Category Archives: UN

#R2P Weekly: 8 – 12 August

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“Catastrophe” Looming in Aleppo as Humanitarian Situation Continues to Deteriorate 

 Aleppo, known as Syria’s second city, continues to suffer dire humanitarian consequences as a result of the ongoing civil war in Syria. On 7 July, after an intense military campaign, the Syrian government managed to encircle rebel-held eastern Aleppo and begin a siege of the city, effectively leaving the roughly 300,000 citizens with two choices: catastrophe or surrender. Since the beginning of the siege, the residents have been victim to brutal conditions that have left food and supplies running low, while hospitals crumble under repeated airstrikes from Russia and Syria. Speaking to the situation, Cameron Hudson, Director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of genocide at the United States Holocaust Museum, stated quite bluntly: “The world is facing another Srebrenica moment.”

However, on Saturday, the rebel coalition of Jaysh al-Fatah, which includes the newly rebranded al-Nusra, managed to break the siege of eastern Aleppo. Afteraleppo several days of fighting, they overran government positions and bases in the southwest of the city. Though the siege has technically been broken, the forces have failed to open up a safe corridor for civilians to escape or for use in delivering humanitarian aid. Furthermore, the fighting has now left the government-controlled western portion of Aleppo, home to 1.5 million people, cut off from the outside world. The UN has warned that the fighting has only led to the possibility of replicating the humanitarian crisis unfolding in eastern Aleppo, effectively stretching to encompass the entire city.

On Monday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an informal meeting on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, hearing first-hand accounts of the suffering and situation of civilians in the city. The US Ambassador called on the Council to send a clear signal that all sieges in Syria need to end, calling on Russia to end its part in their facilitation. Russia, in response, has stated that the resumption of peace talks on Syria should not be hinged on the possibility of a ceasefire in Aleppo, stating peace talks must resume immediately with no preconditions.

Aleppo’s rapid plunge into battle has killed dozens of civilians over the past several weeks, displaced thousands, and cut off clean water and electricity to 2 million people. Both the original siege of eastern Aleppo and this week’s rapid uptick in fighting have taken place against a backdrop of international and domestic condemnation and humanitarian concern. Several human rights organizations have detailed how civilians under siege have suffered under the worst conditions seen in the war. Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO that tracks abuses against medical workers, has called last week the worst for medical facilities in Aleppo since the start of the war. They continued, noting that “destroying hospitals is tantamount to signing thousands of death warrants for people now stranded in eastern Aleppo.”

In the wake of these unprecedented assaults on medical facilities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the UN Security Council to ask the Secretary-General to conduct an independent inquiry, citing that deliberate attacks against medical facilities are undeniably violations of the laws of war and should be prosecuted as war crimes. Furthermore, of the 35 remaining doctors within eastern Aleppo, 15 have attached their names to a letter written to US President Obama asking for an intervention to stop the bombing of hospitals, attacks which the doctors call deliberate in nature.

As the doctors’ letter was made public, Russia announced a daily three-hour ceasefire, which went into effect on Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. local time to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid. However, despite the announcement, fighting has continued in the city. Furthermore, most observers consider the window of movement presented by the ceasefire as inadequate or impossible to deliver the needed humanitarian aid to the city. UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien has continued his call for a weekly 48-hour ceasefire for Aleppo. Meanwhile, the fighting persists, including with the possible use of chlorine gas dropped by government forces on rebel-held positions in Aleppo this week, which reportedly killed four and injured many others. Such an act – if confirmed – would constitute a war crime, according to the UN special envoy for Syria. However, on both sides, Aleppo continues to suffer, with both portions of the divided city yet to receive humanitarian aid or have secure access to the outside world.

Source for the above photo: The Guardian via Ahrar al Sham, ISW, Archicivilians, Al Jazeera


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other

 


Burma/Myanmar:                           

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has set the date for the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference to begin on 31 August. The five-day conference will host multiple armed ethnic groups in efforts to hold peace talks to end the ongoing violence in Myanmar. However, three ethnic armies have rejected the national military’s call to disarm and have refused to lay down their arms to participate in the Peace Conference. The three groups, the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Palaung State Liberation Front/ Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA), did not sign last year’s ceasefire agreement.


Burundi:

The UN Committee on Torture has expressed grave concern after four Burundian lawyers were threatened with disbarment for contributing to a report by the Committee on Burundi, which is set to be released on Friday. A Burundi prosecutor has alleged multiple offenses against the lawyers, including being involved in an attempted coup. The same day, the Burundi government stated it would not participate in any further dialogue with the UN Committee.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 7 August, armed groups killed at least 14 people in separate attacks in the troubled eastern region of Kivu. In the deadliest attack, members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) torched 60 houses in the village of Kibirizi, killing seven people. Mai-Mai tribal militants were also implicated in attacks that left seven more dead and scorched a total of 150 homes in villages throughout northern Kivu.

A senior Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher, Ida Sawyer, has been blocked by the DRC government from continuing work in the country. Sawyer’s work permit was revoked in “the government’s latest attempt to curtail human rights reporting during a period of increased government repression,” according to HRW.


Gaza/West Bank:

On Tuesday, Israel announced that a Palestinian official working for the UN Development Program is charged with assisting Hamas. Waheed Al Borsh allegedly confessed to using the international aid organisation in order to build a jetty for Hamas naval forces. This is the second incident of this nature. Last week, Israeli security officials discovered evidence suggesting that the head of World Vision was diverting money from the charity to Hamas. These allegations have prompted increased scrutiny of Gaza aid groups.


Iraq:

August 9th marked the two-year anniversary of the first US airstrikes against ISIL. Since that time, the US-led international coalition against ISIL has made 14,000 airstrikes against the terrorist organization, with the overwhelming majority undertaken by the US in Iraq.

Mercy Corps has released a statement warning that in addition to the estimated 70,000 people who have been displaced in recent fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIL in central Iraq, the group expects a further 200,000 people to become displaced over the next two weeks as they flee their homes for safety prior to the government assault on Mosul.

Over the weekend, ISIL allegedly executed 61 civilians in the town of Hawijah, in Iraq’s northern Kirkuk province, for attempting to flee from ISIL captivity. The dead are believed to belong to the estimated 1,900-3,000 civilians that ISIL is believed to be forcibly holding for use as human shields in the area after their capture last week.

On Sunday, a triple-suicide-bombing carried out by ISIL near Qayyara, 50 km north of Mosul, killed 10 Iraqi security members.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has stated that Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi survived an attempted assassination, by mortar attack, while surveying troops preparing for the liberation of Mosul.

On Wednesday, unidentified militants blew up an oil well in the province of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The same day, several separate attacks on the outskirts of Baghdad left ten people dead and scores wounded. The majority of the deaths took place in the town of Latifiyah, where four soldiers and three civilians died when a suicide-bomber struck an army checkpoint.

On Thursday, a car-bomb in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah killed two policemen.


Libya:

On Tuesday, Libyan and US officials confirmed the presence of US special operations troops on the ground helping Libya’s unity government fight ISIL.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, Western countries expressed concern about tensions around the Zueitina oil port. The states, which include the U.S., France and Britain, urged for a return of oil and gas infrastructure control to the government.

This week, Libyan pro-government forces liberated most of the city of Sirte, which has been under the control of ISIL since 2015. Libyan forces were able to seize the Ouagadougou complex – the jihadist group’s headquarters – with the help of airstrikes from U.S. drones and fighter jets. Moktar Khalifa, mayor of Sirte, reportedly stated that “Sirte is 70 percent free, it will soon be completely free.”

On Thursday, it was reported that French special forces have withdrawn from Benghazi.


Mali:

A string of attacks that began over the weekend in Mali and lasted into Monday, have left several people dead, including one UN peacekeeper. Several other peacekeepers sustained injuries on Sunday when their vehicle struck a mine buried in the road.

In a separate event, an Ansar Dine member died in an attack on the Malian army that also left five soldiers missing and possibly drowned as five bodies have been recovered from a nearby river, but whose identities have yet to be confirmed.

On Tuesday, clashes erupted between ex-rebels from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) and members of the pro-government group, GATIA. The fighting continued through Wednesday.

In a recent interview, Mali’s ex-foreign minister, Tiebile Drame, called for a national dialogue to take place. Mr. Drame is currently the president of the main opposition party in Mali, the Party for National Renaissance (PARENA). While welcoming the peace agreement signed in 2015, he has cited the recent uptick in violence in urging the government to convene a national dialogue.


Nigeria:

On 9 August, gunmen dressed as priests killed three Nigerian Army soldiers in Nigeria’s southern oil state of Bayelsa.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the EU’s recent 50 million Euro contribution to the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), led by the Lake Chad Basin countries. Ban also commended the work of the MNJTF countries “for the significant progress achieved in combating the terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram.”


South Sudan:

Political Developments

After the announcement that South Sudan had agreed to the deployment of a regional force by the  Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), on Sunday, the US began circulating a draft resolution to the UNSC that would provide a mandate for a 4,000 member deployment to secure the capital of Juba. However, South Sudan has both rejected the US’s proposal, which also includes an arms embargo, and has denied that South Sudan had been consulted on or agreed to such a regional force. Over the past week, South Sudan has noticeably decreased its cooperation with the UN, seizing the passports of 86 UN workers and denying the UN access to any part of the country south of the capital, which is in clear violation of the UN’s operating arrangement in the country.

Developments in the Fighting

On 7 August, the governor of Gbudue, Patrick Zamoi, survived an assassination attempt in which gunmen opened fire on his convoy.

On 9 August, the SPLA and SPLM-IO forces loyal to ex-First Vice President Machar engaged in fighting in the town of Yei, near South Sudan’s border with Uganda. The fighting erupted after SPLM-IO forces allegedly seized control of Lasu county, located to the southwest of Yei.

The Humanitarian Situation

On 8 August, Amnesty International publicly released its submission, entitled “South Sudan: Conflict and Impunity”, for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of South Sudan, which will take place in November. In the submission, Amnesty International attempts to highlight the failings of the human rights regime in South Sudan as well as the overall state of impunity that exists for any who commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the country.

On 10 August, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) released its latest report on the outflows of refugees from South Sudan. The NRC warns that the number of South Sudanese fleeing to Uganda has reached the pace of 2,000 per day, with 70,000 already having fled in the past 20 days.The NRC expects that at least another 80,000 will flee by the end of the year.


Sudan/Darfur:

On 8 August, Sudanese President Bashir announced that he will free all political prisoners prior to the start of the General Conference of the National Dialogue on 10 October in the lead up to the official signing of the AU-Roadmap for Peace by the opposition. Sudan Call, an umbrella group representing several Sudanese rebel movements, signed the AU-Roadmap Agreement for Peace in Sudan the same day. The signing has been heralded by the Troika, the United States, United Kingdom and Norway, as “a laudable commitment to ending the conflicts in Sudan and moving towards a process of dialogue as a basis for lasting peace in their country.” Immediately after the signing, negotiations began over an initial and eventual permanent ceasefire between the government and the signatories as well as for the delivery of humanitarian aid to rebel-held regions.

On Monday, five people died in a Sudanese government airstrike on the town of Kabe in Darfur’s Jebel Marra region. Another child died in renewed bombings the following day.


Syria:

Developments in the Fighting

As the battle for Aleppo continues, the city is seeing the influx of hundreds of foreign fighters. On Monday, Iranian media announced that more Shi’ite militia fighters from from both Lebanon and Iraq are soon set to arrive in the area, with 1,000 Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon alleged to have already arrived on Sunday.

Over the weekend, several airstrikes on hospitals in Idlib province left 10 people dead, while incendiary bombs, believed to be dropped by Russia, struck Idlib city.

On Sunday, ISIL launched an attack involving multiple suicide bombers on the US-backed rebel group, New Syrian Army (NSA), at the al Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq.

After 69 days,the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) have managed to completely free the city of Manbij in northern Syria from ISIL. As Manbij begins to look towards a post-ISIL future, more than 60 local Arab tribes have begun meetings to discuss the future of the city.

On 10 August, Russian air strikes targeting the capital of ISIL’s supposed caliphate, Raqqa, allegedly killed at least 30 people and left close to 100 wounded. Seperately, 11 people died in airstrikes by the Syrian government on the town of Ariha in Idlib province.

The Humanitarian Situation

On 8 August, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released the latest tally of the dead in Syria’s 5-year civil war. The Observatory stated that from March 2011 – 1 August 2016, 292,817 people had died in the conflict.

Political Developments

Turkey will shortly be sending a negotiating team to Russia to discuss the ongoing war in Syria, including the possibility of a ceasefire, increased delivery of humanitarian aid, and a reigniting of the political process to end the war. Despite appearing to be on opposite sides in the conflict, Turkey and Russia are attempting a normalization of relations after a steady deterioration over the past year.

Having reached an agreement last August to assist the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has submitted a plan to the Russian legislature that would approve the indefinite residence of the Russian air force in Syria.


Yemen:

On Sunday, four children were reportedly killed and three more were injured in Yemen’s Nihm district, which lies east of the capital. UNICEF has deplored the killing of these children and has urged all belligerent parties to adhere to international humanitarian law and avoid civilian infrastructure.

On Tuesday, UNICEF released a statement claiming that 1,121 children have perished since March 2015, as a result of the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Sana’a killed at least 14 civilians early this week. Jets targeted a potato factory in the Nahda district, situated inside an army maintenance camp. On Thursday, in the third day of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, warplanes reportedly struck the Al-Dailami airbase and a military school, both in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

Yemen’s prime minister has praised the support of the United Arab Emirates throughout recent conflict and fledgling peace talks.

This week, the U.S. stated its intention to rearm Saudi Arabia with $1.5 billion in military equipment, including with technical and intelligence support, in order to support the war against shiite militias in Yemen.

 

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Filed under Burundi, DRC, Libya, Myanmar, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UN, Uncategorized, Yemen

The challenges of engaging national governments with RtoP and atrocity prevention: confessions of a British RtoP advocate

By Alexandra Buskie, Policy and Advocacy Manager, United Nations Association – UK. UNA-UK is a Steering Committee Member of the ICRtoP.

 

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Over the past 4 years, the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) has been working on a dedicated policy and advocacy programme “to strengthen understanding, support and leadership for the Responsibility to Protect principle in the UK’s policy, parliamentary and public arenas”. This has been no small ambition. Engaging the UK Government on RtoP and atrocity prevention has represented huge challenges and success has been difficult to measure. What follows is a reflection on these challenges, how we have sought to respond to them and what we have counted as incremental steps towards a stronger national engagement with the principle in practice.

Challenges

First is the challenge of outreach and understanding; RtoP is written in the UN’s vocabulary.  If you are trying to explain it to someone who does not have the basic level of knowledge of what you mean by “an international principle”, then you are in for a long ride. Learning about RtoP means memorising a sea of acronyms, jargon and historical development, when really; the end goal of the principle is pretty obvious: to stop the organised massacre of people before it begins and respond appropriately if you are too late. RtoP is also still misunderstood as referring solely to military intervention. No matter how many times RtoP advocates say it is not, this is still the prevailing belief. “Military intervention” provokes more interest than “capacity building” and people find it simpler to debate. This is a huge obstacle to getting real discussion on how to implement RtoP properly, particularly in the public realm, but also in the UK parliament and in some major humanitarian NGOs.

Second is the substantive challenge of getting RtoP and atrocity prevention into the national policy vocabulary. Being an RtoP advocate in a Western national context can sometimes feel a bit like being a violinist turning up for a brass band rehearsal;  you can be good at playing but no one quite understands why you are there. Haven’t we already supported the RtoP principle? Isn’t this a UN thing? Aren’t we already doing conflict prevention and stabilisation? Making the argument that the UK should seek to uphold RtoP in its national and foreign policies and be a visible leader on this issue has been a slog. The UK’s focus has been on fostering and encouraging international support for the principle amongst UN member states; i.e. keeping up the momentum. There is nothing wrong with that. But at some point, encouraging others isn’t  enough. How are you setting an example? Are you walking the talk? Can you share lessons from your experience to help others? This mind-set has been difficult to cultivate for RtoP at the national level due to the persistent lack of clear case studies and evidence of what has worked for others.

Third, and building on the last, is the policy challenge of demonstrating RtoP’s value added. What proof do you, as an RtoP advocate, have that the government is not doing enough to support the norm? This is not really a challenge unique to RtoP but to policy and advocacy more generally. The UK is supportive of RtoP at the UN (in both the Security Council and the General Assembly) it has an RtoP Focal Point, and the Government is a major funder of the Joint Office of the Special Advisers for Genocide Prevention and RtoP, as well as the Global Centre for RtoP. What more should it be doing? How should it be doing it? What evidence do you have that it is not doing it, under a different name, like the protection of civilians or preventing sexual violence in conflict? This has been the most significant challenge for UNA-UK in its work on RtoP. It’s all fine and well to say the UK should mention RtoP and atrocity prevention in its national policy, but what difference does that, or should that, really make to how the government implements policy?

Response

These challenges have developed over time in the same order as they are described above. As a result, the content of UNA-UK’s programme has shifted, first focusing mostly on outreach and improving knowledge and understanding, then moving to the more substantial policy questions.

UK parliament

A view of the Elizabeth Tower. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament.

Our first response was to try to educate and raise awareness. We produced features and guides on RtoP that unpacked the three pillars and gave examples of what they meant in practice. I toured the UK, speaking at universities and local UNA groups from Exeter to Aberdeen. We monitored parliamentary debates online in order to gauge the level of understanding in parliament (low), then published a parliamentary briefing and held meetings in parliament with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the UN that sought to give parliamentarians more detail.

We also led small-scale campaigns asking our supporters to sign onto advocacy letters to the Government, requesting information on the work of the RtoP Focal Point or on the UK’s approach to protecting the Rohingya in Burma. We lead a longer-term campaign on UK foreign policy in the lead up to the elections and encouraged our supporters to input to a public consultation the new Government’s National Security Strategy. All of this included a call to implement RtoP at the national level, citing this as a way for the UK to strengthen its global role.

In order to respond to the second challenge and demonstrate that RtoP and atrocity prevention should be part of our national policy discussions, we commissioned reports, convened expert roundtables and looked to the example of other states. Some felt that RtoP had turned into a “toxic brand” at the UN after Libya, so we went to New York to hear from the horses’ mouths. We took a cross-party parliamentary delegation to Washington, talked with those involved in the establishment and day-to-day working of the US Atrocities Prevention Board and tried to learn from their experience.  All this has been an attempt to provide the evidence that the UK should be a leader and an example internationally, matching best practice by identifying atrocity prevention as a core national interest.

But as a civil society organisation, we can only go so far, which is why the third challenge is so tricky. Only the Government can properly assess how its policies are taking the need to prevent atrocities into account. We are calling for a cross-Government review that would evaluate the UK’s capacity to identify and respond to the threat of atrocity crimes. However, I can understand why the government is hesitant on this request. The UK is working hard to integrate its foreign, development and defence policies through the creation of a National Security Council, it has a strong track-record on supporting human rights and has been a key architect in identifying peace and justice as a core part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Is this not already a successful approach to atrocity prevention? What evidence is there that the UK would have acted any differently towards a country at risk of atrocity crimes in the past, had it mentioned the words “atrocity crimes” or “RtoP” in its policy documents? These are counterfactuals that are difficult to prove without more in-depth studies.

Measuring success

…is probably the biggest challenge faced by policy advocates in any field. For the RtoP programme, we set ourselves some clear policy goals, arguing that the Government should:

  • acknowledge publicly and in relevant strategies that preventing atrocities is in the national interest, ensuring that policy is geared to support RtoP and atrocity prevention goals;
  • ensure that indicators on genocide and atrocity crimes are incorporated into early warning systems, country analysis and policy formation;
  • improve cross-departmental action on RtoP by reviewing capacity to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes, including by implementing best practice for the RtoP Focal Point.

NSSSo far, we can claim small steps towards these goals. The UK’s 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) referred to using “UN mechanisms, such as the Responsibility to Protect” to drive global change and uphold International Humanitarian Law. This was a big improvement on the last NSS, which did not include a reference to RtoP at all. We believe the Government is actively thinking about how to continue to strengthen its early warning systems. Parliamentary interest in RtoP has also increased. The House of Lords held its first-ever debate on RtoP last year and there has been an rise in the number of parliamentary questions in both Houses relating to the Government’s approach to atrocity crimes prevention. The work of NGOs on atrocity and genocide prevention, such as Protection Approaches and Waging Peace, has also picked up, proliferating and building on the message that the UK should be a leader on this issue.

As one of the few NGOs working on RtoP in the UK over the past few years, I feel that we can claim some impact on this shifting attitude towards RtoP from something solely in the purview of the UN, to a principle that should be considered nationally too. There is still much work to be done. Disagreements remain, particularly around the extent to which an atrocity prevention policy lens has an impact or adds value. As advocates for building international and national capacities to prevent the worst crimes imaginable, we need to focus on impact over nomenclature and on value-added over name-checks. National efforts will be a lot more robust if we build a publicly-available pool of case studies that demonstrates, from the strategic level in capital to the field, that thinking seriously about atrocity prevention makes a real difference to the protection of human rights and to people’s lives.

 

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Backgrounder on Referral of Libya to the International Criminal Court

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. 

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Filed under African Union, Arab League, International Criminal Court, Justice, Libya, RtoP, Security Council, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action, UN

A quick guide to the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes

To honor Genocide Awareness Month, we are releasing a set of infographics designed to be used as educational tools on atrocity crimes and their prevention/response. Click here for a quick guide to the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.

 

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Read the full infographic here.

 

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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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#R2P10: Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect at 10, Part 3: Unfinished Operational Work

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.

UNMISS peacekeepers guarding the Tomping protection of civilians site in South Sudan. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

UNMISS peacekeepers guarding the Tomping protection of civilians site in South Sudan. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

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.

Free_Syrian_Army_soldier_walking_among_rubble_in_Aleppo

Free Syrian Army soldier walking among rubble in Aleppo. Voice of America News/Scott Bobb.

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 United Nations Security Council approves Resolution 1973 authorizing a No-Fly Zone in Libya. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

The United Nations Security Council passes Resolution 1973 authorizing a No-Fly Zone in Libya. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

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. 

 

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

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

 

Unfinished Institutional Work at the United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

existing capital to advance the goals of RtoP.

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

 

Unfinished Institutional Work at the Regional Level

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

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

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

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

 

Unfinished Institutional Work at the State Level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#R2P10: Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect at 10, Part 1: A Norm for Our Times

The following is the first entry in ICRtoP’s new ongoing ‘RtoP at 10’ blog series. The series invites civil society and academic experts to examine critical country cases, international/regional perspectives, and thematic issues that have been influential in the development of the norm over the past 10 years, and that will have a lasting impact going forth into the next decade.

Below is the first of a three part introduction  courtesy of Dr. Alex Bellamy, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect. In part one, Dr. Bellamy provides an overview of RtoP’s normative development before delving into the “Unfinished Conceptual Work” that remains. Read on to learn more.

 

A Norm for Our Times

Few ideas have travelled further, faster, than the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). In the ten years since its adoption by world leaders at the 2005 World Summit, RtoP has become a central part of the way we think about, and respond to, genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Whatever one thinks of its merits, it cannot be said that RtoP has failed to make itself relevant.

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Rwandans fleeing the genocide to neighboring Tanzania in 1994. UNHCR Photo.

RtoP has progressed farthest in its normative development. In its first ten years, the principle has established itself as a political norm. Today, we expect that states will protect their populations from the four atrocity crimes and are critical of them when they fail. Equally, we expect that the international community will do whatever it can to protect people from atrocities when their own state manifestly fails to do so.It was not always thus.

In the 1990s, the UN created a “Protection Force” for Bosnia that was not mandated to protect civilians and drew down its forces from Rwanda when genocide struck; in the 1980s, the international community was absent entirely when the Guatemalan government unleashed genocide on the Mayans; and in the 1970s, the international community sanctioned Vietnam for ending the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia that had claimed the lives of a quarter of that country’s population.

Today we expect better. More than two-thirds of the UN’s Member States voted to “deplore” the UN Security Council’s failure to protect Syrians from the tidal wave of abuse and mass killing that has afflicted their country since 2011. RtoP has appeared in more than thirty UN Security Council resolutions, in resolutions of the General Assembly’s third and fifth committees as well as its plenary sessions, in a series of informal Assembly dialogues and in Human Rights Council resolutions (see them all here). Over the course of these debates, conceptual uncertainty and determined opposition to RtoP have been gradually whittled away, replaced by a now broadly held understanding of what RtoP is that commands the support of a significant majority of states from every corner of the world.

That RtoP has largely won the battle of ideas about whether the community of states should protect populations from atrocity crimes, and the most appropriate framework for doing so is evident not just in the avalanche of resolutions and government statements, but in practice too. The international community is foregrounding the protection of populations like never before. In addition to referring to RtoP in the context of comprehensive resolutions addressing protection crises in countries such as Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur and Yemen and resolutions condemning atrocities and reminding actors of their responsibilities, as in the case of Syria, the UN Security Council has begun to specifically task its operations with the job of helping states to protect populations in countries such as South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic. Sometimes, as in efforts to prevent the escalation of violence in Kenya and Guinea, or to prevent its recurrence as in Kyrgyzstan, RtoP has proven to be one of the major catalysts for international action.

Basics of RtoP (3)

What is the Responsibility to Protect? Click the infographic for a full view.

The principle also played a central role in elevating international attention to the chronic protection crisis in North Korea, to the point where, for the first time, the UN’s General Assembly, Human Rights Council and Security Council are all now seized of the issue. Shining a light on the crimes committed by that government and its agents has not only prompted that government to make some concessions, it has also made it more difficult for others to support it. There are unverified reports that late last year China handed a small group of North Korean refugees not back to Pyongyang, as has been its policy, but to the authorities in South Korea. If true, that would be a significant change of heart. Such progress on the human rights situation in the North Korea was unthinkable just a short time ago.

Together, these developments have made states more aware of their protection responsibilities. They have also made it less likely that perpetrators will “get away” with committing genocide and other atrocity crimes and more likely that the international community will take measures to protect vulnerable populations.

But having established itself as an international norm, RtoP now faces the challenge of making more of a difference to people’s lives, more of the time. As a practical doctrine, RtoP will be judged not on its ability to inspire warm words and comfortable resolutions but on the extent to which it helps bring real improvements for vulnerable populations. It already has been associated with a more resolute international attitude towards mass atrocity crimes. For example, the international community has not recoiled from Mali and the CAR, despite deliberate attacks on peacekeepers there, and in late 2012 the UN decided to open its gates and protect imperiled civilians in South Sudan.

At the same time, the dramatic rise of internal displacement, the Security Council’s failure to respond decisively to the tragedies in Syria and Sri Lanka, the international community’s inability to hold Libya together, and ongoing crises in South Sudan, Darfur, and the DRC that daily threaten the civilian population, remind us that there is no room for complacency. We need to redouble our efforts to implement what states agreed in 2005.  To do that, in the coming decade we will need to address the unfinished conceptual, institutional and operational work of building RtoP.

 

Unfinished Conceptual Work

Experience in the first ten years has revealed the need for the further conceptual development of RtoP. First, and perhaps most importantly, there is the question of non-state armed groups. As agreed in 2005, RtoP is a state-based principle, yet it has become painfully clear that in many parts of the world the principle threat to civilian populations comes not from states but from non-state armed groups such as the “Islamic State”, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and al-Shabaab.  The picture is further complicated by the fact that non-state armed groups can also sometimes play significant roles as protectors of civilian populations, as the Kurds’ stoic defense of Kobane recently demonstrated.  Not only do we need to further clarify the relationship between RtoP and non-state armed groups, we should also elucidate carefully the operational relationship between atrocity prevention and doctrines associated with counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

Islamic State fighters pictured on a militant website verified by AP. AP File.

This brings us to a related set of questions posed by extremely violent societies where the boundaries between “normal” or “everyday” violence and atrocity crimes are blurred. In these contexts, which include societies where violence linked to organized crime is so common that rates of violent death exceed those recorded in countries experiencing civil war and those where sexual and gender based violence is so endemic as to stretch our capacity to record it, the multiplication of individual crimes amount to patterns of violence not dissimilar to crimes against humanity. The relationship between RtoP and endemic violence needs to be carefully examined but there seems to be a prima facie case for thinking that, at the very least, efforts to reduce endemic violence ought to be considered part of RtoP’s agenda for prevention.

A third set of outstanding conceptual questions relate to the individual responsibility to protect. Thus far, RtoP’s common currency has been the collective: the state’s responsibility to protect; the international community’s duty to assist and take timely and decisive action when needed. Yet these collectivities are comprised of individuals and the courses of action they follow are determined by individual choices. Atrocities occur because military and political leaders choose to authorize them and armed individuals choose to commit them. Sometimes they might choose not to. The international community responds effectively to these crimes because officials choose to highlight them and political leaders choose to invest material and political capital in prevention and response. Equally, of course, they may choose not to. By their actions, countless bystanders can make it easier or more difficult for targeted individuals to survive.

Ultimately, like all social norms, whether RtoP becomes a daily “lived reality” depends on whether individuals in all parts of the world choose to make it so. In the face of genocide and mass atrocities, everyone – and not just those in the affected areas – has a choice to make about whether to employ their talents to help protect others, whether to stand aside in ambivalence, or whether to assist the perpetrators.  RtoP establishes a moral imperative for individuals to do what they can to protect others from atrocities. We need to better understand individual decision-making, the varied contributions that individuals can make, and the factors that push them in these different directions. Civil society should figure large in this work.

 

Be sure to check out Dr. Bellamy’s Reflections on RtoP at 10,  Part 2: Unfinished Institutional Work for insight on RtoP’s formalization into international and regional mechanisms for atrocity prevention. 

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Filed under CivSoc, Guest Post, ICRtoP Members, RtoP, UN

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Outdated Selection Process in Need of Reform

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

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

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

 

1 for 7 Billion: A Growing Movement for Change

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

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The ‘1 for 7 Billion’ Campaign.

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

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

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

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

Buffer Zones and Local Freezes: What Hope for Ending Syria’s Civil War?

It is a stain on the collective conscience of the international community that after nearly four years of fighting, 200,000 killed and 10 million displaced, there is still little hope for an imminent end to Syria’s civil war. Regional and international efforts to end the conflict, documented in great detail in our ‘Crisis in Syria’ page, have had limited impact.

The rare consensus that allowed the Security Council to pass resolutions 2165 permitting cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid, and 2118 calling for the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical arsenal, were welcome developments. However, in practice, it has done little to relieve the suffering of civilians still caught in the slaughter.

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Staffan De Mistura as SRSG for Afghanistan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

Instead, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS or IS) has regionalized the war, bringing wanton destruction and the threat of genocide to neighbouring Iraq, while Turkey’s borders are currently threatened by the ISIS siege of Kobane.

Already, the conflict has consumed two astute international negotiators – Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi – both sent to Syria as joint UN/Arab League Special Envoys, and both unable to stem the bloodshed. The third to try his hand is Staffan De Mistura, a veteran diplomat who has served as the head of the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The siege of Kobane and the appointment of De Mistura have both brought with them new proposals for a gradual ease in the fighting aimed at creating space for a political solution. The Turkish proposal to create a ‘buffer zone’ along the Syria-Turkey border, and De Mistura’s local ‘freeze’ represent the latest attempts to change the conflict’s trajectory.

While similar in their aims, they differ in operational terms. Both, however, have invited criticism and praise that underscore the complexity of the conflict and any solution to it. The potential for these plans to bring immediate relief to civilians and a long-term settlement is measured through the vocal response of civil society and other influential voices below.

Buffer Zone: Bastion of Safety or Invitation to Bloodshed?

On October 10, 2014, the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P) expressed deep concern over ISIL’s offensive in Kobane, particularly for ethnic and religious minorities who have been the targets of ISIL’s murderous campaign throughout Iraq and Syria. The advisers warned that:

“ISIL and other armed groups have reportedly committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity…the situation in Kobane raises the credible prospect that the population is at imminent risk of being subjected to similar acts.”

The US and its allies have heeded calls for international action to prevent the slaughter of Kobane’s civilians, launching airstrikes on ISIL targets inside the city. However, there is broad agreement that more is needed.

Though scant on details, the Turkish requests for a protected “buffer zone”, if approved, could significantly change the dynamic on the ground. If implemented, the plan would see US aircraft utilizing the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey to launch strikes reaching from north of Aleppo to the town of Kobane to prevent further ISIS incursions. Simultaneously, Turkish special forces would enter Kobane to provide support to Syrian opposition fighters and its leaders, who would be free to use the zone to consolidate their efforts.

The plan also has a protective element to it. It seeks to prevent what UN officials have warned could become another Srebrenica by providing a safe haven for civilians who have been forced to flee or who remain caught in the fighting. In an interview with Syria Deeply, Ambassador Frederic Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, praised the idea for both its humanitarian and political appeal, suggesting that:

“There are very strong humanitarian justifications to be able to protect people inside Syria rather than see them race across borders as refugees.” He also adds, “…there needs to be the growth of decent, legitimate governance in Syria, governance that would ultimately be extended to all Syrians,” recommending that a buffer zone in Kobane could be the starting place.

Likewise, in an article for Foreign Affairs, J. Trevor Ulbrick acknowledged the urgency of the situation for Kobane’s civilians, justifying a buffer zone in RtoP terms. Ulbrick holds that:

The situation in northern Syria, where ISIS has attacked the citizens of Kobane with impunity, seems to fall squarely under R2P. The Assad regime is either unwilling or unable to protect the Kurdish civilians living there, who are now under imminent threat of being massacred by ISIS on the basis of their ethnicity.”

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Twin Explosions in Kobane, October 8, 2014. Flickr/Karl-Ludwig Poggemann.

Still, others are much more cautious and suggest a buffer zone may in fact run counter to the objective of civilian protection. For example, in another Syria Deeply interview, Elizabeth Ferris also raised the spectre of Srebrenica – though to remind of the tragic consequences of the UN’s inability to prevent a Serbian massacre in the supposed ‘safe zone’. She explains, “Any time you mix military action with the protection of civilians, you put them in danger. The Assad regime could argue that they are a military target and a threat to the regime.”

Similarly, in the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare blog, Ashley Deeks argues that couching the buffer zone in humanitarian terms, rather than the collective self-defence argument that currently underpins coalition operations, could undermine the tacit agreement with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, giving him “a stronger argument for claiming that the United States is engaged in an armed attack against it and for using force to protect its territorial integrity.” If indeed the ‘Article 51’ collective self-defense argument falls apart, there are also important implications for the legality of a buffer zone, which would then need Security Council approval to fulfill this requirement and to be considered as an action falling under the realm of RtoP.*

With reports that the U.S., France, and Britain are coming closer to accepting such a plan, all of these possibilities must be weighed carefully.

Local ‘Freeze’: Brave New Initiative or Same Old Formula?

The local ‘freeze’ proposed by Staffan De Mistura is another initiative that is currently on the table. The plan would look something like this: the government and opposition would agree to a UN-mediated de-escalation of the violence by ‘freezing’ the conflict in the iconic city of Aleppo. This would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to beleaguered populations, and a semblance of normalcy to be restored. Ultimately, it is hoped that the model can be transposed to other key cities to create the political space for a national peace process. It can also demonstrate the possibility of shifting the narrative of the conflict from the military to political.

De Mistura views the plan as going beyond simply “talking” about peace at the international level, to taking incremental steps to achieve a “bottom-up” solution. According to the UN Envoy, both the Assad government and the Syrian opposition are seriously considering the initiative.

Like a buffer zone, the freeze has invited optimism along with skepticism. Much of the latter stems from observing previous ceasefire agreements that have failed to produce results. A report commissioned by the London School of Economics and the Syrian civil society organization Madani analyzed four locally negotiated ceasefires in Homs, Aleppo, Barzeh and Ras Al-Ain.

The report outlines the salient factors that led to ceasefire collapse, including: military and strategic manipulation of the agreement to gain concessions; negotiations conducted in bad faith and with a lack of trust; the existence of war profiteers and other spoilers who stand to gain from prolonging the violence; the absence of an independent mediator; and the lack of a larger peace process in which to frame the ceasefire.

Many are concerned that De Mistura’s plan will suffer from similar setbacks. For example, Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace believes:

“The regime appears to be interested in ‘easing’ pressure on certain fronts, so that it can send its elite forces from one place to another…Alleviating the suffering of people is a good thing, but [de Mistura’s proposal] is a ‘time out,’ which the regime needs, before a resumption of hostilities takes place.”

Bahout also notes the lack of a parallel peace process as an impediment to the plan’s effectiveness. Such concerns should be considered seriously, for as Noah Bonsey of International Crisis Group warns, “Ceasefires don’t have an inherently positive value…Bad cease-fires end up costing more lives.”

Free Syrian Army soldier walking among rubble in Aleppo. Voice of America News/Scott Bobb.

Regardless of the risks, the lack of alternatives has led others, such as Coalition members PAX and Human Rights Watch, to view the freeze as the only viable way forward. PAX, in a recent policy brief on the subject, recognized that there are indeed risks associated, including the potential to manipulate the agreement for strategic gains. But under the proper conditions, it can also improve human security and allow for the development of local governance structures by civil society actors.

For this to occur, PAX cites a few crucial ingredients that have been missing from past ceasefire efforts. These include: UN third-party monitoring to ensure compliance with the terms of the freeze, including through sanctions if necessary; significant and sustainable improvement of the humanitarian situation; support and promotion of inclusive and responsive local government; securing buy-in and commitment of all local commanders in Aleppo; and a political framework that links the freeze to a broader peace process.

Steps such as these could potentially set the freeze apart from other failed initiatives. However, the damage done by previous ceasefire violations still hangs heavy. Indeed, the Syria National Coalition has reportedly stated it would reject the plan unless it is backed by a Chapter VII resolution and tied to a concrete peace plan such as the stalled Geneva talks. This reflects the reluctance to trust a government that has been all too willing to renege on past agreements. It also clearly shows that any chance for implementation will rely heavily on De Mistura’s ability to skillfully negotiate the terms with both parties.

No Perfect Solutions

Both of the above proposals follow the similar logic of creating zones of protection and stability that will ripple outwards, demonstrating the possibility of good governance and political agreement in the war-ravaged nation. However, De Mistura’s plan relies much more on consensus and cooperation, while a buffer zone is far more coercive in nature. Both utilize important RtoP tools, including mediation, humanitarian assistance, and potentially, the use of force for the immediate protection of civilians. However, as in any RtoP case, the proper course of action should depend on a careful analysis of the situation and the potential consequences of any intervention, in accordance with the UN Charter. Crucially, the precautionary “Do no harm” principle must continually be minded.

Ultimately, both plans bring with them the potential of failure and unintended consequences. However, the international community can no longer dither, and certainly the people of Syria can no longer wait. The sad reality is, as Alex Bellamy rightfully professes, “The time for perfect solutions is long past.”

 

* The Responsibility to Protect norm, as agreed to in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, does not sanction a unilateral military response or a response by a “coalition of the willing.” Any military response under RtoP must be authorized by the Security Council. 

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Filed under Arab League, genocide, RtoP, Syria, UN