Tag Archives: Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR)

Civil Society and RtoP: Prevention and Strong State Capacity

16 Sep

On September 9, 2013 the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES-NY), the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), and the Stanley Foundation held the event titled Civil SocietyPerspectives: Building State Capacity to Prevent Atrocity Crimes. This was held as a pre-meeting to the 5th annual General Assembly informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect, scheduled for September 11, 2013. Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the newly appointed Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect, as well as Mr. Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, were both present. The event was also attended by many civil society representatives as well as diplomats from numerous Permanent Missions. The event featured civil society representatives who shared their experiences in working towards the prevention of atrocity crimes as well as their recommendations on strengthening domestic capacity. Ms. Valnora Edwin, the Director of the Campaign for Good Governance, provided first-hand experience of RtoP in practice. She explained the post-conflict work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the transitional justice process through the Special Court for Sierra Leone. She also explained how her organization is engaging with the Sierra Leonean government in order to prevent future atrocities.

Both this event and this year’s UN dialogue are focused on Pillar 1 of the Responsibility to Protect, which states, “The state carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing”. This is reflected in the UN Secretary-General’s latest report on RtoP, State Responsibility and Prevention.  In the opening remarks Mr. Keith Porter, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Stanley Foundation, stressed that one of the key aims of the dialogue was to discuss how civil society can contribute to the building of societies where mass atrocities are not an acceptable means of holding power. Although the current situation in Syria was widely acknowledged as a challenge, the debate did not focus on it. Instead, Syria was referred to in order to clarify the norm. Dr. Welsh acknowledged that RtoP has been operationalized in the Syrian conflict through the form of sanctions, the acceptance of refugees by surrounding states, and the work of civil society groups as well as UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council and other humanitarian organizations. Nonetheless, the effect of Syria on the future of RtoP was not fully addressed.

In the keynote speech by Dr. Welsh, emphasis was placed on civil society’s role in advancing RtoP and affirming the need for prevention. Dr. Welsh addressed the next steps that need to be taken in the norm’s development including: the necessity for the development of a clearer framework which would facilitate early warning and response, the fact that regional and sub-regional organizations need to take greater ownership of the agenda, the need to strengthen interaction with the members of the Security Council, and that member states should work together to remind the Security Council of its responsibility to prevent atrocities. Moreover, apart from continuing to advance Pillar 1, Dr. Welsh argued that it is time for the General Assembly to pay greater attention to the Pillar 2, or the idea that the international community needs to support states in carrying out their responsibility to protect their citizens.

The first panel of the meeting was chaired by Ms. Angela Bruce-Raeburn, the Program Officer of the Stanley Foundation. The panelists discussed how their organizations work to influence political actors to cooperate in strengthening institutions. Rev. Cannon Thomas Muyya Godda emphasized the need for a common sense of equality and that key causes of conflict, such as poverty, must be addressed. Mr. Kyle Matthews highlighted some of the internal political obstacles to successful RtoP implementation. Referring to Canada he explained how although once a leader of RtoP, Canada has lost this position due to the fact that the current government views RtoP as the work its predecessors – the opposition. Finally, Mr. Noel Morada explained the ‘bibngka approach’ or the necessity for cooperation between the top and bottom – just like when cooking a rice cake, the cooperation of the pan on top with the fire on the bottom is key.

Although all panelists presented great examples of how civil society encourages national legislatures, Ms. Bruce-Raeburn asked a thought-provoking question of what happens when a government changes? In other words, what happens to atrocity prevention when those supporting it are no longer in power? The panelists generally did not provide an answer to this question; nevertheless Mr. Matthews explained how civil societies in Canada try to overcome this issue. Despite his statement, no substantive answer was given. Another issue discussed by the panelists was the relationship of RtoP and sovereignty. There was a general consensus among the speakers that RtoP needs to be presented as a friend, rather than an enemy of sovereignty. The problem of sovereignty often arises in relation to RtoP discussions primarily regarding Pillar 3 or the use of force if a government is not fulfilling its responsibility to protect its citizens. Panelists and Dr. Welsh agreed that rather than restricting sovereignty, RtoP actually has a sovereignty enhancing purpose. This is where the work of civil societies in aiding the strengthening of states and the implementation of RtoP principles into legislatures remains highly important.

The second panel chaired by Mr. Tibi Galis, the Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, focused on reconciliation and peacebuilding as important factors in atrocity prevention. In many post-conflict situations a relapse into violence is highly likely unless appropriate action is taken to address the key issues that caused violence in the first place. Important peacebuilding efforts such as the inclusion of women in decision-making, the use of judicial processes and the development of good governance were also presented through the cases of Sierra Leone, Guatemala and Kenya. Although the presentations were relevant in content, at points the debate seemed to have gotten too specific and the message of how these case studies can contribute to the future general policy development of the RtoP was a bit lost. The overarching issue remains to be the fact that there are very few cases of when RtoP was successfully used in atrocity prevention. Both Sierra Leone and Guatemala highlight situations of post-conflict violence prevention rather than the initial prevention of the opportunities for mass atrocities. Therefore, the Kenyan case, which is often celebrated as a prime example of effective diplomatic action under the RtoP banner, remains perhaps one of the only real examples of RtoP application. Regrettably, there are still cases where atrocities have happened or are now happening, yet where RtoP has not been invoked.

Overall the event presented a good discussion on issues related to the role of civil society in working with states to strengthen their domestic institutions in order to successfully prevent mass atrocities. As the title of the event suggested, much emphasis was placed on the experiences of civil societies from different parts of the world in working together with national governments in order to strengthen measures for atrocity prevention. The debate reaffirmed the crucial role of civil society groups in pushing governments in strengthening their institutions in order to adopt RtoP principles into their national agendas. With many governments remaining skeptical about RtoP and its effectiveness, the role of civil society in keeping the norm at the forefront of government deliberations is key. RtoP is a noble concept yet it continues to go about unfulfilled due to hesitation by governments based in part on a failure to heed their legitimate concerns.


Tereza Steinhublova, GAPW Junior Associate