Tag Archives: mass atrocity

EVENT SUMMARY: Overcoming Barriers: Civil Society Perspectives on Implementing R2P

EVENT SUMMARY: Overcoming Barriers: Civil Society Perspectives on Implementing R2P

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On 6 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held its eighth annual informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect. As a follow-up to the dialogue, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Stanley Foundation, and the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) hosted a panel discussion on 8 September, entitled “Overcoming Barriers: Civil Society Perspectives on Implementing R2P”.

Bridget Moix, US senior representative of Peace Direct, moderated the discussion between panelists as they reflected on the ways that civil society enhances efforts to protect populations from atrocity crimes. The panelists included Dismas Nkunda, Co-Founder and CEO of Atrocities Watch-Africa; Gus Miclat, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue and a Steering Committee member of the ICRtoP; and Evan Cinq-Mars, UN Advocate and Policy Adviser for the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

The panelists focused on how RtoP is implemented on the ground, including sharing their experiences with local communities in their efforts to protect populations from atrocities and how actions taken by local stakeholders can actively strengthen and reinforce national and international efforts to uphold RtoP. The conversation also sought to identify and reflect on recommendations for the international community to implement to improve preventive measures and enhance civilian protection.

To read the full summary of the event, please click here.

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Spotlight on the World Federation for the United Nations Associations

We are delighted to introduce to you a new Spotlight series on the ICRtoP blog, where you will be able to learn more about Coalition members and their ongoing activities and initiatives to advance the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) norm. 

The World Federation for the United Nations Associations (WFUNA), an ICRtoP member since 2009, launched its Responsibility to Protect Program in 2011. ICRtoP spoke with Laura Spano, RtoP Program Officer at WFUNA, who provided some insight into the goals of and challenges associated with WFUNA’s work on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

WFUNA strives to deepen the understanding of the RtoP norm and highlight its potential as a guide for national policy amongst NGOs around the world. WFUNA’s RtoP program provides this increased awareness to mobilize civil society to advocate for their national leaders to operationalize the norm. As Spano told us, “The main goal of the program is to mobilize and push for the political will to prevent and act in the face of mass atrocities.

WFUNA represents and coordinates a membership base of over 100 national United Nations Associations (UNAs), which link citizens to the United Nations by emphasizing the relevance of UN developments at the local level through teaching, advocacy, and exchange programs. Among other areas of collaboration, WFUNA has teamed up with several UNAs in different regions around the world to create activities about and build support for RtoP. The program seeks to empower UNAs to target advocacy to four key groups: civil society, the academic community, politicians and the media.

To this end, WFUNA conducts capacity-building trainings for NGOs in these regions, in partnership with national UNAs and others, including, on occasion, the ICRtoP. These trainings provide a comprehensive background on RtoP and on the role of actors in implementing the norm and expand on how civil society can continue raising awareness and engage in effective advocacy. WFUNA also maintains an online platform to facilitate collaboration across regions as well as the exchange of expertise and best practices from outreach, advocacy and teaching activities. “Working with UNAs allows WFUNA’s programs to generate a more nuanced national understanding of the norm as the UNAs have a good understanding of domestic policy gaps and where progress is needed,” said Spano. In addition, partnering with national UNAs, which often already have well-established networks of civil society actors in the country, streamlines the dissemination of information on RtoP and hence increases awareness of the norm. “Ideally, once we run our initial training,” Spano stated, “the UNA has enough knowledge to take the norm forward in a national context with the assistance and support of WFUNA.”

Progress is visible after just one year. WFUNA and UNA partners, in particular UNA-ArmeniaUNA-Georgia and UNA-DRC,  have trained 48 NGOs, produced a number of  articles on the norm, 5 toolkits which were translated into five languages, and produced a documentary feature on the current situation in the Middle East and the RtoP norm, which was broadcasted on national Armenian television.

Dag Hammarskjold Symposium: Youth from UNA-Uganda, UNA-Tanzania and UNA-Kenya discuss the importance of RtoP in East Africa.  Credit: WFUNA

Dag Hammarskjold Symposium: Youth from UNA-Uganda, UNA-Tanzania and UNA-Kenya discuss the importance of RtoP in East Africa. Credit: WFUNA

Another key component of the RtoP program in 2011 and 2012 was the Dag Hammarskjöld Symposium Series, which provided a regional forum to engage key stakeholders in the RtoP debate. Participants looked specifically at the tension between state sovereignty, the role of intervention, and the implications for the RtoP norm. The Series reached four continents with conferences in Kenya in June 2011, China in December 2011, Venezuela in February 2012 and India in October 2012.

During our conversation with Ms. Spano, she discussed the impact of the crisis situations in Libya and Syria on global opinion towards the norm, saying that WFUNA saw an increase in debate on the implementation of measures to respond to RtoP crimes, and a resulting “divergence in ideas and understandings of the norm from conference participants.”  Consequently, WFUNA’s work shifted, as appropriate, from its initial, primary focus on awareness-raising to narrower discussions to clarify misconceptions and assess the challenges associated with implementation. Nonetheless, Spano noted that across all regions, she saw a tangible increase in knowledge of the norm and its principles, which has allowed for more comprehensive discussions on RtoP tools to prevent atrocity crimes. According to Spano, the enduring challenge is to ensure that all actors understand that “the foundation of RtoP is really about prevention.”

WFUNA will continue to challenge misinterpretations of RtoP and ensure that the norm is understood by civil society, academics, politicians and the media, as well as other relevant actors. To stay up to date on WFUNA’s work with UNAs all throughout the world, be sure to visit their website.

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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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FEATURE: Responsibility while Protecting – the impact of a new initiative on RtoP

The “responsibility while protecting” (RwP) concept and its potential influence on the development of the Responsibility to Protect norm (RtoP, R2P) have been a source of ongoing discussion in recent months. RwP was first introduced by Brazilian President Dilma Raousseff as “responsibility in protecting” during her address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2011 and then expanded on in a concept note presented to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 9 November 2011 by Brazilian Permanent Representative, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti. RwP seeks to address concerns regarding the implementation of military measures to prevent and halt mass atrocities, emphasizing that prevention is the “best policy” and that the use of force in particular must be regularly monitored and periodically assessed so as to minimize the impact on civilians.

On 21 February 2012, the Brazilian Permanent Mission organized an informal discussion on RwP with Member States, UN actors, and civil society organizations. Debate has since continued, most recently at the fourth UNGA informal, interactive dialogue held on 5 September, with many commentators and scholars reflecting on how RwP will impact RtoP and more importantly, the international response to future situations of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. The ICRtoP Secretariat reached out to civil society organizations with a series of questions in order to map the origins of RwP and analyze the concept’s influence on the Responsibility to Protect.  

Read the full feature post.

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