Category Archives: srebrenica

#RtoPWeekly: 30 September – 4 October

Weekly

This Week in Focus:
Plan of Action on Hate Speech and the RtoP

The 74th session of the UN General Assembly has come to a close, but not without several interesting and notable RtoP-related conversations.

One event entitled, “Confronting Hate and Protecting Rights” was held to discuss the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech. The Plan of Action addresses the root causes and drivers of hate as well as the impact on victims. An interactive panel including UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, who spoke of the ability for hate speech to be an indicator of mass atrocities, and that incitement to violence is included under RtoP. Hate speech and violence against minority groups continues to rise, and recognizing it requires accurate monitoring and identification, so the necessary actors can understand which communities are vulnerable, as well as the types of threats and its sources. Panelists spoke of the need for honest reporting on hate speech to increase its visibility, but noted that today’s hate speech is spread through social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook, which is harder to monitor and respond to in a timely manner.

A second event, “A Pathway to a Sustainable Solution to the Rohingya Crisis” was held by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh, and detailed the plight of the 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Throughout its participation in various events around UNGA, Bangladesh called on the international community to assist them in protecting the Rohingya people within its borders, and reminding the international community of their obligations under Pillar Two of the RtoP, in helping both Bangladesh and Burma to ensure the safe and voluntary return of refugees. The event also outlined the current challenges in the crises, noting that attempts at repatriation have failed due to the mistrust between the Rohingya and the Burmese government, as well as an unwillingness of the Burmese government to address the structural and legal discrimination against the Rohingya, reinstate land rights, freedom of movement, and the right to citizenship, as well as ensuring accountability.

As part of the event, the Attorney General of the Gambia, Ba Tambadou, announced and detailed plans to file a case against Burma at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Mr. Tambadou described the events as “textbook acts calculated to destroy a people,” Adding that though genocide is committed by individuals, who should be held accountable, states also have a responsibility to protect and prevent and the Gambia’s case aims to underscore Burma’s failure to do so.

Rohingya  refugees  exhausted  streaming  off  boats  arriving
(Photo via the World Bank)


What to Watch:

Venezuela: UN Creates Independent Investigative Body (Human Rights Watch)
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution to create an independent fact-finding body to investigate alleged human rights violations in Venezuela since 2014. The body aims to ensure accountability for those who have committed such crimes, which include extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture. The HRC calls upon Venezuelan authorities to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and failure to do so will result in the creation of a full commission of inquiry. The OHCHR body also hopes its work will ensure redress and access to justice for victims.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: The memory of Srebrenica is fading away (Al-Jazeera)
This opinion piece talks of the importance of memorialization in preventing future genocides. As ethnic and religious tensions continue to rise around the world, the author warns of the need for the experiences of survivors to help inform stakeholders’ future decisions. Understanding that what occurred in Srebrenica was not a once-off anomaly, but rather a long process of dehumanization and systematic extermination, is key to future prevention efforts. The danger of the creation of the “other” for political gain used to marginalize religious, ethnic, and minority groups, is evident in the past and current examples of mass atrocities in the world.


But Also Don’t Miss:

Cameroon: Cameroon dialogue starts as Anglophone separatists pull out
Cameroon’s national dialogue began Monday, marking two years since the conflict began, but several separatist leaders pulled out calling for international mediation.

Europe: Mounting Syrian War Crime Cases Raise Hopes For Justice Against A Brutal Regime
Victims of war crimes from Syria continue to file cases in European courts, citing universal jurisdiction.

Philippines: Filming the Philippines’ “War on Drugs”
International Criminal Court Prosecutors requested the submission of the new documentary “On the President’s Orders” to examine alleged government sanctioned crimes in the “war on drugs.”


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Filed under Burma, Cameroon, Europe, General Assembly, RtoP, Second Pillar, srebrenica, Uncategorized, Weekly Round-Up

Remembering Srebrenica

The Srebrenica genocide, and our collective failure to prevent it, was a major factor in the development of the Responsibility to Protect. Learn more with today’s infographic below.

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Filed under genocide, RtoP, srebrenica

Remembering Srebrenica

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.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

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.)

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

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.

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Filed under Peacekeeping, Prevention, RtoP, srebrenica, UN