To honor Genocide Awareness Month, we are releasing a set of infographics designed to be used as educational tools on atrocity crimes and their prevention/response. Click here for a quick guide to the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.
To honor Genocide Awareness Month, we are releasing a set of infographics designed to be used as educational tools on atrocity crimes and their prevention/response. Click here for a quick guide to the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the commission of genocide in Srebrenica in which, under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) brutally killed over 8,000 Muslim men and boys, throwing their bodies into mass graves, and then reburying them in secondary graves in order to hide these heinous crimes. The forces sexually abused countless women and deported the elderly, women and children against their will. The horrific crimes under the eye of the UN marked yet another failure to protect civilians from atrocity crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice have both affirmed that crimes committed in 1995 amount to genocide.
While many countries and leaders throughout the world are using this solemn anniversary to honor the victims and reflect on the lessons learned from this tragedy, some political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), including the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, continue to deny that the genocide occurred. This denial has impacted how the UN sought to commemorate the anniversary as a UN Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution brought forward by the United Kingdom, which would have recognized the crimes as genocide as well as included strong references to RtoP, was vetoed by the government of Russia. This veto followed calls from actors such as Mladen Ivanic, Chairmen of the Presidency, who urged the UNSC not to adopt a resolution commemorating the genocide.
Undeniably, the international community has worked hard to change its norms, structures, and responses in an effort to avert another Srebrenica. However, Russia’s 8 July 2015 veto of the commemoration resolution, as well as failures to halt atrocities in Syria, South Sudan, and Burma, among others, shows that not all lessons from the past have been learned. As United Kingdom Ambassador Peter Wilson highlights, “We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of twenty years ago. We must act where we have early warning. We must find greater unity in this Council and use all of the tools at our disposal to do so.”
Lessons Learned in Fostering a Culture of Prevention at the UN
In 1999, Kofi Annan released his report on the “Fall of Srebrenica” in which he highlighted the UN’s failures in responding to Srebrenica and identified lessons to be drawn from the genocide. The report stressed that different actors within the UN, including the peacekeeping mission and Member States, failed to adequately communicate and share intelligence. According to the report, members of the battalion “were aware of sinister indications,” but “did not report more fully the scenes that were unfolding around them.” Additionally, the report explained that the UN failed to fully understand the Serb war aims, partly because of inadequate and inaccurate reporting.
The failures in Srebrenica were a driving factor for the dramatic reconsideration of how the UN conducts its peacekeeping operations as well as directly influenced the development of the Responsibility to Protect ( RtoP) to serve as the primary framework for the prevention of future atrocities. Along with the development of RtoP, other key advances include the Human Rights Up Front initiative, the appointment of the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, and the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.
Lessons Learned in Fostering a Culture of Response at the United Nations
The UN’s failure to protect civilians from the horrific atrocity crimes committed in Srebrenica—as well as other mass atrocities— led the organization to conduct its own soul searching with regards to its capacity to protect populations. The Secretary-General’s 1999 Srebrenica report urged Member States to address several challenges that the Srebrenica genocide uncovered, including the gap between mandates and means, how and when to use force, as well as the principle of impartiality even when faced with a risk of genocide. Around the same time, the UNSC passed its first thematic resolution on the protection of civilians (POC) and authorized the first-ever POC mandate in a UN peacekeeping operation (the UN Mission in Sierra Leone).
Similar to the 1999 Srebrenica report, the Brahimi Report also expressed concerns in regards to creating high protection expectations, emphasizing that “if an operation is given a mandate to protect civilians, therefore, it also must be given the specific resources needed to carry out the mandate.” In regards to the UN’s past reluctance to use force in fear of not adhering to the principle of impartiality, the Report stressed, “no failure did more damage to the standing credibility of UN peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor.” It further stated that UN peacekeepers “who witness violence against civilians should be presumed to be authorized to stop it…”
Since the first POC mandate, and the release of the Brahimi Report, the UNSC has authorized more robust POC mandates in different crises, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, and the Central African Republic. Furthermore, the Council’s thematic resolutions on POC began to stress that “protection activities must be given priority with decisions about the use of available capacity and resources.” Indeed, the protection of civilians has become a core activity of many UN missions, including those with Chapter VII authorizations. The UN Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC also added another dimension to the protections of civilians, as it had the authority to take offensive action in order to neutralize armed groups. Certainly, during the past 20 years, there have been significant changes in the way in which the UN responds to armed conflicts, as well as the means and capabilities it is willing to provide to missions for the purpose of protecting civilians.
Making “Never Again” a Reality
Despite these advances, the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica is also an opportunity to reflect on what the UN has not done to prevent and respond to atrocities. War crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide continue to be perpetrated throughout the world, including in Syria, Darfur, and Burma, among countless other countries and regions. Such conflicts illustrate both that the culture of prevention has yet to firmly and consistently take hold and that states are failing to live up to their responsibility to protect populations.
For example, on the protection of civilians front, the 2014 Office of Internal Oversight Services report found “persistent pattern of PKOs [peacekeeping operations] not interfering with force when civilians are under imminent attack.” Out of 507 reported by missions with POC mandates in which civilians were at threat from 2010-2013, a paltry 101 (20 percent) had garnered an immediate response.
The recent report of the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations also echoes some of the same 15-year old concerns highlighted by both the 1999 report on Srebrenica and the Brahimi Report. In particular, the 2015 report emphasized that although there has been progress in promoting the protection of civilians, there are still significant gaps between what is asked of peace operations and what they can actually deliver. Furthermore, the Report highlighted that although many missions are operating in extremely hostile environments, “the challenges and implications of this new operating environment have not yet been well-defined or internalized.”
The Srebrenica genocide also highlighted other areas in peace operations in need of improvement, including immunity for peacekeepers. Though the 1999 Srebrenica report stated that “it is not possible to say with any certainty that stronger actions by the Dutchbat would have saved lives, and it is even possible that such efforts could have done more harm than good,” a Dutch court said in July 2014 that the Netherlands was liable for the deaths of more than 300 victims of Srebrenica. Nevertheless, accountability for peacekeepers, particularly in the wake of new accusations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, is virtually non-existent. Indeed, organizations such as the Stimson Center continue to urge the UN to “undertake a comprehensive and independent evaluation of the approach undertaken by the UN Secretariat to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse” in peacekeeping operations. (See the ICRtoP’s recent statement in this regard.)
In addition, stark challenges remain with regards to the UNSC acting to respond in the face of atrocity crimes. This stems explicitly from the continued misuse by Russia and China to wield their veto power when the Council seeks to condemn and act to protect civilians, as most notably evidenced in response to the ongoing crisis in Syria and most recently during the Srebrenica commemoration. As stressed by United States Ambassador Samantha Power, “Twenty years ago the international community failed to protect the people taking refuge in Srebrenica, and the result was genocide. Today, because of Russia’s refusal to call what happened in Srebrenica by its rightful name, genocide, the Council is again failing to live up to its responsibility.”
Civil society organizations have started initiatives that aim to address many of these challenges, including by urging UNSC members to refrain from the use of the veto in mass atrocity cases, as well as highlighting the importance of prevention and effective response. The international community must continue to address the lessons it has drawn from the Srebrenica genocide and take further steps to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. If not, civilians across the world facing the risk of such horrific crimes and violations will continue to suffer, as did the victims of Srebrenica.
The following is a guest blog from ICRtoP member Child Soldiers International. Child Soldiers International works to end the military recruitment of children and their use in hostilities, as well as other human rights abuses resulting from their association with armed forces or groups. They promote the release of children, seek their successful return to civilian life, and call for accountability for those who recruit and use them.
More than 50 parties to armed conflict are listed by the UN Secretary-General for recruiting and using children in armed conflict in a variety of capacities. And this list is not exhaustive. The recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups is not only a disturbingly widespread practice: when perpetrated against children under 15 years of age it is a war crime.
Ensuring accountability for such war crimes, along with crimes against humanity and genocide is an essential part of upholding the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), as well as establishing a basis for sustainable peace and reconciliation. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which came into force in 2002, is the first permanent international judicial body mandated to investigate the commission of atrocity crimes and try alleged perpetrators when judicial mechanisms prove insufficient at the national level. Read on for excellent insight from Child Soldiers International on the importance of accountability and rehabilitation in ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers.
Accountability as Prevention
At Child Soldiers International, we believe that accountability for child recruitment is a crucial component of any strategy aimed at eradicating the use of child soldiers. States have a duty to investigate alleged violations committed by all parties to an armed conflict and prosecute those alleged to be responsible with a view to providing remedies to victims, and preventing the repetition of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
However, too many perpetrators continue to evade accountability: such impunity not only denies victims justice and reparations, but it also produces an environment conducive to the continuing perpetration of these crimes. Accountability is an essential component of prevention, and prevention is the most important aspect of the Responsibility to Protect.
Yet, time and again, accountability is dismissed as an obstacle to peace and stability. ‘Pragmatic’ considerations are often invoked – including by child protection agencies – to justify amnesties or de facto immunity for authors of child recruitment in order to secure the release of children from the ranks of armed forces and armed groups, for example. However, we believe that peace is neither achievable, nor sustainable without accountability. This has been repeatedly demonstrated in the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where impunity and integration into the armed forces of suspected perpetrators have simply fuelled further instability and consequent child recruitment.
While amnesties may be pursued for the sake of peace, stability or demobilisation efforts, it is well established (and it is a long standing UN policy) that they cannot be extended to individuals suspected of crimes under international law considered under RtoP – including war crimes like the use and recruitment of children in hostilities, as well as crimes against humanity and genocide.
Accountability and the ICC
When national authorities fail to take action, the International Criminal Court (ICC) offers potential recourse.In December 2014 we welcomed the conviction of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo before the ICC. Mr Lubanga was found guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 into his militia, the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In its first judgment, the ICC signalled that these crimes warranted international attention and would not go unpunished.
We have observed the deterrent effect of this conviction: in the DRC, where Mr Lubanga’s militia was operating, our partners negotiating the release of children from armed groups report that some commanders who have become aware of Mr Lubanga’s conviction are now fearful of the threat of criminal prosecution and have begun releasing children more systematically.
Similarly, in April 2012 we hailed the conviction of former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor, before the Special Court for Sierra Leone as a clear message from the international community that those who “aid and abet” armed groups that recruit and use children can and will be brought to justice. Mr Taylor was found guilty of a range of crimes under international law, including recruiting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In 2007, the Court had already convicted Alex Tamba Brima, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the recruitment and use of children.
There is huge potential for the ICC to send similar strong messages that these war crimes will no longer be tolerated. It is encouraging to see that it is currently dealing with several other cases of alleged crimes relating to child soldiers, including that of former militia leader Bosco Ntaganda, also from the DRC.
A Former Child Soldier at The Hague
Another ICC case that relates to the issue of child soldiers is that of Dominic Ongwen. A former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Ongwen was abducted as a child in his native Uganda, spent two decades in the LRA and was brought before the ICC last month. He is the only former child soldier appearing before the Court so far. The charges he faces do not relate to any role he had in the recruitment or use of children; they cover numerous attacks on civilians in 2004 and 2005. However, some are asking whether, as a former child soldier, Mr Ongwen should receive more leniency than other war crime suspects.
Dominic Ongwen’s precise age is unclear. Some reports say that he was abducted while walking to school as a 10-year-old. He himself reported being abducted at 14. In any event, no one is denying that Mr Ongwen, as a child, was the victim of a crime which tore him apart from his family environment and shaped the rest of his life.
It is alleged that he subsequently rose through the ranks of the LRA and became a senior commander involved in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2005 the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Vincent Otti, Joseph Kony, Dominic Ongwen and two other senior LRA members. In January, some 10 years later, one of those arrest warrants was realised when Mr Ongwen was transferred to the ICC.
His being a former child soldier raises the question about how such defendants can be justly treated in either national or international courts. This has caused some debate, particularly in Uganda where some community leaders and lawyers argue that former child soldiers are not wholly responsible for their actions.
The offences Mr Ongwen is charged with were committed during his adulthood. Using his own stated age, the offences under consideration allegedly took place when he was approximately 29 years old. Indeed the ICC has no jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by someone who was under the age of 18 at the time (Rome Statute, Article 26). Mr Ongwen’s past experience as a child soldier may be relevant for his legal defence; however, without prejudice to other factual and legal issues, his being a victim of a similar crime is not a defence in itself. His status as a former child soldier may be more relevant at the sentencing stage, should he be found guilty. Once the Court establishes the correct sentence to impose on an offender, it must then consider whether it should be reduced to take into account the offender’s personal mitigating circumstances.
It cannot be underestimated how significant these might be in Mr Ongwen’s case. Being abducted as a 10-year-old and experiencing the peripatetic and terrifying life of the LRA’s campaigns cannot but have had a lasting effect on any child. Many children associated with armed forces and armed groups will have endured severe beatings and sexual violence, and will have witnessed killings. Some will have victimised others. Extremely traumatic experiences within these groups are associated with marked emotional distress, behavioural difficulties and traumatic stress symptoms. Children’s ways of coping will be affected by whether they were able to demobilise, and by their post-conflict experiences. Those likely to fare better in the longer term are those who on return to their communities can receive family, peer and community understanding, support, acceptance and forgiveness. However, Mr Ongwen never went back: he grew into adulthood without being exposed to non-violent familial and community socialisation and developmental experiences.
Understanding and empathy towards victims of armed conflict must also be extended to those who emerge from such war-ravaged childhoods to commit crimes, even on a scale such as this. We believe that Mr Ongwen should not avoid justice because of his childhood experiences. However, it would be a potential injustice not to take into account his traumatic experiences when determining an appropriate sentence, should he be found guilty.
Case Studies for the Responsibility to Protect
Several lessons for RtoP can be gleaned from the cases above. First, accountability is the primary responsibility of national authorities, but failing this, can be achieved with the assistance of the international community, or through an ICC investigation. Accountability for crimes under international law such as the recruitment and use of child soldiers is essential for ending the cycle of violence and impunity that can lead to the re-commission of such crimes, as evidenced by the deterrent effect seen in the DRC.
In addition, as demonstrated by the Ongwen case, the RtoP extends to other post-conflict initiatives aimed at preventing future outbreaks of violence that can lead to the commission of atrocities. When dealing with child soldiers, it is critical for States to implement demobilization programmes that also include proper support that will aid the return to psychological well-being in emotionally distressed child soldiers. This, and associated work with their families and communities to facilitate their acceptance and forgiveness on return, is more likely to ensure peace in the longer term.
When Nigeria went to the polls in 2011, a period of intense post-election violence left over 800 dead and thousands more displaced. Given that past incidents of violence are seen as an indicator of the potential for future bloodshed, many fear that a similar outcome will come to pass when the now postponed elections are held on March 28th 2015. In addition, concerns over technical deficiencies, intense political rivalries exacerbated by ethnic and religious cleavages, and the menacing Boko Haram threat, are said to be creating a ‘perfect storm’ that could see the country erupt into another round of fighting. The recent announcement of the delay has compounded the situation further, with opposition candidates viewing it as an attempt to “…subvert Nigeria’s democratic process”.
In this climate, the risk of atrocity crimes is immense. Civilians could find themselves threatened by Boko Haram’s attempts to disrupt the electoral process, heavy-handed retaliation from the Nigerian military, inter-communal or religious post-election violence, or some deadly combination of all of these.
However, despite the presence of these risk factors, electoral violence is not inevitable. As Ban Ki-moon noted in his 2013 thematic report ‘Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention’, the absence of atrocities in countries that display one or more risk factors stems, at least in part, from sources of national resilience. For example, the 2013 election in Kenya demonstrates how a country that has previously experienced atrocity crimes at the polls can learn from this and take preventive measures to avoid repeating the cycle of violence.
There are encouraging signs that Nigerians, regional players, and the international community are learning the lessons of Nigeria’s 2011 election by taking steps to mitigate the risk of atrocities and prevent the recurrence of electoral violence. The below sections detail the unique threats faced by Nigeria, the relationship between elections and mass atrocities, and civil society recommendations for further preventive action that can be taken with the hopes of sparing the country more carnage.
The Looming Threat of Electoral Violence
In a recent Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS) report, Jennifer Cooke and Richard Downie categorized Nigeria’s risk of violence as having roots in political, technical and security-based aspects. Politically, the upcoming election is as contested as ever, with two main candidates emerging as strong contenders. The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and his main opponent, Muhammahdu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), stand a relatively equal chance of clinching the presidency.
This type of contest makes for heated rhetoric, and sometimes violent action – particularly when elections are tinged with an ethnic or religious tone. The showdown between Jonathan and Buhari is often dangerously depicted as a showdown between Nigeria’s mainly Christian South and the Muslim North. In Nigeria, disparities in access to land, services and jobs also figure along these lines, and many view power as the only way to ensure equal access for one’s regional, ethnic or religious group.
These divisions have already led to low-level instances of violence, for example in attacks on APC candidates and a bombing of a Goodluck Jonathan campaign bus. Other dangerous incidents include the use of intimidation tactics and hate speech, for example, one state governor who referred to the opposition as “cockroaches” amid chants to “kill them” from supporters.
Such tensions are sure to increase if the election results are not viewed credibly. However, technical hiccups have already surfaced that could negatively impact the outcome. Comfort Ero of International Crisis Group (ICG) explains that with regards to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) tasked with administering and overseeing the elections:
“…the electoral commission is still struggling to get permanent voter cards to more than 15 million registered voters (about 22% of the electorate). It has asked voters to collect them instead, which for many will necessitate an arduous journey.”
The affected areas are those that have been hit hardest by Boko Haram, including Yobe, Adamawa, and Borno states. In these areas, forced displacement could also prevent an additional 1.5 million from participating in the polls. Given that these states are considered bastions of support for Buhari, it could lead to disputes over the election’s results if not adequately addressed.
Lastly, the security challenge posed by Boko Haram adds an additional layer of friction. In recent weeks, the extremist group has stepped up attacks drastically, perhaps most horrifically in Baga where groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented “large-scale destruction” amid fears that up to 2,000 civilians may have been killed. In addition, the group has conducted a number of suicide bombings, attempted to claim crucial territory in the city of Maidaguri, and regionalized its insurgency by making incursions into neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.
The escalation in violence led INEC to determine that, “The risk of deploying young men and women and calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility…Consequently the commission has decided to reschedule the elections thus.” This decision was ostensibly taken to give the military an additional six weeks to tackle the Boko Haram threat.
However, in the past the Nigerian security forces have demonstrated spectacular ineptitude in their efforts to counter Boko Haram, mostly due to pervasive corruption, mutiny, poor equipment, and low morale. More often than not, the army has added to the suffering through aggressive counter-terror tactics and human rights abuses that have further endangered civilian populations. The APC has also made accusations of politicisation, pointing to instances of restrictions on their campaigning activities and an unwillingness to properly investigate attacks against their supporters. Assertions that the delay is of more a political gambit than an outright concern for the safety of Nigerians can only add to these concerns.
Elections as a Trigger for Mass Atrocities
While elections have not been shown to be a direct cause of atrocities, political transitions that occur in times of instability have a tendency to exacerbate underlying tensions and act as a ‘trigger’. This was demonstrated in several states that recently experienced election-related violence in Africa, including Kenya in 2007, Zimbabwe in 2008, Cote d’Ivoire, and to a lesser extent, Guinea, in 2010.
The United Nations Office for the Prevention of Genocide’s ‘Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes’ explains that “Census, elections, pivotal activities related to those processes, or measures that destabilize them,” should be carefully monitored for the potential to foment atrocity crimes, particularly where a major shift in the political power of a group takes place. However, as noted above, violence is not inevitable if preventive measures are taken.
The 2013 presidential election in Kenya offers a positive example of how state officials, civil society, media representatives, and international donors can work together to ensure free and fair elections, counter hate speech and violent incitement, inform the public through conflict-sensitive reporting, and undertake other peacebuilding activities to prevent the outbreak of widespread violence.
Some of these precautions are being taken in Nigeria. For example, the leading presidential candidates have all signed the Abuja Declaration Accord, publically committing themselves to non-violence and peaceful navigation of the electoral process. Local civil society organizations such as the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, are working around the clock to monitor and report on instances of violence and incitement during the campaigning and on Election Day.
The international community is also stepping up, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently travelled to Nigeria to speak with the presidential candidates, threatening travel restrictions and other measures should they stoop to the commission of violent acts. The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, has also warned that the court will be monitoring the election and that “No one should doubt my resolve, whenever necessary, to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of ICC crimes.” Lastly, the African Union has approved a 7,500-strong regional force to assist the Nigerian authorities in their fight against Boko Haram.
But there is more that can be done. For the presidential candidates, Comfort Ero calls on them to tone down their rhetoric, publically denounce incitement from their supporters, and use the courts and other constitutional means to pursue any grievances. For this, CSIS stresses the importance of abiding by the Abuja Declaration Accord, recommending its widespread circulation and enforcement, potentially through a national peace committee.
To the security services, CSIS add that “Nigeria’s security agencies have a responsibility to perform their duties in a strictly impartial manner, to act with restraint, and to strike a balance between providing safe conditions for voting to take place and appearing to “militarize” the process …” ICRtoP member the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect urges Nigeria and regional governments involved in the fight against Boko Haram to finalize and coordinate joint operational plans. Indeed, if the Nigerian military is to uphold its promise to dismantle all Boko Haram bases in northeastern Nigeria in the next six weeks, regional cooperation will likely prove indispensable.
Lastly, the Fund for Peace and Search for Common Ground recently released a joint letter stressing the role of the media, civil society and the private sector in continuing to monitor and report on inflammatory rhetoric, including through social media, delivering messages of peace, leveraging positive relationships with candidates, and establishing a mechanism for mediation in the event of disputed results. Importantly, the critical support of the international community is called upon to reinforce these activities and provide a constant reminder to concerned parties that violence has no place in the electoral process.
Preventing Election Violence a Collective Responsibility
It has been rightly stated that the primary responsibility to prevent election violence lies with presidential candidates themselves. However, other national, regional, and international actors have an equally important role to play. While there are encouraging signs of RtoP preventive action being taken, the delay in elections makes it all the more important that efforts to encourage calm and ensure that credible elections are held in a timely and peaceful manner are redoubled. Should stakeholders waver in their responsibility, the results could be even more catastrophic than in 2011. In this event, as has been pointed out, “Boko Haram will be the only winner…”
This November marks one year since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the momentous “Rights Up Front” action plan to put the protection of civilians and their human rights at the forefront of the UN agenda.
Born out of the tragedy witnessed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and the “systemic failure” that characterized the United Nation’s response, the initiative is meant to ensure that the inaction seen in Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and Srebrenica is never repeated.
By emphasizing timely reporting and early warning, Rights Up Front seeks to prevent human rights abuses before they rise to the level of mass atrocities. Where prevention fails, the UN’s main priority will be the protection of civilians. In many ways, this is simply a reiteration of the core purpose of the UN. However, Rights Up Front is unique in that it offers a six-point plan directed at the UN Secretariat, funds, and agencies to institute changes that will lead to tangible improvements in prevention and response.
According to the Secretary-General’s summary of Rights Up Front, the six points are as follows:
1: Integrating human rights into the lifeblood of the UN so all staff understand their own and the Organization’s human rights obligations.
2: Providing Member States with candid information with respect to peoples at risk of, or subject to, serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law.
3: Ensuring coherent strategies of action on the ground and leveraging the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner.
4: Clarifying and streamlining procedures at Headquarters to enhance communication with the field and facilitate early, coordinated action.
5: Strengthening the UN’s human rights capacity, particularly through better coordination of its human rights entities.
6: Developing a common UN system for information management on serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
Given the focus on the protection of civilians and prevention of mass atrocities, the initiative has clear potential for reinforcing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Indeed, RtoP was directly referenced in the Deputy Secretary-General’s informal remarks on Rights up Front to the General Assembly in December 2013. One year later, there have been some positive signs that Rights Up Front is starting to take hold, including the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)’s unprecedented ‘open-gate’ policy to protect civilians in South Sudan. However, the recently revealed controversies surrounding the United Nations/African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) suggest that the UN could once again be repeating the very mistakes that the initiative was designed to prevent.
Rights Up Front in South Sudan: An Imperfect Success Story
The record on Rights Up Front’s implementation has been mixed. While a system-wide plan such as this is bound to take time to run its course, there are some early examples of qualified successes, as well as some unacceptable failures.
The ‘success ledger’ includes the decision of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to open its gates to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing inter-ethnic violence between the Dinka and Nuer after the outbreak of civil war in December 2013. The former Special Representative to the Secretary General reflected on the decision, confirming its adherence to Rights Up Front and stating “The fact that we opened our gates actually has saved very many thousands of people’s lives… There will be incredible challenges going forward with this decision, but it was the right one. It remains the right one.”
Likewise, Oxfam’s head of humanitarian policy and campaigns, Maya Mailer, opined on how this development demonstrates progress in the mission’s policy towards the protection of civilians. She reflected on the mission, and its heavy state-building focus, as it was back in 2009, recalling that “…while the UN mission had a mandate from the UN Security Council to protect civilians, that came way down a long list of other priorities.” Mailer mentions both RtoP and Rights Up Front as potential influential factors in this shift.
Although the long-term safety of civilians seeking shelter in what are now being called Protection of Civilian sites is far from assured, this impromptu decision made in the face of an imminent massacre provides hope that the protection of civilians is indeed being prioritized among UN missions.
Darfur Controversy Risks Repeating the Mistakes of the Past
Nevertheless, it is easy to have one’s optimism dashed when observing recent events in the Darfur region of Sudan. Back in April, Foreign Policy broke a story alleging that through chronic underreporting, UNAMID had systematically covered up attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers carried out by forces acting on behalf of the Government of Sudan (GoS).
One example among the many includes a brazen attack by Sudanese troops and pro-government militias on a UN base in Muhajeria in April 2013. Though this particular violation occurred before Rights Up Front was initiated, to date, no one has been held accountable for the attack that left one Nigerian peacekeeper dead, and several more injured. Indeed, UNAMID still refuses to even acknowledge the government’s involvement, instead blaming “unidentified armed assailants.”
More recently, ICRtoP member, The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies has documented a “brutal campaign of counter-insurgency” led by the pro-government Rapid Support Forces throughout Darfur. The campaign of violence has been marked by aerial bombardments and ground assaults that have targeted civilians with increasing intensity since earlier this year. In spite of this, UNAMID continues to afford minimal priority to reporting on and ensuring accountability for such acts. This is evident in the most recent UNAMID controversy, in which allegations that the mission improperly investigated a mass rape in the town of Tabit has led to further accusations that it is covering-up the government’s transgressions.
Ostensibly, UNAMID has made the decision to omit mention of GoS involvement in attacks due to a lack of concrete first-hand evidence. However, observers have pointed out that it is more likely that UNAMID’s lack of reporting was done to appease Khartoum, a government that is renowned for its obstruction of international peacekeeping efforts and the quest to achieve accountability for past atrocities committed by its leaders. Most notable among them is President Omar Al Bashir, who is wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
If, as Human Rights Watch has suggested, Darfur represents a test-case for implementation of Rights Up Front, then it exposes some key areas in which it has been lacking. The incomplete reporting of GoS attacks indicates that UNAMID staff might not fully understand their human rights obligations or how to properly uphold them, as demanded in the first action point. Furthermore, it leads to a breakdown in the candid reporting to member states required for proactive and strategic engagement, as specified in point number two. The fact that the mission has not issued a public report on human rights since 2009 reinforces this narrative. As ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda chided “UN reports are an important and increasingly unique source of public information about the situation in Darfur, and must be held to the highest standard for the sake of the victims…”
This is especially important as improper reporting can also hamper the ability of the Secretary-General to carry out his ‘Article 99’ responsibilities to accurately pass information to the Security Council to inform their decisions on matters related to international peace and security. This in turn affects the ability of the Council to adjust mandates in a way that reflects the reality on the ground, depriving the mission of necessary resources and additional Chapter VII measures that may be required to protect civilians. Thus, the ability to leverage the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner, as specified in the third action point, is also compromised.
The Secretary-General has since responded to allegations with an internal investigation, and recently stated that he will take “all necessary steps to ensure full and accurate reporting by [the joint mission],” adding that “keeping silent or under-reporting on incidents involving human rights violations and threats or attacks on UN peacekeepers cannot be condoned under any circumstances.”
These developments are troubling, as they are a repeat of the patterns that led to the UN’s ineffectiveness in Sri Lanka. In spite of the positive progress in South Sudan, the case of Darfur suggests that the UN has yet to “fully learn the lessons of the past”, as instructed by Ban Ki-moon upon his announcement of Rights Up Front.
Strengthening Rights Up Front Implementation
For the potential of Rights Up Front to be realized, the UN will have to address the lingering deficiencies that jeopardize efforts to protect civilians. In August 2014, Daniel Bekele of HRW urged that:
“With the surge in Sudanese government-led attacks on civilians, credible public reporting on the situation in Darfur is more important than ever…The UN should not allow this core aspect of its work to be degraded, especially when the Secretary-General has pledged to put ‘Rights up Front’ in the UN’s work.”
Philippe Bolopion bluntly warned that the example of Darfur “should be a wake-up call to other U.N. missions, whether in Mali, CAR [the Central African Republic], Libya, or South Sudan, that proactive and transparent reporting on human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrators, is a core function of the mission…”
However, while it is important to ensure that timely and accurate information is reported, for example, through regular ‘horizon-scanning’ exercises, the political will to act on this information is also essential. In September 2014, the International Peace Institute held its annual Trygve Lie Symposium, this year focusing on Rights Up Front. As was mentioned by Helen Clark, action on the initiative depends on “speaking truth to power to the Security Council,” but also on the willingness of member states to act.
In this sense, it will also be necessary to build, “a broad coalition” involving a “range of regional groups,” so as to catalyze momentum among member states, urge the Security Council to take action, and garner support for funding and logistical contributions to UN missions. Panelists at the IPI symposium lamented such action as becoming increasingly difficult, though it underpins the viability of all UN efforts.
The Role of RtoP in Rights Up Front
With their many shared objectives, it is also essential to discuss the role of RtoP in strengthening Rights Up Front implementation. In her assessment of Rights Up Front for Opinio Juris, Kristen Boon made an important point regarding this relationship. While RtoP has indeed been cited as an important precursor, and the two are often mentioned in the same context, there has been little attempt to elaborate on specific measures under the RtoP toolkit that can reinforce the initiative. The same can be said about the ability of Rights Up Front to ensure more consistent application of the norm.
The 2014 Secretary-General report on RtoP focused on international assistance to states to uphold RtoP (aka “Pillar II”), and provides the most direct linkage to Rights Up Front. The report welcomed Rights Up Front as an avenue for improving the UN’s ability to fulfill its second pillar responsibilities by improving early action and emphasizing the collective responsibility of the UN. In a separate section, the report identifies a role for the Human Rights Council (HRC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other relevant organs in encouraging states to uphold their primary responsibility by addressing human rights concerns.
Still, the report stops short of identifying particular aspects of each initiative that could serve to strengthen implementation of the other, or how relevant UN bodies, such as the HRC and the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) can complement one another in fulfilling RtoP or Rights Up Front.
A clearer articulation of this relationship could perhaps build on the recommendations for improved coordination made by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng at the HRC’s High-Level Panel on the Prevention of Genocide in March 2014. For example, Dieng recommended that the HRC adopt the OSAPG’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes to further guide its work. Such changes could help mainstream an atrocities lens throughout the UN system, and ensure that human rights abuses do not rise to the level of atrocity crimes.
One Year On, Critical Assessment Needed
While Rights Up Front is a promising initiative, noteworthy for rallying the efforts of the UN behind the human rights cause, implementation has been checkered so far. UNMISS’ open-gate policy in South Sudan is a positive example of a flexible response that prioritized the imminent protection needs of civilians. On the other hand, the debacle in Darfur has exposed weaknesses in human rights reporting, and an overall lack of transparency that runs counter to the noble intentions of Rights Up Front. To truly learn the lessons of the past and maximize civilian protection, an honest and more in-depth assessment of the initiative and its implementation is needed as its one-year anniversary arrives.
On October 28, 2014, the Security Council held its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) focusing on women as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The urgency of this matter cannot be understated, as the world reaches a grim milestone.
Currently, the global population of displaced sits at approximately 50 million people – the largest number since the Second World War. What’s more appalling is that an astounding 80 percent of this population consists of women and children.
It was noted throughout the debate that in this context, women are at risk of a range of human rights abuses. These include gender-based discrimination in access to economic resources, education and employment, poor reproductive health care, and exclusion from decision-making and participation in most peace processes.
Furthermore, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Recalling Security Council Resolution 1820, rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as a threat to international peace and security, as well as serve as indicators of and/or constitute potential genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, making this an important issue for both the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and WPS.
The debate was part of the ongoing effort to evaluate implementation of Resolution 1325, a landmark Security Council decision that followed many incremental precedents in the advancement of women’s human rights, and subsequent resolutions that make up the WPS framework. The discussions held at this session made it clear that, while progress has been made with regards to upholding women’s rights and ensuring equal participation, there is still much progress to be made, especially as it concerns women who are refugees or IDPs. The experience of women IDPs in countries plagued by atrocities such as Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan demonstrate the stunning lack of progress, as well as a failure of national authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect displaced persons within their borders.
Horrifying Conditions for Displaced Women
The latest Secretary-General’s report on Women’s Peace and Security takes special note of the plight of displaced women. The report explains that driving factors such as discriminatory gender norms, a lack of access to livelihoods and basic services, as well as unequal citizenship rights leave women and girls especially vulnerable to a range of rights violations.
Among the risks mentioned are exposures to sex and labour trafficking, SGBV, and early and forced marriage. In addition, women are experiencing a curtailment of their rights in relation to dress, travel, education and employment – particularly in areas where extremism is rampant.
The Secretary-General’s report notes several countries as being particularly affected, including atrocity-ridden Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Reports emerging from these countries bring the Secretary-General’s warnings to life, and shed light on the dire situations faced by displaced women.
For example, in South Sudan, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura told horrific tales of sexual violence that will “…haunt South Sudan for generations to come” and include “rapes, gang rapes, rapes with guns and bullets and sexual slavery,” committed by forces loyal to both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. Many of these have occurred in the supposed safety of UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites and IDP camps.
In the Central African Republic, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that “where 20 per cent of the country’s population is internally displaced, 68 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.” They also note that access to education has been severely restricted, decrying that “ In Bossangoa region, education has ground to a halt almost completely, and in the country as whole more than 70 per cent of potential pupils – at least 450,000 children – are currently out of school.”
In Syria, the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that displacement has been “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”
A July 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented the abuses inflicted on women fleeing the frontlines of the country’s civil war. The organization warned that “Women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government.”
The examples from these countries are but a sample of the very real dangers faced by displaced women and girls, and the risks that they will become victims of RtoP crimes.
RtoP and Women’s Participation in the Context of Displacement
The deplorable conditions facing displaced women in South Sudan, Syria, and CAR represent a wider failure of national authorities to uphold their obligations to adequately protect IDPs and refugees within their borders.
Indeed, the broad range of rights abuses faced by displaced women are identified by the new Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes, recently published by the Joint Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, as being a precursor to the commission of atrocity crimes.
The framework explains that of particular concern are “violations of civil and political rights” that may include “…severe restrictions to economic, social and cultural rights, often linked to patterns of discrimination or exclusion of protected groups, populations or individuals.”
Furthermore, as noted above, Resolution 1820 recognized for the first time that sexual violence could potentially constitute three of the four mass atrocity crimes and violations under RtoP, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Framework of Analysis also warns that increasing acts of sexual violence “may indicate an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes, or suggest a trajectory towards their perpetration. “
While a range of actions need to be in focus when addressing these crimes, a partial explanation of the failure to curb these violations is the exclusion of women from decision-making–including on policies regarding IDPs/refugees and peace processes in general. This exclusionary trend is at odds with the commitments set out in the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and in particular, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, including Resolutions 1325 and 2122.
Resolution 1325 served as a landmark document, marking the UN Security Council’s recognition of the unique effects of conflict on women, and that their voices must be included in all stages of the peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding process. Through the adoption of Resolution 2122, the Council sought to strengthen the WPS agenda by explicitly focusing on the need to take further action to ensure women’s participation in all stages of conflict prevention and response. Without the recognition and inclusion of women, it is widely acknowledged that any strategy implemented will be “faulty” and unsustainable.
Thus, states hosting a displaced population have an urgent responsibility to protect women from these crimes, while the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance when authorities are failing as spectacularly as in the cases above. However, due to the indispensable nature of women’s involvement, protection cannot be fully achieved without their active participation and the facilitation of these efforts.
Ending Abuse through Gendered Strategies
Both civil society advocates and member states that participated in the open debate have offered recommendations that could help ensure protection obligations are upheld, and that the voices of women are included in the design and implementation of policies for the protection of the displaced.
In their civil society statement delivered at the WPS debate, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security called for a comprehensive and gender-sensitive protection effort for women in displaced situations. They stressed that:
“…women must fully participate and be consulted systematically in decision-making, across all displacement settings, in humanitarian programming, and, of course, in the broader political, security and peace processes.” To these ends, the provision of political and financial support, as well as specialized training to civil society and women’s human rights defenders were recommended.
The Permanent Representative of Lithuania highlighted the importance of ensuring personnel involved in the protection of IDPs are well-versed in gender-sensitivity by “providing gender awareness training to peacekeepers, field staff and humanitarian actors, appointing gender advisors, and developing concrete indicators to assess implementation of gender mainstreaming policies.”
Suggesting examples of best practices, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet identified steps that have been taken to incorporate a gender perspective into IDP protection in peacekeeping operations.
One such practice was UNAMID’s establishment of a Women’s Protection Network in Darfuri IDP camps to elicit their participation in formulating protection strategies. Another was the UNMISS advocacy efforts that led to a gendered approach to IDP camp management, including the appointment of female camp managers.
An important recurring theme was the extension of women’s empowerment to the socioeconomic sphere, as horizontal inequalities exacerbated by displacement create the conditions that leave women vulnerable to exploitation. They are also considered a common indicator of atrocity risk under the Special Advisers’ Framework of Analysis.
As the Nordic countries remarked in their joint statement delivered by Sweden, “Gender inequalities lie at the heart of the issue. Gender equality in political, economic, and social life is a goal in itself and also contributes to preventing sexual violence and armed conflict.” Recommendations made by states for reducing inequalities, including by improving access to services and livelihoods, are therefore critical.
No Protection without True Participation
By implementing gendered protection strategies, and ensuring the full participation of women in all matters related to the protection of IDPs, a double purpose is being served. Not only are national and international actors doing their part to satisfy obligations laid out in the WPS agenda, but they are taking steps towards fulfilling their responsibility to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. Furthermore, they are upholding their responsibilities to help improve the capacity of national actors to live up to their primary RtoP obligations.
As Edmond Mulet stated “We have a responsibility to better protect women, but protection cannot exist without genuine understanding of women’s rights and acceptance of their full participation, as demanded by resolution 1325 and all subsequent mandates on women, peace, and security.”
In the lead up to the World Summit, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, noted that “roughly half of the countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence within five years.” RtoP was first put forward in the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, with advocates embracing it as a full spectrum of responsibilities from prevention, to reaction and rebuilding. When governments unanimously endorsed RtoP in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the “responsibility to rebuild” was not included (presumably because rebuilding was to be the focus of the newly created Peacebuilding Commission), but rebuilding obviously plays a large part in preventing a return to conflict and the commission of atrocity crimes. This leaves us asking – What is the responsibility of actors in post-atrocity situations? With a number of states – Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, and Kenya – emerging from bloodshed in recent years, it is important to understand how actors can effectively contribute to the rebuilding process.
What does post-crisis reconstruction after mass atrocities entail?
Mass atrocities – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing – are the most extreme forms of violence and often literally destroy a country by leaving it with collapsing infrastructure and destabilized political, judicial and legal systems. These institutions often need to be rebuilt from scratch and on top of this, the social fabric – how members of a society interact with each other – breaks down, and mistrust and suspicion predominate between the fractured communities. As can be expected then, rebuilding is a complicated and multi-faceted process, and includes a range of measures that can be taken by actors at all levels to assist in reconstruction. Such measures may include fostering political inclusiveness and promoting national unity, reforming legislation, ratifying relevant treaties, promoting human rights, monitoring elections, improving judicial processes, reintegrating ex-combatants and others into productive society, curtailing the availability of small arms, providing psychological support and reparations to victims, and establishing truth and reconciliation commissions. It is critical that these efforts not only serve to bring security to a country or region, but also address the causes of the conflict and mistrust between communities. Without this complete approach, it is likely that continued suspicion could fester, risking a return to the deadly cycle of violence. What this demonstrates is that no single measure in the rebuilding process stands alone, but rather that all action must be linked to ensure a holistic approach that achieves long-term stability.
Responsibility to Rebuild in Practice
But what does rebuilding look like in practice? As the cases of Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Sri Lanka show, post-conflict countries are fragile and the tasks before them complex, as each state faces unique challenges based on its past, the causes of the conflict, and the level of destruction experienced.
Libya: Weapons continue to destabilize a nation and the region
The international community upheld its responsibility to protect populations in Libya by taking swift and coordinated efforts to halt the bloodshed and imminent threat to the people of Benghazi at the hands of the Gaddafi government, which had resorted to force against what began as a peaceful popular uprising. However, rebuilding remains an ongoing challenge as the countless weapons, which flooded the nation during the crisis following the arming of the opposition by outside states, continues to destabilize security in Libya and surrounding countries. While measures were taken to secure anti-aircraft missiles, nearly every adult male carries a weapon, and countless more arms that went missing have turned up in the hands of rebel forces in Mali. This is not to say the government and international community have done nothing since the crisis – both have remained engaged in the justice process by attempting to eliminate impunity through the national judiciary and the International Criminal Court, and have provided economic support, with the European Union giving an economic package to combat post-crisis challenges and the United States unfreezing assets worth US $32 billion. Yet as Ramesh Thakur argues, the challenges we see today demonstrate that more needs to be done to prevent revenge killings, reprisal attacks and the return to mass violence by establishing security and law and order and disarming the country.
Côte d’Ivoire: The struggle for justice and reconciliation
Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire continues to struggle to rebuild by holding perpetrators accountable following the disputed 2010 presidential election between former President Laurent Gbagbo and recognized election winner Alassane Ouattara that left hundreds dead, thousands displaced and descended the country into war. Since the crisis, claims of one-sided justice have emerged – further perpetuating divisions between communities and causing an increase in attacks. Pro-Ouattara forces were quick to seek justice by arresting Gbagbo on 11 April 2011. They re-established key institutions such as courthouses and prisons, and assured that all responsible for atrocities would be held accountable. Yet, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, tensions remain as the special unit established to investigate crimes has charged more than 150 people, but all only from Gbagbo’s supporters. If continued, this would ignore the risks associated with giving one side of the conflict a free pass for committing atrocities, which could have devastating outcomes for the people and the country. As HRW states, “the impunity of today leads to the crimes tomorrow”.
Sri Lanka: “Exclusive development” renews tensions
Following the 30-year civil war that arose out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority and ultimately destroyed the country’s infrastructure, halted development, and resulted in the commission of RtoP crimes – including 40,000 killed in the last months of the conflict – the Sri Lankan government began to rebuild. The government has driven development by addressing housing needs and providing safe drinking water and electricity. With the building of highways and airports, the government has begun to extend transportation and develop the tourism industry. These efforts, however, have not been without their challenges. Firstly is the fact that some areas of the country remain devastated and uncultivated, leading, as International Crisis Group (ICG) points out, to renewed tensions between communities as some Tamils believe the development process has been selective and the government has undertaken efforts to impose Sinhala culture on Tamil communities across the country. Then there’s the issue of accountability, with HRW noting that the government has resisted taking meaningful steps to investigate and prosecute government forces for alleged war crimes and failed to implement most of the accountability-related recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. ICG recommends that the international community increase pressure on the government to make it more accountable and to expand the democratic political role for the Tamil minority. The failure to address these social aspects of rebuilding may risk reviving Sri Lanka’s violent past.
Preventing atrocities in the long-term
Just as every crisis is unique, so is every path for reconstruction. While the process of rebuilding a society following atrocity crimes remains an imprecise science, what these cases demonstrate is that there needs to be a holistic approach where security, justice and reconciliation and sustainable development are able to be achieved. The responsibility of all actors is not just to act to prevent or respond to imminent threats but assist in rebuilding efforts to ensure that populations are not threatened by the reoccurrence of atrocities. As the UN Secretary-General reminds in his 2009 report on RtoP, “The surest predictor of genocide is past genocide,” so we need to be sure that the world’s attention goes well beyond stopping the most immediate threats, and includes long-term commitments to preventing atrocities.
The ongoing crises and threats to civilians in Syria and Mali, in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) serve as reminders that mass atrocities are continuing the world over, and that more needs to be done to prevent and protect from these horrific crimes if we are to live up to the promise of “Never Again” . With the unanimous endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the 2005 World Summit, world leaders took a historic step by declaring that all governments have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. During the month of April, which serves as ‘Genocide Awareness Month’, civil society across the globe brings attention to ongoing atrocities and educates on what individuals, organizations, and stakeholders at all levels can do to stand up in the face of genocide. While governments have committed to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes, it is up to civil society and the general public to demand that world leaders uphold these responsibilities. Public demand, however, depends on public understanding and awareness of the ongoing crimes and available prevention tools. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect‘s global membership works to raise awareness on the prevention of genocide and other atrocities, not only in April but in their activities throughout the year. ICRtoP spoke with several Coalition members and close partners to gain insight on how they’re educating on genocide and how individuals and other NGOs can get involved.
International and local efforts to build networks of advocates
The work of ICRtoP members and partners demonstrates the creative initiatives that civil society undertakes to increase understanding and knowledge on genocide prevention. United to End Genocide (UEG), and Vision GRAM-International, are two of the many organizations that believe building partnerships and working in networks builds the impact of individual activists, communities and organizations working to prevent atrocities across the globe. When we spoke with UEG, one of the largest activist organizations in the United States dedicated to preventing and ending genocide, our colleagues noted that their organization “believe[s] the only way to prevent mass atrocities and to end genocide once and for all, is to build a large, powerful activist network – a sustainable movement – that will sound the alarm and demand action by our elected leaders to protect all who face these threats, anywhere in the world.” They do this by rallying their network of hundreds of thousands of activists around what UEG calls “action opportunities”, which have included circulating “a global petition calling for greater awareness and action to address ongoing abuses and suffering in Darfur“, and also , “ sounding the alarms about ominous warning signs of genocide by testifying before the U.S. Congress” on the situation in Burma. Meanwhile, Vision GRAM-International, a human rights organization working to promote and defend the rights of children and women in conflict zones in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, is currently recruiting local authorities, influential community members, former child soldiers, victims of genocide, churches, schools and other members of civil society to build a network of human rights activists within their local and regional constituency. Vision Gram will then work to train their growing network “in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, and actions to prevent genocide,” to ensure that “actions of advocacy and lobbying are organized at local, national and international level in collaboration with several associations…to remind governments of their responsibilities to protect people against atrocities.”
Educating actors at all levels through seminars, conferences and publications
Seminars, conferences and publications are useful tools for NGOs to educate and promote discussion amongst civil society, governments, regional and international bodies, and the UN to prioritize the prevention of, and identify strategies to, halt genocide and other atrocity crimes. One group that carries out this crucial and influential work is the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), based in New York City. AIPR, which is dedicated to training and assisting governments to fulfill their responsibility to prevent atrocity crimes, created the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention and established intergovernmental networks, in Latin America and Africa, to educate policymakers from around the world on the causes of and tools available to halt genocide. Additionally, AIPR releases publications and holds events, as explained by their Communications Officer and Alumni Network Director, Alex Zucker, “We co-organized ‘Deconstructing Prevention’ a public conference at Cardozo Law School in New York, and we are currently preparing a volume on the theory, policy, and practice of mass atrocity prevention, with contributions from leading scholars and practitioners, that we hope will become required reading for policymakers, scholars, activists, and students.” Furthermore, they have organized a panel on incorporating genocide prevention into the development agenda, which will be held on 18 April.
The reach of these global education efforts can be expanded through the translation of materials, and release of publications and briefings in numerous languages. These activities allow NGOs to broaden their audience when educating on country specific situations and atrocity crimes. Genocide Alert, based in Germany, uses it’s German-language platform on the Responsibility to Protect to provide an online “space for articles that relate to RtoP and Germany and current events, interviews and conference outcomes relating to RtoP.” They recently published a short German-language summary of the European Union Task Force Report on the Prevention of Mass Atrocities to engage German politicians on the report’s recommendations targeting how the European Union can improve its genocide prevention capabilities. Additionally Genocide Alert, who is “working with German politicians to integrate the responsibility to protect and related issues into the party platforms”, is using publications to ‘name and shame’, and plans to “publish a ranking of political parties in Germany evaluating their activities on genocide prevention and response in the past four years.”
New and innovative tools for prevention: social media and technology
In the last couple of years we have witnessed the power of social media as an essential tool for bringing the world’s attention to a range of topics, but civil society is pushing the boundaries of technology by going beyond Facebook and Twitter to create new, interactive and innovative ways to carry out their work. Christopher Tuckwood, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, explains how his organization uses technology, saying that “Wherever possible and appropriate, we seek to incorporate new technologies (especially web-based and mobile ones) into our work. For example, we recently launched Hatebase, which is the world’s largest online database of hate speech.” With the database, they’ve developed risk assessments to identify concerning situations and threats of genocide, and then use that information to inform and advocate for other organizations to take preventive action. It is important to acknowledge that their work, however, does not just occur in cyberspace – but is complemented by on-the-ground action. For example they recently sent their first field mission to Kenya during the recent presidential elections where, as accredited election observers, they monitored first hand developments on the ground. Meanwhile, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), a global member-led network of civil society organizations who are actively working on conflict prevention and peace-building, has a set-up a the Peace Portal, which serves as “a unique online platform for learning, sharing and collaborating in the conflict prevention and peace-building field…The Portal encourages information sharing and participation from civil society and grassroots organisations, whose voices often can not find the online visibility they need.”
Creating space for and promoting dialogue
Many of these organizations’ programs aim to encourage dialogue amongst different stakeholders to prevent atrocities. Dialogue between minority populations, civil society, government officials, and other actors can help reduce tensions between groups at an early and preventive stage, long before the escalation of a conflict, thus finding a peaceful and inclusive resolution before the risk of atrocity crimes becomes imminent. It can also build the confidence, skills, and capacity of all of these actors with the ultimate result of creating an environment for solving tensions and problems together. The Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM), an organization based in Costa Rica working to develop regional capacity for atrocity prevention through research analysis and advocacy campaigns, is just one example of an organization creating space for such dialogue. While the organization also relies on social media and technology to communicate its awareness message, an essential element of all four of its main projects is the promotion of dialogue as a tool for prevention. For example, its program “Dialogando” which literally means talking in Spanish, provides forums for discussions between civil society and governments to improve the capacity of law enforcement of the Ministry of Labour, and in turn the civilian protection framework, in Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Similarly, Lebanon-based organization, the Permanent Peace Movement, promotes peace throughout the Middle East and North African through their dialogue and awareness raising projects. Their program “Non-violence and Reconciliation in the Lebanese Mountains” uses dialogue to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation amongst local Lebanese communities in the mountain areas where violence that erupted in 2008 between different religious groups created a rift between previously peaceful villages. Working together, members of these communities produced a book to educate others and share successful stories about the co-existence between villages, which in turn reduced the likelihood of renewed violence.
Engaging national and regional actors
Preventing atrocity crimes does not stop at educating and raising awareness. It is essential to engage with national and regional actors in order to implement policies aimed at protecting civilians. As mentioned above, Genocide Alert’s primary focus is to engage directly with national political actors, and their programs include regular discussions on “genocide prevention, R2P and related issues with German parliamentarians and experts and make specific recommendations for a more effective German policy in regard to the responsibility to protect.” In addition, United Nations Association-United Kingdom (UNA-UK) has a R2P Program, which seeks to put the Responsibility to Protect on the political agenda by galvanizing political support for RtoP and fostering an understanding of the concept within the public domain. They are attempting to consolidate a UK national RtoP policy network and build support within the UK government and national and regional political parties by engaging policy makers through reports and high-level round tables targeting decision makers. In South America, Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales, (CRIES) is working hard to bring the issue of RtoP amongst all actors in Latin America and Caribbean. In 2012 alone, through the release of their academic journal on RtoP and subsequent conferences, they engaged with a range of actors from representatives for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and politicians to academia and representatives of civil society organizations in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and at UN Headquarters in New York. This is not unlike GPPAC’s programs which strive “for multi-actor collaboration and local ownership of strategies for peace and security” by connecting “members with relevant individuals and institutions such as the UN, regional intergovernmental organisations, state actors, the media and academia.” An important element of their work is building the capacity of civil society organizations on how they can reach out and engage better with media and policy makers on these issues. Engaging regional, sub-regional and national actors in discussions on preventing atrocities ensures greater collaboration to build a stronger more comprehensive policy framework for protecting civilians from these most terrible crimes.
How can you or your organization get involved in raising awareness on genocide and RtoP?
There are a number of ways you or your organization can get involved in raising awareness of and preventing genocide and other RtoP crimes. You or your organization can:
It is now up to all of us to play a part, not only in April but all year round, to raise awareness to create the public and political will needed to prevent atrocities and act in the face of escalating violence.
Learn more on and connect with the organizations featured in this blog!
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 Arms, including 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.
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.”
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 International‘s 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 blog, Self 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 transfer “for 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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The people of Kenya are just days away from casting their ballots on 4 March in the country’s first election since the 2007 presidential race which resulted in unprecedented ethnic violence, leaving over 1000 people dead and 600,000 more displaced. A country with over 70 distinct ethnic groups – the five largest being Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, and Kamba – Kenya’s past elections have largely witnessed voting along ethnic lines. This year, eight candidates are running, among them Uhuru Kenyatta and his running-mate, William Ruto, both of whom have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the commission of crimes against humanity following the 2007 elections. While the Kenyan government has undertaken a range of measures to prevent a repeat of 2007’s deadly crisis, including the adoption of a new constitution to redistribute political power, the training of police and civil society to identify and monitor hate speech, and educating the Kenyan population on the newly established electoral process , civil society organizations have raised alarm to the sizeable risk of violence that remains. As several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have reported, Kenya has already experienced election-related inter-communal attacks that left over 400 dead and upwards of 118,000 displaced during 2012 and early 2013. This election, which is expected to be extremely close and require a second round, known as a “run off” (scheduled for 11 April), will prove a great test for the Kenyan government as it works to uphold its responsibility to protect its population from the recurrence of mass atrocities, as well as ensure a free, fair and transparent presidential race.
Kenya’s 2007 disputed election: a political and humanitarian crisis
The presidential election of December 2007 swept Kenya into a wave of ethnically charged violence following the contested announcement of incumbent Mwai Kibaki as president over the predicted favorite to win, Raila Odinga. The declaration of Kibaki as president, followed by the swiftness of his inauguration a handful of hours later, triggered widespread and systematic violence characterized by ethnically targeted killings, which evidence later showed to be largely pre-meditated by politicians and community leaders. Crimes committed included crimes against humanity – one of the four crimes and violations that all governments, including Kenya, committed to preventing and halting when endorsing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P). The international community acted rapidly to keep the volatile situation from deteriorating by deploying former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to serve as international mediator and head of the African Union Panel of Eminent Personalities. The outcome of the Panel’s efforts was a power-sharing government that committed to address the long term issues and root causes of the conflict.
Pre-election preparation and reform: enough to prevent a repeat of 2007?
A range of preventive actions have been taken by the government, UN agencies, and civil society to prevent a repeat of the tragic violence that plagued Kenya five years ago. Civil society and media representatives convened a forum organized by the Nairobi Peace Initiative – Africa and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, in Nairobi in early February 2013 to share their work to ensure peaceful elections, and discuss the concerns surrounding the poll with the goal of generating a collective voice and strategy for civil society and media. At the national level, Kenyan authorities have trained hundreds of police and peace organization representatives in monitoring media and speech to bring attention to hateful language that can incite violence. With the support of translators the monitors can identify hate speech in a range of dialects and, through partnerships with phone service providers, track phone messages too.
Monitoring will be crucial to determine the election results so organizations like the Carter Center, the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, and the Elections Observation Group, as well as the East African Community and the African Union, have dispatched teams to oversee the upcoming poll.
UN officials and agencies have been vocal and active as well, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling on all leaders to “abide by legal mechanisms and to send a clear message to supporters that violence of any kind would be unacceptable.” The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, was in Nairobi in early February where he recalled the responsibility of the Kenyan authorities to protect and noted the need to ensure a swift response by the international community to prevent a repeat of 2007. His office was there to work with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to support Kenya’s National Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, which included holding a five-day workshop on RtoP and the prevention of inter-communal violence. To ensure that all preparations are underway in the event of displacement, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, created a humanitarian contingency, with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons calling on the government and international community to do everything possible to prevent massive displacement.
The government itself has adopted numerous reforms to create the environment needed for peaceful and fair elections and to address the country’s deep seeded grievances. While these actions should be commended, remaining challenges and incomplete reforms have left many NGOs questioning if the government’s response will be enough.
Following a 2010 referendum, Kenya adopted a new constitution to prevent ethnically charged politics and check the power of the executive. This has been done by giving greater power and resources to local political leaders through the creation of what International Crisis Group (ICG) calls a “new level of governance”– the establishment of 47 districts each with their own governor, senator and assembly. The government has also adopted measures to ensure full geographic (and therefore ethnic) support for the president-elect by creating new voting rules that require the winning candidate to receive more than half of all votes and at least 25% in 24 of the newly established counties. While these new rules will serve to spread power and responsibility to a range of politicians, the majority of Kenyans have not received the information needed to understand the new Constitution and voting rules, as the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) found in its report entitled Countdown to the March 2013 General Elections. Through conducting polls and interviews throughout the country, KHRC’s research indicated that increased and continuous civic education is crucial “to secure an informed public for future elections.”
The devolution of presidential power is also meant to keep the nation from erupting into large scale violence; however the new counties and positions could very well create the likelihood for localized conflict. This is in part due to the increased influence that local politicians will hold, which may lead “many local leaders seek to preserve the system of ethnic patronage that devolution was intended to remove. As a result, the mobilization of ethnic grievances to garner political support remains rampant,” as the Global Centre for R2P (GCR2P) points out. These findings were echoed in ICG’s report entitled Kenya’s 2013 Elections, where the organization elaborates on how the constitutional changes can lead to risk of violence, stating that “although the new level of governance should give communities, including minorities, a greater say (…), it could also transfer political competition, violence and corruption down and create new minorities and new patterns of marginalization.”
Strengthening the security sector
Efforts were also undertaken to address the failures of the police to protect in the aftermath of the last elections. During the violent crisis, the government responded with excessive force, with Amnesty International (AI) recalling the role of police in “killing and injuring protestors and raping and sexually assaulting women and girls, particularly in opposition areas.” The government subsequently established an ambitious framework which, as the International Center for Policy and Conflict in Africa noted, was meant to “establish and elaborate an effective system of democratic regulation and oversight of security services;” however, as AI points out, the framework has not been implemented to the fullest, and the capacity of security personnel remains an inherent problem, placing civilians at risk of violence yet again.
Little has been done practically to bring to justice those responsible for violent crimes committed following the previous election, and AI has stated that steps have actually been taken to cover up and politically manipulate cases against security personnel. As a result, while conducting on the ground research, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has heard from countless Kenyans that “they view the police as ineffective and corrupt.” As the elections approach, police also remain understaffed and ill-equipped, with the Council on Foreign Relations reporting that the Kenyan force has about 70,000 police, “or roughly 160 per 100,000 residents, which is less than three-quarters of the 220 per 100,000 recommended by the United Nations.” These forces will be stretched to their limits when tasked with patrolling the polling stations, which could exceed 40,000 nationwide.
Upholding accountability for crimes committed during the 2007 election remains a critical challenge for Kenya, and one that has already had an impact on the elections. HRW also pointed out that little has been done nationwide to arrest and prosecute civilians responsible for attacks on people and property, leaving those responsible for 2007 election-related violence free to repeat their actions.
At the government level, impunity has been stated to be at the heart of the 2007 crisis, with the final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence calling for the creation of a domestic special tribunal. After two failed government attempts to establish the tribunal, Kofi Annan sent to the ICC the names of a dozen suspects deemed most responsible, leading to the opening of an investigation by the Court’s then-Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. From this investigation, six of the suspects, referred to in the media as the “Ocampo six”, were summoned to appear before the Court, ultimately resulting in the confirmation of charges for four of the “Ocampo Six”, including candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto. The ICC indictments have influenced the presidential campaigns with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reporting that some are describing the polls as “a referendum against or for the ICC”. The indictments have also resulted in an unexpected political alliance with the formation of the Kenyatta-Ruto ticket, as the two men are Kikuyu and Kalenjin respectively, two ethnic groups which violently targeted the other in 2007. Civil society organizations, including the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ-Kenya), the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC), and the International Center for Policy and Conflict, fought to keep Kenyatta and Ruto from running, arguing that their candidacy violated the integrity clause of the new Constitution. The Kenyan High Court, however, disagreed, ruling that it would not intervene, ultimately giving the two men the green light to participate. This ruling has led many to wonder about the practicality of a Kenyatta/Ruto presidency, with ICJ-Kenya noting in their report entitled If Uhuru Kenyatta or William Ruto is Elected President or Deputy President, that such a presidency would cripple the government because the country would be left with leaders who are unable to carry out their vast domestic duties due to repeated trips to the Hague. As of 27 February, the trial dates remained up in the air as the Chief Prosecutor for the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, indicated that she would accept a postponement of the trials to August. Kenyatta and Ruto had been slated to begin their trials on 10 and 11 April respectively, with 11 April being election run-off date.
What do these risks mean for the elections and the people of Kenya?
As FIDH notes, the pre-election environment has been “marked by political parties and alliances’ mobilization of the population along ethnic lines, the re-activation or creation of illegal gangs and militia groups (…), cases of civilians arming themselves as a preventive measures, the use of hate speech or inflammatory coded language by politicians, vernacular radio stations as well as through social media: in other words, all the ingredients that led to the 2007/2008 violence.” But 2013 does not need to be a repeat of the cycle of violence that has plagued the country. As put by ICG, “the people deserve better. (…) they deserve the change to vote without fear and elect leaders committed to reform and ready to serve society as a whole rather than the narrow interests of elites.”
While the Kenyan government should be commended for the steps taken, more can certainly be done at the domestic and international levels to ensure free and fair elections and uphold the state’s responsibility to protect from mass atrocity crimes. This can include publicly committing to respect election rules and, as KHRC’s research found, providing civic education about the electoral process. As HRW recommends, the government can take direct measures through the deployment of police “in adequate numbers to areas of potential conflict and ensure that they perform their duties impartially and with full respect of the law”. This point was echoed by the GCR2P, who also noted that state authorities should “warn all Kenyans (…) that they will be held responsible for inciting, aiding or perpetrating mass atrocity crimes.” For actors at the regional and international levels, ICG has called on leaders to send messages urging against “political interference with the elections and especially against the use of or incitement to violence”. These are just some of the many steps the government of Kenya and the international community can take to prevent the spread of post-election violence. These preventive efforts drive at the very heart of RtoP, which not only calls for states to halt mass atrocities, but to protect from genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing happening again. The people of Kenya deserve the opportunity to elect a new president without the fear of mass atrocities; the time for preventive action is now.