Category Archives: General Assembly

#R2P10: Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect at 10, Part 2: Unfinished Institutional Work

The following is the second part of Dr. Alex Bellamy’s introduction to the new RtoP at 10 blog series. Part 1 provided a general overview of RtoP 10 years since its adoption at the World Summit, as well as an in -depth analysis of the conceptual issues still facing the norm. Part 2 takes a look at  RtoP’s institutionalization at the UN , regional organizations, and the state level. Continue reading for more information on this important aspect of RtoP’s normative journey.

 

Unfinished Institutional Work at the United Nations

After a somewhat laconic start, the institutional development of RtoP gathered pace after the UN Secretary-General’s first report on the subject, outlining his plan for implementation in 2009. Within the UN, there is now a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on RtoP and a “joint office” covering RtoP and genocide prevention. The Secretary-General has issued six thematic reports on different aspects of the principle’s implementation and these have been debated by the General Assembly through a series of “informal and interactive dialogues”, in which around 150 states have participated (see all thematic reports here). The mainstreaming of RtoP through the UN system is being gradually achieved through initiatives such as the Secretary-General’s “Human Rights Up Front” Action Plan, which aims to place human rights protection at the center of the organization’s work, the proliferation of peacekeeping missions mandated to protect civilians in regions afflicted by atrocities, and the instigation of “due diligence” policies, which aim to limit cooperation between the UN and those accused of atrocity crimes or other violations.

General Assembly: Informal interactive dialogue on the report of the Secretary-General on the responsibility to protect

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers his remarks at the Informal Interactive Dialogue on RtoP in September, 2014. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Much of this institutional progress was achieved by the personal commitment of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the astute work of his Special Advisers, Edward Luck and Jennifer Welsh. An important priority for the next decade is to create a more secure institutional home for RtoP within the UN system. This is especially important now because the senior leadership of both the UN and the US will change in the next 18 months.

In the immediate term, the UN General Assembly could place RtoP on a surer institutional footing by placing the principle’s implementation onto its formal agenda, recognizing the Secretary-General’s work on advancing a strategy for RtoP, and supporting the UN’s joint office on genocide prevention and RtoP.  Coming 10 years after the Assembly’s commitment to RtoP, these relatively modest steps, which could be achieved in a General Assembly resolution, would reaffirm its commitment, help the Assembly “catch-up” with the UN Security Council (which has proceeded apace with implementing RtoP), send a strong signal of intent to candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General, and afford the General Assembly a more direct role in reviewing and overseeing the principle’s implementation. In the longer term, a General Assembly resolution would be catalytic for further implementation by deepening the engagement of Member States, raising the stakes of their annual consideration of the principle, and opening opportunities for deliberation about the practical measures needed to make the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity a “lived reality” and agreement on tangible policies and steps.

There is also more work to be done to “mainstream” RtoP across the UN system. Although the Secretary-General specifically called for “mainstreaming” in his 2009 report, thus far the organization has stopped short of developing explicit policies or strategies to achieve this goal, preferring instead the gradual dissemination of RtoP principles through allied projects such as “Human Rights Up Front”, partnerships between the joint office and other UN departments and organizations, and the provision of advice by the special advisers to the UN’s senior leadership. All this has helped improve the UN Secretariat’s capacity to detect the early signs of atrocity crime risk and develop appropriate responses, utilizing its capacities for fact-finding, public messaging, diplomacy, human rights promotion, and humanitarian assistance that do not require case-by-case approval by its political organs.

The Secretariat’s response to the unfolding crisis in the CAR provides a case in point inasmuch as the risk of atrocity crimes was identified and communicated early, though there were still concerns that appropriate humanitarian, political and military responses were slow to materialize. Other times, atrocity prevention concerns have struggled to find the prominence they deserve when atrocities are imminent. It is still not uncommon for these concerns to be overridden by political imperatives or other priorities such as humanitarian access.

An additional problem is that, whilst its links to human rights, preventive diplomacy, and refugee protection, are quite well understood within the UN system, the institutional relationship between RtoP and other key UN agendas such as peacebuilding, women, peace and security, the protection of civilians, the rule of law, and economic development, remains underdeveloped. For example, whilst widespread and systematic sexual and gender based violence constitutes a crime against humanity, functional cooperation between the UN’s Special Adviser on RtoP and Special Representative on the Prevention of Sexual Violence remains limited and ad hoc. Likewise, although there is a clear empirical connection between the risk of future atrocities and a recent history of past atrocities, there is only a modest degree of functional cooperation between the UN’s RtoP officials and those that work on peacebuilding. As such, whilst significant improvements have been made, the UN system is still not doing all that it could to use its

Moroccan peacekeepers patrol Bambari, CAR. UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina.

Moroccan peacekeepers patrol Bambari, CAR. UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina.

existing capital to advance the goals of RtoP.

One way of addressing these challenges would be to augment the organic processes already under way within the UN system with clear guidance from the Secretary-General detailing a comprehensive strategy for the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and instructing the UN system on how to mainstream RtoP. The Secretary-General could also usefully set benchmarks for implementation and review progress.

 

Unfinished Institutional Work at the Regional Level

Although it is natural to focus on the UN, since it provided the context for the international community’s commitment to RtoP in 2005, it is important that we avoid an entirely UN-centric view of how the principle should be implemented. Practically speaking, the international community is at its most effective when different actors, such as the UN, regional organizations, neighboring states, and prominent individuals, support each other. The UN cannot solve all the world’s problems by itself, and was not established to do so.

Outside the UN, the institutionalization of RtoP has been patchier, perhaps befitting the significant differences between regions. The African Union has developed an impressive range of institutions and mechanisms designed to facilitate decisive responses to emerging protection crises. Guided by Article 4(h) of its Constitutive Act, which affords the Union a right to interfere in its members’ affairs in the event of a genocide or other mass atrocities, the African Union has developed a Peace and Security Council, a Continental Early Warning System, a capacity for peacemaking and mediation, and capacities for peacekeeping with the aspiration of establishing a standing peacekeeping force in the future.  Africa’s challenge is not one of building the institutions needed to deliver on RtoP, but of ensuring that the institutions it has are capable of fulfilling their promise.

Elsewhere, Latin America has developed a strong track record when it comes to the regional promotion of human rights and has also established a network of governments committed to strengthening their capacity to prevent genocide. Things are more nascent in East Asia, but there are signs here too that governments and regional organizations are beginning to think about how to achieve RtoP’s goals in their own neighborhood. The challenge in Europe is somewhat different: whilst individual states are keen advocates of RtoP, the region’s highly developed institutions have not as yet advanced their own strategies for implementing the principle, preferring instead to support protection goals and atrocity prevention through existing programming.

With so much variation, there can be no “one size fits all” way of thinking about the role played by regional arrangements in institutionalizing RtoP. Indeed, it is the very fact that they are grounded in the values, norms and interests of the regions they inhabit that make regional organizations so significant. In the coming decade, we should pay more attention to the ways in which regional organizations can support the goals of RtoP, mindful of the different entry-points they provide. We should also pay attention to deepening the partnership between regions and the UN, by building the “anticipatory relationships” and habits of cooperation that are so often needed to prevent, or respond effectively to, genocide and mass atrocities.

 

Unfinished Institutional Work at the State Level

Ultimately, of course, the basic building block for institutionalization is the individual state. There are a number of measures that

The third annual global focal points meeting in Accra, Ghana, convened by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, which acts as the network Secretariat. Photo courtesy of GCR2P.

The third annual global focal points meeting in Accra, Ghana, convened by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P). The Global Centre acts as a Secretariat for the network. Photo courtesy of GCR2P.

states can take to better deliver on the commitment they made in 2005.  These include the designation of a responsibility to protect focal point. These focal points can help to coordinate national efforts to mainstream and operationalize the responsibility to protect concept, which can spur the establishment of national atrocity prevention action plans tailored to the national context. Some 43 states from every region of the world have already taken this step, with several states such as Ghana and Tanzania establishing their own “National Peace Councils” to support atrocity prevention at home.

As with any national initiative, each state has approached this function from its own perspective and many different models have been developed in different countries. Focal points participate in a global network, which advances dialogue and cooperation on the full range of issues relating RtoP. The principal tasks of the national focal point are to coordinate national efforts to protect populations from genocide and mass atrocities and lead national engagement in regional and global dialogue. One key task for the next decade of RtoP is to broaden the membership of the Focal Points network and deepen their involvement in the practical work of atrocities prevention and response.

But focal points are only one manifestation of a state’s commitment to implementing RtoP. Equally important is the need to forge national constituencies of governments, officials, parliamentarians, civil society groups and individuals who work together, using their own unique skills, to develop authentic national approaches to fulfilling RtoP. Many counties, including Ghana and Kenya in Africa and Indonesia and The Philippines in Southeast Asia have already begun to build their own national constituencies for RtoP.

This brings us to the most glaring piece of unfinished work – the challenge of delivering on the ground.

Check back tomorrow for ‘Part 3: Unfinished Operational Work’ to get Dr. Bellamy’s take on pressing issues regarding the operationalization of the norm for the prevention, and if necessary, halting of ongoing atrocity crimes. If you missed Part 1 of the introduction, be sure to read it here.

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Filed under African Union, General Assembly, Guest Post, Informal Interactive Dialogue, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Security Council, UN

Leadership for “Our Common Humanity”: Why RtoP Advocates Should Support a Better Selection Process for the UNSG

The following is a co-authored blog written by Matthew Redding, ICRtoP Blog and Social Media Coordinator, and Alexandra Maresca, Program Associate at the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP). WFM-IGP is a Steering Committee member of the 1 for 7 Billion Campaign launched in November 2014 to reform the outdated process of selecting the United Nations Secretary-General.  Read on to discover why supporting this campaign is in the best of interest of RtoP advocates and all those committed to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. 

 

From the earliest stages of inception, the role of the UN’s Secretary-General (UNSG) in formulating and advancing what would become known as the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) was crucial. It was former Secretary-General Kofi Annan who set in motion a momentous process of redefining sovereignty to include a responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing when he asked:

“… if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?”

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UNSG Kofi Annan addressing the 2005 World Summit. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

At Annan’s request, the historic International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was formed in 2001 to debate this matter, and RtoP subsequently emerged as the answer to this quandary. Annan used the moral authority and legitimacy of the Secretary-General’s position to champion the norm and ensure it became a serious consideration among UN member states. His report In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All confirmed his support and presented RtoP for adoption by the UN General Assembly at the World Summit in 2005.

It is now well known that 150 member states endorsed RtoP in paragraphs 138-139 of the World Summit Outcome Document, formally recognizing that sovereignty indeed entails an obligation to protect populations from the worst atrocity crimes. However, it soon became clear that certain states, including some permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council, began to feel what Gareth Evans described as “buyer’s remorse” over lingering concerns about the potential for its abuse.

Enter Ban Ki-moon, who made no secret of his intention to make RtoP a priority during his tenure. Famously referring to RtoP as “…an idea whose time has come,”  and stating that he would “…spare no effort to operationalize the responsibility to protect,” the new Secretary-General made significant progress in clarifying misconceptions and focusing the norm, including by articulating the three-pillar approach in his 2009 report Implementing the Responsibility to Protect.

These efforts were greatly assisted by his newly created Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect – a position filled by Edward Luck, who played a distinct but complementary role to the existing Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng. Ban has since released annual reports on a thematic issue related to RtoP every year, eliciting important contributions from civil society actors, and used the informal interactive dialogues at the General Assembly to openly discuss the documents.

Aside from broadening normative consensus through rhetorical commitments and raising awareness within the UN system, both Secretaries-General have also played a critical role in implementing RtoP. For example, they have made use of their good offices to mediate crises that had the potential to escalate to mass atrocities, either personally or through their Special Representatives, in Kenya, Guinea and Kyrgyzstan, and have spurred member states to take action to halt imminent or ongoing crimes in Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic. Ban Ki-moon has taken further steps to deliver on his commitment to “promise less and deliver more” through new initiatives such as the “Rights Up Front” action plan and the launch of the Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes.

General Assembly: Informal interactive dialogue on the report of the Secretary-General on the responsibility to protect

Ban Ki-moon providing remarks at the Informal Interactive General Assembly Dialogue on RtoP in September, 2014. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Given the significance of having a Secretary-General that is a firm ally of the norm, it is now more important than ever that Ban Ki-moon’s replacement is equally supportive. Ten years after RtoP’s adoption, civil society advocates and supportive UN member states are pushing for a tangible shift from words towards deeds. Initiatives aimed at removing challenges to the norm’s implementation and expanding the global consensus around the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities will require the next Secretary-General’s steadfast support and unwavering commitment to this core UN responsibility.

 

An Outdated Selection Process in Need of Reform

Unfortunately, the current process for selecting the Secretary-General leaves much to be desired in regards to choosing a candidate most qualified to see this vision through. The UN Charter states that the General Assembly appoints the Secretary-General upon the recommendation of the Security Council.  In practice, however, the Council’s permanent members have had the final say in who gets appointed to the post.  The veto power of each of the permanent five members, coupled with a 1946 resolution requesting that the Council recommend only one candidate for Secretary-General, has turned the General Assembly into a rubber stamp for the Security Council’s decision.

Because there is no public shortlist of candidates and no set timeline for the process, member states and other stakeholders struggle to identify which candidates are being considered by the Council at any given time. Worse, with no formal selection criteria for the position and no opportunity for member states or the general public to interact with candidates, it is all but impossible to assess the Council’s chosen candidate and his or her commitment to RtoP and other international norms, as well as their continued willingness to work with civil society for advancement.

The shortcomings of the current process are an open secret, and dissatisfaction with the status quo has only grown over time.  Sir Brian Urquhart, a respected UN expert who worked for the organization for forty years, offered a set of proposals for reform as early as in 1990. The General Assembly first suggested improvements to the process in a resolution passed in 1997, and the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group (AHWG) on the Revitalization of the General Assembly has adopted a resolution on the issue by consensus every year since 2008. Yet the failure to implement these resolutions, as well as the reluctance of Security Council members to make the process more transparent, has left the selection process adopted seventy years ago largely intact.

 

1 for 7 Billion: A Growing Movement for Change

While the international community has been lucky enough to have two successive Secretaries-General that showed strong leadership on RtoP, this luck may run out, and the result could be a major setback for the norm. The 1 for 7 Billion Campaign, however, has shown that there are those unwilling to leave such an important outcome to the mercy of luck and power politics.

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The ‘1 for 7 Billion’ Campaign.

Launched in November 2014, 1 for 7 Billion is a group of more than fifty NGOs and concerned individuals around the world, which calls for the adoption of a more open, inclusive, and merit-based process before the next Secretary-General is chosen in 2016. Rather than endorse individual candidates, the campaign argues that a strong process will produce a strong Secretary-General.

Its supporters believe the process should be rooted in seven common-sense principles, such as transparency, inclusiveness, and a focus on appointing the most qualified candidate.  Based on these principles, the campaign suggests ten reforms designed to make these ideals a reality.   Public hearings with candidates, for example, would make it possible for all stakeholders—including member states, civil society, and the general public— to assess the values and priorities of prospective candidates.  Formal selection criteria would help to identify candidates with the skills and experience needed to implement the UN’s complex agenda.  More controversially, 1 for 7 Billion suggests that the Council recommend more than one candidate to the General Assembly for it to debate, allowing all member states to weigh in on the next Secretary-General.  Significantly, none of these proposals would require an amendment to the UN Charter.  Some, including the recommendation of more than one candidate by the Security Council, have even been advanced by Kofi Annan himself.

As the Ad Hoc Working Group’s debates begin this week, it is important to remember that the UN does not just represent the interests of states.  It also has a responsibility to individuals, to “We the Peoples of the United Nations”.  With the 70th anniversary of the UN converging with the 10th anniversary of the World Summit Outcome, it is time for a selection process that reflects the values and concerns of everyone represented by the UN – not least populations who continue to suffer the tragic effects of mass atrocity crimes.

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Filed under General Assembly, Guest Post, Informal Interactive Dialogue, Security Council, UN

Civil Society Reflections on the Sixth General Assembly Dialogue on RtoP

On September 8, 2014, the UN General Assembly held its 6th annual informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect and the thematic issue of Pillar II international assistance. The following day, the ICRtoP Steering Committee also met for its annual meeting. Blog and Social Media Coordinator Matthew Redding sat down with some of our Steering Committee members, including Alex Bellamy, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APCR2P), Donald Deya, Chief Executive Officer of the Pan-African Lawyer’s Union (PALU) and current Chair of the ICRtoP Steering Committee, and William Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement- Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP) to get their unique perspectives on the General Assembly dialogue.

 

Regional Voices

In the wake of the dialogue, the ICRtoP was fortunate enough to obtain reflections on common themes and key statements from Steering Committee members representing diverse regions of the globe. With APCR2P’s focus on promoting RtoP in the ASEAN region through initiatives such as the High Level Advisory Panel on the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia, Alex Bellamy highlighted some developments seen from these member states. 20140908_162219

 “We’ve definitely seen stronger participation. In past years, we’ve had a difficult time persuading member states to participate. ASEAN states usually haven’t been forthcoming and now they’re expressing their views. This year we had 5 of 10, which is I think the highest number we’ve had. Of those, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand were incredibly strong. They were as strong a supporter of RtoP as any European or any other proponent of RtoP would be.

In regards to Indonesia, Bellamy noted their reaffirmation that “…they’ve always been supportive of RtoP, that they’re a champion of it, and that they are firmly committed to it.”  On Thailand’s statement, he drew particular attention to the mention of “…the empowerment of women and the importance of gender perspective,” while enthusiastically recalling that “The Philippines also had a strong endorsement of RtoP and expressed their desire to move the agenda forward towards implementation.”

On a less positive note, Bellamy referred to Malaysia’s statement, which showed that “Malaysia is cautious, it’s always been cautious. It’s concerned about things like conditionality, its concerned when it sees what it perceives as attempts to expand the concept. There was no movement in what Malaysia said this year from last year and the year before that…so we need to spend more time engaging with Malaysia.”

However, this was tempered with a reminder of the importance of Myanmar’s participation, “Myanmar was the 5th to contribute and I think it’s a really good sign. The following day, their legal advisor attended the launch of the High-Level Report on Mainstreaming RtoP in Southeast Asia and said that this [RtoP] was now customary international law. So Myanmar accepts the principle, but of course, there are all sorts of issues regarding their political transition – specifically in relation to the Rohingya situation, where there is deeply embedded discrimination against that group…It’s really encouraging that Myanmar is participating and it just shows how well embedded RtoP is becoming. It’s not surprising that they’re cautious, but it reminds that we still need to engage them more.”

Representing an organization that works closely with the African Union on legal and human rights issues, Donald Deya of PALU expressed somewhat mixed views on the African participation in this year’s dialogue.

Deya recalled that “In previous years the African Union Mission to the United Nations has made a statement, so I was disappointed to see that this year they did not.” Deya compared the absent AU presence with the strong European Union statement he believed the AU should have also delivered, given the large number of RtoP cases located on the African continent.

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivering his remarks at the opening of the GA dialogue.

He also added that he would have liked to see more statements from African countries in general, particularly from Kenya “…which is one of the areas in which the international community’s RtoP intervention has been successful.”

However, Deya was sure to mention that he was happy with the few African countries that did make statements. For example, when recalling Cote d’Ivoire’s  comments, he asserted that it was “…very useful, and of course their acknowledgement that assistance has been important from the international community in terms of pillar I and pillar II was also welcomed.”

 

RtoP Implementation at the UN

An important aspect of RtoP’s evolution is how it is prioritized and applied by the major organs of the UN, in particular the Security Council and the General Assembly. Speaking on behalf of the WFM-IGP – an organization that works tirelessly to improve the effectiveness of these bodies to ensure they better serve the world’s peoples – Bill Pace reflected on RtoP’s development at this level:

 “I am optimistic from the GA [General Assembly] meeting that governments are taking RtoP more seriously every year. This includes the Security Council, in spite some of the controversies over misuse, selective application, or inappropriate enforcement.”

Pace noted that there is certainly room for improvement given these controversies, and added that:

“Over the next decade, I hope the democracies of the UN system will continue to press the permanent and elected members of the Security Council to do peace enforcement and peacekeeping on a much more efficient, and non-selective level. In that regard the permanent members of the Security Council must be pressured to refrain from using the veto in situations where mass atrocity crimes under international law are being committed.” Encouragingly, the dialogue provided Pace with some hope, as he stated, “I am personally optimistic that the General Assembly and the Security Council are moving in that direction.”

 Importantly, he provided a reminder that next year will be the 10th anniversary of the 2005 World Summit and mentioned that, “The assessment we will be doing at the UN and within the GA may result in RtoP moving from an informal dialogue into a more formal agenda item that may be discussed and have a resolution every year.” He added that the Coalition would be actively involved in efforts to strengthen RtoP within the General Assembly.

 

General Reflections

Each interview concluded with some general thoughts on the dialogue, including some stand-out statements, and speculation on what the event means for RtoP moving forward. Bellamy singled out Iran as a surprisingly “fantastic” statement, noting that:

Iran has contributed before and has always been broadly supportive, though cautious. The positive thing about Iran’s statement is that there was no caution at all. This might be because of the subject matter and that international assistance is less controversial than pillar III and pillar I, but I think it’s also a sign that the consensus on RtoP is getting more deeply embedded.”

Bellamy also reflected on the evolving consensus and deepening shared understanding of what RtoP is, “A couple of missions talked about sequencing, but not very many and certainly much fewer than the year before. Also, nobody was disputing what RtoP is, what the three pillars are, what crimes it related to, or what the development mechanisms are.”

Bellamy ended with a couple of positive observations, concluding that “…now the debate really is shifting to this question of implementation, or what to do in practice, and not what the principle is and whether or not the Assembly is committed. Even Cuba and Venezuela have toned it down in terms of their comments, and I think this shows that there is a consensus and that the debate is indeed moving forward.”

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ICRtoP Steering Committee in discussions with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng.

Deya agreed with Bellamy on several points, noting that, “…there has been progress in the sense that a couple of years ago the level of suspicion and even outright hostility was quite palpable, and the number of states expressing these sentiments was quite high. But a lot of the skepticism has changed to support, even if it is conditional support.” 

He also agreed that consensus is deepening, stating that“…there is a sense of resignation where there is no longer a question of whether RtoP exists at the UN or the community of states. It’s more or less a comment on how we can do it better.” Deya also made note of the softening stance of traditional opponents such as Cuba and Iran, agreeing that Iran’s statement in particular was “quite positive.”

Additionally, Deya made an important point on the increased involvement of civil society, observing that “one of the things that has happened under the current joint office and the two current Special Advisers [on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect]  is that they have given more scope to civil society.”

As a sign of this progress, he recalled that there was “…more opportunity to address the interactive debate than ever before, with 4 civil society organizations that were allowed to speak.” Perhaps more importantly, he also noted “…the whole process of being consulted extensively by Dr. Welsh on the drafting of the Secretary-General’s report and the mobilization of the Coalition and its members is very positive. “

Pace recalled a different statement as being particularly notable. He expressed that there had been worry over Russia’s position, given current hostilities in Ukraine. However, ultimately he believed that the Russian statement “…was actually much better than expected.”

Pace’s concluding thoughts were a poignant way to summarize the dialogue. He took note of the broad participation from roughly 70 countries, some of which spoke for up to 28 countries in their region. He called the day-long event “quite an achievement” that demonstrated “growing political will,” evident in the diminishing number of skeptics in the General Assembly. Pace then provided a solemn reminder that the goal of RtoP and its measures under the various pillars is to bring about a reality where mass atrocities are an exception, rather than the rule and where application of the norm is a non-issue.

 

A detailed overview of the dialogue and a full listing of member state, regional and civil society statements are available via the ICRtoP website.

The opinions expressed in these interviews are those of the individuals featured, and do not represent the position of the ICRtoP.

 

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Filed under Event, General Assembly, ICRtoP Members, Informal Interactive Dialogue, Second Pillar

Clarifying the Protection Debate in the Crimean Peninsula

Russian Intervention and Justification

Recently, the world has watched tensely as the situation in the Crimean territory of Ukraine reached a dangerous point of volatility. Upheaval that began with the EuroMaidan protests led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Yanukovych, who was swiftly replaced by an interim coalition government.  Long a strategic and symbolically important region, Russia wasted little time descending on the autonomous Crimean Peninsula.  The rhetoric of Russian authorities would suggest that the intervention was necessary for the protection of the Russian-speaking population, allegedly threatened by ultranationalist elements of the new Ukrainian government. In early March, President Vladimir Putin appealed for the use of military force in such terms:

In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory (in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) … I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in the that country,

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Unidentified soldiers believed to be from Russia on patrol at Simferopol Airport in the Crimea Peninsula. Elizabeth Arrott/VOA

In the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the protection argument:

“I reiterate, we are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights – the right to live, and nothing more,”

The recent referendum paved the way for an official Russian annexation of its former territory, assured to Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum after previously being given by Nikita  Khrushchev in 1954.

 

Russia’s Past Misuse of RtoP vs. Current Rhetoric

Commentators in various media outlets have been quick to denounce Russia’s legal justification for the intervention. Many have likened Russia’s rhetoric to the language used to justify their actions in Georgia during 2008. At that time, Russian leaders explicitly linked their motives to the Responsibility to Protect. Then, Lavrov clearly stated:

According to our Constitution there is also responsibility to protect – the term which is very widely used in the UN when people see some trouble in Africa or in any remote part of other regions…the laws of the Russian Federation make it absolutely unavoidable to us to exercise responsibility to protect.

Such articles have rightly emphasized that, as in Georgia, Russia’s actions in Ukraine do not constitute an RtoP-style intervention. For starters, the interpretation of RtoP endorsed by all countries at the 2005 World Summit pertains only to the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Thus far, there is no evidence that any of these crimes have occurred or are in imminent danger of occurring in relation to ethnic Russians. Furthermore, any military intervention must also be authorized by the Security Council.  In this case, Russia has acted unilaterally.

While it is important to clarify that Russia’s actions cannot be justified in RtoP terms, it is equally important to note that Russian leaders have not made specific reference to RtoP. When they attempted this rhetorical approach in 2008, they faced strong backlash from state and civil society advocates of the norm. An examination of Russian rhetoric throughout the current crisis reveals that, instead, the language has focused on preventing violence and protecting the human rights of Russians. Explicit mention of RtoP has been noticeably absent.  In its current phase – when one of the primary challenges facing RtoP is its normalization into international politics – such discursive subtleties are significant.

 

Violations of International Law and the Threat to Minorities

This is not to say that Russia’s intervention is moral or indeed legal. The intervention is a flagrant violation of an international diplomatic agreement, namely the Budapest Memorandum. This agreement committed Russia and other signatories (Ukraine, The United States and the United Kingdom) to refraining from the use of force to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. Furthermore, as an occupying force Russia must abide by international humanitarian and human rights law regarding their conduct under such circumstances. Any violation committed by local authorities or proxy forces can in fact be considered Russia’s responsibility. The conditions under which the secession referendum was held has also raised questions over the validity and legitimacy of the results.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine. UN Photo.

The case can certainly be made that minorities are under threat in Crimea, though not necessarily groups identified by Russian authorities. While the Ukrainian government’s decision to repeal a law ensuring Russian language rights was controversial, it has since been reinstated. However, there is a real concern that Crimea’s Muslim Tatar population – long the subject of persecution and even mass deportation under Stalin – may face backlash and discrimination for their support of the Ukrainian government, as the result of Russian annexation. ICRtoP member Minority Rights Group Internationalhas already documented incidents reminiscent of those experienced under the Soviet regime. A recent press release warned:

“Minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous community of approximately 300,000 in the peninsula, are becoming more and more exposed to intimidation and violence. Recently, doors of Crimean Tatar residents were marked by X, a sign evoking memories of their 1944 deportation to Central Asia during the Stalin regime.”

The release continues to note media involvement in inciting discrimination, as well as evidence of increased militarization witnessed in the formation of Crimean self-defence groups. Human Rights Watch has also been monitoring these developments, warning of unaccountable militant groups that have been implicated in acts of torture and disappearances. Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director stressed:

“Crimean authorities are allowing illegal and unidentified armed units to run the show in the peninsula, and to commit crimes that go uninvestigated and unpunished, as if there is a legal vacuum.”

In such an environment of impunity, with ethnic tensions running high and the ever-present risk of Russian and Ukrainian military action, a peaceful settlement to the conflict is essential for avoiding an escalation in violence.

 

Looking Ahead: Overcoming the Security Council Impasse for Peaceful Settlement

With Russia’s involvement in the conflict, it will be difficult to pass any Security Council resolution.  A previous draft urged the protection of the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, while also committing parties to protect the rights of minorities. Unsurprisingly, Russia exercised its veto to strike down the motion. ICRtoP member The World Federalist Movement – Institute of Global Policy issued a statement to General Assembly (GA) member states regarding the use of the veto as set out in Article 27 of the UN Charter, and urged action in the face of its misuse:

79th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 68th session

A view of the electronic board displaying the votes of member states at a General Assembly Plenary Session on Ukraine. UN Photo.

The veto is not to be used when a permanent member is party to a dispute before the Security Council. The veto of 15 March 2014 is another example of permanent members using the veto contrary to the purposes and principles, letter and spirit of the UN Charter…It is imperative the larger membership instruct and confront the Security Council when it takes decisions not in accordance with the UN Charter.”

On March 27, 2014 a resolution put forward by Ukraine and 50 co-sponsors was approved by the GA, supporting Ukraine’s position and deeming the referendum that led to Russian annexation invalid.

Other measures to de-escalate the crisis have been taken by UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) officials. A team of UN human rights monitors have been dispatched and the OSCE has officially announced an observer mission. Furthermore, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly reached a preliminary agreement with the Ukrainian government on the establishment of an international commission aimed at resolving the crisis. Such measures could contribute to a peaceful settlement and avoid wider human rights abuses.

 

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WHEN ARMS GET IN THE WRONG HANDS: Arms trade and the implications for upholding the Responsibility to Protect

The trade of virtually all goods is regulated and controlled; however, no global standard exists for the international trading of arms. As we speak, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is meeting for the final negotiations on an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The idea of a treaty was introduced at the UN in 2006 in the form of a draft resolution. In 2009, the UNGA adopted Resolution 64/48 to convene a UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to stop the lethal consequences of the uncontrolled trade of arms which have included hundreds of thousands of deaths, women raped at gunpoint and children recruited into armed groups; not to mention the many injured, tortured, abused or taken hostage. As the United Nations Secretary General has argued, “violence against civilians is…unquestionably abetted by the free flow of weapons…we urgently need a robust and comprehensive agreement that addresses the humanitarian impact of the poorly regulated trade in arms.” From 18-28 March 2013, the UNGA will negotiate the final text of the Treaty. Many civil society groups and members of the NGO coalition, Control Armsincluding Vision Gram International and Africa Peace Forum have stated that the document being discussed is a weaker version of the original proposal with loopholes that undermine the effectiveness of the treaty, including ambiguity in the use of terms such as “trade” and “transfer” and lower standards of control for ammunition. Nonetheless, many states and civil society organizations are positive that, if passed, the Treaty will be a step forward in achieving more security and protection.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Arms Trade: Impacting the Security Sector

The arms trade is a globalized and lucrative business – Oxfam International estimates that between 2008 and 2011, the trade was worth more than $9.7bn. There is an incredibly strong link between poor arms control, access to conventional weapons and the increased likelihood of intra-state violence, which can lead to the commission of mass atrocities. The presence of illegal arms and armed elements is one of the eight indicators of the Office of the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide‘s analysis framework which assists in determining whether there may be a risk of genocide in a given situation. As small arms and ammunition can be easily transferred, stolen or diverted, they are frequently the weapons of choice in armed conflicts. Thus, regulating their trade and stopping their illegal diversion can have a powerful impact on a state’s ability to prevent mass atrocities. According to Dr. Robert Zuber, of Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW), the presence of large amounts of arms creates an unpredictable security situation and undermines state control of the security sector;

The irresponsible transfer of weapons and ammunition and proliferation of illicit small arms have direct implications for our ability to secure our streets…[and on] the ability of governments to discharge many of its important functions including the primary responsibility to protect civilians from violence.”

MONUSCO

Weapons retrieved from rebels by the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in coordination with the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in DRC. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

In addition to contributing to cycles of violence, the presence of illicit arms in the hands of non-state actors and rebel groups complicates regional and international efforts to strengthen a state’s capacity to fulfill its primary responsibility to protect. What’s more, though it’s clear that governments need to minimize the spread of illicit weapons to uphold their commitment to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes, in many cases, it is the state, itself, that is complicit in the conflict and the spread and use of illegal arms.

Perpetuating the Violence

The responsibility to minimize the spread of weapons is not limited to countries in conflict. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, or the ‘P5’ – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – are the world’s largest arms traders. Amnesty Internationals report entitled “Major Powers Fueling Atrocities: Why the World Needs a Robust Arms Trade Treaty,” demonstrates how all five countries have “engaged in arms deals that fueled atrocities”. China‘s state-owned companies, for example, supplied weapons to the Gaddafi regime in Libya as well as ammunition for small arms used by security forces and militia in Darfur; while Russia supplies weapons to Syria, Myanmar and Sudan that have been used to attack civilians. The government of Russia, which has admitted to supplying Syrian forces with weapons, has blocked several UN resolutions aimed at halting the violence by imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on Syria and says it will continue to supply weapons to the regime. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and Qatar are delivering arms to the opposition forces, which some say could prolong the increasingly deteriorating humanitarian crisis and civil war. While some Western states originally pushed Russia to stop its arms trade to Syria, the United Kingdom and France  are now calling for the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria so they can send weapons to the rebels. Though the United States has argued that more weapons in Syria would do more damage, it has promised not to get in the way of other governments supplying arms to the rebels. This flow of weapons to the Syrian opposition has sparked a debate, with many arguing that these measures, undertaken by the international community to uphold protection obligations, actually perpetuate more violence. As one human rights blogSelf Evident Truth, puts it:

So long as the superpowers…arm the world with small arms, their approval of the responsibility to protect has little meaning.”

The importance of disarmament

In addition to preventing conflict, the regulation of the arms trade is an important step in securing a safe environment in post-crisis situations. According to Ray Acheson, Chair of civil society organization Reaching Critical Will, “the excess weapons available throughout the world continue…impeding the post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction”. This has been devastatingly illustrated in the case of Libya, as remaining weapons in the hands of thousands of militias have hampered the state’s control over the security sector, exacerbating the country’s already unstable situation. This case also showed the importance of preventing the spread of weapons in post-conflict countries as reports emerged that missing weapons from Libya may have appeared in the hands of Islamist rebels in Mali. Human Rights Watch recently stated that;

Urgent efforts to secure anti-aircraft missiles from Libya…blinded western governments to the danger of other weapons going missing and fueling conflicts in Mali…it takes a tiny fraction of the weapons missing in Libya to supercharge a conflict like Mali.”

Thus, amid attempts to protect populations in Libya, a lack of oversight of the flow of weapons throughout the country may have actually played a part in fueling conflict in Mali by providing easily accessible arms to northern-based rebel groups.

Civil society calls for stronger references to Atrocity Crimes in ATT

Article 3 in the latest draft of the ATT, on “Prohibited Transfers”, requires that a state party not authorize a transferfor the purpose of facilitating the commission genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes.According to Reaching Critical Will’s ATT Monitor, this language demonstrates that governments agree that arms must not be transferred to a state where there is a risk of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. While this is a start, Africa Peace Forum states that under the treaty the “states’ obligation to refuse transfers if they assess there is a substantial risk that the transfer would result in human rights and humanitarian law violations are legally ambiguous.” Meanwhile, according Amnesty International, these references are too narrow and the definition of war crimes is extremely limited. Reaching Critical Will, argues“a circumstance in which a state would apply to import arms specifically for the purpose of committing genocide or any of the other crimes listed is a rather high threshold for prohibition.” Oxfam adds that, “the draft Article as it relates to genocide falls far short of the duty to prevent genocide by taking action before it happens…As currently drafted…Article 3.3 will apply only where genocide has already taken place.” Such language risks undermining the very foundation on which RtoP is based: the prevention of atrocities.

Amnesty International has suggested revisions to the text to support a preventative framework, stating that, “a State Party shall not authorize a transfer of conventional arms within the scope of this Treaty if the transfer would facilitate the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or a consistent pattern of serious violations of international human rights law.”

Going forward with or without a treaty

The link between the flow of illicit weapons and the increasing likelihood of RtoP crimes as well as the devastating impact of access to weapons on a state’s ability to protect its population show the urgent need for regulations on the trade of arms, which the ATT can provide. However, it is also important to note that even if the Treaty is not adopted, willing governments can take measures to oversee the safe sale of arms and civil society can advocate for such measures. While a strong Arms Trade Treaty could greatly reduce serious human rights violations and contribute to the general reduction of conflict throughout the world, a weaker treaty might be worse than no treaty at all. The important truth is that with fewer weapons available, governments will be one step closer to being better able to uphold their responsibility to protect their populations from RtoP crimes; it is up to activists, civil society organizations, the media, and policymakers everywhere to make this a reality.

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

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

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

Read the full feature post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynch explains further:

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

 

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