A guest post special to ICRtoP’s blog by Naomi Kikoler, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), on tonight’s G8 +5 Summit and the role the body can play in implementing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) and preventing mass atrocities.
This evening a small but exclusive group of world leaders, the G8+5, will sit down for a ‘working dinner, leaders only’ to discuss regional and political security issues. Not on the table formally, but should be as it speaks to core interest of each participating state and the organization, is the urgent need to advance the global commitment to the responsibility to protect (R2P) by prioritizing the prevention of mass atrocities.
G8 summits have increasingly, in their discussions on international peace and security, delved into matters directly relevant to R2P. As a group of likeminded states (with the exception of Russia) on human rights issues, with each summit there has been a growing willingness to raise and speak out on mass atrocity situations.
At the 2011 Deauville Summit, G8 members jointly declared that “Qadhafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy.” At that same summit they also discussed and expressed concerns about the risks facing civilians in Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Burma.
That these concerns were included in the final joint communique shows that the G8 can be an important forum for building consensus amongst members, notably Russia, on contentious issues related to R2P. For example, the strong language on Libya and Syria at last year’s summit came at a point when Moscow was critical of NATO’s implementation of United Nations (UN) resolution 1973 and was blocking UN Security Council action on Syria.
The G8 has also played an important role in operationalizing R2P – even prior to the 2005 commitment. As G8 scholar John Kirton notes, “the G8’s most decisive achievement was in preventing a major genocide in Kosovo, by agreeing on military action in 1999.” Faced with a paralyzed Security Council, G7 leaders authorized an air campaign carried out by NATO to halt and avert atrocities in Kosovo which Russia subsequently supported.
While the G8 has had conflict prevention on its agenda in the past, there has been no formal discussion of the need to prioritize the prevention of mass atrocities. As Libya has shown, halting atrocities once they have begun is an incredibly difficult task. It is a costly undertaking, especially in an economic downturn. It also requires considerable political resources and energy to mobilize the Security Council and other relevant actors, and to sustain domestic support for action. As the leading world economies, the G8 has an incentive to see the emergence of an international prevention agenda and to be at the fore of such efforts.
How then can the G8 fulfill its potential as an agenda setter on R2P and more specifically on prevention? For starters states should include a re-affirmation of their 2005 World Summit commitment to R2P, and the importance they place on early prevention, in the final Summit Communique. They should also outline the steps that they individually and collectively will endeavor to take to advance an international prevention agenda. These steps should include at the national level three things: (1) issue an official statement outlining the priority the government places on prioritizing atrocity prevention and R2P; (2) appoint a senior-level government official to serve as an R2P focal point to help improve intra-state and inter-state coordination on mass atrocity prevention; and (3) undertake a review of existing domestic capacities for mass atrocity prevention.
The G8 members should also use the opportunity to start a conversation with the +5 states, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, about mass atrocity prevention. The G8 presents a unique forum to start crafting an international prevention agenda. Because averting and halting mass atrocities requires a collective response, the effectiveness of the G8’s efforts will depend on the support of states like the +5.
As the leaders sit down for dinner tonight to discuss Burma, Syria and ‘others,’ may they discuss not only what needs to be done to save lives today, but what they, the G8 and +5, can do together to prevent crimes from occurring in the future.
The comments expressed above are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the GCR2P or the ICRtoP.
 Attending the G8 Summit this weekend are the G8 member states: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. They will be joined by five influential powers: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.