UN Security Council Open Debate on Small Arms and Light Weapons: Civil Society Calls for Member States to Protect Populations from Atrocity Crimes by Preventing the Means to Commit Them

6 May 2015


On behalf of the undersigned civil society organizations, we are writing to you to request your government’s active participation at the open debate of the UN Security Council on “Small Arms: The Human Cost of Illicit Transfer, Destabilizing Accumulation and Misuse of Small Arms and Light Weapons” on 13 May 2015. The debate will focus on the threats Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) pose to civilian protection during armed conflicts and post-conflict situations. The undersigned appeal for your government to voice its strong support for addressing the horrific civilian impact of SALW, the most commonly used weapons in armed conflicts and post-conflict situations, and for addressing their Responsibility to Protect in this regard.

Additionally, the undersigned encourage governments to consider the inclusion of the following points during their interventions at the open debate:

– The presence of SALW can enhance a State’s risk for genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity: The UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes highlights several indicators related to arms circulation or proliferation, the presence of which can increase the likelihood of atrocity crimes. Indeed, the Security Council itself recognized the link between the presence of SALW and atrocities in Resolution 2117 (2013), stating “that the misuse of small arms and light weapons has resulted in grave crimes and reaffirming therefore the relevant provisions of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including paragraphs 138 and 139 thereof regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

– Strengthening the Security Council’s disarmament and arms control efforts will assist in fulfilling the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) and in maintaining international peace and security: Because weapons are the means with which atrocities are perpetrated, threatened, facilitated, or prepared—and as atrocity crimes are inherently threats to international peace and security—enhancing
the Security Council’ s role in disarmament and arms control initiatives can assist States in implementing RtoP and improve the protection of populations. Such efforts could include increasing identification of SALW-related challenges in the mandates of UN peace operations, taking steps to improve implementation and effectiveness of arms embargoes, and exploring ways to contribute to the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

In addition to the ATT, the Security Council should be urged to encourage States to work towards universal ratification of other disarmament and arms control treaties such as the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the Mine Ban Treaty, which can in turn help strengthen implementation of instruments such as the Genocide Convention, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the Geneva Conventions.

– Illicit transfers, misuse, and accumulation of SALW can have a disproportionate effect on women and girls: Conflicts, and the SALW with which they are frequently waged, often exacerbate sexual and gender-based violence, which as the Security Council recognized could constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide. Furthermore, strengthening the role of women in all initiatives to reduce the illicit transfer and misuse of SALW will be vital for their effective implementation.

– Victim assistance is integral to addressing the human cost of illicit SALW in armed conflicts and post-conflict situations. Survivors must receive assistance for their comprehensive rehabilitation, and their human rights and full inclusion must be ensured.

– Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) P rogrammes and Security Sector Reform (SSR) Programmes play an important role in SALW control and upholding RtoP: As the security sector controls a significant portion of the weapons (i.e. the means with which atrocities are perpetrated) circulating within a country, and as efficacious DDR programs can lessen the amount of such weapons and help in their tracing, international assistance through such mechanisms can assist States in fulfilling their RtoP. In order to better protect populations, further consideration of how DDR and SSR can be linked to conflict prevention and integrated with other peacebuilding processes will be necessary.

The undersigned civil society organizations thank you for your consideration and hope that your government will continue to engage with the Security Council as this body continues to explore its role in enhancing disarmament and arms control efforts.


1. Action on Armed Violence (United Kingdom)
2. Action Pour le Développement et la Paix Endogènes (Democratic Republic of Congo) 3. Adopt-a-Camp (Nigeria)
4. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Thailand)
5. Article 36 (United Kingdom)
6. Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (Australia)
7. Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition
8. The Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (Canada)
9. The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (Serbia)
10. Coalition Malienne CPI /CMCPI (Mali)
11. Control Arms
12. Droits Humains Sans Frontières (DRC)
13. East African Law Society (Tanzania)
14. Genocide Alert (Germany)
15. Genocide Watch (USA)
16. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (USA)
17. Global Justice Center (USA)
18. Initiatives for International Dialogue (The Philippines)
19. International Action Network on Small Arms
20. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
21. International Justice Project (USA)
22. International Refugee Rights Initiative (Uganda)
23. Inter-Religious Council for Peace Tanzania (Tanzania)
24. Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (Canada)
25. MUSONET-Mali (Mali)
26. Network for Empowerment and Development Initiative (Nigeria)
27. Oxfam International
28. PAX (The Netherlands)
29. Permanent Peace Movement (Lebanon)
30. The Scientific Association of Young Political Scientists (Greece)
31. The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention (Canada)
32. United Nations Association – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
33. United Nations Association – Sweden (Sweden)
34. United Nations Association – United Kingdom (United Kingdom)
35. Vision-Gram International (Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo)
36. Volunteers on Community Care Initiative (Nigeria)
37. West Africa Civil Society Institute (Ghana)
38. World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy (USA, The Netherlands) 39. Youth Action for Development (Burundi)
40. Zarga Organization for Rural Development (Sudan)

#R2P10: Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect at 10, Part 3: Unfinished Operational Work








Last post in a three part series by Alex Bellamy

Unfinished Operational Work

In its first decade, the progress of RtoP was judged mainly on its normative and institutional development. In its second decade RtoP will be judged on the difference it makes to people’s lives.

There are a number of reasons why this is a much more difficult challenge, among them the political complications that arise when states disagree about their priorities and the nature of the crises they confront. These challenges are compounded by the often quite limited influence that outsiders have on the conflicts that give rise to genocide and mass atrocities. Although concerted international action can sometimes prevent mass atrocities, the so-called “structural” or “root” causes of genocide and mass atrocities are often deeply ingrained in societies, economies and national institutions. Whilst outsiders can play important enabling and facilitative roles, foreign assistance cannot by itself achieve structural change except through massive interventions that are rarely contemplated. Well-targeted programs can sometimes support local sources of resilience but cannot manufacture it out of thin air. At the later stages of a crisis, international actors can use punishments and incentives to persuade armed actors to refrain from committing atrocities, deploy peacekeepers to provide physical protection, provide humanitarian assistance and negotiate respites in the violence. These efforts can reduce violence and protect sections of the community but they will always struggle to provide comprehensive protection.

The problem is compounded by the fact that global demand for protection is already coming close to exceeding the global supply of relevant resources. With more missions, deployed with more peacekeepers, with more complex mandates, in more difficult environments, UN peacekeeping is already stretched to the limit. And with the developed world still recovering from the Global Financial Crisis there is little appetite for spending added money on saving populations overseas. After all, in an age of austerity governments have to make tough choices about their priorities – funding protection efforts overseas necessarily means that states have fewer resources with which to fund their domestic priorities.

When we think about the operational challenges associated with implementing RtoP, we should therefore be modest about what we expect the international community to achieve and the timeframes for achieving it. Some situations do not lend themselves to simple solutions or easily achievable remedies – they are simply too complex and too difficult. That does not mean that the international community should not do everything it can to protect vulnerable populations only that we should recognize that even with the best of intentions it will sometimes come up short because there is often no solution that suits everybody, equally.

How, then, do we start to close some of the most pronounced operational gaps? Three challenges in particular are worth highlighting.

Major Operational Challenges

First, the need to prioritize protection. Whatever else may be going on in a particular situation, when genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity are perpetrated or imminently apprehended, the overriding objective of the UN and its partners must be to protect populations from these crimes as far as it is possible to do. RtoP is not a “‘tool” to be employed to achieve other ends, but a master principle to which the energies of the UN, its Member States, other international and regional organizations, and individuals should be directed. The operational gaps will be filled only when RtoP is seen as fundamental to the way the UN and its partners do business.

In practice, this means that debates about how to respond to individual crises should focus squarely on what is needed to best protect the civilian population in harm’s way and that—as a matter of principle—protection needs should never be sacrificed to achieve other goals. This does not mean states should act without heed for the wider consequences. Nor does it remove the need to make difficult choices. In situations like Mali or Syria, for instance, where comprehensive protection cannot be provided without first ending a civil war, the prioritization of protection might dictate a strategy focused on ending the violence no matter what the cost to justice further down the road.

Prioritizing protection involves understanding when atrocities are likely and having the capacity to assess situations from an atrocity prevention perspective and devise strategies that can be resourced and implemented. Although there is no sure way of guaranteeing adequate resources, governments tend to be more willing to support options backed by clear plans. Developing a comprehensive strategy for prevention and promoting the mainstreaming of RtoP across the UN and its partners are two ways in which the institutional development of RtoP could support its operational development.

Among the more important practical challenges is overcoming the tendency to see RtoP as disconnected from associated programs of work in areas such as conflict prevention, peacebuilding, the protection of civilians, international criminal justice, and the protection and empowerment of women and girls. Thus far, practitioners and analysts have tended to treat these agendas as “solitudes” within the UN system because of their differences, rather than recognizing their overlapping issues and mutual interdependence. This has limited the international community’s ability to develop comprehensive responses to genocide and mass atrocities.

Second, we need to ensure that the international community delivers on the protection mandates it already has. This calls for the matching of means to ends. If our priority is to protect populations from genocide and mass atrocities it follows that the policies and strategies adopted should be aimed at achieving the greatest protection for the greatest number of people possible in the affected area and as quickly as possible. For instance, if the principal source of threat is a civil war, then means should be directed at ending it; and if the principal source is a particular armed group, then the means should focus on impeding its ability to commit mass atrocities or on persuading it to cease and desist; if perpetrators cannot be persuaded, deterred or neutralized, then the means should focus on facilitating the escape of potential victims or their in situ protection.

This involves something of a change in mindset and a commitment to the careful assessment of situations prior to the articulation of policy options. To close the operational gap, we need to make better use of the resources already provided by the international community through a more targeted approach. This involves understanding the nature of each protection problem and the most effective and feasible way of supporting as much protection as possible. Matching means to ends simply means understanding the causes of civilian suffering in each individual case, tailoring appropriate responses to address those issues, and ensuring that once adopted policies are properly resourced. This latter point involves more than just the level of material resources provided. It also involves building the expertise needed to conduct peacekeeping and other types of activities in ways that maximize their capacity to protect populations through doctrine, training, operational guidance, planning and the conducting of operations themselves. It also involves joined up thinking and policy responses across the UN system and its partners, in order to ensure that responses are comprehensive.

Third, we need to manage the controversies arising from the use of force and other means of coercion. The use of coercive measures remains deeply controversial. This, of course, is not unique to RtoP. Nor, by itself, is it undesirable. Coercion and force should be controversial. A key challenge is to improve the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Security Council’s performance. On this question, RtoP finds itself wedged between two positions. One, arising from Libya, holds that the Security Council and states acting on its mandates need to be held more accountable for their actions. The implementation of Resolution 1973 by NATO and its partners drew sharp criticism from states complaining that the Alliance overstepped its mandate. It is not surprising that as the Council becomes more proactive in its pursuit of RtoP, demands for political accountability are becoming more significant. Future agreement about the use of force to protect populations from genocide and mass atrocities will likely depend upon concomitant steps to address accountability questions such as those raised by the “Responsibility while Protecting” concept advanced by Brazil.

The other critical issue for the Security Council, arising from Syria, stems from calls for more decisiveness and demands for the restraining of the veto in situations where genocide and mass atrocities are perpetrated. It is not surprising that after four vetoes blocked action on Syria, demands for veto restraint have gained traction with some 60 states supporting French calls for an informal “code of conduct” or “statement of principles” aimed at limiting the veto’s use. But at least three of the permanent five members (China, Russia, United States) remain skeptical, meaning that the proposal is unlikely to be adopted any time soon though the dialogue surrounding it may well help to lift the political cost associated with exercising the veto when timely and decisive responses to genocide and mass atrocities are warranted.

Finding a balance between these twin imperatives – to do more to protect whilst ensuring better accountability – will be among the key challenges for the Security Council in the coming decade. For RtoP, much will hinge on the extent to which the Council succeeds.

Concerted Action Needed to Protect the World’s Most Vulnerable

In its first ten years, RtoP has emerged as an international norm. With only a tiny handful of exceptions, states accept RtoP and agree on its main components. The principle’s normative development has progressed apace and its institutional development is gathering pace, with the UN, regional organizations and dozens of states taking concrete steps to implement it.

If the first ten years of RtoP was primarily about this normative development, the next ten will be about its implementation and making a real difference to people’s lives. This will require concerted action to complete the unfinished conceptual, institutional and operational work of building a world less tolerant of conscience shocking inhumanity and more likely to protect the most vulnerable. That is our challenge for the decade to come.


This post was originally published on

Read the original post.

Armenia and the “G” Word








Alex J. Bellamy

As Australians and New Zealanders prepared to commemorate the Centenary of the Gallipoli landings, another Centenary is sparking heated global debate: the question of whether the Turkish government committed genocide against Anatolia’s Armenians. The issue is so sensitive for Turkey in part because it is not the old Ottoman regime that is accused of genocide, but the Young Turks – the progenitors of modern Turkey – who ruled in Constantinople at the time. Yet modern Turkey does itself no favors by disputing the evidence that from April 1915, the Turkish government rounded up, expelled, massacred and starved Anatolia’s Armenians with the intention of annihilating them. Indeed, Turkish restrictions on the archives have made it more difficult for historians to tell the whole story of what happened and why. Perhaps as a result, we still do not have a good understanding of the privations suffered by Ottoman Muslims at the hands of Balkan nationalists in the decades preceding the genocide. All that refusing to open up and look the evidence squarely in the eyes achieves is locking debate into patterns of denial and counter-argument that inhibit reconciliation and prevent the country from moving on.

To call what happened to the Armenians genocide is, of course, something of an anachronism since the term itself was not invented until after the Second World War. But there is little doubt that what the authorities in Turkey did to the Armenians of Anatolia meets the standard of genocide set by the Genocide Convention there is little doubt. Though they did not know it at the time, there was more at stake at Gallipoli than simply taking Turkey out of the war.

Here’s what we do know.

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire faced a series of armed insurrections in the Balkans to which it frequently responded with mass violence. In addition to massacres in Serbia (which elicited almost no criticism) and Greece (which prompted British and French intervention), an 1876 revolt in Bulgaria was suppressed by massacres, giving the Russians a pretext for war in 1877. Between 1894-6, the Empire’s Armenians revolted over a tax dispute and the authorities responded with brute force, killing between 80,000-120,000. Despite this outpouring of violence, the Ottoman Empire repeatedly found itself on the losing side, with terrible consequences for the Muslim populations living in the Balkans, thousands of whom were killed both during the conflicts and in reprisal attacks afterwards and hundreds of thousands of whom were forced to flee their homes and resettle in Anatolia. A staggering proportion of those forced to flee Bulgaria, some say as many as half, died along the way. Turkey therefore entered the First World War with a military culture (not untypical for the times) that prescribed civilian massacre as a legitimate response to popular insurrection and traumatised by decades of military reversals that had shrunk its imperial boundaries.

In that context, the regime was deeply concerned that Anatolia’s rebellious Armenians would find common cause with Russia and carve away territory from Turkey’s very core. The Young Turks that now ruled in Constantinople were determined not to let this happen.

On 24 April 1915, a day before the ANZAC landings in Gallipoli, over two thousand Armenian leaders in Constantinople were arrested. Only a handful survived the next few years. A month later, on 27 May, the government instructed all Anatolian Armenians to present themselves for deportation to the Mesopotamian desert for the duration of the war. In reality, they were to be annihilated. We know this not only because Turkey’s own archives show that this is what the government intended, but because they also told friendly foreign diplomats of their plans and made no provision whatsoever for the eventual return of the Armenians. There is no evidence to suggest that the expulsion to the desert in Mesopotamia was anything other than a one-way ticket. Indeed, many – perhaps thousands — of deportees were driven straight to their deaths, drowned in boats in the Black Sea. Others were set upon as they travelled. Women were systematically raped and killed. Many were sold into servitude. Children were massacred or carried off into slavery.

For the few that made it to Mesopotamia, all that awaited them was death. Desert camps were left without food or water and disease was rife – genocide by starvation and disease similar to that perpetrated by Turkey’s German ally against the Herero and Nama peoples of Southwest Africa a few years earlier.

We do not know how many Armenians died but most historians put the toll between 800,000 and 1.2 million. No one disputes that a great many Armenians suffered and died at the hands of the Turkish government. What is disputed is whether their deaths were the unintended by-product of civil war provoked by Armenian militia allied with Russia or whether they were the result of genocide.

The contours of the debate were established as early as 1920 when Turkey’s Kemalist government started to deny that the Armenians had been the victims of massacres and argue that their deaths were simply circumstantial. But that is not how Turkish leaders portrayed their actions at the time or how they were interpreted by diplomats, consuls and other foreign observers, many from sympathetic countries such as Germany, at the time. Talât Pasha told the US Ambassador in Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, that “we have already disposed of three-quarters of the Armenians; there are none at all left in Bitlis, Van and Erzeroum. The hatred between the Turks and the Armenians is so intense that we have got to finish with them”. In a 1916 interview with the German newspaper Berliner Tageblatt, Talât justified the killing and expulsion of civilians, explaining that “we have been reproached for making no distinction between the innocent Armenians and the guilty; but that was utterly impossible in view of the fact that those who were innocent today might be guilty tomorrow”. The Sultan called upon Muslims everywhere to “massacre” Christians living in Muslim lands.

There is abundant evidence that these injunctions were translated in specific orders within regions and localities to kill and expel Armenians. Captain Shükrü, a Turkish gendarme in Yozgat, confessed that he had been ordered to kill all the Armenians there. In Van, Trebizond and Urfa, the authorities were so concerned that local Turks would not comply with their instructions that they saw it fit to pass decrees prohibiting Muslims from sheltering Armenians, on penalty of death.

Even the Turkish authorities, for a time, recognized what had happened. Immediately after the war, the new Turkish government charged several prominent Young Turk leaders with the massacre and liquidation of the Armenian people. These prosecutions were terminated when the Kemalists regained control of the government but the court documents and some testimonies still exist.

We need to be careful not to read too much of our contemporary situation into these events of the past. What happened in Anatolia a century ago was a product of its own time and place. There are few hidden lessons for policy makers today. But we do need a proper reckoning and full understanding of what happened in the past, and why. That should be shorn, as far as possible, of political points-scoring in the contemporary world. Only in this way will we be able to paint an accurate picture of such grave human suffering in the past and forge a new politics based on remembrance and reconciliation.

Political Violence @ a Glance

Expert Analysis on Violence and Its Alternatives


voices on international law, policy, practice

High Level Advisory Panel on the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia

High Level Advisory Panel on the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia launched at United Nations 9 September 2014


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 785 other followers

%d bloggers like this: