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The G8 – An Untapped Forum for Advancing R2P

A guest post special to ICRtoP’s blog by Naomi Kikoler, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), on tonight’s G8 +5 Summit and the role the body can play in implementing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) and preventing mass atrocities. 

This evening a small but exclusive group of world leaders, the G8+5,[1] will sit down for a ‘working dinner, leaders only’ to discuss regional and political security issues. Not on the table formally, but should be as it speaks to core interest of each participating state and the organization, is the urgent need to advance the global commitment to the responsibility to protect (R2P) by prioritizing the prevention of mass atrocities.

G8 summits have increasingly, in their discussions on international peace and security, delved into matters directly relevant to R2P. As a group of likeminded states (with the exception of Russia) on human rights issues, with each summit there has been a growing willingness to raise and speak out on mass atrocity situations.

At the 2011 Deauville Summit, G8 members jointly declared that “Qadhafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy.” At that same summit they also discussed and expressed concerns about the risks facing civilians in Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Burma.

That these concerns were included in the final joint communique shows that the G8 can be an important forum for building consensus amongst members, notably Russia, on contentious issues related to R2P. For example, the strong language on Libya and Syria at last year’s summit came at a point when Moscow was critical of NATO’s implementation of United Nations (UN) resolution 1973 and was blocking UN Security Council action on Syria.

The G8 has also played an important role in operationalizing R2P – even prior to the 2005 commitment. As G8 scholar John Kirton notes, “the G8’s most decisive achievement was in preventing a major genocide in Kosovo, by agreeing on military action in 1999.” Faced with a paralyzed Security Council, G7 leaders authorized an air campaign carried out by NATO to halt and avert atrocities in Kosovo which Russia subsequently supported.

While the G8 has had conflict prevention on its agenda in the past, there has been no formal discussion of the need to prioritize the prevention of mass atrocities. As Libya has shown, halting atrocities once they have begun is an incredibly difficult task. It is a costly undertaking, especially in an economic downturn. It also requires considerable political resources and energy to mobilize the Security Council and other relevant actors, and to sustain domestic support for action. As the leading world economies, the G8 has an incentive to see the emergence of an international prevention agenda and to be at the fore of such efforts.

How then can the G8 fulfill its potential as an agenda setter on R2P and more specifically on prevention? For starters states should include a re-affirmation of their 2005 World Summit commitment to R2P, and the importance they place on early prevention, in the final Summit Communique. They should also outline the steps that they individually and collectively will endeavor to take to advance an international prevention agenda. These steps should include at the national level three things: (1) issue an official statement outlining the priority the government places on prioritizing atrocity prevention and R2P; (2) appoint a senior-level government official to serve as an R2P focal point to help improve intra-state and inter-state coordination on mass atrocity prevention; and (3) undertake a review of existing domestic capacities for mass atrocity prevention.

The G8 members should also use the opportunity to start a conversation with the +5 states, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, about mass atrocity prevention. The G8 presents a unique forum to start crafting an international prevention agenda. Because averting and halting mass atrocities requires a collective response, the effectiveness of the G8’s efforts will depend on the support of states like the +5.

As the leaders sit down for dinner tonight to discuss Burma, Syria and ‘others,’ may they discuss not only what needs to be done to save lives today, but what they, the G8 and +5, can do together to prevent crimes from occurring in the future.

The comments expressed above are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the GCR2P or the ICRtoP. 


[1] Attending the G8 Summit this weekend are the G8 member states: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. They will be joined by five influential powers: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

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Filed under G8, Guest Post, Human Rights, Libya, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action

Civil Society Advocacy Aims to Ensure Constructive 2012 UN Dialogue on RtoP

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will host an informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect this summer (date yet to be announced). The dialogue will be the third of its kind since 2009, and is an opportunity for discussion between Member States, regional and sub-regional arrangements, and civil society on the norm and its implementation. This year, the dialogue will be on measures under the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect framework – timely and decisive action.

Each dialogue is based, in part, on a report published by the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) ahead of time, which explores aspects of the prevention and response to mass atrocities and roles of various actors within the RtoP framework. A report for this year’s dialogue has yet to be released.

Civil society plays an important role ahead of the dialogues, engaging UN Officials, regional and sub-regional organizations, and Member States to provide constructive remarks, working together to educate on the thematic focus of the dialogues, participating in the meetings themselves, and publishing reports in their aftermath.

The dialogues have served as an important forum to stimulate discussion on the implementation of RtoP, emphasize the importance of prevention, and advance the normative consensus at the UN and in national capitals. They have also attracted an increasing number of attendees since the first meeting in 2009, including from civil society organizations.

Both ICRtoP and the Global Centre for R2P issued statements at the 2010 dialogue on Early Warning, Assessment and RtoP in 2010. Civil society was also represented in the opening panel during this dialogue. The following year, during the dialogue on The Role of Regional and Sub-Regional Arrangements in Implementing the RtoP, the Coalition, Global Centre, Initiatives for International Dialogue (based in the Philippines), and the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University gave remarks.

Members of the ICRtoP Steering Committee and Secretariat with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former President of the UNGA Joseph Deiss, Special Advisors Francis Deng (Genocide Prevention) and Dr. Ed Luck (RtoP), and other panelists at the 2011 dialogue on the role of regional and sub-regional arrangements.

The thematic focus of this year’s dialogue will be measures under the third pillar of the RtoP framework. Third pillar tools range from diplomatic, to economic, legal, and military, and enable flexible, rapid responses to country-specific situations. In light of recent cases including Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan/South Sudan, and Syria – where such third-pillar measures have been implemented in efforts to protect populations from mass atrocities – the dialogue will serve as a timely opportunity to address concerns held by some UN Member States over RtoP’s implementation, reflect on best practices and lessons learned, and foster informed conversation on clarifying what RtoP’s third pillar entails and how to operationalize these measures.

Underlining the importance attached to this summer’s dialogue, 38 civil society organizations* from around the world participated in a sign-on letter coordinated by the ICRtoP Secretariat, which was sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the UNGA, Abdulaziz Al Nasser, and the UNSG’s Special Adviser on RtoP, Dr. Edward Luck, on 23 March.

The letter calls for an announcement of a date for the dialogue, and asks that the UNSG’s 2012 report on measures within RtoP’s third pillar be released at least two months ahead of the dialogue, following a consultative process with civil society. As the letter reads:

“Only if published well in advance, can your report be a crucial resource for Member States, regional organizations, and UN offices and departments to prepare for a constructive dialogue. Regional meetings of NGOs and diplomats ahead of the dialogue are an opportunity for these actors to reflect on the report. This will result in increased participation from Member States and regional organizations, as in past years they have lacked adequate time to prepare remarks for the General Assembly….This year’s dialogue can act as a forum to further the commitment of all actors to protect populations from mass atrocities, fostering discussion on how we can all work towards the effective use of the full spectrum tools under the third pillar of RtoP.”

Recognizing the central role that regional and sub-regional organizations play in preventing and halting mass atrocities, and the need for these organizations to be involved in ongoing discussions of RtoP, ICRtoP also sent a letter addressed to 14 such organizations** on 22 March to encourage their attendance and active participation at this summer’s meeting.

Our letter to these organizations draws on the active role played by these organizations in response to country-specific situations where mass atrocities are threatened or have occurred. From the African Union-facilitated mediations in response to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, to the deployment of an international policing operation in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the diplomatic moves by the League of Arab States, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council to resolve the current crisis in Syria, the efforts of regional and sub-regional organizations are critical to fostering a more comprehensive understanding and robust discussion on third pillar measures under the RtoP framework.

For more information on regional and sub-regional arrangements and regional entry points for the prevention of mass atrocities, please see our regional pages: Africathe AmericasAsia-PacificEurope, and the Middle East.

As the summer nears, civil society has indicated its willingness to be an active participant in this year’s dialogue, as it has been in the past. The announcement of a date for the upcoming dialogue, a published report from the UNSG well in advance to provide the opportunity for wide-ranging consultations, and a commitment by regional and sub-regional organizations to participate in the meeting would be welcome first steps in ensuring the fourth informal interactive dialogue on RtoP is the most comprehensive and attended dialogue yet.

*The 38 civil society organizations that signed on are as follows: A Billion Little Stones (Australia), Act for Peace (Australia), Aegis Trust (United Kingdom), Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (Australia), Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition, Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (Canada), Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (Liberia), Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (Australia), Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (Colombia), Citizens for Global Solutions (United States), Coalition for Justice and Accountability (Sierra Leone), Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales (Argentina), Droits Humains Sans Frontières (Democratic Republic of the Congo), East Africa Law Society (Tanzania), Genocide Alert (Germany), Global Action to Prevent War (United States), Global Justice Center (United States), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (The Netherlands), Human Rights Watch (United States), Initiatives for International Dialogue (The Philippines), Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation (Belgium), Mindanao Peaceweavers (The Philippines), Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (Canada), Pan African Lawyers Union (Tanzania), Permanent Peace Movement (Lebanon), R2P Student Coalition (Australia), Réseau de Développement et de Communications de la Femme Africaine (Mali), Semillas para la Democracia (Paraguay), STAND Canada (Canada), United Nations Association – Denmark (Denmark), United Nations Association – Sweden (Sweden), United Nations Association – UK (United Kingdom), United to End Genocide (United States), West Africa Civil Society Forum (Nigeria), West Africa Civil Society Institute (Ghana), World Federalist Movement – Canada (Canada), World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy (United States, The Netherlands) and World Federation of United Nations Associations (United States and Switzerland).

**The 14 regional and sub-regional organizations are as follows: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, African Union, Caribbean Community, European Union, East African Community, Economic Community of West African States, Gulf Cooperation Council, Intergovernmental Authority for Development, International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, League of Arab States, Organization of American States, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Southern African Development Community.

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Diplomatic Pressure Intensifies on Syria as UN General Assembly Set to Vote on New Resolution

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has scheduled a vote on 16 February at 3:00 pm EST on a new resolution concerning the situation in Syria, drafted and circulated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 10 February. The UNGA has previously condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown against civilian protesters on 22 November and 19 December 2011, with each urging strong support for regional efforts by the League of Arab States.

The UN General Assembly, whose members met to discuss the situation in Syria on 13 February (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

The Saudi-drafted UNGA draft resolution is similar to the one that was subject to in-depth negotiations and ultimately vetoed by Russia and China at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 4 February.

Specifically, it calls for the UN to support the Arab League peace plan, which provides that President Bashar al-Assad delegate power to a deputy and begin a process of political transition. However, the language of the UNGA draft resolution is much stronger in condemning the violence and urging accountability for violations for human rights, “including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.”

It also calls on the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, to support the efforts of the League of Arab States through the appointment of a Special Envoy and technical and material assistance.

It is expected that the draft resolution will pass at the 16 February vote. There are no veto rights within the General Assembly, which has crippled efforts to respond to the situation in Syria at the Security Council. The passing of a resolution at the UNGA would increase diplomatic pressure on Assad and throw UN support behind the Arab League peace plan; however the resolution would not be legally binding for UN Member States.

The draft was circulated after a Cairo meeting of the League of Arab States on 12 February. The organization passed a resolution which formally backed the Syrian opposition, called for it to unite, and requested that the UN Security Council authorize a joint United Nations-League of Arab States peacekeeping force to protect civilians and oversee a cease-fire.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his opposition to the idea clear by stating that his country would not support a  joint peacekeeping operation unless there was a ceasefire in place between the government and the rebel Free Syrian Army and other armed opposition. China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it supported the League of Arab States’ efforts to resolve the crisis, but did not express whether it would support peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the US administration of President Barack Obama also expressed concerns with peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, among them the challenges in overcoming Russian and Chinese opposition, and gaining Syria’s consent to such a force.

There is not, however, any mention of the formation of a joint UN-League of Arab States peacekeeping force in the General Assembly draft resolution.

UN Officials Speak Out Ahead of Vote

Ahead of vote at the UNGA, UN officials continued to condemn the violence in Syria.

UN Special Advisers for the Prevention of Genocide, Dr. Francis Deng, and for the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Ed Luck, issued a statement on 10 February condemning the recent violence in Homs, which has been reported to have claimed upwards of 300 lives. The Special Advisers warned that such indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations could constitute crimes against humanity. Dr. Luck also warned in a press statement on 14 February that the conflict in Syria was splitting along sectarian lines, with attacks occurring against specific groups.

In light of situation, the two Special Advisers urged the international community to act:

At the 2005 World Summit, Heads of State and Government made a solemn commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including their incitement. They agreed, as well, to utilize the full range of regional and global tools under the United Nations Charter to help protect populations from these crimes. Many of these measures would not require authorization by the Security Council. These would include efforts to build trust among communities within Syria, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need, and to encourage regional cooperation in advancing human rights and preventing further rounds of violence against civilian populations.  

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefed the UNGA on 13 February on the situation in Syria. In her address to the Assembly, Pillay condemned the continued government crackdown in Syria, expressing her “outrage” over the serious violations of human rights that have been committed since March 2011.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay speaking to the press about the situation in Syria. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

The High Commissioner stated at the General Assembly that the systematic nature of the government’s response to protests, including it’s shoot-to-kill policy against civilian protesters, its “massive campaign” of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and sexual violence, and the high number of children who have been killed by security forces, indicated that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated by Syrian forces.

Pillay again encouraged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that the crimes committed do not go unpunished. The High Commissioner also urged the international community to “act now” to uphold its obligations to protect Syrian populations from continued violations of human rights, which she noted the Syrian government had manifestly failed to do.

Push for Security Council Re-Engagement

The renewed effort to respond to the situation in Syria through the United Nations comes after Russia and China employed their vetoes to strike down a draft resolution at the Council on 4 February.

It appears, however, that France – a permanent member of the Security Council – is holding negotiations with the Russians in order to introduce a new resolution that overcomes Russia’s concerns with previous drafts tabled at the Council.

Reuters reported on 15 February that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé hopes that a new resolution would include the creation of humanitarian corridors in Syria. Juppé argued that the humanitarian zones would serve to alleviate civilian suffering in Syria by allowing inter-governmental and non-governmental aid agencies to deliver food, water and medical services, but would likely have to be protected by armed observers or peacekeepers.

Given Russian and Chinese opposition to any form of outside military intervention in Syria over the course of the UN’s efforts to respond to the situation, such a proposition would likely encounter resistance from those Members at the UNSC.

Meanwhile, following a Russian delegation’s meeting with President al-Assad of Syria, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun announced that China would also travel to Syria with an envoy to discuss the situation with the Syrian government.

Diplomatic Efforts Come as Violence Escalates

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continue as violence has escalated steadily since the failed UN Security Council draft resolution on 4 February. The bombardment of Homs by Syrian security and military forces has continued in recent days, and clashes between those forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army have reportedly expanded across the country. New raids were reported in Daraa as well, as the government seeks to extinguish rebellious pockets in major Syrian cities.

On 16 February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the calls of many of his UN colleagues by stating that there have been “certaincrimes against humanity in Syria, particularly the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Syrian security forces.

Stressing the need for continued international engagement in Syria despite the failure to pass a resolution at the UNSC, Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), called for a “diplomatic surge” through the framework of the responsibility to protect in order to end the violence in Syria. Adams writes:

“Crimes against humanity are occurring in Syria…What we need now is a diplomatic surge, with Russian engagement, to overwhelm those elements in the Syrian regime who think that they can simply shoot their way out of the current crisis.”

And according to Amnesty International (AI), such a “diplomatic surge” could not come a moment too soon. In a press release, AI states that as the debate has moved from the Security Council to the General Assembly, the Syrian government has steadily stepped up its attacks, which have resulted in a rising civilian death toll. As such, Ann Harrison, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa for AI, urged the international community to “not stand idly by” as Syrian civilians continued to be targeted by the government in Homs, Hama, and Daraa, Syria.

AI and Human Rights Watch issued a joint-letter ahead of the UNGA vote, which urged the UN body’s members to vote in favour of the draft resolution and, “strongly affirm that the vast majority of states have not abandoned the people of Syria”.

Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt. 

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