This infographic takes a look at international justice and responding to atrocity crimes by giving you a glance at the referral of Libya to the International Criminal Court.
Category Archives: Timely and Decisive Action
The following is the third and final installment of Dr. Alex Bellamy’s introduction to the new RtoP at 10 Blog Series. While parts one and two focused on the conceptual and institutional issues facing the norm, the final addition posits that in the next decade, RtoP will be judged first and foremost on how it is operationalized. Read on for analysis regarding the primary challenges that will need to be overcome for effective RtoP implementation on the ground.
Unfinished Operational Work
In its first decade, the progress of RtoP was judged mainly on its normative and institutional development. In its second decade RtoP will be judged on the difference it makes to people’s lives.
There are a number of reasons why this is a much more difficult challenge, among them the political complications that arise when states disagree about their priorities and the nature of the crises they confront. These challenges are compounded by the often quite limited influence that outsiders have on the conflicts that give rise to genocide and mass atrocities. Although concerted international action can sometimes prevent mass atrocities, the so-called “structural” or “root” causes of genocide and mass atrocities are often deeply ingrained in societies, economies and national institutions. Whilst outsiders can play important enabling and facilitative roles, foreign assistance cannot by itself achieve structural change except through massive interventions that are rarely contemplated. Well-targeted programs can sometimes support local sources of resilience but cannot manufacture it out of thin air. At the later stages of a crisis, international actors can use punishments and incentives to persuade armed actors to refrain from committing atrocities, deploy peacekeepers to provide physical protection, provide humanitarian assistance and negotiate respites in the violence. These efforts can reduce violence and protect sections of the community but they will always struggle to provide comprehensive protection.
The problem is compounded by the fact that global demand for protection is already coming close to exceeding the global supply of relevant resources. With more missions, deployed with more peacekeepers, with more complex mandates, in more difficult environments, UN peacekeeping is already stretched to the limit. And with the developed world still recovering from the Global Financial Crisis there is little appetite for spending added money on saving populations overseas. After all, in an age of austerity governments have to make tough choices about their priorities – funding protection efforts overseas necessarily means that states have fewer resources with which to fund their domestic priorities.
When we think about the operational challenges associated with implementing RtoP, we should therefore be modest about what we expect the international community to achieve and the timeframes for achieving it. Some situations do not lend themselves to simple solutions or easily achievable remedies – they are simply too complex and too difficult. That does not mean that the international community should not do everything it can to protect vulnerable populations only that we should recognize that even with the best of intentions it will sometimes come up short because there is often no solution that suits everybody, equally.
How, then, do we start to close some of the most pronounced operational gaps? Three challenges in particular are worth highlighting.
Major Operational Challenges
First, the need to prioritize protection. Whatever else may be going on in a particular situation, when genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity are perpetrated or imminently apprehended, the overriding objective of the UN and its partners must be to protect populations from these crimes as far as it is possible to do. RtoP is not a “‘tool” to be employed to achieve other ends, but a master principle to which the energies of the UN, its Member States, other international and regional organizations, and individuals should be directed. The operational gaps will be filled only when RtoP is seen as fundamental to the way the UN and its partners do business.
In practice, this means that debates about how to respond to individual crises should focus squarely on what is needed to best protect the civilian population in harm’s way and that—as a matter of principle—protection needs should never be sacrificed to achieve other goals. This does not mean states should act without heed for the wider consequences. Nor does it remove the need to make difficult choices. In situations like Mali or Syria, for instance, where comprehensive protection cannot be provided without first ending a civil war, the prioritization of protection might dictate a strategy focused on ending the violence no matter what the cost to justice further down the road.
Prioritizing protection involves understanding when atrocities are likely and having the capacity to assess situations from an atrocity prevention perspective and devise strategies that can be resourced and implemented. Although there is no sure way of guaranteeing adequate resources, governments tend to be more willing to support options backed by clear plans. Developing a comprehensive strategy for prevention and promoting the mainstreaming of RtoP across the UN and its partners are two ways in which the institutional development of RtoP could support its operational development.
Among the more important practical challenges is overcoming the tendency to see RtoP as disconnected from associated programs of work in areas such as conflict prevention, peacebuilding, the protection of civilians, international criminal justice, and the protection and empowerment of women and girls. Thus far, practitioners and analysts have tended to treat these agendas as “solitudes” within the UN system because of their differences, rather than recognizing their overlapping issues and mutual interdependence. This has limited the international community’s ability to develop comprehensive responses to genocide and mass atrocities.
Second, we need to ensure that the international community delivers on the protection mandates it already has. This calls for the matching of means to ends. If our priority is to protect populations from genocide and mass atrocities it follows that the policies and strategies adopted should be aimed at achieving the greatest protection for the greatest number of people possible in the affected area and as quickly as possible. For instance, if the principal source of threat is a civil war, then means should be directed at ending it; and if the principal source is a particular armed group, then the means should focus on impeding its ability to commit mass atrocities or on persuading it to cease and desist; if perpetrators cannot be persuaded, deterred or neutralized, then the means should focus on facilitating the escape of potential victims or their in situ protection.
This involves something of a change in mindset and a commitment to the careful assessment of situations prior to the articulation of policy options. To close the operational gap, we need to make better use of the resources already provided by the international community through a more targeted approach. This involves understanding the nature of each protection problem and the most effective and feasible way of supporting as much protection as possible. Matching means to ends simply means understanding the causes of civilian suffering in each individual case, tailoring appropriate responses to address those issues, and ensuring that once adopted policies are properly resourced. This latter point involves more than just the level of material resources provided. It also involves building the expertise needed to conduct peacekeeping and other types of activities in ways that maximize their capacity to protect populations through doctrine, training, operational guidance, planning and the conducting of operations themselves. It also involves joined up thinking and policy responses across the UN system and its partners, in order to ensure that responses are comprehensive.
Third, we need to manage the controversies arising from the use of force and other means of coercion. The use of coercive measures remains deeply controversial. This, of course, is not unique to RtoP. Nor, by itself, is it undesirable. Coercion and force should be controversial. A key challenge is to improve the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Security Council’s performance. On this question, RtoP finds itself wedged between two positions. One, arising from Libya, holds that the Security Council and states acting on its mandates need to be held more accountable for their actions. The implementation of Resolution 1973 by NATO and its partners drew sharp criticism from states complaining that the Alliance overstepped its mandate. It is not surprising that as the Council becomes more proactive in its pursuit of RtoP, demands for political accountability are becoming more significant. Future agreement about the use of force to protect populations from genocide and mass atrocities will likely depend upon concomitant steps to address accountability questions such as those raised by the “Responsibility while Protecting” concept advanced by Brazil.
The other critical issue for the Security Council, arising from Syria, stems from calls for more decisiveness and demands for the restraining of the veto in situations where genocide and mass atrocities are perpetrated. It is not surprising that after four vetoes blocked action on Syria, demands for veto restraint have gained traction with some 60 states supporting French calls for an informal “code of conduct” or “statement of principles” aimed at limiting the veto’s use. But at least three of the permanent five members (China, Russia, United States) remain skeptical, meaning that the proposal is unlikely to be adopted any time soon though the dialogue surrounding it may well help to lift the political cost associated with exercising the veto when timely and decisive responses to genocide and mass atrocities are warranted.
Finding a balance between these twin imperatives – to do more to protect whilst ensuring better accountability – will be among the key challenges for the Security Council in the coming decade. For RtoP, much will hinge on the extent to which the Council succeeds.
Concerted Action Needed to Protect the World’s Most Vulnerable
In its first ten years, RtoP has emerged as an international norm. With only a tiny handful of exceptions, states accept RtoP and agree on its main components. The principle’s normative development has progressed apace and its institutional development is gathering pace, with the UN, regional organizations and dozens of states taking concrete steps to implement it.
If the first ten years of RtoP was primarily about this normative development, the next ten will be about its implementation and making a real difference to people’s lives. This will require concerted action to complete the unfinished conceptual, institutional and operational work of building a world less tolerant of conscience shocking inhumanity and more likely to protect the most vulnerable. That is our challenge for the decade to come.
ICRtoP thanks Dr. Alex Bellamy for his excellent contributions. If you have yet to read parts one and two of the #R2P10 introduction, do so here and here. Be sure to stay tuned for more expert insight featured on the #R2P10 Blog Series.
Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has defied the efforts of international peacemakers for far too long. UN and regional interventions have had only a limited impact on bringing long-term peace and stability to a country that has been wracked by ongoing militia violence, foreign interference, abject poverty, a weak state, and other factors that have combined to create one of the world’s most intractable wars and persistent atrocity situations.
In recent years, eastern DRC has seen the worst of the fighting, most notably in 2012 when the 23 March Movement (M23) rebel group swept through the region, capturing Goma and committing a trail of abuses along the way. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) was heavily criticized for its perceived ineffectualness in preventing the onslaught.
Partly as a response to such criticism and with a determination to prevent further suffering of the civilian population at the hands of DRC’s numerous militias, the Security Council passed resolution 2098 authorizing the momentous Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The first of its kind, the force received an unprecedented offensive mandate and was unambiguously tasked with neutralizing armed groups.
Its rapid victory against M23 temporarily vindicated MONUSCO for its failure to prevent the rebel group’s rise, and has important implications for future peacekeeping missions with a chapter VII mandate to protect civilians. However, the alleged compromise of the UN’s traditional values of impartiality and non-use of force, along with concerns over humanitarian fallout and the long-term effectiveness of FIB have come into question. Such concerns, highlighted below, must be given consideration when assessing the brigade and its potential as a model for similar offensive operations and as a tool for implementing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).
The Intervention Brigade after M23
Since the initial victory against M23, the euphoria surrounding the FIB’s accomplishments has dissipated and been replaced with a more cautious evaluation of its role, particularly as it pertains to impartiality, the potential humanitarian fallout, and the long-term viability of such an offensive mandate.
Loss of Impartiality – In a recent article for African Arguments, Christoph Vogel gave an account of the FIB’s performance and warned that, in relation to operations against other armed groups such as the Masisi-based APCLS , “The indirect collaboration with one negative force aimed at neutralising another puts the FIB’s, MONUSCO’s, and more generally, the UN’s impartiality in to question.”
This perception has been further underscored by the many delays in pursuing the Hutu-dominated Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia, adding to suspicions that “…the FIB was largely created at the instigation of SADC to help its fellow-SADC member state, DRC, defeat the M23, which was backed by its enemy Rwanda.”
The neutrality of the FIB, and by association, MONUSCO as a whole, was also questioned in a report released by the International Peace Institute examining the legal ramifications of the brigade’s offensive mandate. The report concluded that due to its active involvement in combat activity, the force could indeed be considered a party to the conflict. This effectually renders MONUSCO’s protected status under international humanitarian law null and void. The loss of legal protection is indicated to have implications for the military and civilian staff alike, as both could potentially become legitimate targets for military action and even potential prosecution under international law.
In addition, the report also flagged the fact that the UN mission has generally remained mum over the well-documented human rights abuses committed by FARDC. It states that, “the Intervention Brigade’s mandate can be seen to privilege security issues over impartiality and human rights protection. It focuses on armed groups rather than the FARDC, which is a key part of the “cycle of impunity” and ongoing conflict…”
For obvious reasons, such complications could have serious implications for the mission’s ability to carry out its protection mandate. Accusations of partiality must be addressed if the force is to effectively fulfill its civilian protection mandate without politicization or being otherwise used as a tool to selectively fight the battles of its troop-contributing countries. Furthermore, the implications of being considered a party to DRC’s conflict could have a deterrent effect on states contributing or considering personnel contributions to the peacekeeping force.
Humanitarian Fallout – When the FIB was first announced, there was a flurry of civil society concern over the potential humanitarian impact that increased military activity could have on eastern DRC, including from ICRtoP member Oxfam International, which had one of the largest presences in North Kivu at the time.
Indeed, Medecins Sans Frontieres took an exceptionally tough stance against the brigade’s blurring of military and civilian activities, stating that it no longer wanted any military component of MONUSCO operating near its health facilities for fear of being targeted.
Thankfully, the humanitarian crisis that was envisioned by concerned organizations never came to pass. However, such fears have not been sufficiently assuaged. As long-awaited military operations against the FDLR loom, new calls for protection of civilians have arisen. According to Florent Mèhaule, head of the sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Kivu,
“One of the key issues in South Kivu could be humanitarian access due to both physical constraints and security… such an offensive will probably hamper any kind of access [to] negotiations with armed groups. In addition to difficult access, the weak humanitarian presence in the potential military operations’ areas will make it harder to quickly scale up large humanitarian operations if required.”
Possibilities such as this are reasonable concerns, and reports that OCHA and the UN refugee agency are currently working with MONUSCO, as well as local aid agencies, to develop contingency planning are welcomed.
Long-term solution needed – The final consideration is the degree to which military action is being narrowly viewed as the most important component in the struggle to bring stability to the region. Several NGOs and other experts have been quick to note that placing too much faith in this option could be counter-productive, if not harmful. For example, the Norwegian Refugee Council has stressed that:
“Military operations alone cannot bring much-needed durable solutions to the long-standing problems which have troubled the region and its people for twenty years. The international community must focus on the deeper, uncomfortable issues that have defeated all efforts to bring peace to Eastern DRC until now.”
The organization has called for more investment in non-military measures, such as mediation between armed actors and support to local civil society organizations. Importantly, NRC and other groups have pointed to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) for the Great Lakes Region as an important referent for addressing the conflict’s root causes. A coalition of NGOs working in eastern DRC have made calls for an national oversight body to ensure Congolese authorities implement its commitments to the PSCF, further adding that:
“The operations of the new MOUNSCO Intervention Brigade” should be “clearly linked to the realization of the PSCF. This should include encouraging the UN Security Council to seriously consider suspension of the Brigade if it does not perform well or if the Congolese government does not make sufficient progress in implementing its PSCF commitments, particularly the development of a national security sector reform map.”
A Model for Future Intervention?
As the deadline that SADC and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region set for disarmament of the FDLR has come and gone, it is now said that military action to neutralize the group is “inevitable.” Given that the FDLR has been accused of numerous atrocities, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, proactive action to end this threat to DRC’s civilians is a positive use of peace enforcement under RtoP.
The FIB itself is a potentially useful model, given the effect that providing it with a unique and unambiguous mandate had on defeating M23, as well as in its less noted contribution to victory against the Ugandan Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Indeed, in his recent strategic review of MONUSCO the Secretary-General called the force “indispensible” in protecting civilians when Congolese authorities failed to do so.
Recalling the Office of Internal Oversight Service’s report released in March 2014, if the Security Council decides to pursue a similar option in the future, it could be an answer to the report’s findings that UN peacekeepers almost never use force for the protection of civilians, due to reasons such as unclear mandates and a lack of resources.
However, MONUSCO must be cautious in utilizing this tool. The concerns highlighted above represent real discomfort with the UN taking such an aggressive approach – a sentiment that has been shared by many UN member states that are leery of abandoning the organization’s traditional focus on consent, impartiality and the non-use of force.
In the DRC context, recommendations for monitoring and ensuring compliance with human rights standards, contingency planning to mitigate humanitarian fallout and to maximize civilian protection, as well as linking the FIB’s activities with broader peace efforts, should be heeded. On a more systemic level, the upcoming Secretary-General’s High-Level Review of Peacekeeping Operations, offers a chance to further assess the FIB’s performance, gleaning the positive lessons learned and reconciling them with the legitimate concerns held by many NGOs and UN member states.
NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya to prevent the imminent slaughter of Benghazi’s civilians, threatened by Moammar Qadaffi and his forces, was hailed by many as the first real test-case for implementation of the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) – and a successful one at that. However, the intervention also sparked controversy and raised important lessons about the norm’s implementation. Most prominently, many UN Member States expressed concern that through the course of pursuing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the mandate to protect civilians morphed into something that more closely resembled regime change.
This has since led to debates surrounding Security Council monitoring, and the relationship between RtoP and regime change. Three years later, as Libya sits on the precipice of civil war, it appears more lessons have emerged regarding the oft-neglected importance of providing states with post-crisis assistance to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocity crimes, as well as the necessity of employing RtoP measures that straddle the various pillars.
Libya on the Brink
Currently, Libya faces the genuine risk of sliding into civil war. Since Qadaffi’s overthrow, the country’s militias have run rampant, with no effective central government or security force to rein them in. Often, these militias have provided the only security guarantee for many of Libya’s tribes and city-states, while informal cooperation – and often competition – with the regular security forces is common.
Although a delicate balance of power previously kept the militias from engaging in all out fighting against one another, the election of a new Parliament on June 25th, 2014 dealt a significant blow to Libya’s Islamists. Instead of accepting the results peacefully, Islamists and their Misrata-based allies began a siege of Tripoli and its airport. The goal of the assault was to wrest it from the control of the Zintan-based militias they perceived to be Qadaffi sympathizers leading a counter-revolution. The alliance, named ‘Libyan Dawn’, has gone on to reconvene the former General National Congress in Tripoli, in opposition to the newly formed House of Representatives sitting in Tobruk. Simultaneously, the city of Benghazi has plunged into factional fighting as former Qadaffi General, Khalifa Haftar unilaterally launched operation ‘Libyan Dignity’, with the stated intention of ejecting Islamist militants that allegedly pose a threat to Libyan national identity.
As it stands, Libya therefore currently has two opposing governments sitting in different parts of the country, each backed by their own respective armed groups, but neither with any real authority. Militia violence continues to engulf several of Libya’s major cities, with recent reports from groups like Human Rights Watch noting that since taking control of Tripoli and its airport, Libya Dawn elements have turned their aggression on civilian populations. Given this reality, the risk of mass atrocities is perhaps greatest since the 2011 uprising.
Humanitarian Consequences and Unfolding Atrocities
The recent bout of fighting between rival militias has had devastating consequences for Libya’s civilians. Recent figures provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimate that over 1,000 Libyans have perished, while 107,028 are internally displaced and an additional 150,000 have sought refuge abroad. Meanwhile, those remaining in conflict zones are experiencing frequent shortages of food, water, gasoline, and electricity.
Amnesty International called attention to the indiscriminate nature of the violence, stressing that “The warring parties in Tripoli and Benghazi have displayed a wanton disregard for the safety of ordinary civilians who have found themselves mercilessly pinned down by indiscriminate shelling with imprecise weapons.” Citing the rising civilian death toll and the damage to civilian infrastructure, they warn that the failure to distinguish between military and civilian targets is punishable as a war crime under international law.
Notably, a local civil society organization called Lawyers for Justice in Libya has indicated that on top of the suffering caused by fighting, activists and civil society advocates are being targeted for assassination on a frequent basis, while both state and non-state detention facilities rampantly use torture against detainees, with little hope of due process. The group has warned that “the Libyan state’s ongoing tolerance of such grave acts may constitute a crime against humanity,” and has reminded the newly elected House of Representatives of their responsibilities and legal obligations under international law to prevent such action, and prosecute perpetrators.
The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed reports of torture and other abuses. The Office echoed warnings that such violations could constitute war crimes, stating “The direct perpetrators of any such crimes in Libya, as well as commanders who ordered or failed to stop the commission of such crimes, could be prosecuted, including by the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
Calls for Action and Forthcoming Assistance
The situation in Libya has deteriorated to the point that on August 13th the democratically elected government called on the UN to take action to protect civilians and help build state institutions. While specific protection measures were not mentioned, Libyan government officials have since suggested that a UN peacekeeping force tasked with disarming militias is needed. France seems to agree with this assessment, calling for “exceptional support” to Libya, and warning that the country could fall into chaos without UN intervention.
However, there appears to be little appetite for this on behalf of the UN and other members of the Security Council. Indeed, Bernadino Leon, the incoming head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has stressed that “…more conflict, more use of force will not help Libya get out of the current chaos.” Instead, he emphasized that Libya needs “a lot of international support” to back “Libyans who want to fight chaos … through a political process.”
Likewise, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently elaborated on this sentiment stating, “There is no space for violence in the political transition process…Concerns must be addressed through inclusive political dialogue, including with those in Tobruk, Misrata, Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere.”
Accordingly, recent revelations that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates allegedly launched airstrikes against Islamist targets have been met with condemnation by both the Council and neighbouring states.
On August 27th, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2174, which further confirmed the preference to settle the conflict through inclusive political dialogue. Additionally, as head of UNSMIL, Leon has sought to use his good offices to broker a ceasefire – an effort that may finally be yielding results. However, more coercive measures were also laid bare, as Resolution 2174 modified the sanctions regime established in Resolution 1970 to target those responsible for inciting current violence, though the Council has yet to release a new list of names for inclusion.
As for NATO’s involvement, the trans-Atlantic organization has been considering sending military assistance to the Libyan state for some time, but seems to have delayed these plans due to the volatile security situation. However, at the recent NATO Summit that took place in Wales, the organization confirmed its support for UNSMIL’s ceasefire efforts, and reiterated its willingness to provide assistance for security and defense institution building, as well as to forge a partnership under the Mediterranean Dialogue.
New Lessons for Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect
Several atrocity indicators, as outlined in the Analysis Framework laid out by the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, have persisted since the NATO intervention of 2011. These include, but are not limited to: a permissive environment created by ongoing armed conflict, the presence of multiple armed groups and militias, impunity for past crimes, a history of mass human rights violations, and a lack of credible judicial, human rights, and security institutions. These indicators underscore the importance of international assistance in completing Libya’s transition, as well as for preventing and halting fresh atrocities.
In his 2012 report ‘The Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response,’ Ban Ki-moon noted that “Putting an end to the four specified crimes and violations in a particular situation should be the beginning of a period of social renewal and institutional capacity-building aimed at making future violence less likely.”
The Secretary-General goes on to explain the importance of “building the institutions, legislation, practices and attitudes to lessen the likelihood of…[atrocity] reoccurrence.” This demonstrates that action taken by the international community to halt atrocities can and must also be used as to assist the state and strengthen its capacity to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect.
It also means that the Responsibility to Protect does not end once an atrocity situation does. Rather, it is an ongoing effort that requires the steadfast support of the international community. The case of Libya demonstrates this plainly, as insufficient attention to post-crisis institution-building has led to a Libyan state too weak to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocities. As Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch has bluntly stated, “The international community that played such a pivotal role in abetting the revolution is failing in its duty to save it.”
Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly indicated that Qatar had allegedly launched airstrikes. The article has been revised to indicate Egypt and the UAE as the responsible parties.
Syria’s civil war, which has resulted in more than 100,000 people killed to date and led to over 2 million refugees, has, for months, demanded an urgent response to deter further massacres. With the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on August 21st, killing a reported 300 to 400 people and injuring several thousands, the US, UK and France have all been considering an imminent military response. After first proposing a resolution in the UN Security Council authorizing all necessary means to protect civilians, the UK held a vote in parliament which ultimately ruled out possible military action. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing force against the Syrian government (which will then be voted on by the Senate). Meanwhile, Russia has argued for the need to wait for the results from UN inspectors as to whether or not chemical weapons were used. France, while first backing the US, has indicated they too now want to wait for the results of the UN inspectors before condoning any military action. Arguments attempting to justify, legalize and legitimatize a military attack have intensified, including efforts to use the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm as justification for the use of force. This post draws on the discussions surrounding the latest debate; outlines some of the main issues; and clarifies how RtoP should and should not be applied to the case of Syria.
Evaluating the Motivations Behind the Use of Force
In her article “Responsibility to Protect – Or to Punish” Charli Carpenter, a professor and author on civilian protection, identifies two distinct conversations about the legitimacy of a military campaign – whether military action is an appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons and whether force is an appropriate means for protecting civilian populations from atrocities committed at the hands of their government. Questioning the motives of intervention, Carpenter concludes that “the goal of upholding the chemical weapons taboo is not the same thing as the goal of protecting civilians…If the goal were really to protect civilians, the West would have intervened long ago”.
James Kearney and Alexandra Buskie, of the UK-based organization and ICRtoP member, UNA-UK, in their article, “Responding to Protect Civilians in Syria?” agree. Rather than the intervention being about the “the immediate protection of Syrian civilians from mass atrocities, it is accountability for…the use of chemical weapons that forms the basis of President Obama’s ‘red line’.”
If the goal is to protect civilians, NGOs such as the UNA-UK, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggest that the US wait for the UN investigators to finalize their report so there is “no doubt”. Until then, the question of whether the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its population remains open. Even then, Annan asserts that it is the Security Council who “has moral responsibility to find a common ground after the chemical attacks.”
Does military intervention have a legal foot to stand on?
There is confusion over the legal basis for the use of force in Syria. Ian Hurd, professor and author of “Bomb Syria, Even if It is Illegal” explains Syria is party to neither the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, which bans those who have signed the Convention from developing, producing and stockpiling of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction nor the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which seeks to prohibit the production of chemical weapons and mandates their destruction. Regardless, Hurd claims that Syria has violated humanitarian principles if found guilty–specifically, the prohibition on the indiscriminate killing of civilians set out in the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Additionally, according to the United Nations Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Jenifer Welsh, “the use of chemical weapons during armed conflict is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.” In the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, heads of state affirmed they had a Responsibility to Protect populations from war crimes.
However, according to Gareth Evans who co-chaired the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which first articulated RtoP, “The trouble is that even the most extreme breach of international law [the use of chemical weapons] does not in itself legally authorise a coercive military response.”
Professor Craig Martin says the U.S. is using the principles of the Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention to provide a legal justification for intervention without UN authority. Gerard Gallucci, a retired U.S. diplomat and UN peacekeeper, expands on this in his article “R2P and International Law”, underlining that the U.S.’s tendency to cite RtoP as the authority for moving forward on military strikes without the Security Council is “a facetious argument” because RtoP is “meant to guide the international community, and particularly the Security Council in their decision on use of force.” RtoP never legitimizes the use of force unless it is approved by the UN Security Council “in line with Chapter 6, 7 and 8 of the UN Charter”. This has been confirmed by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and reiterated by UN Special Envoy to Syria Lahkdar Brahimi, who emphasized that “international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council.”
RtoP: Military Action, the Last Resort and the Moral Imperative
Despite no legal justification for the use of military force without approval through the UN Security Council, some say intervention is still a valid option. Evans believes that, while there is no legal justification under customary international law to intervene militarily, there is the moral grounds to intervene and the international community needs to “find one [a justification] in the Charter”.
John Holmes, chair of the International Rescue Committee, concludes in his article “Does the UN’s Responsibility to Protect necessitate an intervention in Syria?” that “justification for any military response cannot be punishment, but has to be deterring further use of such weapons, and protecting civilians in particular.”
If the motivation for military intervention is protecting civilians, Carpenter argues that RtoP does indeed come into play, and the Security Council must decide if the “threshold” of last resort can be applied. She adds further that the Council needs to “consider both just cause in terms of civilians lost” and “right intention”, whereby the goal would have to be protecting civilians as far as possible, rather than national interests. She acknowledges that RtoP requires policymakers to “weigh in just cause against the question of whether there is a reasonable prospect of success at reducing civilian bloodshed” and “to select the best type of intervention to meet the goals”.
Benjamin Shingler‘s article“Does world’s ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians justify a Syria strike?” echoes this conviction, saying that“R2P should be acted upon, according to the UN doctrine, only if the following provisions are met: the force used is proportionate to the threat and likely to succeed and unlikely to cause more harm than good.” It is important to note that while RtoP states that military intervention should only be taken at the last resort, there are no agreed-upon guidelines on when and how to implement that use of force.
Will Intervention Cause More Harm than Good?
While there are no hard and fast rules of when the last resort has been reached, Evans, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) draw on the Precautionary Principles of the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty to outline that military action needs to “be judged by its effects in protecting all Syrian civilians” to avoid attacks that could cause disproportionate harm to civilians compared to the expected military gains. Acknowledging this argument, the conclusion by Holmes is that “however supposedly surgical the strikes, significant numbers of civilians are likely to be killed”. Genocide Alert provides an analysis on the consequences of military intervention. They conclude that while there is the chance that deterring the use of chemical weapons could increase the protection of populations against future attacks, there is no direct protection provided by any current intervention plan. Rather, they argue that unless careful planning and execution takes place to protect civilians, the Syrian government could retaliate against the population. When considering intervention, HRW shares the position of Genocide Alert that the protection of civilians must be the top priority, stating that “any armed intervention should be judged by how well it protects all Syrians civilians from further atrocities.” Should military intervention take place, HRW asserts that “feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and ensure that civilians are not objects of attacks” is essential.
While Gilberto Rodrigues of Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales agrees that civil society should not support unilateral attacks in the name of the Responsibility to Protect, he suggests that if armed intervention is endorsed by the Security Council, then this body should take into consideration Brazil’s responsibility while protecting, which sets limits on the use of force to ensure military intervention actually achieves the goal of protecting civilians.
Beyond Military Intervention: More Targeted Dialogue
Beyond debating the justification of RtoP in the case of Syria, a number of NGOs and journalists have touched on the need to explore other policy options to find a resolution. Roméo Dallaire, distinguished fellow of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, thinks there should have been an intervention more than a year ago when the situation was ripe for civilian protection. It “should’ve been on the ground and it should have been an intervention…to protect the civilians instead of having to see the civilians arm themselves and fight.” Now, Dallaire is convinced military intervention is likely to do nothing. Alex De Waal and Bridget Conley-Zilkic of the World Peace Foundation agree with this point in their article “What Sir William Would Do in Syria”, stating that “it is folly to think that airstrikes can be limited: they are ill-conceived as punishment, fail to protect civilians and, most important, hinder peacemaking…the most convincing punishment would come through an international war crimes tribunal outside Syria.” Professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro extend on this in their article, “On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn’t Optional” identifying a number of things US President Obama can do before resorting to military action, and therefore highlighting “the choice between military force or nothing is a false one.”
A number of NGOs have published statements condemning the use of chemical weapons. In a letter to the US President Obama 25 other NGOs, including the Friends Committee on National Legislation, asserted that military strikes are not the answer to the crisis in Syria and there is “no solution other than a political one.” They in turn call upon Obama to intensify diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed.
This point is echoed by the statement of International Crisis Group (ICG), which believes that the “debate over a possible strike…has obscured and distracted from what ought to be the overriding international preoccupation: how to revitalise the search for a political settlement.”
Convinced that US action has nothing to do with the interests of the Syrian people but rather the government’s need to reinforce its credibility, ICG asserts that any solution to the crisis can only be achieved through “a sustained ceasefire and widely accepted political transition.” ICG argues this, declaring that,
“This requires a two-fold effort lacking to date: developing a realistic compromise political offer as well as genuinely reaching out to both Russia and Iran in a manner capable of eliciting their interest – rather than investing in a prolonged conflict that has a seemingly bottomless capacity to escalate.”
There is no military solution to this conflict?
To date, RtoP has been invoked in the crisis by officially reminding Syria of its responsibility to protect its populations over 12 times through UN resolutions of the Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council. The UN Secretary-General has also used his power to shape how the conflict is understood, while a number of countries have placed sanctions against Syria. In this regard, RtoP has been successful at keeping the international community engaged on the urgent need for a resolution in Syria.
The use of force is only one tool under the RtoP norm. As it is still unclear whether military intervention would ensure that Syria will uphold its responsibility to protect and would not cause more harm than good, there is an importance to continue to prioritize diplomatic measures to resolve the conflict. While some argue there is justification for military intervention under RtoP, others like Kofi Annan truly believe “there is no military solution to this conflict”. More alternative solutions need to be considered, because in the long-term, holding to account those who have committed atrocities; ensuring an inclusive political peace and reconciliation process; and upholding the protection of the human rights of all ethnic and religious groups will be needed to protect against the future commission of RtoP crimes.
A United Nations (UN) report alleging the failure of the international body to uphold its responsibilities to protect civilians threatened by massive human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war was released on 14 November 2012, and quickly spurred impassioned reactions from civil society and UN actors. For many, the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka confirmed their earlier claims that the UN did not act rapidly or robustly to protect the people of Sri Lanka. For others, the report was a shocking reality check that the international community still has a long way to go to build the necessary political will and capacity to respond to these deadly conflicts.
Large-scale civilian suffering during the civil war
The final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, from August 2008 until May 2009, saw a dramatic escalation of violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting to establish the state of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country since the late 1970s. Violence was concentrated in the Wanni, a northern region, and clashes trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians without access to basic necessities or humanitarian aid.
At the time, several civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, criticized the UN for its limited efforts to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for likely war crimes and crimes against humanity. As noted in the report, the UN evacuated its staff in the Wanni in September 2008 when the government announced it would not be able to guarantee their security, and after that was largely unable to gain access to distribute humanitarian relief aid. With the end of the war in May 2009 came widespread calls to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the perpetrators of mass atrocities and UN efforts to protect civilians. After a Panel of Experts, established by the UNSG, reported in April 2011 that many UN agencies and officials had not done enough to protect civilians, the UNSG created the Internal Review Panel on UN actions in Sri Lanka, which is responsible for the recently released report.
UN fails to protect Sri Lankan population
The report concludes that though the government and LTTE were primarily responsible for “killings and other violations” committed against the civilians trapped in the Wanni, the “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN.”
The report criticizes the UN for its overall lack of action on the crisis, condemning the evacuation of UN staff without protestation as a “serious failure”. According to the report, the UN system as a whole did not put enough political pressure on the government, and left its staff on the ground ill-prepared to deal with the escalating crisis. The report also draws attention to the fact that, though the UN officials had data on the number of civilian deaths and evidence that the government, in many cases, was responsible, they only reported on the violations committed by the LTTE. According to officials at the time, they were reluctant to release information about the government’s involvement out of fear it would further hinder their access to the population in the Wanni. The sole exception was a public statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 13 March 2009, in spite of strong criticism by most UN senior officials, which reported on the number of casualties and declared that actions by the government and LTTE “may constitute international crimes, entailing individual responsibility, including for war crimes and crimes against humanity”. The report concludes that “in fact, with its multiplicity of mandates and areas of expertise, the UN possessed the capabilities to simultaneously strive for humanitarian access while also robustly condemning the perpetrators of killings of civilians.”
According to the report, the low level of commitment to civilian protection in Sri Lanka was exacerbated by the inaction of Member States, who failed to take up the escalating crisis in the Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly. To what extent was the commitment governments made in 2005 endorsing their collective responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity and war crimes considered during the crisis? The report notes that though RtoP was raised in the context of the war, states were unable to agree on how the norm could help the international community halt the ongoing violence. The report concludes that governments “failed to provide the Secretariat and UN [Country Team] with the support required to fully implement the responsibilities for protection of civilians that Member States had themselves set for such situations.”
Civil society and former UN officials clash over the report’s findings
Civil society organizations swiftly responded to the report, calling for accountability and to use the example of Sri Lanka as an impetus to strengthen UN protection capacities. On 14 November Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz called the report a “wake-up call for UN member states that have not pushed hard enough for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in the last phase of the war.” Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch agreed, stating that the report serves as “a call to action and reform for the entire UN system.” Additionally, Bolopion noted that “The UN’s dereliction of duty in Sri Lanka is a stark reminder of what happens when human rights concerns are marginalized or labeled as too political”.
Meanwhile, others reacted to the UN’s decision to evacuate its staff from the Wanni region. In reading the report, Edward Mortimer, who serves on the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and who formerly served as Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the UN, declared that he believed the UN left when they were most needed. The report, Mortimer stated, would show that the “UN has not lived up to the standards we expect of it…”
Benjamin Dix, a UN staff member in Sri Lanka that left the war zone, recalled his own doubts at the time, saying that he “believe[d] we should have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness….As a humanitarian worker questions were running through my mind – What is this all about? Isn’t this what we signed up to do?”
Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the time of the crisis and one of those whom the report blames for underreporting the government’s responsibility for the violence, defended the UN’s actions. Holmes told BBC that “the idea that if we behaved differently, the Sri Lankan government would have behaved differently I think is not one that is easy to reconcile with the reality at the time.” In an attempt to provide clarity on the UN’s decision not to report casualty figures, UN spokesperson in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the time, Gordon Weiss, stated that, “It was an institutional decision not to use those [casualty lists] on the basis that those could not be verified and of course they couldn’t be verified because the government of Sri Lanka wasn’t letting us get anywhere near the war zone.” However, his remarks starkly contrast the findings of the report.
Some took the opportunity to remind that the report highlighted the ultimate failure of the Sri Lankan government to protect its population from mass atrocities.Steven Ratner, a professor at University of Michigan’s Law School, stated, “the UN failed, but the Sri Lankan government is ultimately most responsible…They are the ones who have not begun a bona fide accountability process.” Echoing this, Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz noted that “The report clearly illustrates the Sri Lankan government’s lack of will to protect civilians or account for very serious violations. There is no evidence that has changed.”
Report shows challenges in implementation must not lead to inaction
The Secretary-General’s report not only shows the need to uphold the responsibility to protect populations in Sri Lanka by preventing a culture of impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes, it emphasizes the critical gaps that the international community must address to strengthen its political will and overall capacity to respond to emerging and ongoing situations of RtoP crimes.
With regard to the Responsibility to Protect norm, the report concludes that, “The concept of a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was raised occasionally during the final stages of the conflict, but to no useful result. Differing perceptions among Member States and the Secretariat of the concept’s meaning and use had become so contentious as to nullify its potential value. Indeed, making references to the Responsibility to Protect was seen as more likely to weaken rather than strengthen UN action.” This finding serves as a sober reminder to governments, UN officials and the international community as a whole that though we continue to address important questions about how to implement the Responsibility to Protect, these disagreements must never hinder our commitment to react when populations are in dire need of assistance. The report as a whole underlines the prevailing importance of the prevention of and rapid response to RtoP crimes and violations by highlighting a tragic example of the consequences when the protection of populations is not prioritized.
The initial establishment of the Panel and the Secretary-General’s decision to make its findings public show a commitment to holding perpetrators of the crimes committed in Sri Lanka accountable. However, as Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion said, “While Ban deserves credit for starting a process he knew could tarnish his office, he will now be judged on his willingness to implement the report’s recommendations and push for justice for Sri Lanka’s victims.” The UNSG stated that the report’s findings have “profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the Organization for help.” We can only hope that this report will act as a much needed impetus to reform the system as a whole to better respond to protect populations from the most horrific crimes known to humankind.
The “responsibility while protecting” (RwP) concept and its potential influence on the development of the Responsibility to Protect norm (RtoP, R2P) have been a source of ongoing discussion in recent months. RwP was first introduced by Brazilian President Dilma Raousseff as “responsibility in protecting” during her address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2011 and then expanded on in a concept note presented to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 9 November 2011 by Brazilian Permanent Representative, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti. RwP seeks to address concerns regarding the implementation of military measures to prevent and halt mass atrocities, emphasizing that prevention is the “best policy” and that the use of force in particular must be regularly monitored and periodically assessed so as to minimize the impact on civilians.
On 21 February 2012, the Brazilian Permanent Mission organized an informal discussion on RwP with Member States, UN actors, and civil society organizations. Debate has since continued, most recently at the fourth UNGA informal, interactive dialogue held on 5 September, with many commentators and scholars reflecting on how RwP will impact RtoP and more importantly, the international response to future situations of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. The ICRtoP Secretariat reached out to civil society organizations with a series of questions in order to map the origins of RwP and analyze the concept’s influence on the Responsibility to Protect.
Read the full feature post.
On 20 July, with only 13 hours left before the expiration of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) mandate, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2059 drafted by the United Kingdom and cosponsored by France and Germany. The Resolution restructured the mandate to facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian regime in accordance with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s July 2012 report on UNSMIS, and extended the mandate for a “final” 30 days with a possible renewal if there is a cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a decrease in violence by all parties.
Despite the renewal of the UNSMIS mandate, divisions amongst Council Members remain a barrier to implementation of further diplomatic, political, economic and, as a last resort, military measures by the UNSC aimed at halting the violence in Syria. While much of the debate within the international community has remained focused on what steps the UNSC, specifically, should take to halt the violence, the Council’s lack of decisive action has led commentators to make recommendations for measures to be taken by national- and regional-level actors.
Exploring Options for Syria
Reflecting on the deteriorating crisis, civil society organizations, regional actors, commentators and specialists in fields related to conflict and mass atrocity prevention have provided a wide range of “next steps” for Syria.
As the expiration of the UNSMIS mandate rapidly approached, several international actors provided suggestions for a restructured mandate. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in a letter to UNSC Ambassadors stressed the importance of strengthening the UNSMIS mandate and urged Council members to include within the mission an intensified human rights component with specialists to act as “impartial ‘eyes and ears’ of the international community.” FIDH noted, “Upholding human rights and working to protect civilians in Syria is an imperative that goes beyond the political differences of members of the Security Council. We call on the Security Council to fulfill this shared responsibility to Syrian civilians.” FIDH also urged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Similar suggestions were put forth by Amnesty International (AI) following the 19 July double-veto. AI also called for the inclusion of an adequately staffed human rights component as well as providing expertise in related fields and resources to document and report findings and progress. AI wrote, “The failure today of the UN Security Council to deliver better human rights protection for Syrians will embolden those responsible for the crimes and violence wracking the country.”
While FIDH and AI have discussed measures to improve UNSMIS, other international actors and commentators have focused specifically on how a political transition would be orchestrated.
Steven Heydemann, senior advisor at the US Institute of Peace‘s Middle East Initiatives, in his article “The end game in Syria,” brings light to a transformation of perspectives by international actors due to recent developments, saying, “These trends all point to one conclusion: the end of the Assad regime is drawing nearer. The relevant question is no longer whether the regime will fall, but when and, even more importantly, how.”
Similarly, Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, in his article “The Solution in Syria Must Be Political” stressed that a “Yemen-style” solution is the most plausible as it would stop the bloodshed- the main goal of all actions being taken in Syria. This process would involve a temporary transfer of power, followed by a UN-Arab League-mediated dialogue on the political future of Syria. This, however, has its drawbacks as a transition of this style would likely grant amnesty to Assad, as seen with the political process in Yemen.
Also arguing in favor of a political solution, and reflecting on the discord between UNSC members in “No room for foreign military intervention in Syria” John Hubbel Weiss, associate professor of History at Cornell University,argues that any attempt to act under Chapter VII of the Charter would only be vetoed by Russia, as was seen on 19 July. Instead, he believes that the only way to convince Assad to take a less-violent course of action is if the Syrian population and civil society from within the country call for and/or take action themselves.
While some still believe that there are feasible options for bringing an end to the crisis in Syria, either through the facilitation of a political transition or implementation of more robust measures, others do not believe it is possible for the international community to successfully and effectively operationalize stronger measures than what has been implemented thus far.
“How Russia Divided the World”, an article written by Michael Ignatieff, an original member of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which initially articulated the Responsibility to Protect in 2001, presents a grim outlook for the future of Syria and RtoP more broadly. Ignatieff states that the divisions within the opposition leave no opportunities for successful military intervention, such as air strikes, safe havens or buffer zones and, that because there is not an established power to take authority once the Assad regime falls, there is no sense in toppling the regime via military measures.
Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute, was no more optimistic in his article “A Syrian intervention must be weighed against the costs.” He claimed that it was unlikely for diplomatic and political measures to be successful, and instead, military measures, such as air strikes or no fly zones, were increasingly “the only way to fulfill our responsibility.” Yet he delved deeper to state that, although military intervention may be the only tool left untested in Syria, military tactics may not be feasible or halt violence. White sees another barrier to implementing further measures if the RtoP entails a responsibility to assist post-crisis, and states that “If so, we have a problem, because the West has no capacity to shape Syria’s trajectory after Assad.”
In response to White’s argument, Tim Dunne and Sarah Teitt from the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, an ICRtoP Steering Committee Member, published “Firing blanks at R2P.” Dunne and Teitt reiterated the idea that coercive military measures are not the solution to ending the crisis, and went further to suggest that a resolution was slowly becoming viable, “not through the overt threat or use of force but through tireless diplomacy on the part of the UN and through unrelenting scrutiny by humanitarian NGOs.”
Advocates for military intervention –in various forms- have voiced their ideas as well. One commentator on military measures is Ausama Monajed, Executive Director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC), who puts forth a set of steps in his article “The Price of Apathy: Why the World Must Intervene in Syria” that the international community should take to immediately halt the bloodshed, including arming the rebels, establishing safe zones inside bordering countries, and creating buffer zones along the Syrian border. These steps are what Monajed refers to as a “viable alternative” and what he believes will lead to and trigger an increase in mass defections, which could serve to facilitate the fall of the Assad regime and an end to the conflict. He believes that those who still advocate for the imposition of sanctions to “bankrupt Assad” should take heed that Russia and Iran remain “staunch, wealthy allies.”
Despite the enduring deadlock within the UNSC regarding further implementation of preventive measures, an array of tools to halt the violence in Syria remains at the disposal of regional, national and civil society actors. In this sense, the Responsibility to Protect remains a crucial framework through which to view the crisis and assess achievable and effective tools to protect populations.
With the establishment of UNSMIS, the international community took action in a timely and decisive manner, to ensure an observer presence on the ground. However, divisions within the Council continue to pose a great barrier to UNSC authorization of further non-military and if necessary, military measures, to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. With a 30 day renewal of UNSMIS, the Council must work creatively to overcome their differences, and be prepared to respond collectively to the situation in a flexible, timely manner.
In a post for Protection Gateway, Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at Griffiths University and frequent author of books an journal articles on the Responsibility to Protect, argues that in certain situations where mass atrocity crimes are being committed, “regime change is sometimes needed to bring the killing to an end.” Acknowledging concerns that this could lead, “unscrupulous governments to justify armed intervention for their own selfish purposes,” Bellamy proposes five checks to prevent against such abuse: authorization by the United Nations Security Council; a recognition of humanitarian duties; an obvious connection between justifications for the intervention and known facts on the ground; the calibration of ends and means for the intervention; and evident commitment to long-term peacebuilding by the international community. Bellamy’s full post can be read here:
The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Secretariat of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, its Member Organizations, or its NGO Supporters.
A bloc of small countries – the so-called Small-Five or S5, comprised of Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland – was forced to withdraw their draft resolution at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 May, which sought to amend the working methods of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Among other measures that were aimed at “enhancing the accountability, transparency, and effectiveness” of the UNSC, a notable element of the S5 resolution recommendation No. 20 that urged the Permanent Members (P5) of the UNSC – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States – to agree to refrain from using their veto power to block collective Council action to prevent and halt genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. As the S5 stated in their 4 April speech to the UNGA, in which the bloc introduced the resolution, their work stems from the commitments made at the 2005 World Summit:
“The recommendation #20 to refrain from using the veto to block action in situations of “atrocity crimes” (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity) is in line with the 2005 World Summit resolution which states, in its paragraph 139, that the, “international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use the appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
The idea of such restraint on the Council’s veto power in situations of mass atrocities was expressed in the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), the ground-breaking document that first articulated the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P). As the report stated:
“An issue which we cannot avoid addressing, however, is that of the veto power enjoyed by the present Permanent Five. Many of our interlocutors regarded capricious use of the veto, or threat of its use, as likely to be the principal obstacle to effective international action in cases where quick and decisive action is needed to stop or avert a significant humanitarian crisis. As has been said, it is unconscionable that one veto can override the rest of humanity on matters of grave humanitarian concern. Of particular concern is the possibility that needed action will be held hostage to unrelated concerns of one or more of the permanent members – a situation that has too frequently occurred in the past.”
As such, ICISS recommended that the UNSC agree to a “code of conduct” with regards to their veto power. Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) , an ICRtoP member, has explored this notion of a code of conduct, or a “responsibility not to veto” (RN2V) further in a 2010 paper that seeks to advance the understanding of the initiative and the RtoP. As CGS’s paper explains:
“Momentum for the idea of a responsibility not to veto continued in the debates leading up to the World Summit in 2005. However, the final version of the outcome document did not address any measures that would limit the P5’s veto powers in relation to situations of mass atrocities. According to accounts of the long process of drafting the outcome document this particular omission was due in large part to P5 pressure.”
Despite its omission in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the idea for an RN2V would re-emerge with the UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, with Ban Ki-moon stating:
“Within the Security Council, the five permanent members bear particular responsibility because of the privileges of tenure and the veto power they have been granted under the Charter. I would urge them to refrain from employing or threatening to employ the veto in situations of manifest failure to meet obligations relating to the responsibility to protect, as defined in paragraph 139 of the Summit Outcome, and to reach a mutual understanding to that effect.”
Despite the endorsement by the UNSG and the efforts of the S5, as well as the work of civil society in advancing the RN2V concept, the veto has remained a complex issue in formulating collective responses to situations of mass atrocities, as evidenced recently by the situation in Syria. On two occasions over the course of the government-led crackdown, China and Russia employed their veto powers (on 4 October 2011 and 4 February 2012) to block Council action aimed at resolving the crisis, which were widely believed to have been employed as an expression of their respective national interests in the situation, and their concerns over the implementation of Resolution 1973 in Libya.
And as Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy noted on 15 May, the S5 draft resolution led to a rift within the UN, pitting the bloc of small countries and the supporters of their resolution against members of the P5, which felt the resolution would impede their prerogatives. Ultimately, the RN2V and other provisions in the S5 resolution would not be voted on, as the S5 dropped their motion as the UNGA was set to meet. As Lynch writes in his 16 May post on his Foreign Policy blog:
The U.N. secretary general’s top lawyer today effectively killed off an initiative by five small U.N. member states to press the U.N. Security Council to allow greater outside scrutiny of its actions…the initiative failed after the U.N.’s lawyer, Patricia O’Brien, recommended that the resolution require the support of two-thirds of the U.N. membership, rather than the simple majority required for most U.N. General Assembly votes.
Lynch explains further:
Under the U.N. Charter, a General Assembly resolution requires the support of a simple majority, unless it involves particularly “important questions,” like an amendment of the U.N. Charter, in which case it would require a vote by two-thirds of the General Assembly. But in 1998, the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the assembly would not adopt any resolution “on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters” without a two-thirds majority.
According to Lynch, the Swiss representative to the UNGA withdrew the motion when this recommendation was made, suggesting that the S5 bloc did not have the support of two-thirds of the Assembly on its resolution.
Ahead of the consideration of the S5 resolution by the UNGA, the ICRtoP – as well our partners at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) – sent a letter to all Heads of State and Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 14 May expressing its support for recommendation No.20. The letter from the ICRtoP stated:
[…] this provision reflects the historic decision in the 2005 World Summit document which states that the international community, through the UN, has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; and that when a state is manifestly failing, the international community has a responsibility to take timely and decisive response, including measures authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII…Tragically, almost every year and even at present the international community witnesses Council deliberations where use of the veto (or its misuse) is inconsistent with these provisions – a situation that this measure in the resolution attempts to address…This recommendation within the S-5 resolution would enhance the goal for preventing and ending impunity, and strengthen the responsibility of States, the international community, the UN and the Security Council to prevent and stop the commission of these crimes.
The RN2V remains an important initiative that will likely continue to be advanced at the UN and in national capitals by like-minded governments, often working in tandem with an engaged and supportive civil society, that strive to ensure that early and flexible responses to protect populations are available to the international community when faced with cases of mass atrocities. While the withdrawal of the S5 resolution may have been a setback, and current Security Council practice dictates that a “responsibility not to veto” is far from being accepted by the P5, the RN2V idea is certainly here to stay.