Tag Archives: RtoP

Council of Doom

20 Jul

For the first time at least in our memory, the Security Council had two discrete ’emergency’ meetings last Friday -one focused on the downing of the Malaysian Airliner and the other on the escalating violence in Gaza occasioned by frightening waves of Hamas rockets and the Israeli decision to launch an invasion into an area that the French Ambassador described as ‘an open air prison.’

It was a long and largely unsatisfying day for Council members and others in chambers. USG Jeffrey Felton had the unenviable task of briefing the Council at both meetings, needing to sound fair and competent in his judgments as events swirled and condemnations of all kinds escalated alongside the horrific images of violence and wreckage.

There certainly were important insights communicated by Council members over this long day of painful disclosures.  Chile’s Ambassador made the unusual request for the Council to rethink the way in which it engages mediation. Jordan’s Ambassador noted the ‘suffocating’ misery in Gaza and demanded that Hamas accept the Egyptian cease fire plan.  The Palestinian Ambassador read off the names of several of the victims (including many children) killed in the Gaza assault.   On Ukraine there were many strong calls for fact-finding and accountability for perpetrators, even if some might have “jumped the gun” when it came to anticipating culpability.

Perhaps the most poignant and sensitive comment was made by the Ambassador of the Netherlands, the country that of course suffered the most casualties from the downing of the Malaysian airliner.   Ambassador van Oosterom vividly described the ‘darkness’ that had descended over his country, but he refused to engage in condemnation pending a thorough investigation into the causes of the crash.   Argentina and others directly supported this profound and mature response amidst deep national mourning.

As we listened over several hours, we wondered (as we often do) how these Council discussions are ‘playing’ to a global public increasingly fearful and frustrated at state and non-state actors’ growing recourse to aggression and disregard for international law.   Indeed, on this day there were several pointed critiques of Council processes.  The Palestinian Ambassador, speaking directly to people back home, told them that they have ‘every right’ to be angry with the Council. Earlier in the day, Malaysia warned the Council that it badly needs to ‘step up its game’ in Ukraine and echoed calls by other states that more must be done to stem prospects for new levels of violence occasioned by what Nigeria referred to as this  ‘apocalyptic’ event.

Despite these passionate remarks, the day was given over to largely redundant statements rather than concrete proposals that could reassure onlookers that the ‘maintenance’ of international peace and security remains in good hands. In fairness, even legitimate caution by Council members is anathema to those thirsty to ‘do something,’ persons whose ‘narratives’ regarding the causes of one or another theater of violence admit of little or no compromise.  Much like the rest of the UN, the Council has to accommodate a variety of perspectives and strategies and, despite its coercive mandate, cannot always move forward with a resolve needed by victims and respected by their advocates.

That said, after hours of statements on Friday, the conclusion is hard to ignore that ‘concern’ and even indignation used up most of the energy that would have been better served by strategic engagement linked to public reassurance.  Few Council members, especially permanent ones, seem able to resist the political spinning of crises for national gain.  Too many in the global public now anticipate ‘spin’ even at those times when Council members do their best to avoid it.

It is a bit unseemly that an air tragedy and an invasion do not seem sufficient to evoke even modest reflection on how Council working methods might be shortchanging anxiety levels of the global community.   Neither has growing chaos in Libya nor late arriving peacekeeping operations to quell the catastrophe in Central African Republic seemed sufficient to force the Council to reexamine its capacity for vigilant and preventive action.  After many statements of interest and concern, successful crisis strategies for both Ukraine and Gaza seemed painfully beyond the available operational skills and capacities of this Council.  More than anything else the public now needs assurance that the Council has what it takes to resolve such disputes or, at a minimum, can describe what else is needed beyond its own resolutions and coercive mandates.

Of course, much of what the Council says and does regarding crises remains beyond the reach of onlookers, and this certainly applies to our office as well.  Like others, we essentially have a prime viewing perch to witness a process about which we have little if any impact. But we know what we see, and what we see now is insufficient diplomatic engagement coupled with a deficit of forthrightness regarding our failures to protect and prevent and what can now be done about each.

It is a gloomy time in the Council.   Even the leaders of the most powerful nations seem overwhelmed by the fires burning in so many corners of the world.  In this space we will soon share some modest recommendations to help reduce combustibility and restore the reputation of the Council to a level at least generally commensurate with its Charter authorization.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Our Responsibilities to Protect and to Promote

4 Mar

Editor’s Note:  The following was written by Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, a student at the University of Southern Maine and a contributor to several RtoP-related projects in New York and elsewhere.  Dylan wrote this to coincide with the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women on March 10. GAPW, mostly through the efforts of Melina Lito, has done extensive work exploring WPS-RtoP relationships.

The project of promoting and facilitating gender equality has been and continues to be a daunting undertaking. With millennia upon millennia of learned and institutionalized gender inequity, it is little wonder that this challenge persists.

There is good news however. Since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on 31 October 2000, the United Nations has worked actively and ardently on the “Women, Peace and Security” (WPS) agenda and there has been substantial progress. Despite this progress, there is still much work to be done in advancing the cause of gender equality and in addressing the unique and disproportionate burdens shouldered by women and girls in conflict situations.

Resolution 1325, the canonical WPS report published by the UN Secretary General in 2002, and subsequent Council resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122 – text available at: http://www.peacewomen.org/security_council_monitor/) all enumerate the various and diverse array of obstacles and hurdles faced by women in matters of peace and security. These obstacles span the gamut from second-class social statuses in some societies to assumptions about the appropriate “place” of women to employment discrimination to enforced domestic or sexual slavery. There are two broad categories that emerge as central to the WPS discussion: the imbalance of female representation in positions of leadership and decision-making and the continued persistence of gender-based and sexual violence. Both are crucial in tackling the malaise of gender inequity and yet each contain within them potential pitfalls and drawbacks.

The horrors of gender-based and sexual violence are undeniable and such ravages demand redress. Women and girls are often primary targets in the midst of conflict as a means of waging psychological, emotional and physical warfare against a perceived enemy. The visible and invisible scars of such violence are unimaginable, except to those who bear them. It is vital to acknowledge the disparity in the way in which men and women experience war and conflict but it is equally important to resist the temptation to essentialize women and girls as occupying the exclusive role of helpless victim. Such unintentional characterizations, most often resulting from genuine compassion and concern, can nevertheless be destructive to the aim of affirming the agency and dignity of women and girls more broadly. After all, if you are only fit to become a victim then how can you possibly be anything else, for instance, an effective peace activist or negotiator?

It is far more important to achieve gender balance and inclusivity at all levels of institutional, organizational and societal structures. Such structures can vary in nature widely, from legislative bodies to dispute resolution entities to peacekeeping missions to UN organs. The critical point is to internalize gender sensitivities and responsiveness within all contexts, be they post-conflict transitions or peace negotiations or economic development efforts. It is widely understood that the exclusion of women from positions of leadership and decision-making prior to conflict in a given community will likely be mirrored in post-conflict settings. The UN is often a presence in all phases of conflict and can serve a vital function in leading by example. The obvious concern to deal with in these efforts is tokenism and patronization, which must be avoided.

Gender does not refer primarily to biology or physiology. It is a social construction, informed by the particular values, customs, traditions and assumptions attendant to a given community or society. The important thing to note, and something that the Secretary General noted in his report in 2002, is that these social constructions are learned and changeable. As is true with any other idea or conception, the law of dynamism is at work. Ideas are not static but rather are subject to constant reinterpretation and re-imagination. It is the provision of new ways of thinking about gender and the revision of old ones that will ultimately yield the lasting and sustainable changes to gender norms that currently form the core of discriminatory and repressive conditions across the world.

As already mentioned the UN is in a position to lead the way in the WPS movement and is doing so in some positive ways. The goal of 50/50 representation among men and women at medium to upper-level official positions within all organs and entities is a work in progress but laudable in that it is a codified and stated objective. Annual reports from the Secretary General on the continued advancement of WPS and its constituent line-items helps track progress and highlight gaps. The appointment of women to prominent high-level positions – including Mary Robinson, former High Commissioner for Human Rights and now Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, and Jennifer Welsh as the Special Advisor to the Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect — function as good-faith efforts to ensure that women have seats at the various tables that form the basis for global governance. The creation of UN Women, an entity dedicated to the promotion of issues that affect women uniquely and to presenting policy prescriptions and analyses aimed at mitigating those issues, is yet another substantive and promising endeavor toward achieving the broad mandate set forth by the WPS framework.

It is also important to recognize the indispensable role that civil society plays in actualizing the WPS agenda. As an emblematic example, consider the efficacy of a coalition of women’s groups in Kosovo in 2013 that lobbied successfully to identify women and girls who were the victims of gender-based and sexual violence as war victims, thus rendering those affected eligible for compensation and reparations previously only available to mostly male combatants. Such activism and civil engagement highlights the power that women possess in catalyzing change and asserting their agency and relevance in post-conflict and transitional justice environments.

The UN and other official governance bodies do not possess sole proprietorship over WPS as a norm or its policy extensions. The goal of promoting gender justice belongs to us all, at every level of society and in every nation in the world. The lack of said justice is one of the most durable and pervasive disequilibria to afflict humankind and its ultimate resolution requires collaborative and innovative solutions. The first step is to recognize that women play diverse roles in all peace and security contexts, ranging from Sierra Leone women organizing peace marches to Guatemalan women facilitating community-based dispute resolution processes. Women are potent agents of positive change but of course they can also be both victims and perpetrators in the midst of armed conflicts. Regardless, women must be included in all processes designed to resolve such conflicts and must be consulted in crafting gender sensitive and responsive policies in all policymaking efforts. Normalizing the presence of women in positions of leadership can help undermine traditional assumptions that relegate women to secondary roles and lay the groundwork for new societal understandings about gender, which are essential to achieving gender equality in the long run. Peace and security and the maintenance thereof wil only be feasible when women are equal participants in all phases of relevant endeavors. Until then, advancing the WPS normative agenda and leading by example are the most vital and viable means of reaching the goal of gender justice.

Practice Makes Perfect: Another Step towards Effective Prevention of Mass Violence

13 Feb

Yesterday’s Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict under the presidency of Lithuania was the latest in a series of efforts by Council members and other states to outline the road ahead regarding what has become a welcome, urgent preoccupation of diplomats and policymakers – strategies to effectively protect civilians from violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors.

Valerie Amos and Navi Pillay, among others, gave their typically comprehensive and passionate overviews of what, for them and for many of their colleagues, are surely quite painful markers on the long road ahead until responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law are fulfilled by all relevant actors as a matter of course. Ms. Amos in particular noted unresolved ‘stresses’ between humanitarian workers and PKOs implementing coercive mandates, and also reflected on the fact that, despite increased social media scrutiny, ‘siege’ strategies to terrorize and humiliate civilians are still prevalent.

States, too, were thoughtful about the policy directions that should be pursued and the infrastructure gaps and working methods that need to be addressed. Uruguay underscored the need for accurate information to assess POC operations and reassurances that coercive measures such as the DRC Brigades – which tend to blur the lines between traditional peacekeeping and atrocity crime response — adhere to core PKO values.  Indonesia highlighted the need for POC mandates to do more to understand local contexts and work with local conflict prevention capacities.  Both Slovakia and Cuba linked POC to larger efforts to abolish war, while Brazil underscored the ‘mirage’ of military solutions and urged more attention to conflict prevention strategies. As they have done previously, the UK rightly urged that ‘politics and protection’ not be mixed, though without what would surely be a helpful confession of the numerous, diverse incarnations of that ‘mixture’ to date.

In the end, while many delegations conveyed helpful insights, it was New Zealand which most forcefully reminded Council members and others in the room that we already have many Council statements on POC that are not yet fully integrated into country-specific resolutions.   Nor, we might add, are they fully reflected in Council working methods which continue to encourage ‘deliberations’ without the necessary feed-back loops to help identify any concrete impacts from such discussions.  While resolve was in evidence throughout this debate, it still seemed more rhetorical than practical.   For those who make a living around the UN, this hardly constitutes a surprise.

Thankfully, though, this debate was more than a ‘talk shop,’ more than yet another effort to build support for additional coercive mandates. The resolve in the room was mostly directed towards helping the UN system to ‘get on the same page’ regarding protection responsibilities, available (and required) implementation tools, the need for more robust and transparent regional partnerships, etc.   It was also (between the lines) about getting capacities such as the C-34 to take more leadership on POC; about states cooperating more through the PoA process to stop illicit arms flows; about the Council paying closer attention to the Special Advisers on genocide prevention and RtoP — and to others with expertise on development and climate — providing early warnings of potential humanitarian disasters; about listening more closely to working journalists doing important and dangerous reporting in volatile country contexts.   There are many more steps to be taken and, if yesterday’s debate was any indication, sufficient skill and capacity to take them.

The small part of the wider world that tuned in for this debate surely came away with the sense that, despite the desperate headlines from CAR and Syria, the international community really is trying to address their POC responsibilities with proper seriousness.   One next step is to ensure full-system accountability for those in danger of being victimized.   As Italy noted during the debate, we must say ‘loud and clear’ that there is no excuse for abusing civilians. The UN must ‘grab the reins’ if states will allow it.   Despite misgivings about the working methods of the Council, the clarity and ‘selectivity’ of POC mandates, or the ‘inconsistency’ of much of the UN’s general response to conflict, many states seemed ready to support Italy’s call.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Briefing Note: The Rule of Law and Complementary Mandates

19 Oct

The peaceful settlement of disputes was the theme of this year’s plenary on the Rule of Law (RoL) in the Sixth Committee. As per Article 33 of Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, when there is a dispute likely to affect international peace and security, the parties involved shall try to resolve the dispute by pursuing “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”[i]

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliason highlighted that RoL is essential in the peaceful settlement of disputes and noted that Article 33 could help with the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Reference was made throughout the plenary to the 2012 High Level Declaration on Rule of Law, which reaffirmed previous commitments on RoL and its importance in advancing peace and security, human rights and development issues.[ii]

Member states are placing emphasis on RoL within the post-2015 development agenda as well as within the current Millennium Development Goals, and highlighted links between RoL and gender equality, focusing especially on women’s participation in peace processes.

Argentina promoted the right to truth and reparations as essential elements to combat impunity, Kenya questioned the relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and supporting states’ parties, the Nordic countries noted the significance of RoL in preventing mass atrocity crimes, and Liechtenstein called the recent political bias against the ICC unfair given the limitations imposed on the Court by the contemporary international legal order.

Attention was given to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is significant in resolving disputes among states, but only if states accept its jurisdiction. Switzerland, with the Netherlands, Uruguay, and the UK is working on a draft document to facilitate some of these jurisdiction issues. Liechtenstein reassured delegations that the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction is not meant to be a violation of sovereignty, but a step toward sovereign equality.

Moreover, the African Group called for equality in the application of international law to avoid double standards and called for reform of the Security Council (SC) and other international instruments. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) voiced its concern about SC mandates that encroach on prerogatives of the GA, as well as the SC’s willingness to take on issues already within the purview of the GA. The NAM called for more collaboration among relevant UN organs to ensure that the entire Organization is responding to emerging challenges.

In conclusion, references between RoL and issues such as gender and development are more than welcomed especially since women’s active participation in peace processes is promoted by the SC in Resolution 1325 and women’s political participation is to be discussed during the 68th session of the Third Committee.

Moreover, Article 33 is particularly relevant to the third pillar of RtoP, which places emphasis on Ch.6 of the UN Charter, before resorting to collective coercive action under Ch.7. While support for Ch.6 is welcomed and promoted by GAPW and others, one cannot help but wonder how these measures can be strengthened to ensure disputes are resolved effectively and in time-sensitive manner? Shouldn’t it be a matter of ensuring that the existing tools are effective and efficient to minimize the civilian casualties targeted as violence unfolds?

Furthermore, the separation of the SC and GA mandates is a complex issue that affects RoL, disarmament and women peace and security debates, housed in the Sixth, First and Third Committees and can also be found on the SC agenda. It is disputable where these issues are better served. Arguably, it can be significant for the SC to throw its weight behind these thematics because it reinforces their importance for international peace and security. In contrast, it is generally known that the SC’s work on thematics is not always consistent and they might be better taken up under country-specific considerations in the SC’s agenda. It has always been GAPW’s mandate to highlight complementarity between different processes and thematics because issues do not exist in a vacuum. But when it comes to process and scope of mandates, a question rises to what extent is complementarity useful to the issues and to what extent it raises the political stakes for implementation?

Finally, calls were made for follow-up meetings to the High Level meeting on RoL. We will stay involved to see how this develops, if and how these calls for separation of mandates will be reconciled and the extent to which they should be separate.

– Melina Lito, Legal Adviser on UN Affairs


Italy’s Minister for Integration Cécile Kyenge — How a 21st-Century Global Citizen Tries to Lead Italy Into the Future

19 Sep

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about — but terrible to experience. It is the incurable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: Its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” – Edward W. Said

It takes a brave and often extraordinarily desperate person to leave familiar settings and migrate toward an uncertain future. One does not only leave their very own comfort zone, but also needs to define and establish a new one with fresh parameters, with rules and values that often don’t match one’s own socialization in the least. For some, random hostilities and prejudices by the hosting community add significantly to the overall experience. “Integration” is the technical term for that process, and every migrant faces it in varied forms and degrees of difficulty.

Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s Minister for Integration and also an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), would most likely be considered an American success story. But Kyenge’s own success has been tempered by a series of racist incidents that have not been widely enough chronicled in the international press. There is a seemingly widespread sentiment that, with a black president, racism in the United States is mostly passé. However, it is sadly important to mention that racism in the U.S. is alive and well as it is in other parts of the world, which includes Europe, both historically and contemporarily.

Within 30 years of her arrival in Italy, Kyenge managed to occupy a public office of tremendous significance, not only for Italy’s future, but also for Europe’s, in her role as Minister of Integration. In April of this year during the 46th annual session of the Commission on Population and Development, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon emphasized, “Migration offers challenges we must face and benefits we can harness,” and described migration as “a fact of life in our globalizing world.” It was not a question of “whether to halt the movement of people across borders,” which was impossible, but of how to plan for such movements and make the most of them, he said.

Some European states are still not willing to see the writing on the wall. A change in mentality is happening very slowly at the expense of people such as Minister Kyenge. She is actively involved in Italy’s progress and preparation for future challenges that will include migration to the country and the subsequent integration of the new residents.

Kyenge has been advocating for a significant reform in the Italian citizenship law by introducing ius soli, a criteria that would grant citizenship to foreign children born in Italy. As a result these second-generation Italians would finally enjoy the same civil rights as their fellow inhabitants who have lived in the country for a number of generations. Meanwhile, the Minister has been experiencing tremendous hardship for her modernization attempts. The latest incident was initiated by the Italian far-right party Forza Nova, whose members draped three mannequins covered in artificial blood outside a town hall where Minister Kyenge was supposed to speak in early September. “Immigration is the genocide of peoples. Kyenge resign!” read fliers bearing the Forza Nuova symbol that were scattered around the barricades.

Headlines such as “More vile abuse for Italy’s first black minister Cécile Kyenge,” “Italy: Northern League councilor sparks row over calls for black minister’s rape,” and finally, “Italy’s first black minister: I had bananas thrown at me but I’m here to stay,” all give an impression of what the Economist called a “horrid introduction to public life.”

At the same time, these inconvenient truths demonstrate shockingly how racism, bigotry, and sexism can affect also those in power who stand out from the perceived norm. In Kyenge’s case, these trespasses are often executed by political equals who should know better and not fail citizens so tremendously as positive role models.

In case of the sitting U.S. President Barack Obama, his protection by the Secret Service began when Obama was still a senator, after receiving a death threat in 2007. This marked the first time a candidate received such protection before even being nominated.

Laudable are Minister Kyenge’s strength and endurance while facing such unspeakable humiliation, at the same time paving the way for new generations of immigrants, a testament to her steadfast resolve.

Fellow Italians are expressing their dismay, connecting racism at home to a general lack of historical awareness. For The Huffington Post, writer and filmmaker Flavio Rizzo writes indignantly, “In Italy concepts of colonialism, post-colonialism, and neo-colonialism are largely ignored along with Italy’s own colonial past.”

Rome’s Mayor Ignazio Marino condemned the latest mannequin incident in an official statement. “Rome is a city with a tradition of taking in all peoples for millennia,” he stated, “An isolated gesture by a handful of violent individuals will not stop the courageous work that the integration minister is doing.”

As the Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste describes in her article “Italy’s racism is embedded” for the English daily the Guardian, “If Germany had its Nuremberg trials and South Africa its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, then what is missing in Italy is the kind of postwar accountability that forces harsh truths to light and begins the difficult journey towards reconciliation.”

The U.S. media outlet Open Democracy reported in August how Italian civil society often takes matters in their own hands in order to confront racism in their home country:

There are also examples of collective activism taking place in local municipalities, which have developed their own models to promote inclusion and co-existence, despite the lack of support from the state. It happened in Riace, a fishing town in Calabria originally famous for its Greek bronze statues, but where families of refugees and asylum seekers are welcomed by the community and become an integral part of it.

Minister Kyenge visited United Nations’ headquarters in New York City last week to speak on the UN norm “Responsibility to Protect.” The principle defines the state’s responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, as well as their incitement, in cooperation with the international community. Many scholars and civil rights activists have been discussing the need to implement an early warning system within the norm, in order to prevent those atrocities more efficiently in the future.

During her presentation at UN headquarters, Minister Kyenge emphasized that “Intolerable acts occur even in times of peace and in democratic countries.” She pointed out the importance of atrocity crime prevention in seemingly modern societies that adhere to democratic principles. In a subsequent interview she defined identity as a “long string of personal experiences, not necessarily based on, or shaped by, the country one lives in.”

Minister Kyenge’s resilience, sensitivity, and undaunted dedication to the cause, are those of a world citizen with a long path behind her and perhaps an even longer one ahead. These qualities keep her at the forefront of political reform going forward, and not a victim of her circumstances.


Lia Petridis Maiello


The article was originally published with The Huffington Post.

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


Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention

12 Mar

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Program in Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies, presented a conference entitled Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention.

The agenda of the conference was situated around atrocity, conflict, and genocide prevention, protection of civilians, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), transitional justice and the application of crisis mapping and technology to the field and agenda of prevention. In addition, another objective of the conference was to theorize and examine the assumptions and aims of the field of prevention, while also defining and rationalizing the parameters and the relationship that prevention has with other disciplines and agendas.

The topics discussed in this conference remain relevant in finding a means to prevent genocide and mass atrocity around the world. Specifically, the thematics and ideology behind Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention runs parallel to the mission of Global Action to Prevent War.

This conference has reinforced the need for furthering the discussion on genocide prevention, as it is clear that while the technology is evolving within the field, there is still need for structural and cultural changes, among the major and most powerful players. While it seems that the academic and civil society actors are most active in the push towards improving the use of technology in early warning indicators and the development of groundbreaking mechanisms, it would be in the best interest of the entire global community to work towards strengthening this evolving and pertinent leg of the prevention field.

The event began with an address from the keynote speaker, retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, followed by the first panel discussion entitled, “The United Nations Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: An Evolving Institution.” The panelists included Ambassador Francis Deng, Edward Luck and Juan Mendez.

In keeping with the agenda of the conference, the session started with exploring the link between R2P and state sovereignty, the three-pillar approach, developing mechanisms and early warning indicators both regionally and sub-regionally, and the role of institutions in indicating to governments when it is time to act.

Ambassador Deng, former Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, defined genocide as an extreme form of identity conflict, where some are marginalized and others are given the sense of belonging. This may be characterized through regional identities or religious differences. Ambassador Deng also made reference to the Armenian genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century.

It was noted that sub-regional actors are very important in preventing mass atrocities and genocide, as they are usually able to assist in identifying early warning signs. It was noted that with an emphasis on regional engagement, the involvement of civil society actors, and other institutions, the prevention of mass atrocities is possible. However, this regional engagement would need to involve structural and cultural change across the international community, civil society, member states, the private sector, media outlets and academia.  It was also stated that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed that prevention is an ongoing responsibility, before, during and after a mass atrocity.

The crisis-mapping portion of the conference served as the most modern and applicable tool of genocide prevention. The three speakers outlined the different means by which GIS technology, mapping and other applications may be used in the field both as a means of prevention as well as a system for tracking progress. Professor Colette Mazzucelli, Adjunct Professor from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, demonstrated the use of the Ushahidi application in monitoring the election in Kenya. Zach Romanow of Palantir Technologies demonstrated the use of time series mapping in some of the most remote regions in the world, while Professor Jennifer Leaning from Harvard University presented some of her own findings from the application of technology to crisis mapping and early warning in humanitarian settings.

Professor Colette Mazzucelli had the following to say about crisis mapping as it pertains to the prevention of mass atrocities, specific to the application of Ushahidi technology:

“Those among us engaged in crisis mapping must be consistently vigilant as we assess how to translate innovations in technology to prevent mass atrocities while accepting the ethical responsibility to protect those mapping for peace. The focus of our communitarian efforts in the early 21st century is on the urgency to reject the experience of the complicit bystander. The evolution is one of a transnational commitment to map for human security on platforms such as Ushahidi to monitor recent historic elections in Kenya, for example, http://blog.ushahidi.com/ Our community is an emerging “transnational advocacy network,” in the usage defined by Keck and Sikkink. The experiences in network over time with each mapping deployment underscore that our shared humanity is at risk in those areas where “predisposing factors,” in Hamburg’s words, leading to genocide exist. Crisis mapping is a technique as well as a methodology to develop in the prevention toolbox, which places the accent on sovereignty as responsibility. Its contributions over time may highlight the view expressed by the Canadian Senator, General  Roméo Dallaire, that early prevention is preferable to late intervention. Mapping is a way to enhance the awareness of those outside areas in need where local community leaders are taking destiny in hand. These leaders are the linchpin of a pioneering crisis mapping system in which locals are responsible to rewrite grassroots narratives from the ground up. Their story is one of a break with history, a staccato narrative, to cite Zerubavel’s term, after decades of top down impunity in the face of injustices committed by states against their own peoples. Our vocation in crisis mapping is one in which we look beyond the killing fields to the social reality we construct on behalf of a prevention culture, which serves to recall Lemkin’s more expansive definition of genocide.”

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–Shari Smith

Shari is an intern with Global Action this semester.