commanders in Congo and elsewhere should take notice of the ICC’s powerful message: using children as a weapon of war is a serious crime that can lead them to the dock.”

A press release by ICRtoP Member HURINET and the Uganda Coalition for the ICC (UCICC) echoed both of these points, applauding the “sure and steady” process, which included victims in the proceedings, and the condemnation of the use of child soldiers in armed conflict, which, “deprive and rob children of their childhood, innocence and future.”

The verdict was also an opportunity to reflect on the processes of the Lubanga trial itself and the impact of the ICC’s intervention for the people in the Ituri region of the DRC, where Lubanga’s forces were most active.

While the decision was an historic moment for international justice, it was a long time coming: Lubanga was detained on 17 March 2006, but, according to the CICC, “two successive suspensions of the proceedings contributed to significant delays in the trial.” See HRW’s Q&A on the Lubanga trial, including why the proceedings were so delayed.

Concerns were also raised in the final judgment by the Court, which were echoed by HURINET and the UCICC, HRW, and the CICC in their respective statements, regarding the role of intermediaries in the Lubanga trial. It was found that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) should not have relied on local individuals and/or organizations in the DRC to establish contact with witnesses in the case, as the evidence provided by a number of witnesses was deemed unreliable.

As such, both HRW and HURINET and the UCICC called for improved field investigations conducted directly by the OTP, and for greater regulation and supervision of the role intermediaries play in the Court’s processes.

HRW also expressed the urgent need to bring Lubanga’s co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda, to justice, with HURINET and the UCICC calling on all states to execute all remaining arrest warrants in the DRC.

Ntanganda was indicted by the ICC on 22 August 2006 for the same charges as Lubanga, but remains at large, and, according to the ICC, is allegedly still active as the Chief of Staff of the Congrès national pour la défense du people (CNDP) in North Kivu in the DRC.

This touched on a more general concern raised by HRW, who stated that the scope of the ICC’s involvement in the DRC was not deep enough. The human rights organization contends that the charges brought against Lubanga were too narrow, and do not adequately reflect other atrocities committed by him and his militia in the DRC. Also, HRW stated:

The ICC’s docket in relation to the DRC – currently limited to one other trial involving two leaders of an armed group that opposed the UPC in Ituri – fails to address the causes and extent of horrific crimes endured by civilians throughout eastern Congo.”

HRW called for a broader investigation into a fuller range of serious crimes, “in particular against those who armed, financed, and directed armed groups in eastern Congo.”

Reflecting on the importance of the trial for the people in Ituri, IRRI and the Association pour la promotion et la défense de la dignité des victims (Association for the Promotion and the Defence of the Dignity of Victims) (APRODIVI) took stock of the Court’s intervention in the DRC in order to better understand its impact on one of the most war-affected regions of the country.

Steps Towards Justice, Frustrated Hopes: Reflecting on the Impact of the ICC in Ituri chronicles how after years of devastating internal warfare, much was expected of the ICC’s involvement in securing peace and justice in the region by its people, including in preventing further atrocities. Years later, despite a “degree of appreciation for the Court’s work” and the Lubanga verdict, the report details from first hand accounts with individuals and organizations on the ground in Ituri that action is still needed from many actors – from the Congolese government to the ICC to the international community of states – to improve accountability for crimes committed in the region.

While the ICC’s first conviction is being celebrated, it remains unknown whether Lubanga and his lawyers will exercise the right to appeal the decision, what the sentence for his crimes will be, and the manner in which providing reparations for victims will proceed.

The reflections of civil society organizations highlight the crucial importance of learning from the trial. And if learned and implemented, as William Pace, Executive Director of the World-Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, Convenor of the CICC, and Co-Founder and Steering Committee member of ICRtoP stated, “the difficulties encountered during the course of this trial will serve to improve the expediency of those to follow and will someday bring about an end to the era of impunity.”  

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The RtoP and the ICC: Complementary in Prevention, Assistance and Response

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has delivered its first ever verdict with a finding of guilty in the case of the Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on 14 March 2012.

In light of this, and with the ICC playing differing but integral roles in responding to mass atrocities in recent situations like Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, we’d like to expand on the relationship between the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the ICC. In this effort, we asked several ICRtoP member organizations, including the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, Citizens for Justice and Accountability, the International Refugee Rights Initiative, and the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy to provide their reflections on the relationship.

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are two interconnected initiatives that seek to ensure that the world responds to mass atrocities and hold perpetrators of these egregious crimes accountable. At their core, however, the RtoP and the ICC are complementary in seeking to prevent these crimes from occurring altogether.

Both the RtoP and ICC articulate the primary responsibilities of states. The Rome Statute of the ICC provides that it is the primary responsibility of national authorities to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenya Section – International Commission of Jurists, explains this further: “The ICC is a ‘court of last resort’ – that is, its mandate is to prosecute only when domestic avenues have been exhausted, and where a State is unable or unwilling to prosecute those individuals responsible for the gravest of crimes.”

Similarly, RtoP bestows the primary responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing – the four ‘RtoP crimes’ – to the state. As William Pace, the Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP), a founding Steering Committee Member of the ICRtoP and the Coalition for the ICC, notes, this synergy dates back to the march towards the creation of the ICC, as “RtoP emerged massively from the Rome Statute process – the same crimes, complementarity, national and international responsibility.”

However, as has been witnessed in countless situations, some states fail to uphold their obligations. In instances where states are willing but unable to protect populations, the second pillar of RtoP – international assistance and capacity-building – asserts that the United Nations (UN), its Member States, regional organizations, and civil society have a role to play in ensuring that those states receive the assistance necessary to assume their RtoP.

Similarly, the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC adopted a resolution at the May-June 2010 Kampala Review Conference which premised that the Court and its members, the States Parties to the Rome Statute, should provide the tools needed to assist states who were willing but unable to fulfill their Statute responsibilities. One such example of this was provided by Sulaiman Jabati, Executive Secretary of the Freetown, Sierra Leone-based Citizens for Justice and Accountability  (COJA), who said that the ICC should “expand its outreach activities in countries that have early warning signs for potential conflict.” In this sense, RtoP and the ICC are both complementary in calling for the provision for international assistance to ensure states uphold their primary responsibilities.

RtoP and the ICC are also complementary in instances where states are found both unable and unwilling to meet their responsibilities. The Rome Statute provides that when a state does not meet its primary obligations to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of Statute crimes, it will ensure situations are investigated, warrants are issued, and those in its custody are prosecuted.

Similarly, when a state is found unable and unwilling to uphold its responsibility to protect civilians, the norm provides that the responsibility to protect those civilians yields to the UN and its Member States in cooperation with regional organizations.

Libya and Côte d’Ivoire: The ICC in the RtoP Toolkit

As the recent cases of Libya and Côte d’Ivoire have demonstrated, the Court is firmly engrained under RtoP’s third pillar – timely and decisive response – as a tool used to respond to situations where mass atrocities are threatened or have occurred, as well as to prevent further atrocities from being committed through deterrence.

In response to the situation in Libya, where the regime of the now-deceased Colonel Muammar Gaddafi committed widespread atrocities against civilian protesters beginning from 17 February onwards, the RtoP framework guided early and unprecedented action to avert further crimes against civilians. An ICC referral was one of the broad range of measures taken to halt the threat of crimes in this context.

On 26 February, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1970, in which it referred the Libyan case to the ICC and imposed other non-coercive measures to respond to the crackdown. Pace calls the Resolution 1970, “one of the finest ever of the UNSC, and the process leading to the 15-0 decision [result of the vote] among the best examples of how the international community should maintain international peace and security.”

The investigation that ensued resulted in the indictments of Muammar Gaddafi, his son, Saif Gaddafi, and former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi, which were announced by the Court while the conflict raged on. But, as Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), suggests, the indictments being made while Libya was in the midst of a conflict were problematic. “The arrest warrants before the fall of Gaddafi regime played into the discourse being propagated by the African Union,” states Nkunda, “that the ICC was more interested in trying African leaders,” than finding peace in the country.

Furthermore, Nkunda said the process raised serious concerns on the African continent about the independence of the ICC from the influence of the UNSC, particularly as, “the Libyan case was seen to be biased against one side of the conflict.” Disquiet over the impartiality of the Court has thus led to concerns over the selective application of the RtoP, Nkunda said, which may prove problematic for both the norm and the institution moving forward.

Despite these concerns, the Court remains actively involved in Libya. After Saif’s arrest in November 2011, the ICC has been engaged with Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) on the issue of his trial. It had been reported that the Court would allow Libya to try Gaddafi’s son, but as of 25 January 2012, no decision had yet to be made by the ICC.

As of November 2011, the Court remained involved in Libya as it continues to build its case against Saif Gaddafi and Senussi and investigates allegations that all parties to the conflict, including anti-Gaddafi forces, committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. The 2 March 2012 report of the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry into Libya, and its handing over of a list to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Navil Pillay, of suspected perpetrators, could mean continued involvement for the Court moving forward as well.

The Court also played an important role in the response to the post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire between 28 November 2010 and 11 April 2011, during which widespread human rights violations and crimes against humanity were alleged to have been committed.

As the situation in the country intensified in March and April 2011, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC warned on 6 April that an investigation could be triggered as a result of reports of widespread and systematic killings. On 4 October 2011, in the aftermath of hostilities, the ICC exercised its jurisdiction in the country and authorized an investigation into allegations of such violations committed by all parties to the conflict.

Months after his arrest on 11 April 2011, on 30 November 2011 former President Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to the Court – the first head of state to be in the custody of the ICC – and will stand trial for his in alleged involvement in crimes against humanity over the course of the civil conflict. It was also announced on 22 February 2012 that the Court would expand the scope of its investigation into the country to the 2002-2010 period.

According to Kegoro, while the initial involvement of the Court in Côte d’Ivoire (and Libya as well) was both appropriate and justifiable – in that it had an immediate effect of publicly championing an end to impunity and the promotion of the rule of law – the true impact of the ICC is at a, “fledgling state”.

Assessing how the ICC intervention has affected the prevention of further atrocities and regional stability and the peace will require on-going monitoring and evaluation, both during ICC trial processes and after the decisions,” Kegoro said. While he noted that prosecution of perpetrators of the most serious crimes can have a deterrent impact, “the societal implications of ICC interventions and decisions is something that will only be shaped and understood over time.”

Kegoro concluded by adding that, “The long-term impact of the ICC, especially on African nations, is something that needs to be carefully assessed,” particularly in the wake of the Court’s involvement and the implementation of RtoP in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire.

Peace vs. Justice?

As the ICC was involved in Libya during the conflict, but formally announced its investigation into the situation in Côte d’Ivoire only after hostilities had ceased, debate has arisen over the timeliness of the employment of the ICC as a tool to respond to mass atrocities under the RtoP framework. The debate also touches on a more general discussion of whether justice for victims of atrocity crimes can be pursued while attempting to secure a peaceful resolution to a conflict or vice versa. This is more commonly known as the peace vs. justice debate.

Both Jabati and Pace were unequivocal in stating that there can be no peace in any situation without justice for crimes committed. This idea spurred Jabati’s COJA, along with a number of other civil society organization’s present at the Kampala Review Conference, to push for the ability of the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor to prioritize conflict prevention in Africa through extensive outreach programs, highlighting the importance placed on justice in the pursuit of peace in cost-conflict settings, and in the prevention of violence altogether.

Pace argues against the premise that pursuing peace and accountability for international crimes at the same time doesn’t work, and says that there has been, “no peace strategy that has worked worse” than giving major combatant leaders amnesty and transferring them to a third country with personal and financial security. Instead, the WFM-IGP Executive Director stated that while each individual situation must be evaluated independently, the recent-year examples of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the DRC, and Colombia, “make the case that in many conflict situations introducing international criminal justice actually helps achieve and fortify peace.”

But, drawing on the specific example of Kenya, where the ICC opened an investigation on 31 March 2010 and is currently in the process of trying four individuals it has found responsible for the 2007-2008 post-election violence, Kegoro says that the country’s experience points to the fact that the “most practicable time for ICC intervention is in post-conflict situations.

However, according to Kegoro, this was a result of the fact that Kenya had only exhibited its unwillingness to prosecute perpetrators of violence well after it had subsided; thus the ICC had little role to play during the crisis. Therefore, he states that, “there may be a set of circumstances in the future where direct ICC intervention during an armed conflict is appropriate, or even required.”

Also drawing on recent examples, Nkunda sees both positives and negatives of the Court’s involvement during armed hostilities. With the Lubanga case, Nkunda notes that the Court’s engagement during the conflict in the DRC did have a positive impact on limiting crimes, specifically in raising awareness that the practice of conscripting child soldiers was contrary to international law and that such behaviour to could lead to the docket in the Hague.

In terms of negative implications, the IRRI Co-Director points to Sudan as a glaring example, where, “the unintended but expected consequences of the Court’s decision was the expulsion of humanitarian organizations [16 aid agencies operating in Darfur were expelled in early March 2009], which heavily impacted the lives of the very people – the victims – whom the Court was trying to protect.” Furthermore, in singling out individuals as direct perpetrators of the violence, as the ICC did with the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and others in the context of the crisis in Darfur, Nkunda notes that the actions of the Court may have served to insulate one group to become, “more deadly, since they have nothing to lose.”

Our members’ insight, drawn from their experience working in the fields of international law and conflict prevention in unique national and regional contexts, shows that much depends on the complexities of the situation at hand, but that justice should certainly not come at the expense of peace.

Deterrence and the Need for Prevention

Jabati, Kegoro, Nkunda and Pace all touted the deterrent effect of the ICC on would-be violators of Rome Statute provisions, both in conflict and post-conflict settings. At times, however, the ICC itself may not be enough to halt ongoing mass atrocities in specific cases. In both Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, a wider array of measures became necessary to protect populations, including the use of force.

The present Syrian crisis, which has claimed as many as 8,000 lives since March 2011, continues unabated as the civilians remain victim to gross human rights violations at the hands of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  Regional and international actors must uphold their Responsibility to Protect the population of Syria by employing additional measures to effectively end the continued “collective punishment”.

In addition to a range of measures to respond to the crisis, the ICC has emerged as a potential tool to respond to the crisis through the RtoP framework. Calls have been made on a number of occasions by UNHCHR Pillay, as well as by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, and civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, for the Security Council to refer Syria to the ICC. To date, however, there have been no such moves to ensure justice for the victims of the crackdown through the ICC, and the killing has largely continued unabated.

Only when tangible steps are taken to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing from occurring altogether will this cycle of atrocity and reaction be broken.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put forth two such preventive measures in his January 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, by urging Member States to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to implement national legislation against atrocity crimes.

As the report reads, “The Rome Statute seeks to develop mechanisms and processes for identifying, investigating and prosecuting those most directly responsible for crimes and violations relating to the responsibility to protectI would encourage additional States to become parties to the Statute and thus to strengthen one of the key instruments relating to the responsibility to protect.”

But the Secretary-General noted that becoming a Party to the Rome Statute, along with other relevant instruments of international law, is just the first step in the full of the responsibility to protect. Consistent with the emphasis on the primary responsibilities of states by both the RtoP and the ICC, the Secretary-General’s report states that, “these core international standards need to be faithfully embodied in international legislation,” so that impunity for any of the four RtoP crimes is not accepted nationally or globally.

Taking these steps may ensure that states meet their primary responsibilities of protecting civilians by criminalizing the four RtoP crimes under both their domestic laws and their international obligations, and may work to realize their prevention altogether.

Please see the links below for the full statements by our members:

Statement by Sulaiman Jabati, Executive Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Accountability (Freetown, Sierra Leone)

Statement made by George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (Nairobi, Kenya)

Response by William Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), and Co-Founder and Steering Committee Member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (New York, USA)

Statement by Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative (Kampala, Uganda and New York, USA)

Special thanks to George Kegoro, Sulaiman Jabati, Dismas Nkunda, and William Pace. A shorter version of this post was expanded upon for this blog, and will be appearing in the upcoming print edition of World Federalist Movement News.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in these individual responses prepared by our civil society member organizations do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect.

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FEATURE: Civil Society Reflects on Challenges for RtoP Post-Libya

To better understand the challenges posed for RtoP in the aftermath of the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya, we asked a few ICRtoP Member organizations from throughout the world to reflect and provide insight on the following questions:

  • Was the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya a step forward or a setback for the norm? What implications – positive and/or negative – does the Libya operation carry for RtoP moving forward?
  • What are the responsibilities of the international community as Libya transitions into the post-Gaddafi era? Despite the ending of the NATO mandate in Libya, should the international community continue to play a role in civilian protection?
  • Through an RtoP lens, what lessons can be learned from Libya for future cases where international action – whether non-coercive or coercive – is necessary to protect civilians?

The enlightening responses we received drew on the individual expertise of these ICRtoP Members, and brought in unique regional perspectives as well. Members who contributed were:

Rachel Gerber, Program Officer at The Stanley Foundation

Gus Miclat, Executive Director of Initiatives for International Dialogues

Robert Schütte, President of Genocide Alert

Jillian Siskind, President of Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights

Sarah Teitt, Outreach Director and China Programme Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Dr. Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict

The full post, “Civil Society Reflects on RtoP Post-Libya“, includes our review of the international response to the situation and analysis on its implications for RtoP, as well as the reflections on the challenges for the norm post-Libya by the individuals above.

We have also published a piece to mark the one-year anniversary of the first protests in Libya, which discusses the difficulties of the transition into the post-Gaddafi era.

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Diplomatic Pressure Intensifies on Syria as UN General Assembly Set to Vote on New Resolution

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has scheduled a vote on 16 February at 3:00 pm EST on a new resolution concerning the situation in Syria, drafted and circulated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 10 February. The UNGA has previously condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown against civilian protesters on 22 November and 19 December 2011, with each urging strong support for regional efforts by the League of Arab States.

The UN General Assembly, whose members met to discuss the situation in Syria on 13 February (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

The Saudi-drafted UNGA draft resolution is similar to the one that was subject to in-depth negotiations and ultimately vetoed by Russia and China at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 4 February.

Specifically, it calls for the UN to support the Arab League peace plan, which provides that President Bashar al-Assad delegate power to a deputy and begin a process of political transition. However, the language of the UNGA draft resolution is much stronger in condemning the violence and urging accountability for violations for human rights, “including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.”

It also calls on the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, to support the efforts of the League of Arab States through the appointment of a Special Envoy and technical and material assistance.

It is expected that the draft resolution will pass at the 16 February vote. There are no veto rights within the General Assembly, which has crippled efforts to respond to the situation in Syria at the Security Council. The passing of a resolution at the UNGA would increase diplomatic pressure on Assad and throw UN support behind the Arab League peace plan; however the resolution would not be legally binding for UN Member States.

The draft was circulated after a Cairo meeting of the League of Arab States on 12 February. The organization passed a resolution which formally backed the Syrian opposition, called for it to unite, and requested that the UN Security Council authorize a joint United Nations-League of Arab States peacekeeping force to protect civilians and oversee a cease-fire.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his opposition to the idea clear by stating that his country would not support a  joint peacekeeping operation unless there was a ceasefire in place between the government and the rebel Free Syrian Army and other armed opposition. China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it supported the League of Arab States’ efforts to resolve the crisis, but did not express whether it would support peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the US administration of President Barack Obama also expressed concerns with peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, among them the challenges in overcoming Russian and Chinese opposition, and gaining Syria’s consent to such a force.

There is not, however, any mention of the formation of a joint UN-League of Arab States peacekeeping force in the General Assembly draft resolution.

UN Officials Speak Out Ahead of Vote

Ahead of vote at the UNGA, UN officials continued to condemn the violence in Syria.

UN Special Advisers for the Prevention of Genocide, Dr. Francis Deng, and for the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Ed Luck, issued a statement on 10 February condemning the recent violence in Homs, which has been reported to have claimed upwards of 300 lives. The Special Advisers warned that such indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations could constitute crimes against humanity. Dr. Luck also warned in a press statement on 14 February that the conflict in Syria was splitting along sectarian lines, with attacks occurring against specific groups.

In light of situation, the two Special Advisers urged the international community to act:

At the 2005 World Summit, Heads of State and Government made a solemn commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including their incitement. They agreed, as well, to utilize the full range of regional and global tools under the United Nations Charter to help protect populations from these crimes. Many of these measures would not require authorization by the Security Council. These would include efforts to build trust among communities within Syria, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need, and to encourage regional cooperation in advancing human rights and preventing further rounds of violence against civilian populations.  

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefed the UNGA on 13 February on the situation in Syria. In her address to the Assembly, Pillay condemned the continued government crackdown in Syria, expressing her “outrage” over the serious violations of human rights that have been committed since March 2011.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay speaking to the press about the situation in Syria. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

The High Commissioner stated at the General Assembly that the systematic nature of the government’s response to protests, including it’s shoot-to-kill policy against civilian protesters, its “massive campaign” of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and sexual violence, and the high number of children who have been killed by security forces, indicated that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated by Syrian forces.

Pillay again encouraged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that the crimes committed do not go unpunished. The High Commissioner also urged the international community to “act now” to uphold its obligations to protect Syrian populations from continued violations of human rights, which she noted the Syrian government had manifestly failed to do.

Push for Security Council Re-Engagement

The renewed effort to respond to the situation in Syria through the United Nations comes after Russia and China employed their vetoes to strike down a draft resolution at the Council on 4 February.

It appears, however, that France – a permanent member of the Security Council – is holding negotiations with the Russians in order to introduce a new resolution that overcomes Russia’s concerns with previous drafts tabled at the Council.

Reuters reported on 15 February that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé hopes that a new resolution would include the creation of humanitarian corridors in Syria. Juppé argued that the humanitarian zones would serve to alleviate civilian suffering in Syria by allowing inter-governmental and non-governmental aid agencies to deliver food, water and medical services, but would likely have to be protected by armed observers or peacekeepers.

Given Russian and Chinese opposition to any form of outside military intervention in Syria over the course of the UN’s efforts to respond to the situation, such a proposition would likely encounter resistance from those Members at the UNSC.

Meanwhile, following a Russian delegation’s meeting with President al-Assad of Syria, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun announced that China would also travel to Syria with an envoy to discuss the situation with the Syrian government.

Diplomatic Efforts Come as Violence Escalates

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continue as violence has escalated steadily since the failed UN Security Council draft resolution on 4 February. The bombardment of Homs by Syrian security and military forces has continued in recent days, and clashes between those forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army have reportedly expanded across the country. New raids were reported in Daraa as well, as the government seeks to extinguish rebellious pockets in major Syrian cities.

On 16 February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the calls of many of his UN colleagues by stating that there have been “certaincrimes against humanity in Syria, particularly the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Syrian security forces.

Stressing the need for continued international engagement in Syria despite the failure to pass a resolution at the UNSC, Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), called for a “diplomatic surge” through the framework of the responsibility to protect in order to end the violence in Syria. Adams writes:

“Crimes against humanity are occurring in Syria…What we need now is a diplomatic surge, with Russian engagement, to overwhelm those elements in the Syrian regime who think that they can simply shoot their way out of the current crisis.”

And according to Amnesty International (AI), such a “diplomatic surge” could not come a moment too soon. In a press release, AI states that as the debate has moved from the Security Council to the General Assembly, the Syrian government has steadily stepped up its attacks, which have resulted in a rising civilian death toll. As such, Ann Harrison, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa for AI, urged the international community to “not stand idly by” as Syrian civilians continued to be targeted by the government in Homs, Hama, and Daraa, Syria.

AI and Human Rights Watch issued a joint-letter ahead of the UNGA vote, which urged the UN body’s members to vote in favour of the draft resolution and, “strongly affirm that the vast majority of states have not abandoned the people of Syria”.

Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt. 

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After the Double Veto: International Community Must Re-Double Efforts to Uphold RtoP in Syria

For the second time since the nearly year-long crackdown in Syria began, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution on the situation. The draft resolution, premised on the 22 January Arab League plan calling for President Assad’s transition from power and the formation of a unity government, was introduced by Morocco, with the support of Western and Arab states, and tabled on 26 January. Extensive negotiations and concessions, however, were not enough to prevent the veto from being employed. Given this failure to reach a consensus, actors at all levels, extending from the national to the international, must re-double their efforts to halt these gross human rights violations in Syria.

Extensive Negotiations Not Enough to Prevent Veto

The Council sat to vote on the resolution at 11:00 a.m. on 4 February. It was uncertain how the vote would unfold in the lead up to the meeting, especially with regards to Russia’s potential veto, and how China, India, South Africa, and Pakistan would vote, particularly as India and South Africa had abstained in a vote on an earlier draft resolution on 4 October 2011.

When the vote was called, 13 Security Council members voted in favour of the draft, which included Morocco, India, Pakistan, Colombia, Guatemala, France, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States, Azerbaijan, Togo, and South Africa. Despite this broad support for the draft resolution, Russia and China prevented the Council from taking any action by employing their veto powers.

The draft resolution went through a series of negotiations between 27 January and 4 February, as supporters made a number of amendments attempting to appease the “red lines” of the Russian delegation and prevent the use of the veto.

Among the provisions dropped were explicit references to the specifics of the Arab League plan regarding President Assad delegation of power. Operative clauses that stated Member States could pursue measures like arms embargoes and economic sanctions in cooperation with the Arab League were also removed from the draft.

These amendments were included in the final draft of the resolution. Though Council Members awaited Russian changes ahead of the vote on the evening of 3 February, these amendments did not return to the Council until 4 February, moments ahead of the scheduled vote. According to Reuters, Western diplomats said that the changes were “unacceptable, and the vote proceeded without them.

Russia, China Explain Double Veto – Again

In the wake of the vote, both Russia and China have sought to defend and explain their use of the veto.

Addressing the Security Council after casting the veto, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, stated while his country had been working towards a resolution of the crisis in a non-violent manner, some other Council Members had not:

“Some influential members of the international community, unfortunately, including those sitting around this table, from the very beginning of this process have been undermining the opportunity for political settlement, calling for regime change, pushing the opposition towards power,  and not stopping their provocation, and feeding armed methods of struggle.”

Ambassador Churkin said that Russia was thus opposed to the draft resolution because it was “unbalanced” and did not reflect the amendments it had presented before going to a vote. In an interview with RT on 7 February, Ambassador Churkin stated the resolution could have passed with two or three more days of extended discussions. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, echoed this in his defence of using the veto, stating that it did not impose balanced demands on the armed opposition to cease violence, and that it would have obstructed a Syrian-led political process.

Ambassador Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of China to the UN, towed the Russian line at the Council, stating that the resolution put “undue emphasis on pressuring the Syrian government”, which would prejudge the outcome of a Syrian-led political process. Ambassador Baodong said that Council Members were still seriously divided over the draft resolution, and that hastily moving towards a vote without reflecting the amendments made by the Russian delegation ultimately led to the use of their veto. The Ambassador’s statement was quoted near-verbatim in a Xinhua report that explained China’s veto.

Supporting Council Members Condemn Double Veto

Council Members who supported the draft resolution were quick to condemn Russia and China in their addresses in the aftermath of the vote.

UK’s Permanent Representative, Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, said that his country was “appalled” that Russia and China would veto an “otherwise-consensus resolution” submitted and supported by a wide array of actors, including a number of regional states.

In his statement on behalf of Morocco, which tabled the initial draft resolution, Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki expressed his “great regret and disappointment” that the Council was unable to act unanimously.

US Ambassador Susan Rice said that her country was “disgusted” by the fact that the Russian and Chinese delegations continue to hold the Council “hostage” over Syria, while standing behind “empty arguments and individual interests” as they delay action in the country. Ambassador Rice called the “intransigence” of Russia and China “shameful”, as she noted that, “at least one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Assad.”

Ambassador Gérard Araud of France called 4 February, “a sad day”, and condemned Russia and China for their vetoes, stating, “They are doing this with a full knowledge of the tragic consequences entailed by their decisions for the Syrian people. They are doing this and making themselves complicit in the policy of repression carried out by the Assad regime.”

India and South Africa Voice Cautious Support

On 4 October 2011, both India and South Africa abstained from the vote on an earlier draft resolution on the situation in Syria, largely paving the way for the first Russia-China double veto. In a rather surprising move both countries voted in favour of the draft resolution on 4 February, voting separately from Russia and China in the Council. Pakistan also voted in favour of the resolution.

Explaining his country’s cautious support for the resolution, Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, Permanent Representative of India to the UN, stated that it was “in accordance with our support for the efforts by the Arab League for the peaceful resolution of the crisis through a Syrian-led inclusive political process.” Puri also noted that the resolution strictly ruled out the use of force to respond to the situation, which India stood opposed to in negotiations.

Ambassador Baso Sangqu, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the UN, echoed the statement made by Ambassador Puri, noting his country’s support for a Syrian-led process, the emphasis on the Arab League’s involvement, and the restriction against the use of force.

Civil Society Organizations Call Double Veto ‘Betrayal’

Throughout the course of the negotiations, civil society organizations had urged Council members, particularly Russia and China, not to employ their vetoes against the draft resolution. Later, both Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the double veto by Russia and China a “betrayal” of the Syrian people.

In a press release issued in the wake of the vote, HRW UN Director Philippe Bolopion said:

“After weeks of Russian diplomatic games-playing and in the middle of a bloodbath in Homs, vetoes by Moscow and Beijing are simply incendiary…they are not only a slap in the face of the Arab League, they are also a betrayal of the Syrian people. The Russian government is not only unapologetically arming a government that is killing its own people, but also providing it with diplomatic cover.”

Salil Shetty, AI’s Secretary-General, said in a presser that Russia and China’s use of veto was “completely irresponsible” in the face of an already-watered-down draft resolution.

What’s Next for Syria?

Despite disagreement over the draft resolution, Council members vowed to remain seized of the situation in Syria at the Council.  But with the UN Security Council sidelined by the double veto, it remains unclear how the international response to the situation in Syria will unfold. In the mean time, Syrian security forces have stepped up their efforts to quell the opposition, including shelling the city of Homs with artillery fire, leading to many civilian casualties across the country.

Russia carried through with its plan to send Minister Lavrov and Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the External Intelligence Agency, to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Reuters reported Minister Lavrov as saying that Assad had presented constitutional reforms in their discussions, and that the Syrian President was willing to carry them out in order to end the bloodshed. According to the BBC, Lavrov said that Damascus was ready for a larger Arab League monitoring mission to observe efforts to end the crisis. The killing continued in the wake of Russia’s meet with Assad, however, with reports of continued government shelling in Homs.

Meanwhile, Western and Arab states increased diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime. In response to the recent surge in violence, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have expelled all Syrian ambassadors, recalled their own envoys, and called on the League of Arab States to exercise “all decisive measures” to end the bloodshed in Syria. The United States responded by closing its Embassy in Syria, and a number of Western countries, including United Kingdom and Canada, have ratcheted up diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime and Moscow.

UN Officials have also spoken out against the recent violence, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemning the assault of Homs on 7 February, calling it “totally unacceptable before humanity”, and urging the Assad regime to cease using force against civilians. On 8 February, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the Syrian government’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians, and reminded the international community of their responsibility to protect Syrian civilians.

Pillay’s reminder is all too important: Despite the failure to reach consensus at the UN Security Council, actors at all levels continue to have a responsibility to protect civilians form genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. From the Syrian authorities to regional and international organizations, all must work together to prevent further attacks against Syrian civilians.

ICRtoP Blog’s Syria Resolution Catalogue

27 January – Syria Update: Security Council Set to Discuss New Draft Resolution Amidst Continued Russian Opposition

31 January – Arab League Secretary-General, Qatari Prime Minister to Brief Security Council as Members Grapple with Recent Draft Resolution

2 February – After Extraordinary Security Council Session, Members Continue to Debate Arab League Plan to Resolve Crisis, Civil Society Urges No Veto

3 February – Syria Update: Council to Vote on Amended Draft Resolution Put “In Blue”

4 February – BREAKING: Syria Resolution Vetoed by Russia, China

Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt. 

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South Sudan Ethnic Violence Exposes Key Challenges for Implementing RtoP

Inter-ethnic violence has gripped the Jonglei State of the Republic of South Sudan in recent weeks, threatening a descent into campaigns of targeted ethnic cleansing in the world’s newest nation.

Aerial View of Pibor County, Jongeli State, South Sudan (UN Photo/Isaac Billy)

Between 30 December and 4 January, the Lou Nuer ethnic group carried out a massive raid against the Murle ethnic group that reportedly left over 3,000 dead, including many women and children (This figure has yet to be confirmed by the United Nations). The raid has prompted a spate of revenge attacks, with the Murle ethnic group launching reprisals on 9 January, 13 January, and 16 January.

According to ICRtoP member Minority Rights Group International (MRG), while the attacks have been described as cattle raids between rival ethnic groups, the violence has instead taken on the dynamic of “repeated revenge attacks”. In August 2011, an attack by the Murle ethnic group left 600 Lou Nuer killed and close to 1,000 injured. As such, MRG says that the attacks “have deeper underlying causes” than cattle raids, and are “related to poverty, competition for scarce resources, the ubiquity of small arms left over from a decades-long war and marginalization of ethnic minorities.”

A 31 January post from United to End Genocide’s blog describes what the cycle of violence looked like on the ground in South Sudan:

During the most recent attacks in January, the Lou Nuer utilized scorched earth tactics, burning fields, homes, and villages. While the armed elements of these tribes have repeatedly clashed, the primary victims of the violence are women, children, and the elderly.

The attacks have led to a dire humanitarian situation in Jonglei State. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctor’s Without Borders) reported on 3 January, in the midst of the Lou Nuer raid, that thousands were forced to flee and seek refuge where they had no access to food, water, or medical supplies. The MSF press release also detailed how two of their healthcare facilities in the Pibor region – two of the three facilities that are essential for up to 160,000 people – were looted and attacked. On 4 January, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that fighting had “pushed the food security situation to crisis levels”.

Despite launching a coordinated aid effort in Jonglei on 7 January, the UN  stated on 20 January that over 120,000 civilians in South Sudan remained in need of aid. According to a 19 January press conference in Juba, South Sudan by Hilde F. Johnson, the Special Representative to the Secretary-General (SRSG) for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the situation remained tense. Continued hate speech and ethnic violence is reportedly, “putting thousands of lives at risk and threatening the stability of the whole area”.

Government of South Sudan, UNMISS Respond to the Violence

As the armed column of 6,000 Lou Nuer descended upon Murle villages, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) dispatched a battalion of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to the Pibor region in an effort to prevent the attack. Reports later emerged that GoSS forces opened fire on the advancing Lou Nuer column in order to dissuade it from attacking, and that the South Sudanese Vice President, Riek Machar, had traveled to the region to seek an end to the inter-ethnic tensions.

Viewed through an RtoP lens, the GoSS’s actions can seen as an attempt to uphold the first pillar of the responsibility to protect, namely the primary responsibility of the state to protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

However, as per the UN Secretary General’s 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, when a state is unable to meet this responsibility, RtoP’s second pillar provides that the UN and its members help States build capacity to prevent the four RtoP crimes, and assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

Concerned with the “serious risk to civilians” posed by the advancing Lou Nuer, UNMISS also dispatched a battalion of its troops to Pibor. As the UN Deputy Coordinator for South Sudan stated, UNMISS’s preventive deployment in cooperation with the SPLA was, “in support of the Government of South Sudan’s primary responsibility to protect.”

In the aftermath of the Lou Nuer raid, the GoSS took further measures to address the violence, with the Council of Ministers declaring Jonglei a humanitarian disaster area and urging, “all the international relief agencies including the UN agencies to take an urgent humanitarian assistance to the Lou Nuer, the Murle and other affected areas in the state” on 5 January. The GoSS also stated that they would dispatch troops to the region, and intended to establish a high level committee to bring reconciliation between the two ethnic communities.

UNMISS’s SRSG affirmed the need for continued preventive deployment by the GoSS, and has reportedly increased operations in Jonglei by flying daily reconnaissance missions and deploying troops alongside the government into areas where civilians are most at risk of attacks.

Amidst the efforts of the GoSS and UNMISS, the UN Security Council condemned the spate of attacks and urged the rival ethnic groups to, “engage in reconciliation and end the cycle of conflict.” In a press statement on the situation, the outgoing Council President, Ambassador Baso Sangqu of South Africa, deplored the loss of life and emphasized the primary responsibility of the GoSS to protect its population. The Council also commended the efforts of the GoSS and UNMISS.

Situation Exposes Key Challenges in Implementing RtoP

Despite the preventive deployment by the SPLA and UNMISS in Pibor, the armed column of Lou Nuer was able to attack Murle villages, leaving an unconfirmed death toll. Media sources have quoted a Pibor county Commissioner who alleged that 3,141 civilians had been killed in the attacks, but UN officials have yet to release any figures.

Counter-raids by the Murle ethnic group have also claimed dozens, if not hundreds, of lives over the past three weeks despite the GoSS and UNMISS dispatching troops to areas at risk of retributive violence between the two groups.

At R2P: The Next Decade, a conference organized by the Stanley Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York on 18 January, UN Secretary-General (SG) Ban Ki-moon discussed the situation and attempted to account for the shortcomings of the response. “We saw it coming weeks before,” the SG stated, “Yet we were not able to stop it – unfortunately. Nor was the government, which like others has primary responsibility for protecting its citizens.”

The Secretary-General elaborated why UNMISS in particular was unable to stop the killing, saying:

The reason was painfully simple: we were denied the use of necessary resources, in particular helicopters that would have given us mobility to bring all the UN Peacekeepers where there are no roads except by air mobility. At the critical moment, I was reduced to begging for replacements from neighboring countries and missions. With limited resources, we tried our best.

The Secretary-General was referring implicitly to the Russian Federation, which was considering withdrawing its contributions to UNMISS, and carried through with those considerations on 24 January by ordering all of the helicopters, equipment and personnel it had loaned to the UN operation be pulled out. Reporting from Reuters, Louis Charbonneau indicated Russia withdrew its contributions to UNMISS for security reasons, particularly on the basis that a utility helicopter had come under attack by South Sudanese security forces last year.

Bangladeshi UNMISS peacekeeper with UN helicopter in Jonglei State (UN Photo/Tim McKulka)

According to the Reuters report, Moscow’s grounding of its helicopters loaned to UNMISS drew  ire from UN officials and diplomats:

U.N. diplomats and officials told Reuters that one of the reasons for the slow deployment of UNMISS troops to Pibor at the time of the clashes was the Russian refusal to fly its helicopters there…One senior U.N. official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, was highly critical of Russia, saying the grounding of its helicopters was “outrageous” and that U.N. peacekeepers needed to be prepared to put up with a certain amount of risk in the interest of protecting civilians.

The Secretary-General echoed this frustration on the situation in South Sudan at R2P: The Next Decade, asking, “How do we do our job, how do we deliver on Security Council mandates, when the very members of the Council do not give us the support we need?

The ethnic violence in the country has thus exposed significant challenges in implementing the Responsibility to Protect. With the GoSS unable to uphold its responsibility to protect its population without international assistance, UNMISS sought to support national action through preventive deployment, fulfilling RtoP’s second pillar.

At the same time, however, UNMISS itself is reeling from a capacity deficit – most importantly, in flight-ready helicopters – which has obstructed the force from effectively carrying out its civilian protection mandate during the recent outbreak of inter-ethnic violence.

Thus, although the Security Council established UNMISS in a timely and decisive manner – and with a Chapter VII mandate to protect civilians by “all means necessary” – the force itself has been constrained from providing protection for the South Sudanese population.

Meanwhile, incitement between the Lou Nuer and Murle threatens further inter-ethnic violence in the country, with civilian populations remaining at risk of attack. To protect civilians from the threat of mass atrocities, all actors involved must address the challenges that have been exposed as a result of the situation. Lives depend on it, in South Sudan and beyond.

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