Tag Archives: General Assembly

#RtoP Weekly : 17 – 22 June 2018


 RtoP in the UN General Assembly

It is a busy and exciting time at the ICRtoP, as we wrote to you in our Weekly a fortnight ago, the first formal debate on the RtoP in the UN General Assembly since 2009 will be taking place 25 June. As such we have been preparing for the debate and are looking forward to advocating for the inclusivity, importance, and perpetuity of RtoP’s inclusion on the UN Agenda.

Secretary-General Guterres has remained committed to conflict and atrocity prevention over his tenure, and the upcoming debate and side events next week in New York will provide Member States an opportunity to develop formal, on-the-record statements and encourage further dialogs on the doctrine’s domestication and implementation. As the Secretary General noted at the Oslo Forum this past week, the number of countries involved in conflict and number of people killed in conflicts increasing at significant rates, preventative action is “more necessary than ever.”

**Please note that there will be no RtoPWeekly 22 – 29 June due to the Formal Debate on the RtoP in the UN General Assembly. However, we will resume publication with an update on these events, including the Secretary General’s Report on the RtoP, the debate, and the crisis situations around the world the following week, 30 June – 6 July.

Catch up on developments in…

Gaza/West Bank

South Sudan


A photojournalist travelled with the UN Children’s Fund and interviewed 14 Rohingya refugee women survivors of brutal sexual violence. On 18 June, he published a photo-essay in his personal blog where he explains how the issue of rape is still a taboo in Rohingya society. The blog also highlights how the shame that rape carries decreases the prospects of victims to marry or remarry close to zero. UNICEF also collected testimonies from various victims whose children have been called the “forgotten victims of war” by Secretary General Guterres.

Prior to World Refugee Day on 20 June, a report by the UN stated that a record number of people were displaced, and noted the Rohingya was one of the largest groups of refugees.


On 20 June, the follow up after the historic summit demonstrated flaws as James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary, claimed to be unaware of the steps of the alleged process of dismantling nuclear weapons by North Korea, nor does know when the next meeting discussing denuclearization will be held.


Following his release from detention at the ICC, Former VP Bemba returned to Belgium, where he owns a home, the International Justice Initiative reported on 18 June. The ICC and Belgium signed an agreement in 2014 allowing for the interim release of detainees into their territory. As part of his release conditions, Bemba had to provide his address and contact information to authorities, in addition to agreeing to surrender himself immediately if required by the trial chamber.

Gaza/West Bank:

In retaliation for the release of incendiary kites by Palestinian protesters, the Israel Defense Forces struck nine targets in Gaza in through air strikes on 19 June. Concern continues over Israel’s “excessive use of force.”

On 20 June, Palestinians in Gaza fired “several dozen rockets and mortar bombs” into Israel. No Israeli casualties were reported. Hamas spokesperson noted that the strikes were in line with a “bombardment for bombardment” policy they have implemented, and that strikes were in “retaliation for an earlier Israeli air strike.”

Injured Palestinian protesters continue to face barriers to healthcare access due to the 11 year Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza. Hospitals have extremely limited access to medical supplies and only one third of injured people had exit permits approved to travel out-with Gaza for life-saving treatment. Instead, many lacking treatment have just faced a “slow death,” Al Jazeera reports.


The wives of ISIS fighters continue to face prosecution for terrorism in Iraqi courts, following the defeat of ISIS in the country. PBS reports that while Iraq wants to extradite the women back to their home countries, such as Russia, the governments are refusing to accept them. If women with children are convicted, the children will remain in prison with them until they reach school age, when they will be sent to orphanages in Iraq. Coalition member, Human Rights Watch, is expressing concern over the lack of fair trials for these women and also the lack of consideration of individual circumstances in each case, particularly as those charged face the death penalty as punishment.


On 19 June the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) released a report that 60 percent of sexual violence cases that were reported during the 2017 General Election were perpetrated by security officers. The KNHCR also noted that many of the crimes went unreported due to a lack of trust in law enforcement agencies.


Fighting continues as the Libyan National Army attempts to take over the city of Derna. The LNA claims to claims to have captured 75% of the city, DW News reported on 18 June. Over 2,183 families have fled so far, according to the UN Migration Agency. Conditions are expected to continue deteriorating as the conflict continues.

A study released by Airways and New America reports that, since October 2011, 2,158 air strikes have taken place in Libya, by US, UAE, French and Egyptian forces. The report claims that strikes killed 395 civilians.


On 14 June, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations highlighted the importance of consolidating democracy in Mali through the upcoming Presidential elections that will be held on 29 July. He also stressed that Mali should implement the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation after the elections, as it will help towards the peaceful resolution of disputes.

On 18 June, members of local human rights NGOs informed EFE about 25 civilian bodies found in a mass grave in the region of Mopti, in central Mali. More than half of them were identified as part of a list of arrested people by FAMA, which suggests an “extrajudicial execution” committed by soldiers. AI and HRW have also recently denounced FAMA for their alleged abuses against Malian civilians with the pretext of counter-terrorist struggle. On 19 June, Mali’s defence minister Coulibaly admitted that its armed forces were implicated in the killings of the 25 civilian bodies found in three mass graves. Coulibaly instructed military prosecutors to open an inquiry to fight impunity and promote the enforcement of humanitarian conventions and international rights.


On 16 June, the UNSG condemned the killing in the north-eastern Nigerian area of Damboa by six suicide bombers allegedly conducted by Boko Haram. This attack took the life of 30 people and targeted the Eid al-Fitr celebrations by Muslims which mark the end of Ramadan. Guterres reminds that attacks which affect civilians go against international humanitarian law and he demands Nigeria to find the people responsible for the massacre and that they are brought to justice.

South Sudan:

President Salva Kiir rejected an offer for his peace talks with Dr. Riek Machar to be hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in favor of a more neutral location, South Sudanese officials announced a week prior to the anticipated discussion. There were concerns about an IGAD country hosting the peace talks, with alleged competition and interests between Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan, as each country offered to host the negotiations. Instead, Michael Makuei, Information Minister and government spokesperson, said that President Kiir would prefer to travel to South Africa to meet with Dr. Machar, where the former has been on house arrest since 2016. In spite of protestation from the South Sudanese government, the peace talks between President Kiir and Dr. Machar took place in Addis Ababa on 20 June, though little about the discussion or its outcome is known at the time of writing.

In efforts to impose economic effects on officials, the Trump Administration announced “network sanctions” against the families and commercial ties of  South Sudan’s leaders last week. The proposal, advocated for by John Prendergast and The Sentry, urges Kenyan and Ugandan leaders to investigate ties and seize relevant assets. As of 19 July, Kenya has resisted the push from the US saying it “will only act within the context of international practices through the United Nations conventions and the Bretton Woods institutions.” The Trump Administration, which is keen to end the conflict in South Sudan, believes that officials in Nairobi and Kampala have not done enough to curb illicit money flowing through their system.


Since 15 June, the Jebel Marra area of Darfur saw increased violence, including indiscriminate shelling by government forces, tribal clashes, and by villagers against displaced farmers, according to Netherlands based Radio Dabanga. In the Rokoro locality, they reported of indiscriminate shelling by government forces in addition to the detention and beating of several teenage boys. Meanwhile, a tribal conflict south of Abu Jubeiha city left two dead and dozens more wounded until police and security forces intervened and stopped the violence on 16 June. Police forces also intervened in the attacks in South Darfur, in which hostile villagers retaliated against displaced farmers hoping to settle and cultivate the land. 17 were injured. Violent attacks also wounded returnees on 19 June, when a group of over 70 armed militants fired upon farmers returning to cultivate their land, reinforcing the need for secure, safe conditions and the collection of arms if government officials are as serious about implementing a voluntary return program to Darfur.

The detention of Humanitarian Azrag Hasan Humeid on 18 June also incited protection concerns. Humeid, who started a youth initiative aimed at helping families through small enterprise ventures in East Darfur, was arrested upon the return from a trip to Khartoum and transferred to Ed Daein. An anonymous source suspects that his membership in a minority tribal group in the region, as well as the unfavorable position the leading National Congress Party has against civil society initiatives, contributed to his arrest.

ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, delivered another biannual report to the Security Council (UNSC) on the situation in Darfur. She noted that after 13 years, and 27 reports, the victims of the violence in Darfur had still yet to see any steps taken towards bringing the perpetrators of the alleged crimes to justice. She called for the UNSC to supporting the effective implementation of its own Resolution which referred the Darfur situation to the Court in the first place.


Syria’s state-run news agency, Sana, accused a US-led coalition of conducting air strikes on 17 June which killed 52 people. The  Syrian Observatory for Human Rights verified the number of deaths. The US Operation Inherent Resolve, denies the reports, claiming that Israeli forces conducted the strikes.

The UN Commission of Inquiry released a report on 20 June accusing the Assad regime of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Eastern Ghouta earlier this year. The targeting of civilian areas, denial of food and medicine to civilians and attempts to starve 265,000 people all amount to breaches of international law.

On 21 June however, the New York Times revealed that the UN report in fact omitted crucial details that were included in an earlier draft that they received a copy of. The earlier draft placed more direct blame on the Assad regime for use of chemical weapons. A member of the Commission however stated that more evidence was required to back up claims in the earlier draft which they would continue to look into

The Citizen reported on 21 June that in the last three days alone 12,000 Syrians had to “flee their homes” as a result of continuing attacks by the Assad regime on rebel-held areas of Daraa in the south.


On 19 June, Jorge Valero, Ambassador of Venezuela in the UN, rejected the report on human rights on Venezuela that the UN plans to publish. They accuse the UN of relying on unverified information and that it “lacks scientific rigor”. This coincides with the publication of UNHCR’s report on Global Trends in Forced Displacement, which ranked Venezuela fourth in the list of countries of origin for new asylum seekers in 2017. The number of Venezuelans requesting international protection was 111,600 in 2017, triple the numbers registered in 2016.


Despite talks between Houthis and the UN Envoy to Yemen occurring over the weekend regarding a UN administrative take-over of Hodeidah, Martin Griffiths reportedly left the country without comment. It is unclear so far whether they reached a peaceful agreement.

Reuters reported on 19 June that the Saudi-led coalition invading Hodeidah captured large swathes of the port city from Iran-aligned Houthi fighters. Residents are reporting that “water has been cut off” to many homes and “death and destruction” is everywhere.

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#R2PWeekly: 24 – 28 October 2016

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Informal UNGA meeting calls for emergency session on Syria, urges international community to uphold responsibility to protect civilians


The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), at the request of over 70 Member States, gathered for an informal meeting on 20 October to discuss the ongoing conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened his remarks at the meeting by noting his grave concern over the UN Security Council’s failure to take timely action to promote peace and security in Syria, allowing regional rivalries to take priority over the needs of the Syrian people. The Secretary-General also noted that several parties involved in the conflict have committed violations of human rights and international law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

During the meeting, at least six Member States, including Canada, Botswana, and Switzerland, directly echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal for Syria and the international community to uphold their responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, and several Member States noted that while the recent humanitarian pause in Russian and Syrian military action in Aleppo is a step in the right direction, it falls short of the actions necessary to allow for both the creation of evacuation corridors and unimpeded access to deliver humanitarian and medical aid to civilians.

Many Member States argued that only a political solution can end the nearly six-year-long conflict and an emergency session of the UNGA should be called in order to implement a peaceful cessation of hostilities and initiate a political transition in Syria. The General Assembly has only convened 10 emergency sessions in the history of the United Nations, the last of which took place in 2009 regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The conflict has killed nearly 500 civilians, more than a quarter of which were children, and injured an additional 2,000, since the Syrian government, in conjunction with Russia and Iran, began renewed efforts to retake territory from opposition forces last month. On Wednesday alone, a purported Russian or Syrian airstrike killed at least 14 children and seven teachers and injured at least 75 others when it struck a school complex near the city of Idlib. Despite international efforts, including calls for a renewed cessation of hostilities in Aleppo and the issuance of facilitation papers to allow access to UN aid trucks, Russia has announced it is not planning any more humanitarian pauses in the country.

Source for above photo of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the informal meeting of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly on the situation in Syria: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Catch up on developments in…

Cote d’Ivoire
Gaza/West Bank
South Sudan


On 22 October, Burmese armed forces demanded that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) withdraw its forces from any areas under the administration of the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) in and around the town of Mongla in eastern Shan State. Residents have already begun to flee the area in light of the Army’s 24 October ultimatum date having passed.

On 24 October, the repatriation of refugees from Thailand to Burma began with the voluntary return of 68 people from camps along the Thai-Burma border. For the past 30 years, Thailand has hosted over 100,000 refugees from Burma who fled their homes to escape the civil war in the country, with many of the refugees belonging to the Karen, Mon and Shan minority ethnic groups. The UNHCR has hailed the start of repatriation as a milestone in one of the world’s most protracted displacement situations.

The following day, the UN called for an investigation as allegations continue to be brought forward that state security forces, operating in Rakhine State, are continuing in a campaign of violence and repression against the stateless Rohingya minority. Up to 15,000 people have been displaced by the actions of security forces in the wake of the 9 October attack on border outposts in the region. Burmese officials have stated that they have killed 30 “attackers”, while rights groups claim that the majority of the dead have been civilians, who are also subjected to the burning of villages and arbitrary arrests. Human Rights Watch has called upon the Burmese government to allow aid to reach the region and those displaced, claiming that the government is currently blocking all aid to the area.


On Wednesday, Burundi officially informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the country’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Some African politicians welcomed the Burundian withdrawal from the ICC, including the president of Sudan who encouraged other African countries to do the same. Just days later, South Africaannounced its decision to follow the example set by Burundi. The ICC has asked Burundi and South Africa to reconsider their withdrawals from the institution and has urged them to work together with the Court to end impunity and protect human rights. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Botswana released a statement  reaffirming its support for the ICC and expressing “regret” over South Africa’s decision to withdraw. However, Gambia also announced its intended withdrawal from the Court on Wednesday.

On Monday, it was discovered that the Interior Ministry of Burundi issued an order to withdraw permits and ban activities of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country after accusing the organizations of taking sides and working to evoke hostility towards the government. The general secretary of FOCODE, one of the recently banned NGOs, said that the ban is a “threat to civil freedom and a threat to freedom of association”.

Several NGOs, including ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, published an open letter on Wednesday to the Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of Member States of the United Nations in Geneva and New York regarding the situation in Burundi. The letter encourages a suspension of Burundi from the UN Human Rights Council if it fails to cooperate with the UN Commission of Inquiry in the country, as allegations of severe violations of human rights need to be investigated and the government has refused to cooperate with the UN system.

Central African Republic:

On Monday, hundreds of people gathered to protest against MINUSCA, the UN mission in the country, accusing the mission of not doing enough to protect civilians. The protesters alsoclaimed that MINUSCA is supporting the rebels. People threw stones and shouted at the troops who, according to a witness, responded with warning shots. Eventually armed groups and peacekeepers exchanged fire, resulting in at least three dead protesters and several injured, including four peacekeepers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence the following day and welcomed action taken by the government to ensure accountability for the perpetrators.

Cote d’Ivoire:

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the government of Côte d’Ivoire to respect the rights of those opposed to the newly drafted constitution, stating that civilians have the right to express dissenting opinions on the document. This follows actions by security forces to disperse protests and gatherings against the constitution, including the detainment of dissenters and opposition leaders; however, some protests occurred without incident.

Democratic Republic of Congo:

The World Food Programme has released an Emergency Dashboard for October 2016, indicating that there are approximately 1.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 429,613 refugees currently within the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gaza/West Bank:

The European Commission has released a Fact Sheet for October 2016, which indicates that there are approximately 1.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and parts of Area C; of those in need, approximately 60,000 people were displaced from the 2014 Gaza Strip conflict.


Islamic State (ISIL) allegedly executed 284 men and boys on Thursday and Friday of last week in the city of Mosul. The deceased were allegedly from the approximately 550 families that ISIL forcibly moved from villages into Mosul to be used as human shields. The extremist group then used a bulldozer to bury the bodies in a mass grave near Mosul’s defunct College of Agriculture.

Nearly 1,000 civilians living near the city of Mosul have sought medical treatment citing breathing problems linked to toxic gases from a sulphur plant that ISIL allegedly set on fire. No deaths have been reported so far as a result of the incident. The fire is thought to be aimed at deterring advancing Iraqi and US-led coalition forces.

New evidence has emerged that ISIL killed 50 former police officers on Sunday who were being held captive in a building in Mosul. Bodies of an additional 70 civilians were found in their homes in a village just outside the city, while another 15 civilians were killed and thrown into a river. The perpetration of these latest atrocities is reportedly an attempt to continue the spread of terror as Iraqi and US-led coalition forces begin to converge on the city.

Hundreds of ISIL fighters, deemed “suicide squads”, have arrived in Mosul from their Syrian stronghold in Raqqa to defend the city against the Iraqi army and US-led coalition. The foreign fighters have been seen wearing explosive belts, arming bridges with bombs, and are said to have prepared several vehicles with suicide bombs.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided over 1,000 reproductive health consultations to women fleeing Mosul since the Iraqi and US-led coalition offensive began earlier this month. UNFPA has postured 25 reproductive health teams and 20 maternal health facilities as part of its humanitarian response in Mosul.

More than 1,000 civilians living in the Tob Zawa village near the city of Mosul have been safelymoved by Iraqi special forces to nearby refugee camps this week. At least 9,000 people have been displaced since the operation began on 17 October.


On 24 October, members of the extremist group, al Shabaab, attacked a hotel located in the town of Mandera in northeast Kenya, killing 12 people.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for a probe into police killings in Kenya as about 1,200 deaths have been blamed on security forces in the last five years. The organization also reported that around 34 people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces in counter-terrorism operations in the last two years, noting that, so far, only one police officer has been held accountable.


Late last week, Italian Coast Guard forces reported seeing a speedboat labelled “Libyan Coast Guard” attack a boat overcrowded with refugees off the coast of Libya, using sticks as weapons. At least four refugees fell into the water and drowned and up to 25 people are missing. The European Union has previously initiated a plan to train Libyan forces to manage their own sea rescue operations. Following the report on this incident, a German aid group has urged the EU to rethink the decision in order to protect refugees.


Germany has agreed to assist the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) with military helicopters if no other country decides to help, as the Netherlands and Indonesia are withdrawing their military transportation support. The German Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the reason for their pledge is their conviction on the importance of stabilizing Mali.


On 23 October, the Nigerian military confirmed that at least 83 Nigerian soldiers are missing following an attack by Boko Haram in the northeastern part of the country. Superior firepower by the extremist group forced many of the soldiers to flee on foot into the Niger River where many are feared to have drowned.

This week, the Nigerian government announced that on 31 October it will meet with community leaders from the Niger Delta region as well as representatives of several of the armed groups fighting in the area in the hopes of ending the fighting in the region. However, on 25 October, the same day as the aforementioned announcement, the Niger Delta Avengers, one of such armed groups in the Niger River Delta, announced that they had attacked an oil pipeline in the region.

South Sudan:

The head of the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has announced that she will step down at the end of November after serving as the UN Special Representative to South Sudan for two years. On Monday, she said that the road ahead for South Sudan would be difficult, but she is hopeful that peace will come to the war-torn country.

Amnesty International released a report on Monday, examining the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out by government forces during the breakout of violence in Juba in July. The report is based on over 90 interviews conducted over three months following the re-ignition of the conflict in the country. The witnesses describe ethnic-based killings, rapes, and abuse.

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 67 aid workers have been killed since the conflict in South Sudan broke out in 2013. OCHA also reported that more than 640 incidents where humanitarian aid access was blocked were reported in the first nine months of this year. The humanitarian agency condemned the violence and called for a quick response to hold the guilty accountable for their actions.

Over the last several weeks, there has been an increase of ethnic hate speech and threats of violence, mutilation, and murder in South Sudan. On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a warning that if these incitements of violence are allowed to continue there’s a high risk of mass atrocities erupting in the country. He urged the community and top political leaders in the country to take decisive action to ensure no horrendous crimes will be committed.

On Wednesday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced in a statement the release of about 145 child soldiers who had been recruited by the Cobra Faction and the SPLA-IO, two armed rebel groups fighting the South Sudanese government. In the statement, UNICEF also noted that approximately 16,000 children are still being held as soldiers in armed groups and called on the parties to cease the recruiting of children to their armies.


Sudan Call, the opposition to Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), has threatenedto initiate a large-scale protest in the coming year with the goal of overthrowing the existing government. The threat follows the opposition’s boycott of a National Dialogue agreement amongst the ruling party and its allies that set the groundwork for a future constitution of Sudan. The two parties have been unable to reach an agreement leading to a humanitarian truce and the implementation of requisite confidence building measures.


Security developments
A three-day “humanitarian” ceasefire between regime and rebel forces has broken down as clashes in Aleppo continued over the weekend. The unilateral agreement was announced by the Syrian government and Russia to allow for both residents and rebels to leave the city. However, the agreement did not last long enough for aid agencies to obtain the requisite security agreements necessary to evacuate injured civilians and rebels refused to give up their positions.

The United Kingdom’s Minister of Defense announced on Tuesday that an additional 20 security personnel will be deployed to Syria in an effort to reboot a program to train moderate opposition forces for an upcoming offensive to retake territory from the Islamic State (ISIL). It is suspected that an operation to retake the city of Raqqa will become the focus pending the outcome of the operation to retake Mosul in Iraq.

US-led coalition strikes in Syria have killed at least 300 civilians since 2014 according to a new report released by Amnesty International on Tuesday. The organization publicly investigated available information such as news reports, satellite imagery, and photo and video evidence related to 11 aerial attacks that have been carried out since September 2014. The US State Department has not yet responded to Amnesty’s inquiry regarding the report.

An airstrike on a school complex in Aleppo killed at least 35 civilians, including 22 children and 6 teachers, on Wednesday. The attack was a part of a series of strikes conducted by either Russian or Syrian war planes in the city of Idlib. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed outrage over the attack, noting that, if deliberate, the attack should be treated as a war crime.

The humanitarian situation
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinatorstated this week that at least 400 civilians, including many children, have been killed in Aleppo in the last month. The statement, delivered to the UN Security Council at a briefing on the crisis in Syria, noted that the UN was unable to deliver humanitarian assistance and coordinate civilian evacuations due to objections from two armed opposition groups.

Political developments
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN joint investigative mechanism, also called the Jim, released a report on Friday confirming that the Syrian government is responsible for an attack in Idlib province in March 2015, which involved the use of chemical weapons. The attack allegedly used a device dropped from a high altitude which released a deadly agent into the air, likely chlorine. Russia has thus far thwarted attempts in the Security Council by the US, France, and the UK to impose sanctions on Syria for the use of chemical weapons in the ongoing crisis.


The Saudi-led coalition released a statement last week, which said that the Houthi rebels repeatedly violated the 72-hour ceasefire launched at midnight the day before. The truce was supposed to last for three days, but, according to the statement, it had already been breached more than 40 times by the rebels, leading the Saudi-led coalition to respond by launching missiles on Yemen. Attacks from both sides killed at least 11 people on the first day of the truce, including at least three civilians. A government source said he was grateful for the efforts of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN envoy, as he tried to broker peace between the rebels and the government, but he also confirmed that the attempt was unsuccessful as the rebels violated the truce several times. On Saturday, the UN envoy urged all parties to extend the truce, but the call was not heeded; the ceasefire ended after 72 hours without renewal.

On Tuesday, the UN special envoy to Yemen handed an outline for a peace plan to the Houthi rebels, who currently hold control in the capital on the country. According to a politician affiliated with the rebels, the plan included relieving the president of his duties and instead implementing a transitional period of one or two years before introducing presidential elections. According to a copy of the proposal seen by media, the information given by the politician is accurate as the main idea of the proposal seems to be the establishing of a new government containing less divisive people. The day after the delivery of the peace plan the Yemeni army attacked areas held by the rebels.

The UN food relief agency (WFP) has expressed concerns regarding the deteriorating situation in Yemen as food security is running low and child malnutrition is rising. The regional director of the WFP said that hunger is increasing and “people have exhausted all their survival strategies”. Women and children are the most vulnerable, especially as some areas of the country are difficult to reach for food distribution.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a Humanitarian Snapshot this week, showing the impact of the conflict in Yemen. The Snapshot reveals a devastating toll on the population as food insecurity is worsening, health facilities are reaching their limits, and those engaged in the conflict continually breach the rules of international law when it comes to the protection of civilians.

What else is new?

The Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P) has published the latest issue of its premier journal on RtoP, Global Responsibility to Protect. This issue, Volume 8, Issue 4, features articles discussing challenges and recommendations for the next UN Secretary-General, the connections between RtoP, refugees, and IDPs, and other important topics on the norm. To read the latest issue please click here.

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#R2PWeekly: 19 – 23 September 2016


UN Resumes Aid Delivery in Syria After Attack 

af0e1c83-b600-4b99-9ec4-07fe9e2039daThe United Nations decided to suspend all aid convoys in Syria this week following an alleged airstrike on Monday, which destroyed 18 aid trucks and killed around 20 civilians, including a humanitarian aid worker from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.  All parties involved in the conflict, including Russia and the United States, were informed about the presence of the envoy carrying relief supplies for 78,000 civilians to rebel-held territories in the northern Aleppo. The intensification of hostilities led to the suspension of envoys planned for four other surrounding cities.

Shortly after the attack on the aid convoy, United States officials claimed that Russian aircraft had dropped the bombs which hit the convoy, however, both Russia and Syria have denied these claims and any involvement in the incident. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack in his address to the UN General Assembly, calling it “sickening, savage and apparently deliberate.” UN officials have also said that it is potentially a war crime.

The fragile ceasefire that was initiated, in part, to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid, has been widely tested as, first, on Saturday, a US-led coalition airstrike on a Syrian military base killed at least 60 Syrian troops in what the US military is calling an errant targeting of an Islamic State (ISIL) position. Then, on Monday, a Syrian army spokesperson stated that the week-long ceasefire had officially ended. The Syrian army has laid the blame for continual violations on the rebels and the Russian Foreign Ministry has released a statement stating that there is no reason for the Syrian government to continue to commit to the truce. Aleppo-based rebel groups have also declared the ceasefire a failure, citing a lack of commitment from the Syrian government as aid intended for Aleppo was forced to sit across the Turkish border for days as the Syrian government refused to give it entry, before the attack on the aid convoy.  US Secretary of State John Kerry responded to such statements, saying that the authority to declare the ceasefire over rests with the US & Russia, with officials from both countries working to extend it on the ground. Secretary Kerry also called for all war planes in Syria to be grounded in attempts to salvage the ceasefire, but the largest wave of airstrikes in weeks ravaged rebel-held areas of Aleppo late Wednesday and into early Thursday morning,killing at least seven people, including three children. The attacks are believed to have been perpetrated by either Russia or the Syrian government.

However, on Thursday, the UN resumed deliveries of humanitarian aid, including food and medical supplies, despite the continuing surge of hostilities and apparent dissolution of the ceasefire agreement.

Source for above photo: BBC News


Catch up on developments in…

Gaza/West Bank
South Sudan


Late last week, a judge sentenced five Burmese soldiers to five years of hard labor for the murders of five civilians in June from one of Burma’s minority ethnic groups.

On Sunday, the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) came under review at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Yangon. The meeting examined which ethnic and regional perspectives are to be discussed at the start of the national-level political dialogue, which is expected to now begin in January.

On Monday, eight people died in clashes in southeastern Burma that have left thousands displaced over the past month.The fighting took place between the Burmese army and a rebel-splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in Karen state, where the dominant rebel group, the KNU, has signed a ceasefire with the government. Despite the continued fighting, Burmese army officers have pressured Karen internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their homes. Over 3,800 people have been displaced due to the fighting between the Burmese army and the DKBA since 9 September.

The latest reports from the Refugee Processing Center, run by the US State Department,show that from 1 October 2015 to 15 September 2016, 11,902 Burmese nationals, including many Rohingya, have resettled in the United States, outpacing even Syrian refugee arrivals in the US.

On Wednesday, Burma’s State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, addressed the United Nations General Assembly as the first civilian leader to represent the country at the world body’s annual debate in over 50 years. She noted that the “dreams and aspirations” of the people of Burma in shaping their future with the overwhelming majority won by her National League for Democracy party in last year’s elections, “echo those that had led to the founding of the United Nations.” In discussing the interethnic issues in the country, particularly of the Rohingya population in Rakhine state, she said, “We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the state. Our Government is taking a holistic approach that makes development central to both short and long term programmes aimed at promoting understanding and trust.”


Independent UN investigators said on Tuesday that they have a list of suspects believed to have been involved with atrocities in Burundi. The investigators do not know the full extent of these crimes, but they have evidence of rapes, murders, disappearances, mass arrests, and torture of government opponents. Reportedly, there are likely thousands of victims. The investigators have called on international organizations to try and stop these atrocities before mass violence brings conflict to the entire region. Officials in Burundi have denied the allegations and described the report as biased.

Central African Republic:

Violence pitting the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels against rival Christian anti-Balaka militia members ignited on Friday. A spokesman for the presidency originally said on Saturday that the fighters from the former Seleka rebel coalition killed 26 villagers. However, on Monday the spokesman cut that figure to six, matching the UN’s toll. The killings took place in the village of Ndomete, not far from Kaga-Bandoro.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has released an infographic detailing humanitarian access in CAR as of August 2016. It further details how humanitarian access in parts of CAR is frequently hampered by looting, fighting and, most often, attacks against aid workers and the population.

Democratic Republic of Congo:

At least 17 people have been killed in the capital city of Kinshasa following violent clashes between political protesters and police, after months of civil unrest related to the potential extension of President Joseph Kabila’s tenure as President beyond the constitutional limit. A government-led “national dialogue”, which has failed to include many of the country’s main opposition parties, is set to present its final agreement on the issue in the coming days.

The headquarters of three opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo were alsotorched in the capital city. At least two casualties have been confirmed at the office of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UPDS). Protests are expected to continue as the government stated Monday that it will be unable to hold elections in November.

On Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the government of the DRC for their use of excessive force following the protests. The High Commissioner also expressed shock that men in uniform had participated in some of the attacks on the headquarters of opposition political parties and that President Kabila’s government deployed the Republican Guard, a notoriously heavily armed military unit, against the protesters.

The World Food Programme has released an Emergency Dashboard infographic detailing the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo as of September 2016. The dashboard states that there are approximately 1.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), over 400,000 refugees, and 5.9 million individuals facing food insecurity throughout the DRC.

Gaza/West Bank:

On Tuesday, Israeli soldiers killed a 16 year old Palestinian boy who tried to stab a soldier outside of Bani Na’im, a village in the occupied West Bank near the city of Hebron. This is the seventh death in the area since last Friday, resulting from an uptick of hostilities ahead of next month’s Jewish new year holiday.

On Wednesday, the Palestinian high court in Ramallah ordered the suspension of local elections in both Gaza and the West Bank previously scheduled for 8 October. This is the second time the court has frozen the elections. The first suspension, which took place earlier this month, was the result of a formal petition signed by several Palestinian lawyers and the West Bank prosecution in response to the invalidation of a Fatah list of candidates in the Gaza Strip by Hamas courts.

President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the UN this week for protection against Israeli occupation of its territories in Gaza and the West Bank, stating that direct peace talks can only take place in an international conference such as the one proposed by France for later this year.


On Sunday, two Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers died in a suicide-bombing east of Mosul, as Kurdish forces continue to prepare for an assault on the city.

On Tuesday, Iraqi forces initiated an offensive to liberate the northern town of Sherqat from Islamic State (ISIL). Two days later, on Thursday, Iraqi Brigadier-General Yahya Rasoolannounced that the Iraqi military, backed by airstrikes from the US-led coalition, gained complete control of the northern town of Shirqat. The city had been under siege since 2014 when ISIL seized about a third of Iraqi territory. The retaking of Shirqat is considered a key prerequisite for the push to retake the main city of Mosul later this year.

ISIL militants reportedly fired a shell containing a mustard agent on Tuesday at an air base in Qayyara, where US and Iraqi troops are operating. No US troops were hurt as a result of the shelling. US troops tested the artillery shell after it landed and received a positive reading for the chemical agent. A second test turned up negative. Further lab testing has commenced.

The Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster has released an infographic detailing settlement status of internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Iraq. The infographic shows that there are an estimated total of 3.35 million IDPs currently residing in Iraq.


On Monday, an International Criminal Court (ICC) trial chamber found the government of Kenya to be in noncompliance with its requirement to cooperate with the ICC, with regards to the case of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. The ICC has referred Kenya’s non-cooperation to the Assembly of States Parties, the court’s membership, for further action. Following thereferral to the ASP, Kenyan Attorney General, Githy Muigai, indicated that Kenya would not accept the court’s verdict.


On Sunday, militia members loyal to military leader Khalifa Haftar and Libya’s eastern parliament launched a successful counter-attack on two of Libya’s most crucial oil ports, Sidra and Ras Lanuf, after briefly losing them to the Petroleum Facilities Guard, loyal to the UN-backed Tripoli based government the evening before. On Monday, General Haftar went on to call on the UN to cease injecting itself into Libyan affairs, claiming that Tripoli has been overrun by armed gangs.

Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, renewed their offensive on Islamic State (ISIL) in Sirte on Sunday, with the support of US airstrikes and special forces. The forces are attempting to push into the last section of the city still under the extremist group’s control.

On Tuesday, an airstrike near the town Houn in central Libya killed at least nine civilians and wounded 20 others. The identity of the planes that carried out the strike could not be confirmed, but armed groups loyal to factions based in eastern and western Libya are known to operate in the area.


Over the weekend, at least 10 people died in clashes between the pro-government Gatia militia and the Tuareg separatist Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) rebel coalition. The fighting took place north of the pro-Tuareg city of Kidal, which has been jointly controlled by the two groups since February. The UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has released a statement expressing concern over the country’s fragile peace deal following the fighting over the weekend, saying such clashes, “as well as constituting repeated violations of ceasefire accords, threaten the progress achieved up until now in the implementation of the peace agreement.” MINUSMA also called on all parties to “take immediate measures to guarantee the protection of civilians and refrain from all action that could unleash a return to hostilities”.


The government of Nigeria has announced that it has been negotiating with Boko Haram since July 2015 to free the over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok kidnapped by the group, with three separate rounds of negotiations having failed.

Over the weekend, American National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Maj-General Babagana Monguno, met in Washington to discuss how to better engage in dialogue with militants in the Niger River Delta and bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

On Sunday, Nigerian police liberated 14 oil workers kidnapped earlier this month in the country’s southern Niger Delta region.

The same day, eight people died in an attack by Boko Haram in Kwamjilari village in northeastern Borno state.The attack took place as villages emptied out of church from Sunday mass, with the militants also lighting maize fields and houses on fire.

On Monday, Boko Haram militants staged two attacks in the country’s northeast that left eight people dead. The separate attacks included the beheading of a village chief and his son and the killing of six civilians in a commercial convoy escorted by the Nigerian military.

The Nigerian army has claimed victory in a battle fought against Islamic extremist militants in Malam Fatori, a town near the country’s border with Niger. Earlier in the day, Islamic State’s West Africa Province, a faction of Boko Haram, released a statement claiming to have killed over 40 soldiers and wounding many more from “a convoy of the African Coalition Crusader forces” in Malam Fatori. Neither side’s claim has been independently verified. However, the battle, which took place on Tuesday, was the first Islamic State-claimed attack in Nigeria since August.

Amnesty International published a report this week which details a Nigerian police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which systematically tortures its detainees as a means of extracting confessions and lucrative bribes. This report is an extension of the larger humanitarian crisis in Nigeria, with a reported 20,000 deaths and the displacement of 2.6 million people throughout the seven years of Boko Haram insurgency.

South Sudan:

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced late last week that the number of civilians seeking refuge from the war in South Sudan has surpassed one million, with an additional 1.6 million internally displaced.

On Saturday, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, created in March by the Human Rights Council, expressed deep concern over the slow pace of the implementation of the peace plan in South Sudan and the continuation of gross human rights violations. The report comes after the Commission’s visit to South Sudan earlier in the month.

Officials in Northern Liech state have announced that they have entered into talks with senior military officials of the SPLM-IO forces allied to former First Vice President Riek Machar in hopes of their joining the current First Vice President Taban Deng Gai’s faction of the SPLM-IO.

The United Nations has received reports saying people fleeing South Sudan into Uganda are forced to pay bribes at checkpoints run by South Sudan’s government and armed groups to reach safety. There are also reports of physical and sexual assaults and forced family separations.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published an infographic on Wednesday on the humanitarian situation and response in South Sudan. The infographic shows how the operating environment is increasingly dangerous and difficult. It also shows that the response is severely underfunded, as just 54% of the US$1.3 billion required under the South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) has been received. Despite the challenges, the infographic also shows that humanitarian partners were able to deliver lifesaving assistance and protection to over 3.2 million people in South Sudan in the first half of 2016.

Members of the United States Congress are pushing the Obama administration to support an arms embargo on South Sudan. In August, the UN Security Council said that if South Sudan did not accept a 4,000 strong regional peacekeeping force, it would place an arms embargo on the country. The US has been opposed to such action in the past, but has changed its view with recent developments in the country.

Sudan’s State Minister of Interior, Babiker Digna claimed on Wednesday that his country is hosting more than 400,000 South Sudanese refugees, but it is difficult to determine the exact number as the refugee influx still continues.


On Saturday, Sudan’s Presidential Assistant Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid announced that a week of negotiations over a ceasefire and humanitarian access with rebel groups has not led to a comprehensive peace deal. The African Union, which is mediating the dialogue, has temporarily suspended the negotiations between the two parties. The following day, Hamid reiterated that Sudan will reject humanitarian aid from abroad, specifically referencing a planned package from Ethiopia. The comments come amidst mounting international pressure for peace negotiations as hostilities persist between forces loyal to the Republic of Sudan and the active insurgent groups loyal to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North.

On Tuesday, the US State Department commended the recent efforts by the Sudanese government to cooperate with the US on counterterrorism operations, while also noting that that economic sanctions against Sudan will remain in place. Grave concerns regarding human rights and the management of internal conflicts, specifically in the Darfur region, which has been labelled by the US as genocide, continue to complicate the normalization of relations between Sudan and Western countries.

On Thursday, Amnesty International and ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch called for the UN Human Rights Council, currently holding a session on Sudan, to press the Sudanese government to prosecute and hold accountable those responsible for the deaths of protesters and civilians during the September 2013 civil unrest in Khartoum. The protests, which stemmed from an announcement from President Omar al-Bashir regarding cuts to fuel subsidies, left 185 people dead. According to the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, the majority of protesters were found to have been killed by gunshot wounds to the head and chest. As of today, none of the three state commissions of inquiry have been made public and only one policeman has been prosecuted.


US Defense officials have confirmed that US Special Forces are now present alongside Turkish troops and rebels in northern Syria to take part in the Turkish-led “Operation Euphrates Shield”. Turkish forces have announced that they plan to extend the offensive to take the ISIL-held town of al-Bab, which sits on a critical juncture, with a Turkish “safe zone” possibly extending to up to 5,000 square km (1,930 square miles) of Syrian territory.

On Monday, the Homs governor postponed the planned evacuation of the last rebel-held district of the city due to “logistical obstacles”. Around 250-300 rebels are expected to be allowed to leave the city for rebel-controlled territory. However, rebels in other parts of Syria have stated that if the evacuation goes through, they would consider the ceasefire in the country to be over.

Russia announced on Wednesday that it will be sending its only aircraft carrier to waters off of Syria’s coastal region, which is likely a contingency plan for the dissolution of the present ceasefire.


 On Saturday, Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the internationally-recognized Yemeni government clashed on two separate fronts. Fighting broke out in the regions east of the city of Taez, which government forces are attempting to break a siege of, and east of the capital of Sanaa.

Recently released images and videos have led to claims that Saudi Arabia is using U.S.-supplied white phosphorous munitions in its military campaign in Yemen, with fears being raised over the threat that these munitions pose to civilians. US regulations dictate that white phosphorus, when sold to other countries, may only be used for signaling other troops and creating smoke screens. As of yet, it is undetermined how Saudi Arabia is using the munition in Yemen.

Recent reports have confirmed that a US-made bomb was used in an airstrike on a hospital on 15 August that killed 11 people. On Monday, Amnesty International urged that states immediately stop supplying weapons that could be used in the Yemen conflict.

On Tuesday, intensive airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition hit the headquarters of the National Security Bureau in Yemen’s rebel-held capital, Sanaa, causing damage to neighboring homes, which left at least one civilian dead and three others wounded. The coalition also bombed the defense ministry and a checkpoint in the suburbs, killing two rebels and wounding four.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed at least 20 civilians in the rebel-held Yemeni city of Hodeida late on Wednesday. The raid reportedly targeted a presidential palace used by the Houthi rebel movement, but missiles also hit neighboring houses.

The United Kingdom is set to increase the humanitarian aid it gives to Yemen, while the country is also facing criticism for selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which could be used in Yemen.


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#R2PWeekly: 12 – 16 September 2016

ICRtoP Releases Summary and Educational Tools on
2016 UNGA Dialogue on RtoP

On 6 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held its eighth annual informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The dialogue followed the August release of the UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) eighth, and final, report on RtoP entitled, “Mobilizing collective action: The next decade and the responsibility to protect.”

68 Member States and one regional organization delivered statements on behalf of 95 governments. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, represented by Mr. Gus Miclat of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, as well as three ICRtoP members –The Global Centre for R2PThe Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, and The Canadian Centre for R2P – delivered interventions. Over the course of the dialogue, Member States reaffirmed their commitment to RtoP and supported the Secretary-General’s vision for mobilizing collective action. In doing so, Member States supported a variety of initiatives to overcome current barriers to implementation. Echoing past dialogues, but with increased support, 37 Member States as well as the European Union (EU), collectively representing 59 States, spoke of the need for veto restraint. This concern manifested itself through support of either/both of the complimentary initiatives led by the governments of France and Mexico, and the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT). Many States as well as the Group of Friends of RtoP (GoF) and EU also proposed ways in which the UNGA could support RtoP in the coming decade, calling for a new UNGA resolution on RtoP and/or the formalization of the dialogue on the UNGA agenda. Emphasizing the title of the report, 11 Member States and the GoF called for the next UNSG to prioritize RtoP, with many others highlighting the need to further mainstream the norm. Finally, many Member States made note of the changing landscape of the past-decade, citing the rise of non-state actors in the commission of mass atrocity crimes as well as the continued disregard for international law, with many calling for ensuring accountability for perpetrators and more support for the International Criminal Court.

The ICRtoP has produced a number of educational materials about the UNSG report and UNGA dialogue, including a summary of both the 2016 report and dialogue, an infographic highlighting the major themes raised in the meeting, and an updated page on the UN and RtoP, which includes information on all UNGA dialogues.

View the ICRtoP’s summary of the UNSG report here.
View the ICRtoP’s summary of the UNGA dialogue here.
View the ICRtoP’s infographic highlighting key themes here.
View the ICRtoP’s UN and RtoP page here.
To read interventions delivered at the UNGA dialogue, visit here.

Catch up on developments in…

Gaza/West Bank
South Sudan


Aung San Suu Kyi made visits to leaders of the United Kingdom and United States this week, including a meeting with British Prime Minister, Theresa May on Tuesday, and US President, Barack Obama, on Wednesday. In her meeting with PM May, the two discussed British support for the people of Burma, with the Prime Minister expressing concern of the commission of human rights abuses by Myanmar’s military. After her meeting with President Obama, which marked her first visit to the country since her party’s electoral victory, the US President announced that he is prepared to lift American sanctions on Burma due to the further democratization of the country in past months. However, a senior US official said that some sanctions would remain in place, such as an arms ban, “in order to ensure that the military remains a partner in the democratic transition.” Human rights organizations haveurged the US to maintain such military sanctions until the military and its allies respect human rights and democratic norms.


It was reported on Thursday that a former army officer and his family were killed as a result of a grenade attack, with local residents stating that the attack may have resulted from the former officer’s links to the government.

Democratic Republic of Congo:

Late last week, the DRC released eight pro-democracy activists and 170 other prisoners, some of which were found guilty of “insurrection, acts of war and political offences,” according to the ministerial release order signed by the country’s justice minister. The government’s release of the prisoners was in response to opposition parties’ demands as a pre-condition for their participation in the dialogue taking place in the capital. However, on Monday, opposition parties walked out of the talks after the government proposed that local elections should occur before presidential elections, claiming that their stance on the order in which elections will be held is non-negotiable. A government spokesman said that such an act is only a negotiating tactic and that the dialogue is not over.

The UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, reportedly rescued another 268 people from a national forest in the country’s northeast. Riek Machar, South Sudan’s main opposition leader fled South Sudan into the DRC after fierce fighting in Juba and over 750 of his supporters have followed him across the border. Officials are concerned over the stability of the region with the arrival of Machar and his supporters as the DRC government currently has limited control over its restive border regions and heavily depends on MONUSCO for security assistance. South Sudan has accused MONUSCO of supporting Machar in the conflict and have condemned the UN mission’s actions.

Gaza/West Bank:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video late last week that claims Palestinians want to “ethnically cleanse” the West Bank of Jews, and that Jews would be banned from living in a future Palestinian state. Palestinians have denied these claims and US officials have condemned the Prime Minister’s accusations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed that he was disturbed by the PM’s statement that opposition to the Israeli settlements is “tantamount to ethnic cleansing.”

On Thursday, the Israeli air force carried out strikes on three Hamas locations within the Gaza Strip after a rocket was fired into Israel on Wednesday. Later that day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referenced the attacks, warning that leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “do not serve the cause of peace.”


As the Iraqi military prepares for an offensive on Mosul, ISIL’s defacto capital in the country, the US has announced it will provide up to $181 million in humanitarian aid to assist with the expected consequences of the military action. The United Nations anticipates that up to one million people will flee their homes as a result of the offensive, which is expected to launch as soon as next month.

The US also announced that Iraqi forces, with the support of the US-led Coalition, have retaken almost half of the land previously held by ISIL.


The British Foreign Affairs Committee released its report on Wednesday following an investigation into the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya.The report found that the launch of the military intervention was based on “inaccurate intelligence” and “erroneous assumptions.” Furthermore, the report asserts that the British government, under then-Prime Minister David Cameron, “failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element,” which contributed to the political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal (warfare), humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”

On Tuesday, Martin Kobler, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya,warned that although political space has opened up in the country, political divisions among the parties to the conflict are worsening. He added, “Today more than ever, strong action is needed to convince Libyan stakeholders to build institutions that are open, participatory and able to address the needs of all of its citizens.”


Unidentified gunmen killed three soldiers and injured two others late last week in an ambush near the town of Boni in the Mopti region of central Mali.

South Sudan:

The Sentry released a groundbreaking report following its investigation into the networks led by President Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, in which the organization found a link “between systemic corruption and violent conflict, including the mass atrocities committed during the civil war.” The report’s findings indicate that those in power and leading these networks have amassed tremendous wealth as a result of rampant corruption, with officials financially benefiting from the continuation of the war and humanitarian crises that have erupted as a result.

The government of South Sudan has responded to the release of this report by threatening legal action against the organization, with the presidential spokesman stating that there will be steps taken to sue The Sentry. Action has also been taken against national newspaper, the Nation Mirror, allegedly for having published information on the report. The prominent paper has since been shut down, with no indication on how long this will last and causing increased concern for media freedom in the country.

Mercy Corps has stated that, unless humanitarian support is drastically and urgently increased, an estimated 40,000 people will be at risk of dying in Unity State from starvation that has been fuelled in part by the ongoing conflict in the country. In addition to those at risk of death, an estimated 4.8 million are directly impacted by the hunger crisis.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council held consultations on Wednesday to discuss the status of the Regional Protection Force, with Member States expressing concern over recent statements made by members of the South Sudanese government that went against commitments to the force. The Council met with President Kiir while in South Sudan earlier this month, and agreed to a joint statement that expressed acceptance of the force. Some governments stated at the 14 September UNSC meeting that if this commitment is not upheld then the Council must consider stronger measures, such as an arms embargo. The same day, it was reported that President Kiir stated that the UN was working to support his rivals as UN actors assisted in the transportation of Riek Machar to receive medical care, and thus the organization was “not part of the solution.”

On Thursday, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan expressed its concern for the state of human rights in the country, including harassment and intimidation of civil society and journalists, and the commission of sexual violence against civilians.


Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir is set to visit Shattaya, a locality in which 150 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have reportedly recently returned to their homes.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported 298 new Sudanese arrivals last month in South Sudan, bringing the year’s total to 9,291 so far. Around 90 percent of the arrivals were women and children.


On Monday, a nationwide ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia took effect in Syria at 7.pm. local time. This is the second such attempt by the global powers this year. The ceasefire is an attempt to allow badly needed humanitarian aid to reach previously cut off populations and, if the ceasefire holds, the US and Russia plan to begin coordinating efforts targeting the Islamic State (ISIL) and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly called Jabhat al-Nusra, who are not included in the truce. Prior to the ceasefire, neither the Syrian government forces nor any of the rebel groups had formally declared to respect the agreement, but representatives from both sides indicated that they would. However, at the deadline for the cessation of hostilities, the government said it would respect the ceasefire, but maintain the right to defend itself from attack.

Only a few hours before the ceasefire took effect, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a public appearance at a mosque in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus which was recently recovered from rebels after a four-year siege. While there, he promised that the government would take the land back from “terrorists” and rebuild Syria.

On Tuesday, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, lauded the “significant drop in violence” in the 24 hours following the start of the ceasefire. He said, “Sources on the ground, which do matter, including inside Aleppo city, said the situation has dramatically improved with no air strikes.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that it had not received any reports of any combatants or civilians killed by fighting within any of areas the regions where the ceasefire is in effect.

By Wednesday, even with the successful holding of the ceasefire, no humanitarian aid had been delivered to Aleppo due to a lack of security guarantees. The UN attempted to negotiate for the safety of 20 aid trucks and their drivers. Mr. Mistura said, “There is always in these cases attempts to politicize humanitarian aid. So the government has been putting some conditions which I will not elaborate on and the opposition—at the receiving end in eastern Aleppo—have been putting some conditions.” He added that the deliveries would only be made when those conditions were met. By late Wednesday night, the US and Russiaannounced a 48 hour extension of the ceasefire, as UN officials continued to negotiate for the security of the aid convoys. However, within less than 24 hours, US and Russian officials accused their counterparts of violating the ceasefire agreement. Nonetheless, reports of relative calm continued from Aleppo and other areas covered by the truce, while aid convoys remained halted at the Turkish border on Thursday, continuing to await security guarantees.


The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen declared that he “remains deeply disturbed by the unrelenting attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure” in the country, this statement coming after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a well killed 30 civilians last Saturday. It was said that the attack occurred after the machinery being used by workers drilling for water was mistaken for a rocket launcher. In addition to those civilians being killed by direct fire, photos have shown the horrific impact the war has had on children as 1.5 million are facing malnutrition according to UNICEF.

What else is new?:

Dr. James Waller, Academic Programs Director for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation will hold an event on Thursday, 29 September in New York City to promote his newest book, entitled Confronting Evil: Engaging in our Responsibility to Prevent Genocide. The event will take place in room 1302 of the International Affairs Building at Columbia University from 12-2pm. If you would like to attend, please send a short RSVP tojack.mayerhofer@auschwitzinstitute.org to confirm your attendance.

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies will be holding a conference entitled, “Assaulting Cultural Heritage: ISIS’s Fight to Destroy Diversity in Iraq and Syria” on 26 September. To learn more about the event, including how to register, click here.


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#R2P Weekly: 29 February – 4 March 2016


ICRtoP Summary of
Thematic Panel Discussion on RtoP within UN General Assembly

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 09.55.29

On Friday, 25 February 2016, the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convened a high-level thematic panel discussion entitled From commitment to implementation: Ten years of the Responsibility to Protect to mark the 10th anniversary of adoption of the norm.

Find the ICRtoP’s summary of the dialogue here. To read any of the statements made, click here.

Catch up on developments in…

Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Gaza/West Bank
South Sudan


A Burmese human right organization, Network For Human Rights Documentation- Burma (ND-Burma), released a report identifying 84 human rights violations between January and December 2015. The violations occurred both in areas of active armed conflict and those covered by ceasefires.

John Ging, director of operations at the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), called for an end to discrimination against displaced Muslims, particularly the Rohingya.



The African Union plans to deploy 100 human rights observers and 100 military observers toBurundi. Members of the opposition have complained that 200 observers is insufficient to cover Burundi’s territory.

The East African Community named former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa as the new mediator for talks on ending Burundi’s crisis, a move welcomed by the opposition group National Council for the Restoration of the Arusha Accord (CNARED).

A UN team of experts began investigating human rights violations in Burundi. The experts will remain for one week and present their findings in late March. Meanwhile, authorities in Bujumbura unveiled a mass grave, which they claim contains the remains of government supporters.


Central African Republic:

According to LRA Crisis Tracker, the Lord’s Resistance Army kidnapped over 200 people in eastern CAR this year, already nearly twice the amount that had been abducted last year.

In a press release, the ICRC noted that hundreds of thousands of displaced people in CAR are waiting to return home from displaced camps. Armed men number among the camp’s residents, while accidental fires have wreaked havoc in three separate sites.

CAR’s constitutional court confirmed Faustin-Archange Touadera’s election as president.

 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

The DPRK’s foreign minister denied any claims of human rights violations by his State, warning that his country would no longer work with the Human Rights Council. He also pointed towards gun violence in the United States of America and the handling of the refugee crisis by European States as “proof of partiality and double standards.” During this session of the Council, Japan and the EU will likely present a resolution condemning the violations in North Korea.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 29 February, attacks killed at least 12 in Mamabio, in eastern DRC. The Center of Study for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights, which monitors violence in the region, stated that attacks have been carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist group from Uganda.


Gaza/West Bank:

Israeli forces arrested 38 Palestinians on Monday for various reasons, including violent acts, ties to Hamas, border infiltration, and alleged arms smuggling through the Gaza sea.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking the Attorney General’s approval to deport relatives of West Bank terrorists to Gaza. In his letter to AG Avichai Mandelblit, Netanyahu stated, “I am convinced that such a measure will lead to a significant decrease in the number of terror attacks against the State of Israel, its citizens and its residents.” A few days prior, Mandelblit rejected a similar query from the political party Likud, arguing that such an explosion is a violation of both Israeli and international law.



At least 27 people were killed on Monday at the funeral of a Shi’ite military commander’s relative in Diyala, when a suicide bomber detonated his vest. 55 more people were wounded. This follows twin-set of market place bombings which took place in Baghdad on Sunday, killing 53 and injuring 117. These events are the deadliest of the year thus far in Iraq.

The U.S. military is planning for the next phase of the battle against ISIL, which is re-taking Mosul. The U.S. claims to have isolated the city and says that the capture of Shaddadi, Syria last week had cut the last significant lines of communication between Mosul and ISIL’s Syrian capital of Raqqa.



In a briefing to the UN Security Council, the head of UNSMIL, noted that Libya risks division and collapse if it does not move ahead now. After a minority of parliamentarians opposed a vote on a new list of candidates for a cabinet on 22 February, Kobler vowed to reconvene the Libyan Political Dialogue. He further noted that the “overwhelming majority” of the Libyan people are in favor of the Libyan Political Agreement.

A new UNSMIL report stated that shelling, gun shots, explosive remnants of war, and aerial bombardments had killed 28 and injured 38 others since January.

The U.S. announced that it was prepared to expand military operations against ISIL in Libya, but only after Libyans agree on a national unity government.



Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a former member of Ansar-Dine, stands accused of causing irreparable damage to Africa’s cultural heritage by destroying ancient shrines in Timbuktu during the conflict in 2012 in Mali. According to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the former trainee teacher and Islamic militant had “led and personally taken part in the attacks on nine mausoleums and mosques in the city with pick-axes and crowbars.” Although trying cultural destruction as a crime is established in past jurisprudence in international law, this case is the first to be tried addressing it as a heinous crime, but the prosecutor, Ms. Bensouda, does not think this will be the last.



On 2 March, 76 emaciated-looking people associated with the Boko Haram group, including women and children, surrendered in Gwoza, a town near Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria. The food shortages are likely a result of the successful choking of Boko Haram supply chains by the Nigerian military in their fight to suppress the insurgency under President Muhammadu Buhari.

South Sudan:

A UN source anonymously claimed that approximately 50,000 may have been killed since the start of the civil war. The source further estimated that around 2.2 million had been displaced.

South Sudan missed another deadline in implementing the August peace deal, as rebel troops under former vice-president Machar signaled that they would not arrive in Juba on Tuesday as planned. The rebels announced that the government had not designated cantonment areas or food and medical care facilities for their troops. The government, meanwhile, claims that the delay is due to the rebels’ failure to submit their names to the troika, who are responsible for their transportation to Juba.



Over 10,000 people living in the Kalma camp for the displaced protested on Tuesday, demanding an end to the six-month-long pause in food aid delivery to the camp. The displaced persons arriving at Kalma from 2013 to 2014 were not registered by the camp and therefore never added to the permanent food subsidy lists of the humanitarian organizations operating in the area. The Secretary General of the camp appealed to relief organizations, asking them “to act immediately to save people.”

In the meantime, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed reports by the UN concerning the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who have fled their homes since 15 January, when the conflict in Jebel Marra escalated. UN OCHA has stated that 90,000 have been displaced since 21 February due to the continued conflict between the Sudanese army and the rebel opposition, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA). The Ministry described that figure as inaccurate and claimed that government authorities have provided aid to the displaced, who have since returned to their villages.

The Sudanese military has meanwhile claimed control over all areas north of Jebel Marra.


Hours prior to the start of the ceasefire in Syria last Saturday, reports surfaced claiming that over 100 airstrikes had been conducted in Northern Aleppo. Amnesty International, for its part,accused the Russian and Syrian government of deliberately and systematically targeting health facilities in Aleppo over the past 12 weeks. The human rights organization claimed to have evidence that these attacks were an attempt by government forces to gain ground before the cessation of hostilities took effect.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that there has been 31 violations of the ceasefire in 3 days. Zakharova said the exact number was provided by the U.S. and did not specify which parties have contributed to the offences. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that all alleged violations of the ceasefire would be investigated and added that both the U.S. and Russia are working on a mechanism to ensure airstrikes only target UN-designated terrorist organizations.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared on Tuesday that his government would “do its part” to ensure the success of the ceasefire. He has also offered amnesty to the opposition if they agree to disarm. Meanwhile, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a group representing the opposition, cautioned that ceasefire violations would further threaten the possibility of finding a peaceful, political solution to the five-year war.

UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura stated that the U.S.-Russia cessation of hostilities plan is reportedly holding up despite the many setbacks. Mistura noted that the ceasefire has greatly reduced violence in Syria and created hope for the resumption of the peace talks in Geneva next week. The truce is further expected to assist in making progress with the delivery of aid to remote and besieged areas.

In the meantime, Israel accused the Syrian government on Tuesday of using chemical weapons against civilians during the ceasefire.



An airstrike on 27 February on Khaleq market killed 32 civilians and injured at least 41, making the death toll the highest from a single bombing since September 2015.

President Hadi declared that Yemen’s army and popular resistance forces have liberated more than 85% of Yemeni territories from control of the Houthis. The president was confident that his forces would soon regain control of Sanaa as well.

Amnesty International urged all states to impose an arms embargo on all warring parties in Yemen.


What else is new?

The ICRtoP co-signed a statement along with around 60 other domestic and international groups asking ‪US lawmakers to pass the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act in support of mass atrocity prevention. The passing of the legislation would authorize “critical tools that are needed to prevent violent conflict and save lives” such as the Atrocity Prevention Board and the Complex Crises Fund, require training for Foreign Service Officers in prevention, and more. Read the full statement with signatories here.

ICRtoP Member Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is launching the 2015 Annual Report of the Technical Secretariat of the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention on 8 March. RSVP to diana.mantilla@auschwitzinstitute.org by March 4.


Above photo: General Assembly Holds Panel Discussion on Responsibility to Protect. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias.)



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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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Clarifying the Protection Debate in the Crimean Peninsula

Russian Intervention and Justification

Recently, the world has watched tensely as the situation in the Crimean territory of Ukraine reached a dangerous point of volatility. Upheaval that began with the EuroMaidan protests led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Yanukovych, who was swiftly replaced by an interim coalition government.  Long a strategic and symbolically important region, Russia wasted little time descending on the autonomous Crimean Peninsula.  The rhetoric of Russian authorities would suggest that the intervention was necessary for the protection of the Russian-speaking population, allegedly threatened by ultranationalist elements of the new Ukrainian government. In early March, President Vladimir Putin appealed for the use of military force in such terms:

In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory (in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) … I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in the that country,


Unidentified soldiers believed to be from Russia on patrol at Simferopol Airport in the Crimea Peninsula. Elizabeth Arrott/VOA

In the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the protection argument:

“I reiterate, we are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights – the right to live, and nothing more,”

The recent referendum paved the way for an official Russian annexation of its former territory, assured to Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum after previously being given by Nikita  Khrushchev in 1954.


Russia’s Past Misuse of RtoP vs. Current Rhetoric

Commentators in various media outlets have been quick to denounce Russia’s legal justification for the intervention. Many have likened Russia’s rhetoric to the language used to justify their actions in Georgia during 2008. At that time, Russian leaders explicitly linked their motives to the Responsibility to Protect. Then, Lavrov clearly stated:

According to our Constitution there is also responsibility to protect – the term which is very widely used in the UN when people see some trouble in Africa or in any remote part of other regions…the laws of the Russian Federation make it absolutely unavoidable to us to exercise responsibility to protect.

Such articles have rightly emphasized that, as in Georgia, Russia’s actions in Ukraine do not constitute an RtoP-style intervention. For starters, the interpretation of RtoP endorsed by all countries at the 2005 World Summit pertains only to the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Thus far, there is no evidence that any of these crimes have occurred or are in imminent danger of occurring in relation to ethnic Russians. Furthermore, any military intervention must also be authorized by the Security Council.  In this case, Russia has acted unilaterally.

While it is important to clarify that Russia’s actions cannot be justified in RtoP terms, it is equally important to note that Russian leaders have not made specific reference to RtoP. When they attempted this rhetorical approach in 2008, they faced strong backlash from state and civil society advocates of the norm. An examination of Russian rhetoric throughout the current crisis reveals that, instead, the language has focused on preventing violence and protecting the human rights of Russians. Explicit mention of RtoP has been noticeably absent.  In its current phase – when one of the primary challenges facing RtoP is its normalization into international politics – such discursive subtleties are significant.


Violations of International Law and the Threat to Minorities

This is not to say that Russia’s intervention is moral or indeed legal. The intervention is a flagrant violation of an international diplomatic agreement, namely the Budapest Memorandum. This agreement committed Russia and other signatories (Ukraine, The United States and the United Kingdom) to refraining from the use of force to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. Furthermore, as an occupying force Russia must abide by international humanitarian and human rights law regarding their conduct under such circumstances. Any violation committed by local authorities or proxy forces can in fact be considered Russia’s responsibility. The conditions under which the secession referendum was held has also raised questions over the validity and legitimacy of the results.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine. UN Photo.

The case can certainly be made that minorities are under threat in Crimea, though not necessarily groups identified by Russian authorities. While the Ukrainian government’s decision to repeal a law ensuring Russian language rights was controversial, it has since been reinstated. However, there is a real concern that Crimea’s Muslim Tatar population – long the subject of persecution and even mass deportation under Stalin – may face backlash and discrimination for their support of the Ukrainian government, as the result of Russian annexation. ICRtoP member Minority Rights Group Internationalhas already documented incidents reminiscent of those experienced under the Soviet regime. A recent press release warned:

“Minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous community of approximately 300,000 in the peninsula, are becoming more and more exposed to intimidation and violence. Recently, doors of Crimean Tatar residents were marked by X, a sign evoking memories of their 1944 deportation to Central Asia during the Stalin regime.”

The release continues to note media involvement in inciting discrimination, as well as evidence of increased militarization witnessed in the formation of Crimean self-defence groups. Human Rights Watch has also been monitoring these developments, warning of unaccountable militant groups that have been implicated in acts of torture and disappearances. Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director stressed:

“Crimean authorities are allowing illegal and unidentified armed units to run the show in the peninsula, and to commit crimes that go uninvestigated and unpunished, as if there is a legal vacuum.”

In such an environment of impunity, with ethnic tensions running high and the ever-present risk of Russian and Ukrainian military action, a peaceful settlement to the conflict is essential for avoiding an escalation in violence.


Looking Ahead: Overcoming the Security Council Impasse for Peaceful Settlement

With Russia’s involvement in the conflict, it will be difficult to pass any Security Council resolution.  A previous draft urged the protection of the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, while also committing parties to protect the rights of minorities. Unsurprisingly, Russia exercised its veto to strike down the motion. ICRtoP member The World Federalist Movement – Institute of Global Policy issued a statement to General Assembly (GA) member states regarding the use of the veto as set out in Article 27 of the UN Charter, and urged action in the face of its misuse:

79th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 68th session

A view of the electronic board displaying the votes of member states at a General Assembly Plenary Session on Ukraine. UN Photo.

The veto is not to be used when a permanent member is party to a dispute before the Security Council. The veto of 15 March 2014 is another example of permanent members using the veto contrary to the purposes and principles, letter and spirit of the UN Charter…It is imperative the larger membership instruct and confront the Security Council when it takes decisions not in accordance with the UN Charter.”

On March 27, 2014 a resolution put forward by Ukraine and 50 co-sponsors was approved by the GA, supporting Ukraine’s position and deeming the referendum that led to Russian annexation invalid.

Other measures to de-escalate the crisis have been taken by UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) officials. A team of UN human rights monitors have been dispatched and the OSCE has officially announced an observer mission. Furthermore, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly reached a preliminary agreement with the Ukrainian government on the establishment of an international commission aimed at resolving the crisis. Such measures could contribute to a peaceful settlement and avoid wider human rights abuses.


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WHEN ARMS GET IN THE WRONG HANDS: Arms trade and the implications for upholding the Responsibility to Protect

The trade of virtually all goods is regulated and controlled; however, no global standard exists for the international trading of arms. As we speak, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is meeting for the final negotiations on an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The idea of a treaty was introduced at the UN in 2006 in the form of a draft resolution. In 2009, the UNGA adopted Resolution 64/48 to convene a UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to stop the lethal consequences of the uncontrolled trade of arms which have included hundreds of thousands of deaths, women raped at gunpoint and children recruited into armed groups; not to mention the many injured, tortured, abused or taken hostage. As the United Nations Secretary General has argued, “violence against civilians is…unquestionably abetted by the free flow of weapons…we urgently need a robust and comprehensive agreement that addresses the humanitarian impact of the poorly regulated trade in arms.” From 18-28 March 2013, the UNGA will negotiate the final text of the Treaty. Many civil society groups and members of the NGO coalition, Control Armsincluding Vision Gram International and Africa Peace Forum have stated that the document being discussed is a weaker version of the original proposal with loopholes that undermine the effectiveness of the treaty, including ambiguity in the use of terms such as “trade” and “transfer” and lower standards of control for ammunition. Nonetheless, many states and civil society organizations are positive that, if passed, the Treaty will be a step forward in achieving more security and protection.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Arms Trade: Impacting the Security Sector

The arms trade is a globalized and lucrative business – Oxfam International estimates that between 2008 and 2011, the trade was worth more than $9.7bn. There is an incredibly strong link between poor arms control, access to conventional weapons and the increased likelihood of intra-state violence, which can lead to the commission of mass atrocities. The presence of illegal arms and armed elements is one of the eight indicators of the Office of the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide‘s analysis framework which assists in determining whether there may be a risk of genocide in a given situation. As small arms and ammunition can be easily transferred, stolen or diverted, they are frequently the weapons of choice in armed conflicts. Thus, regulating their trade and stopping their illegal diversion can have a powerful impact on a state’s ability to prevent mass atrocities. According to Dr. Robert Zuber, of Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW), the presence of large amounts of arms creates an unpredictable security situation and undermines state control of the security sector;

The irresponsible transfer of weapons and ammunition and proliferation of illicit small arms have direct implications for our ability to secure our streets…[and on] the ability of governments to discharge many of its important functions including the primary responsibility to protect civilians from violence.”


Weapons retrieved from rebels by the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in coordination with the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in DRC. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

In addition to contributing to cycles of violence, the presence of illicit arms in the hands of non-state actors and rebel groups complicates regional and international efforts to strengthen a state’s capacity to fulfill its primary responsibility to protect. What’s more, though it’s clear that governments need to minimize the spread of illicit weapons to uphold their commitment to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes, in many cases, it is the state, itself, that is complicit in the conflict and the spread and use of illegal arms.

Perpetuating the Violence

The responsibility to minimize the spread of weapons is not limited to countries in conflict. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, or the ‘P5’ – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – are the world’s largest arms traders. Amnesty Internationals report entitled “Major Powers Fueling Atrocities: Why the World Needs a Robust Arms Trade Treaty,” demonstrates how all five countries have “engaged in arms deals that fueled atrocities”. China‘s state-owned companies, for example, supplied weapons to the Gaddafi regime in Libya as well as ammunition for small arms used by security forces and militia in Darfur; while Russia supplies weapons to Syria, Myanmar and Sudan that have been used to attack civilians. The government of Russia, which has admitted to supplying Syrian forces with weapons, has blocked several UN resolutions aimed at halting the violence by imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on Syria and says it will continue to supply weapons to the regime. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and Qatar are delivering arms to the opposition forces, which some say could prolong the increasingly deteriorating humanitarian crisis and civil war. While some Western states originally pushed Russia to stop its arms trade to Syria, the United Kingdom and France  are now calling for the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria so they can send weapons to the rebels. Though the United States has argued that more weapons in Syria would do more damage, it has promised not to get in the way of other governments supplying arms to the rebels. This flow of weapons to the Syrian opposition has sparked a debate, with many arguing that these measures, undertaken by the international community to uphold protection obligations, actually perpetuate more violence. As one human rights blogSelf Evident Truth, puts it:

So long as the superpowers…arm the world with small arms, their approval of the responsibility to protect has little meaning.”

The importance of disarmament

In addition to preventing conflict, the regulation of the arms trade is an important step in securing a safe environment in post-crisis situations. According to Ray Acheson, Chair of civil society organization Reaching Critical Will, “the excess weapons available throughout the world continue…impeding the post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction”. This has been devastatingly illustrated in the case of Libya, as remaining weapons in the hands of thousands of militias have hampered the state’s control over the security sector, exacerbating the country’s already unstable situation. This case also showed the importance of preventing the spread of weapons in post-conflict countries as reports emerged that missing weapons from Libya may have appeared in the hands of Islamist rebels in Mali. Human Rights Watch recently stated that;

Urgent efforts to secure anti-aircraft missiles from Libya…blinded western governments to the danger of other weapons going missing and fueling conflicts in Mali…it takes a tiny fraction of the weapons missing in Libya to supercharge a conflict like Mali.”

Thus, amid attempts to protect populations in Libya, a lack of oversight of the flow of weapons throughout the country may have actually played a part in fueling conflict in Mali by providing easily accessible arms to northern-based rebel groups.

Civil society calls for stronger references to Atrocity Crimes in ATT

Article 3 in the latest draft of the ATT, on “Prohibited Transfers”, requires that a state party not authorize a transferfor the purpose of facilitating the commission genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes.According to Reaching Critical Will’s ATT Monitor, this language demonstrates that governments agree that arms must not be transferred to a state where there is a risk of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. While this is a start, Africa Peace Forum states that under the treaty the “states’ obligation to refuse transfers if they assess there is a substantial risk that the transfer would result in human rights and humanitarian law violations are legally ambiguous.” Meanwhile, according Amnesty International, these references are too narrow and the definition of war crimes is extremely limited. Reaching Critical Will, argues“a circumstance in which a state would apply to import arms specifically for the purpose of committing genocide or any of the other crimes listed is a rather high threshold for prohibition.” Oxfam adds that, “the draft Article as it relates to genocide falls far short of the duty to prevent genocide by taking action before it happens…As currently drafted…Article 3.3 will apply only where genocide has already taken place.” Such language risks undermining the very foundation on which RtoP is based: the prevention of atrocities.

Amnesty International has suggested revisions to the text to support a preventative framework, stating that, “a State Party shall not authorize a transfer of conventional arms within the scope of this Treaty if the transfer would facilitate the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or a consistent pattern of serious violations of international human rights law.”

Going forward with or without a treaty

The link between the flow of illicit weapons and the increasing likelihood of RtoP crimes as well as the devastating impact of access to weapons on a state’s ability to protect its population show the urgent need for regulations on the trade of arms, which the ATT can provide. However, it is also important to note that even if the Treaty is not adopted, willing governments can take measures to oversee the safe sale of arms and civil society can advocate for such measures. While a strong Arms Trade Treaty could greatly reduce serious human rights violations and contribute to the general reduction of conflict throughout the world, a weaker treaty might be worse than no treaty at all. The important truth is that with fewer weapons available, governments will be one step closer to being better able to uphold their responsibility to protect their populations from RtoP crimes; it is up to activists, civil society organizations, the media, and policymakers everywhere to make this a reality.

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Shocking report details the UN’s failure to protect the people of Sri Lanka

A United Nations (UN) report alleging the failure of the international body to uphold its responsibilities to protect civilians threatened by massive human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war was released on 14 November 2012, and quickly spurred impassioned reactions from civil society and UN actors. For many, the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka confirmed their earlier claims that the UN did not act rapidly or robustly to protect the people of Sri Lanka. For others, the report was a shocking reality check that the international community still has a long way to go to build the necessary political will and capacity to respond to these deadly conflicts.

Large-scale civilian suffering during the civil war

The final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, from August 2008 until May 2009, saw a dramatic escalation of violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting to establish the state of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country since the late 1970s. Violence was concentrated in the Wanni, a northern region, and clashes trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians without access to basic necessities or humanitarian aid.

At the time, several civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, criticized the UN for its limited efforts to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for likely war crimes and crimes against humanity. As noted in the report, the UN evacuated its staff in the Wanni in September 2008 when the government announced it would not be able to guarantee their security, and after that was largely unable to gain access to distribute humanitarian relief aid. With the end of the war in May 2009 came widespread calls to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the perpetrators of mass atrocities and UN efforts to protect civilians.  After a Panel of Experts, established by the UNSG, reported in April 2011 that many UN agencies and officials had not done enough to protect civilians, the UNSG created the Internal Review Panel on UN actions in Sri Lanka, which is responsible for the recently released report.

UN fails to protect Sri Lankan population

The report concludes that though the government and LTTE were primarily responsible for “killings and other violations” committed against the civilians trapped in the Wanni, the “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN.”

The report criticizes the UN for its overall lack of action on the crisis, condemning the evacuation of UN staff without protestation as a “serious failure”. According to the report, the UN system as a whole did not put enough political pressure on the government, and left its staff on the ground ill-prepared to deal with the escalating crisis. The report also draws attention to the fact that, though the UN officials had data on the number of civilian deaths and evidence that the government, in many cases, was responsible, they only reported on the violations committed by the LTTE. According to officials at the time, they were reluctant to release information about the government’s involvement out of fear it would further hinder their access to the population in the Wanni. The sole exception was a public statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 13 March 2009, in spite of strong criticism by most UN senior officials, which reported on the number of casualties and declared that actions by the government and LTTE “may constitute international crimes, entailing individual responsibility, including for war crimes and crimes against humanity”.  The report concludes that “in fact, with its multiplicity of mandates and areas of expertise, the UN possessed the capabilities to simultaneously strive for humanitarian access while also robustly condemning the perpetrators of killings of civilians.”

According to the report, the low level of commitment to civilian protection in Sri Lanka was exacerbated by the inaction of Member States, who failed to take up the escalating crisis in the Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly. To what extent was the commitment governments made in 2005 endorsing their collective responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity and war crimes considered during the crisis? The report notes that though RtoP was raised in the context of the war, states were unable to agree on how the norm could help the international community halt the ongoing violence. The report concludes that governments “failed to provide the Secretariat and UN [Country Team] with the support required to fully implement the responsibilities for protection of civilians that Member States had themselves set for such situations.”

Civil society and former UN officials clash over the report’s findings

Civil society organizations swiftly responded to the report, calling for accountability and to use the example of Sri Lanka as an impetus to strengthen UN protection capacities. On 14 November Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz called the report a “wake-up call for UN member states that have not pushed hard enough for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in the last phase of the war.”  Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch agreed, stating that the report serves as “a call to action and reform for the entire UN system.”  Additionally, Bolopion noted that “The UN’s dereliction of duty in Sri Lanka is a stark reminder of what happens when human rights concerns are marginalized or labeled as too political”.

Meanwhile, others reacted to the UN’s decision to evacuate its staff from the Wanni region. In reading the report, Edward Mortimer, who serves on the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and who formerly served as Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the UN, declared that he believed the UN left when they were most needed. The report, Mortimer stated, would show that the “UN has not lived up to the standards we expect of it…”

Benjamin Dix, a UN staff member in Sri Lanka that left the war zone, recalled his own doubts at the time, saying that he “believe[d] we should have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness….As a humanitarian worker questions were running through my mind – What is this all about? Isn’t this what we signed up to do?

Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the time of the crisis and one of those whom the report blames for underreporting the government’s responsibility for the violence, defended the UN’s actions. Holmes told BBC that “the idea that if we behaved differently, the Sri Lankan government would have behaved differently I think is not one that is easy to reconcile with the reality at the time.”  In an attempt to provide clarity on the UN’s decision not to report casualty figures, UN spokesperson in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the time, Gordon Weiss, stated that, “It was an institutional decision not to use those [casualty lists] on the basis that those could not be verified and of course they couldn’t be verified because the government of Sri Lanka wasn’t letting us get anywhere near the war zone.” However, his remarks starkly contrast the findings of the report.

Some took the opportunity to remind that the report highlighted the ultimate failure of the Sri Lankan government to protect its population from mass atrocities.Steven Ratner, a professor at University of Michigan’s Law School, stated, “the UN failed, but the Sri Lankan government is ultimately most responsible…They are the ones who have not begun a bona fide accountability process.”  Echoing this, Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz noted that “The report clearly illustrates the Sri Lankan government’s lack of will to protect civilians or account for very serious violations. There is no evidence that has changed.

Report shows challenges in implementation must not lead to inaction

The Secretary-General’s report not only shows the need to uphold the responsibility to protect populations in Sri Lanka by preventing a culture of impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes, it emphasizes the critical gaps that the international community must address to strengthen its political will and overall capacity to respond to emerging and ongoing situations of RtoP crimes.

With regard to the Responsibility to Protect norm, the report concludes that, “The concept of a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was raised occasionally during the final stages of the conflict, but to no useful result. Differing perceptions among Member States and the Secretariat of the concept’s meaning and use had become so contentious as to nullify its potential value. Indeed, making references to the Responsibility to Protect was seen as more likely to weaken rather than strengthen UN action.” This finding serves as a sober reminder to governments, UN officials and the international community as a whole that though we continue to address important questions about how to implement the Responsibility to Protect, these disagreements must never hinder our commitment to react when populations are in dire need of assistance.  The report as a whole underlines the prevailing importance of the prevention of and rapid response to RtoP crimes and violations by highlighting a tragic example of the consequences when the protection of populations is not prioritized.

The initial establishment of the Panel and the Secretary-General’s decision to make its findings public show a commitment to holding perpetrators of the crimes committed in Sri Lanka accountable. However, as Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion said, “While Ban deserves credit for starting a process he knew could tarnish his office, he will now be judged on his willingness to implement the report’s recommendations and push for justice for Sri Lanka’s victims.”  The UNSG stated that the report’s findings have “profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the Organization for help.”  We can only hope that this report will act as a much needed impetus to reform the system as a whole to better respond to protect populations from the most horrific crimes known to humankind.


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A “Responsibility Not to Veto”? The S5, the Security Council, and Mass Atrocities

A bloc of small countries – the so-called Small-Five or S5, comprised of Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland – was forced to withdraw their draft resolution at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 May, which sought to amend the working methods of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Among other measures that were aimed at “enhancing the accountability, transparency, and effectiveness” of the UNSC, a notable element of the S5 resolution recommendation No. 20 that urged the Permanent Members (P5) of the UNSC – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States – to agree to refrain from using their veto power to block collective Council action to prevent and halt genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. As the S5 stated in their 4 April speech to the UNGA, in which the bloc introduced the resolution, their work stems from the commitments made at the 2005 World Summit:

“The recommendation #20 to refrain from using the veto to block action in situations of “atrocity crimes” (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity) is in line with the 2005 World Summit resolution which states, in its paragraph 139, that the, “international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use the appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

The idea of such restraint on the Council’s veto power in situations of mass atrocities was expressed in the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), the ground-breaking document that first articulated the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P). As the report stated:

“An issue which we cannot avoid addressing, however, is that of the veto power enjoyed by the present Permanent Five. Many of our interlocutors regarded capricious use of the veto, or threat of its use, as likely to be the principal obstacle to effective international action in cases where quick and decisive action is needed to stop or avert a significant humanitarian crisis. As has been said, it is unconscionable that one veto can override the rest of humanity on matters of grave humanitarian concern. Of particular concern is the possibility that needed action will be held hostage to unrelated concerns of one or more of the permanent members – a situation that has too frequently occurred in the past.”

As such, ICISS recommended that the UNSC agree to a “code of conduct” with regards to their veto power. Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) , an ICRtoP member, has explored this notion of a code of conduct, or a “responsibility not to veto” (RN2V) further in a 2010 paper that seeks to advance the understanding of the initiative and the RtoP. As CGS’s paper explains:

“Momentum for the idea of a responsibility not to veto continued in the debates leading up to the World Summit in 2005. However, the final version of the outcome document did not address any measures that would limit the P5’s veto powers in relation to situations of mass atrocities.  According to accounts of the long process of drafting the outcome document this particular omission was due in large part to P5 pressure.”

Despite its omission in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the idea for an RN2V would re-emerge with the UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, with Ban Ki-moon stating:

“Within the Security Council, the five permanent members bear particular responsibility because of the privileges of tenure and the veto power they have been granted under the Charter. I would urge them to refrain from employing or threatening to employ the veto in situations of manifest failure to meet obligations relating to the responsibility to protect, as defined in paragraph 139 of the Summit Outcome, and to reach a mutual understanding to that effect.”

Despite the endorsement by the UNSG and the efforts of the S5, as well as the work of civil society in advancing the RN2V concept, the veto has remained a complex issue in formulating collective responses to situations of mass atrocities, as evidenced recently by the situation in Syria. On two occasions over the course of the government-led crackdown, China and Russia employed their veto powers (on 4 October 2011 and 4 February 2012) to block Council action aimed at resolving the crisis, which were widely believed to have been employed as an expression of their respective national interests in the situation, and their concerns over the implementation of Resolution 1973 in Libya.

And as Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy noted on 15 May, the S5 draft resolution led to a rift within the UN, pitting the bloc of small countries and the supporters of their resolution against members of the P5, which felt the resolution would impede their prerogatives. Ultimately, the RN2V and other provisions in the S5 resolution would not be voted on, as the S5 dropped their motion as the UNGA was set to meet. As Lynch writes in his 16 May post on his Foreign Policy blog:

The U.N. secretary general’s top lawyer today effectively killed off an initiative by five small U.N. member states to press the U.N. Security Council to allow greater outside scrutiny of its actions…the initiative failed after the U.N.’s lawyer, Patricia O’Brien, recommended that the resolution require the support of two-thirds of the U.N. membership, rather than the simple majority required for most U.N. General Assembly votes.

Lynch explains further:

Under the U.N. Charter, a General Assembly resolution requires the support of a simple majority, unless it involves particularly “important questions,” like an amendment of the U.N. Charter, in which case it would require a vote by two-thirds of the General Assembly. But in 1998, the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the assembly would not adopt any resolution “on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters” without a two-thirds majority.

According to Lynch, the Swiss representative to the UNGA withdrew the motion when this recommendation was made, suggesting that the S5 bloc did not have the support of two-thirds of the Assembly on its resolution.

Ahead of the consideration of the S5 resolution by the UNGA, the ICRtoP – as well our partners at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) – sent a letter to all Heads of State and Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 14 May expressing its support for recommendation No.20. The letter from the ICRtoP stated:

[…] this provision reflects the historic decision in the 2005 World Summit document which states that the international community, through the UN, has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; and that when a  state is manifestly failing, the international community has a responsibility to take timely and decisive response, including measures authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII…Tragically, almost every year and even at present the international community witnesses Council deliberations where use of the veto (or its misuse) is inconsistent with these provisions – a situation that this measure in the resolution attempts to address…This recommendation within the S-5 resolution would enhance the goal for preventing and ending impunity, and strengthen the responsibility of States, the international community, the UN and the Security Council to prevent and stop the commission of these crimes.

The RN2V remains an important initiative that will likely continue to be advanced at the UN and in national capitals by like-minded governments, often working in tandem with an engaged and supportive civil society, that strive to ensure that early and flexible responses to protect populations are available to the international community when faced with cases of mass atrocities. While the withdrawal of the S5 resolution may have been a setback, and current Security Council practice dictates that a “responsibility not to veto” is far from being accepted by the P5, the RN2V idea is certainly here to stay.

Further reading:

Global Action to Prevent War: Small-5 Propose GA Resolution on Improving Working Methods of the Security Council

“Small Five” Challenge “Big Five” Over Veto Powers – IPS News Agency



Filed under CivSoc, First Pillar, General Assembly, Libya, Prevention, RtoP, Second Pillar, Security Council, Syria, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action