Part two of a three part series by Alex Bellamy
Unfinished Institutional Work at the United Nations
After a somewhat laconic start, the institutional development of RtoP gathered pace after the UN Secretary-General’s first report on the subject, outlining his plan for implementation in 2009. Within the UN, there is now a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on RtoP and a “joint office” covering RtoP and genocide prevention. The Secretary-General has issued six thematic reports on different aspects of the principle’s implementation and these have been debated by the General Assembly through a series of “informal and interactive dialogues”, in which around 150 states have participated (see all thematic reports here). The mainstreaming of RtoP through the UN system is being gradually achieved through initiatives such as the Secretary-General’s “Human Rights Up Front” Action Plan, which aims to place human rights protection at the center of the organization’s work, the proliferation of peacekeeping missions mandated to protect civilians in regions afflicted by atrocities, and the instigation of “due diligence” policies, which aim to limit cooperation between the UN and those accused of atrocity crimes or other violations.
Much of this institutional progress was achieved by the personal commitment of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the astute work of his Special Advisers, Edward Luck and Jennifer Welsh. An important priority for the next decade is to create a more secure institutional home for RtoP within the UN system. This is especially important now because the senior leadership of both the UN and the US will change in the next 18 months.
In the immediate term, the UN General Assembly could place RtoP on a surer institutional footing by placing the principle’s implementation onto its formal agenda, recognizing the Secretary-General’s work on advancing a strategy for RtoP, and supporting the UN’s joint office on genocide prevention and RtoP. Coming 10 years after the Assembly’s commitment to RtoP, these relatively modest steps, which could be achieved in a General Assembly resolution, would reaffirm its commitment, help the Assembly “catch-up” with the UN Security Council (which has proceeded apace with implementing RtoP), send a strong signal of intent to candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General, and afford the General Assembly a more direct role in reviewing and overseeing the principle’s implementation. In the longer term, a General Assembly resolution would be catalytic for further implementation by deepening the engagement of Member States, raising the stakes of their annual consideration of the principle, and opening opportunities for deliberation about the practical measures needed to make the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity a “lived reality” and agreement on tangible policies and steps.
There is also more work to be done to “mainstream” RtoP across the UN system. Although the Secretary-General specifically called for “mainstreaming” in his 2009 report, thus far the organization has stopped short of developing explicit policies or strategies to achieve this goal, preferring instead the gradual dissemination of RtoP principles through allied projects such as “Human Rights Up Front”, partnerships between the joint office and other UN departments and organizations, and the provision of advice by the special advisers to the UN’s senior leadership. All this has helped improve the UN Secretariat’s capacity to detect the early signs of atrocity crime risk and develop appropriate responses, utilizing its capacities for fact-finding, public messaging, diplomacy, human rights promotion, and humanitarian assistance that do not require case-by-case approval by its political organs.
The Secretariat’s response to the unfolding crisis in the CAR provides a case in point inasmuch as the risk of atrocity crimes was identified and communicated early, though there were still concerns that appropriate humanitarian, political and military responses were slow to materialize. Other times, atrocity prevention concerns have struggled to find the prominence they deserve when atrocities are imminent. It is still not uncommon for these concerns to be overridden by political imperatives or other priorities such as humanitarian access.
An additional problem is that, whilst its links to human rights, preventive diplomacy, and refugee protection, are quite well understood within the UN system, the institutional relationship between RtoP and other key UN agendas such as peacebuilding, women, peace and security, the protection of civilians, the rule of law, and economic development, remains underdeveloped. For example, whilst widespread and systematic sexual and gender based violence constitutes a crime against humanity, functional cooperation between the UN’s Special Adviser on RtoP and Special Representative on the Prevention of Sexual Violence remains limited and ad hoc. Likewise, although there is a clear empirical connection between the risk of future atrocities and a recent history of past atrocities, there is only a modest degree of functional cooperation between the UN’s RtoP officials and those that work on peacebuilding. As such, whilst significant improvements have been made, the UN system is still not doing all that it could to use its existing capital to advance the goals of RtoP.
One way of addressing these challenges would be to augment the organic processes already under way within the UN system with clear guidance from the Secretary-General detailing a comprehensive strategy for the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and instructing the UN system on how to mainstream RtoP. The Secretary-General could also usefully set benchmarks for implementation and review progress.
Unfinished Institutional Work at the Regional Level
Although it is natural to focus on the UN, since it provided the context for the international community’s commitment to RtoP in 2005, it is important that we avoid an entirely UN-centric view of how the principle should be implemented. Practically speaking, the international community is at its most effective when different actors, such as the UN, regional organizations, neighboring states, and prominent individuals, support each other. The UN cannot solve all the world’s problems by itself, and was not established to do so.
Outside the UN, the institutionalization of RtoP has been patchier, perhaps befitting the significant differences between regions. The African Union has developed an impressive range of institutions and mechanisms designed to facilitate decisive responses to emerging protection crises. Guided by Article 4(h) of its Constitutive Act, which affords the Union a right to interfere in its members’ affairs in the event of a genocide or other mass atrocities, the African Union has developed a Peace and Security Council, a Continental Early Warning System, a capacity for peacemaking and mediation, and capacities for peacekeeping with the aspiration of establishing a standing peacekeeping force in the future. Africa’s challenge is not one of building the institutions needed to deliver on RtoP, but of ensuring that the institutions it has are capable of fulfilling their promise.
Elsewhere, Latin America has developed a strong track record when it comes to the regional promotion of human rights and has also established a network of governments committed to strengthening their capacity to prevent genocide. Things are more nascent in East Asia, but there are signs here too that governments and regional organizations are beginning to think about how to achieve RtoP’s goals in their own neighborhood. The challenge in Europe is somewhat different: whilst individual states are keen advocates of RtoP, the region’s highly developed institutions have not as yet advanced their own strategies for implementing the principle, preferring instead to support protection goals and atrocity prevention through existing programming.
With so much variation, there can be no “one size fits all” way of thinking about the role played by regional arrangements in institutionalizing RtoP. Indeed, it is the very fact that they are grounded in the values, norms and interests of the regions they inhabit that make regional organizations so significant. In the coming decade, we should pay more attention to the ways in which regional organizations can support the goals of RtoP, mindful of the different entry-points they provide. We should also pay attention to deepening the partnership between regions and the UN, by building the “anticipatory relationships” and habits of cooperation that are so often needed to prevent, or respond effectively to, genocide and mass atrocities.
Unfinished Institutional Work at the State Level
Ultimately, of course, the basic building block for institutionalization is the individual state. There are a number of measures that states can take to better deliver on the commitment they made in 2005. These include the designation of a responsibility to protect focal point. These focal points can help to coordinate national efforts to mainstream and operationalize the responsibility to protect concept, which can spur the establishment of national atrocity prevention action plans tailored to the national context. Some 43 states from every region of the world have already taken this step, with several states such as Ghana and Tanzania establishing their own “National Peace Councils” to support atrocity prevention at home.
As with any national initiative, each state has approached this function from its own perspective and many different models have been developed in different countries. Focal points participate in a global network, which advances dialogue and cooperation on the full range of issues relating RtoP. The principal tasks of the national focal point are to coordinate national efforts to protect populations from genocide and mass atrocities and lead national engagement in regional and global dialogue. One key task for the next decade of RtoP is to broaden the membership of the Focal Points network and deepen their involvement in the practical work of atrocities prevention and response.
But focal points are only one manifestation of a state’s commitment to implementing RtoP. Equally important is the need to forge national constituencies of governments, officials, parliamentarians, civil society groups and individuals who work together, using their own unique skills, to develop authentic national approaches to fulfilling RtoP. Many counties, including Ghana and Kenya in Africa and Indonesia and The Philippines in Southeast Asia have already begun to build their own national constituencies for RtoP.
This brings us to the most glaring piece of unfinished work – the challenge of delivering on the ground.
This post was originally published on icrtopblog.org.
Read the original blog post.