AP R2P Statement to UN General Assembly


Remarks to the United Nations General Assembly

Informal and Interactive Dialogue on International Assistance and the Responsibility to Protect

New York 8 September 2014

Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

Thank you for organizing this informal and interactive dialogue on International Assistance and the Responsibility to Protect.

Thanks too to the eminent panelists for illuminating the steps that should be taken to make the Responsibility to Protect a “lived reality”. In particular, the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P welcomes and endorses Dr. Surin Pitsuwan’s comments and congratulates him on the leadership he is providing as Chair of the High Level Advisory Panel on R2P in Southeast Asia. Efforts like this are indispensable as we work to deliver on the commitment to R2P that was made in 2005.

Our mission is to support the advancement of R2P in the Asia Pacific region. We support the mandate of the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect and we congratulate the Secretary-General and Dr. Welsh on this important and timely report.

The primary responsibility to protect rests with the state. As such, the international community’s primary responsibility must be to provide encouragement and assistance. Our ultimate goal is to help one another reinforce the habits of protection and to build the necessary capacities.

Mr. Moderator, let us be frank about the magnitude of the challenges we confront. We are daily confronted by agonizing acts of barbarity committed by groups that reject the basic principles of humanity and decency advanced by this Assembly.

When this Assembly committed itself to the Responsibility to Protect nearly a decade ago, it promised that the entire membership of the UN would stand together to protect populations from the worst of crimes known to humanity. International assistance, the topic of today’s dialogue, is one of the principal ways in which we can do that.

Mr. President, I would like to highlight five points about international assistance.

First, we should make a virtue of asking for assistance by celebrating and commending those states that do. Responsible sovereigns do not try to soldier on by themselves against the odds. They ask for help. We should encourage states to ask for help and congratulate and embrace those that do. In so doing we should establish amongst us a spirit of cooperation that facilitates mutual support.

Second, it is important to think strategically about international assistance and to set aside the necessary resources. When Member States ask for international assistance, it is imperative that the international community as a whole responds in a timely fashion by providing what is needed. Be it military assistance to the government of Iraq, surveillance assistance to root out terrorists in Nigeria or technical assistance to support the rule of law in Nepal, R2P commits us all to doing what we can. Only by backing our words with deeds will we achieve our common goal.

Third, international assistance should pay particular attention to the protection of women and girls and to the urgent need to empower women as agents of protection. We need to ensure that more practical support is given to women human rights defenders. In many parts of the world, these women are the first line of protection for marginalized and minority groups.

As called for by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, international assistance should contribute to the goal of ensuring that women are empowered and represented in peacemaking activities and in relevant political, judicial and security sectors. Our deliberations on Pillar II of R2P provide an opportunity to redouble our efforts to empower women as agents of protection.

We should not forget that widespread and systematic sexual violence can constitute acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Assistance aimed at preventing these crimes is rightfully part of our discussion today. International assistance is a crucial part of that equation.

Fourth, we underscore the need to deny perpetrators the capacity to commit these crimes. Controlling small arms and light weapons is a crucial part of that equation. Therefore, we welcome the Arms Trade Treaty and call on states to ratify and implement it. States should also redouble their efforts to control the flow of small arms.

Finally, it is time to mainstream the responsibility to protect throughout the UN system so that atrocity prevention becomes part of the daily-lived reality of the organization and its partners. The Secretary-General called for the mainstreaming of R2P in his first report on the topic and we are delighted that Mr. Dieng and Dr. Welsh have committed themselves to advancing this objective. The prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes must become part of what we do every day. The Secretary-General’s report is a significant contribution and provides a pathway for incorporating an atrocity prevention mindset into the work of the UN system as a whole.

Mr. Moderator, the challenge now is to translate the commitment this Assembly made in 2005 into a lived reality. That demands of us a renewed determination to take the practical steps necessary to protect people in need. That is the challenge that lies before the General Assembly. We are confident that it is a challenge that you will meet, with the help of the UN, regional bodies and organizations like ours.

Thank you.

Alex Bellamy, Executive Director

Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Sixth UNSG Report on R2P: International Assistance and the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia

This is an excerpt from R2P IDEAS in Brief by Dr Noel M. Morada, Director of the Regional Diplomacy and Capacity Building program of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (AP R2P).

The UN Secretary General’s sixth report on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) since 2009 focuses on Pillar 2 (international assistance) and the role of the international community in encouraging and helping states to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. The report focuses on the three core elements of Pillar 2, namely, encouragement, capacity-building, and protection assistance and provides some examples of good practices at national, regional, and international levels. It also identifies a number of challenges to
the implementation of Pillar 2 and sets out several recommendations for advancing this important pillar. The Secretary General’s Report will be the topic of this year’s Informal Interactive Dialogue on R2P held by the UN General Assembly this month.

Since 2009, a number of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states participated in the annual dialogue on R2P, with four of its ten members—Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand—reflecting on the Secretary General’s Report in last year’s dialogue. For the first time, Southeast Asia will be represented among the Panelists in this year’s Interactive Dialogue as former ASEAN Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, will address the General Assembly on this topic. Dr. Surin currently serves as Chair of the High Level Advisory Panel on the Responsibility to Protect. At the request of the Mr. Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General of the UN and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, the High Level Panel will present a report on the steps that ASEAN might take to mainstream R2P in Southeast at the United Nations on 9 September this year.

This policy brief highlights some important points in the Secretary-General’s Report on R2P and identifies a number of priority areas for international assistance that are relevant to ASEAN member states and that could contribute to capacity building at the national and regional levels. Specifically, it focuses on the need for continuing support for the promotion of human rights protection, conflict prevention, peace, and reconciliation; the creation of national architectures for mass atrocities prevention in ASEAN states; the need to deal with past atrocities; and the importance of inter-faith or communal dialogue.

Read the full brief here.

ASEAN and Prevention of Violence Against Women in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations

IMG_1881[1]The Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, with the support of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, hosted a workshop on ASEAN and Prevention of Violence Against Women in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations in Jakarta on 20 August 2014. The event was attended by 48 leaders from the government sector, non-government organizations and international organizations from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Viet Nam. It was our honour to host Acting British Ambassador to Indonesia, ASEAN and Timor Leste, Rebecca Razavi, who gave the keynote address on the ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative’.

Below is an abbreviated Introduction to the Workshop by Sara Davies, AP R2P Program Director for Prevention of Mass Atrocities. The Introduction has been published in full as a Spotlight Brief at Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

“It is my pleasure to have this opportunity to welcome such a distinguished audience to this Workshop on Prevention of Violence Against Women in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations, hosted by the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Today, we are attempting to address two ambitions.

First, to identify, document and highlight the important regional, national and local work that you – as governments and civil society organizations – have undertaken to protect populations from R2P crimes, which include widespread and systematic sexual and gender based violence.

Second, to explore ways of assisting ASEAN and individual members to fulfill their responsibility to eliminate violence against women. In particular, we are interested in exploring how the principle of the responsibility to protect might assist, what further initiatives may enable a deepening of engagement in this issue, what sorts of capacities still need to be built, and how the international community might support these efforts across Southeast Asia.

Our Centre is particularly focused on the prevention of mass atrocities. Prevention creates the best conditions for stability and prosperity, which enables populations to be protected effectively and inclusively.

We have long argued that the prevention of mass atrocity crimes requires engagement with the conditions that perpetuate gender inequality, women’s human rights violations and the disproportionate risk of atrocity crimes, specifically those that constitute sexual and gender based violence, which sees women and girls disproportionately targeted. It also demands that we pay attention to the empowerment of women as peacemakers, peacebuilders, and sources of protection.

We believe strongly that advocates of R2P should engage with and promote the prevention, protection, participation framework outlined by the Women Peace and Security Agenda, which was first passed as resolution 1325 by the United Nations Security Council in 2000, and successively in resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122.

As a result, the promotion of dialogue and mutual understanding between the R2P principle and WPS agenda has become a core focus of the Centre’s work on the conditions for prevention of mass atrocities for four main reasons:

First, it is now well recognized that sexual and gender-based violence can constitute acts of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. At their most basic, R2P and WPS share important goals in common, not least, the elimination of these types of crimes.

Second, there is a strong explanatory relationship between endemic gender inequality and high rates of political violence and one-sided violence against civilians. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon observed in his 2013 R2P report on State Responsibility and Protection:

‘Gender discrimination and inequality increase underlying risks associated with sexual and gender-based violence, which can constitute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity…Specific gender discrimination practices include the denial or inadequate protection of basic rights relating to physical security and the status of women, compulsory birth control and unequal access to services and property’.

Third, sexual and gendered violence are often the first types of mass atrocity crimes committed against populations to achieve political ends. These crimes can occur before conflict, after conflict and during conflict as Syria, Mali, Sri Lanka and recent tragedy in Iraq with the Yazidi population demonstrate. There is a history of gendered crimes being used as tools of political violence to achieve political aims. This continues today, but its role in fostering other crimes and violence conflict is not yet adequately understood. This is the focus of my own research with Prof. Jacqui True, in the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Asia Pacific Project.

Fourth, R2P and WPS share a common focus on prevention and in the development of international, regional, national and societal level tools to empower women and prevent mass atrocities (R2P – through appointment of government level R2P Focal Point and WPS – through development of NAPs). This means that there is opportunity to align the R2P principle and the WPS agenda on the targets and tools needed to prevent mass atrocity crimes, which – as stated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in his 2013 report – demands action to address structural gender inequality and gender discrimination.

Today we are interested in exploring the progress made by ASEAN member states in the promotion of the VAW Agenda and in how this may be extended through greater reference to WPS agenda in the Political-Security Community – the area with greatest focus (and responsibility) on populations at risk in situations of civil strife, conflict and humanitarian disasters. We want to explore how the WPS agenda might be advanced through the region’s Political-Security Community to ensure that the resilience built in ‘peaceful’ situations extends to situations characterized by conflict and humanitarian disasters – where there is disproportionate risk to women and girls.

I will make some final notes regarding areas where we see alignment across three areas – WPS, PSVI and VAW – in the ASEAN region.

ASEAN and WPS PowerPoint

First, with passage of Resolution 1325 in 2000 it was recognized that the maintenance of international peace and security depended upon women’s equal and full participation in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The ASEAN Political-Security Community has developed parallel to WPS and have made statements suggesting supportive of its goals but, thus far, ASEAN Member States have made few specific engagements relevant to 1325 in terms of taking both a whole-of-government and regional organization approach to incorporate WPS into political and security sectors. Of interest to us, the one area where we have seen significant ASEAN foreign ministry-led engagement in WPS has been the UK’s PSVI.

The PSVI, which we will hear more about next from UK FCO Acting Ambassador Rebecca Razavi, has been one of most important normative developments in foreign policy in recent years. There has been much focus on the UNGA Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the recently, the International Protocol on Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Within this region, 8 ASEAN member states have committed to this Declaration. The Declaration calls upon states to legislate against and prosecute individuals for these crimes, have police and justice mechanisms in place to punish anyone for these crimes, and requests states and regional organizations to recognise and implement the WPS National Action Plans; as well as promote women’s full participation in all political, governance, and security structures.

The commitment of Indonesia, Philippines and East Timor Foreign Ministers, at the June 2014 Global Summit on PSVI, to serve as Champions of PSVI and promote the UNGA Declaration against Sexual Violence amongst the ASEAN membership is a further significant development. This public support provides an opportunity to sharpen attention on the participation, protection and prevention elements of the WPS agenda that is not present within the ASEAN Political-Security Community. The PSVI falls directly under the purview of the ASEAN Political-Security Community and may provide an opportunity to formalise inclusion of WPS agenda.

To date, we have identified a considerable gap in reporting on the work being done every day to protect people from these grave crimes. We focus a lot on the failure but give too little focus and attention on what works. This gap in knowledge exists not just in the area of WPS but across a number of areas of concern to R2P – in relation to asylum seekers and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, children and other vulnerable populations. This workshop is the beginning, we hope, of a process of documenting the work you are doing which contributes to the goal of preventing atrocities and provides opportunities for participation and engagement that may inform future policy and programs.

As such, we are very keen to hear from you about what the priorities should be as we move forward to achieve the goals of WPS and R2P in our region.

A report detailing the event and recommendations from the participants will be available at the Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect in late September.  The program for the event may be found here.

The Prevention of Atrocity Crimes in the ASEAN Region: The Role of Parliamentarians


Excerpt of Spotlight on R2P by Dr Noel M. Morada, Director (Regional), Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

The United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention (OSAPG) and the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) organized a seminar in Bangkok on 27-28 March 2014 on the role of parliamentarians in promoting mass atrocities in Southeast Asia.  The two-day meeting was attended by 14 current and former parliamentarians from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand along with specialists from the UN, Rutgers University, and the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (AP R2P).  Sessions during the seminar included: 1) international legal framework for the punishment and prevention atrocity crimes; 2) socio-historical perspective in analyzing mass atrocity crimes; 3) strategies and policy options for the prevention of atrocity crimes; 4) international and regional human rights mechanisms; and 5) the role of parliamentarians in the prevention of mass atrocity crimes.  Noel Morada presented lectures on the R2P norm and the challenges and opportunities in the prevention of mass atrocity crimes in Southeast Asia.  In the second day of the meeting, participants also had a brainstorming session to outline priority issues that the APHR could focus on, including some concrete recommendations on how to operationalize R2P and mass atrocities prevention in the region. 

Neri Colmenares, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippine legislature, presented the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) Resolution on R2P (Enforcing the Responsibility to Protect: The Role of Parliament in Safeguarding Civilians’ Lives), which was adopted in its 128th session in Quito, Ecuador on 27 March 2013.  Among the relevant tools identified in the resolution that were highlighted in his presentation were the following:

  • Promote public education and awareness-raising in preventing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing;
  • Use of social media to denounce acts of violence against women and children and to fight impunity;
  • Adopt laws and policies to protect women and children, to prevent and criminalize sexual violence, and to provide redress for victims in times of peace and conflict, including the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325;
  • Ensure that international treaties to which states are parties are incorporated in domestic laws, particularly those dealing with human rights and protection of civilians;
  • Adopt measures to respect rights of civilians caught in armed conflicts;
  • Take necessary measures in bringing states’ criminal and military law in accordance with international laws for protection of civilians in armed conflicts;
  • Use parliamentarians’ international network to promote the universal ratification of the Rome statute (International Criminal Court);
  • Encourage their respective governments to support the creation and effective functioning of early warning systems and response at the national, regional, and international levels;
  • Include funds in the state’s national budget for protection of populations from violence and ensure their safety; and
  • Assume responsibility in protecting the rights of refugees and their right to international protection, including fulfillment of their states’ obligations to protect refugees and asylum-seekers.  

Colmenares also pointed out that, apart from legislation or filing of bills in parliament, legislators also have two other important functions that are useful in promoting the prevention of mass atrocity crimes: to conduct investigation in-aid-of legislation and advocacy work.  For example, legislative investigations can be an effective tool in enforcing R2P by holding accountable the executive or cabinet if it fails to effectively implement laws on human rights protection; inquiring into mass atrocity crimes committed by law enforcement agents or the military; or ensuring the state’s compliance with international standards on human rights protection.  The advocacy functions of parliamentarians include promoting awareness and education among their constituents about human rights protection, access to justice, and rule of law; encouraging citizens to file complaints against impunity and human rights violations; and promoting the inclusion of human rights protection, respect for the rights of minority groups, and tolerance for diversity in the school curricula through resolutions.  Across the region, parliamentarians could also engage in dialogue and exchange of information on resolutions, domestic laws, and results of investigations on human rights protection, laws against genocide and mass atrocity crimes, as well as education and training for incoming legislators on human rights and civilian protection. 

Some of the important issues raised during the meeting include: 1) protection of minority groups, women, and children in conflict areas of Myanmar/Burma, including the Rohingyas in Rakhine state; 2) the limitations of the UN and ASEAN human rights mechanisms in addressing and responding to human rights problems in the region; and 3) the need to explore alternative venues for addressing human rights violations and mass atrocity crimes in Southeast Asia.  Of particular interest to some parliamentarians in the seminar were cases filed in other countries against former heads of government for human rights violations during their tenure (e.g., in Spain against Pinochet of Argentina; and in Hawaii, USA against Marcos of the Philippines) and what other parliaments/states can do to support not only the prevention of mass atrocity crimes occurring in other countries but in prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes.  Beyond advocacy, education, and building awareness about R2P and prevention of atrocity crimes, a number of parliamentarians stressed the need to implement the norm and respond more effectively to ongoing human rights violations and atrocity crimes happening in the region. 

To read more see: Prevention of Atrocity Crimes in the ASEAN region: the Role of Parliamentarians, Spotlight on R2P


R2P Ideas in Brief: Syria


This is a short extract of a longer piece by Tim Dunne and Alex Bellamy for R2P Ideas in Brief, Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect, Vol 3, No 5 (2013).

This briefing is designed to shed light on the complex interplay between the situation on the ground in Syria and the normative context that has informed – and continues to inform – the responses of key institutions and actors. There is much that can be learned from the handling of the crisis triggered by the chemical weapons (CW) attacks on Ghouta on 21 August.

Between 21 August and the potentially game-changing remarks by US Secretary of State Kerry on 10 September suggesting that President Assad could avoid military strikes if he ‘turned over’ all his chemical weapons capability, R2P was invoked to justify the use of force. At the same time, many R2P informed voices opposed this course of action. 

The fact of the diversity of views on what to do about Syria is not in itself a surprise.  But for the epistemic community associated with R2P, there is a need for clarity as to the ways in which the range of possible responses to the CW attack are consistent with, or in breach of, the responsibility to protect. Whether ‘we’ like it or not, ‘any principle that helps to legitimise a course of action will therefore be among the enabling conditions of its occurrence’.[i]

One of the key fault-lines in the post-21 August debate was the necessity of UN Security Council (UNSC) authorisation, particularly given that Russia had an openly stated preference for keeping the Assad regime in power. This of course is an old fault-line for the human protection regime going back to Kosovo – there was much talk in Washington about the ‘Kosovo precedent’. Yet the orthodox R2P position is that the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD) explicitly places the use of force for human protection within the framework of the UN Charter, and therefore limits authorisation solely to the UNSC.


The ‘authorisation’ question is not the only fault-line in recent R2P debates about Syria. There is also a dispute about what actions are permitted in response to a CW attack that both breaches an international convention outlawing its use and is shockingly indiscriminate in its effects. As Gareth Evans put it, ‘proven use of chemical weapons would be profoundly in breach of Syria’s “responsibility to protect”. As the post-21st August phase unfolded, the Obama Administration increasingly chose to frame their proposed military action in relation to the ban on CW, rather than the persistent crimes against humanity that had been perpetrated by conventional weapons for many years. In this respect, to the extent that R2P was informing the President’s framing of the issue, it was now about ‘war crimes’ rather than crimes against humanity.

Prior to discussing R2P in the post-21 August phase, the briefing will re-evaluate the extent to which the framework outlined in 2005 had significant material impact upon the meaning actors gave to the ‘facts on the ground’. We show that however much the main protagonists disagreed about what was to be done in relation to Syria, the fact of mass atrocities having been committed had not been challenged during the crisis – and neither was the claim that the Syrian regime had failed to live up to its responsibility to protect.

See rest of the report here.

[i] Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, Volume 1: Regarding Method, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p.156.

An analysis of UN Secretary-General New Report on Atrocities Prevention

ImageThe Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention, released last month, is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s fifth report on the responsibility to protect. It explores the idea that lies at the principle’s core – that primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing lies with each individual state. While state responsibility for protection – which also entails effective prevention – may appear obvious, the role that local and national actors play is frequently overlooked in the research on conflict prevention in general, and mass atrocities prevention more specifically. Much is known about how and why state responsibility manifestly fails, but little is known about what responsible sovereignty looks like, particularly when the risk of potential atrocities is salient. The Secretary-General acknowledged this blind spot in his 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: ‘More research and analysis is needed on why one society plunges into mass violence while its neighbours remain relatively stable…’

This fifth report marks an important step in understanding the character of effective state responsibility. Such an approach is needed for two key reasons. First, as the report points out, no state is entirely absent of risk, therefore the challenge of prevention remains universal. Second, there are numerous examples of nationally and locally driven initiatives – already in practice – that provide insights into the varied ways that national resilience is strengthened and the risk of potential atrocities is mitigated. Cumulatively, these insights comprise a powerful repository of knowledge that every state can draw on to consider ways to strengthen their sovereignty through improved strategies of prevention. 

The Secretary-General frames this understanding of state responsibility by first identifying key risk factors associated with mass atrocities, then providing illustrations of the ways that states devise strategies which strengthen national resilience and manage such risk over time. The relationship between risk and resilience is complex, deeply contextual and dynamic. In order to convey just how varied and contextually driven the process of risk mitigation is, the report provides a number of specific examples policies and strategies from many different states, all which, in their own ways, strengthen national resilience.

The report stresses that atrocities crimes are processes, ‘not singular events’, for which there is no sole cause or simple set of causes. Instead, there are a range of factors that are associated with the increased risk of atrocity crimes. While the presence of risk does not inevitably lead to the perpetration of atrocities, these crimes are rarely committed in their absence. Six broad factors are identified:

  1. A history of discrimination and human rights violations.
  2. The motivation to target a specific identity group.
  3. The presence of armed groups, or militia, who have the capacity to commit atrocity crimes.
  4. The arising of circumstances that make committing atrocity crimes easier (such as the existence of a policy of targeting civilians, or a strengthening of military capacity).
  5. The inability of a government to prevent such violence, through lack of capacity or the absence of institutions that normally protect a population.
  6. The perpetration of violence that are regarded as ‘elements of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity’ often herald an escalation of violence.

The report then points out that actions by states to confront such risk can be instrumental in both reducing risk and building resilience in a way that enables it to ‘navigate periods of stress’. It identifies six broad sources of resilience:

  1. Constitutional protections;
  2. Democracy;
  3. State obligations under international law to criminalise genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the development of national accountability mechanisms;
  4. Transitional justice processes (where appropriate);
  5. Security sector reform;
  6. Measures that address actual or perceived inequalities.

In the report, each broad measure that strengthens resilience is accompanied by illustrations of specific policies and strategies implemented by different states. For instance, in relation to constitutional protection, the report describes three very different approaches. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures equality of all Canadians, ‘regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, age or physical or mental disability.’ A different example is Croatia’s Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities, which gives all the country’s minority groups to be represented in political, administrative and legal institutions at every level. In South Africa, a broad system of rights for ‘cultural, linguistic, religious and traditional communities’ is acknowledged through ‘the harmonization of customary law with human rights principles.’ These diverse examples provide a glimpse of just how contextually specific such strategies are.

The report also identifies the development of national infrastructure for the promoting and upholding of human rights, as another means of strengthening state resilience. It points out that human rights institutions can play a crucial role in atrocity prevention through the promotion of international standards of human rights and monitoring the integration of such rights into domestic law.

Beyond these broad approaches, the report also highlights some specific measures that can be adopted to incorporate an ‘atrocity prevention lens’ with national governments. In particular, it encourages the designation of an atrocity prevention or RtoP focal point, or an inter-agency mechanism which helps to orchestrate national efforts to formalize plans for atrocity prevention.

The Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention makes a significant and original contribution to the prevention of mass atrocities in three major ways.

First, it challenges the tendency found in much of the literature on conflict prevention to prioritize the role of external actors in deciding not only what the root causes of potential violence are, but also the best strategies for addressing them. Often a distinction is made between prevention actors on the one hand and prevention recipients on the other. By contrast, this report assumes primary agency to lay with each state, and on that assumption it provides illustrations of how various state-based policies and strategies have strengthened resilience and mitigated risk. Understanding national sources of resilience is important even when international assistance is needed, as it allows for such assistance to facilitate processes already in place.

Second, the report stresses that it is necessary to understand national sources of resilience because the presence of risk does not inevitably lead to genocide or other atrocity crimes. The tenuous causal relationship between the presence of risk and the perpetration of atrocity crimes is well known by scholars of comparative genocide studies. However, there has been very little research within the field of comparative genocide studies on why such violence does not occur, particularly when there is at least a moderate level of risk. By addressing that question, this report explores a neglected yet crucial dimension of atrocities prevention.

Third, through the promotion of atrocities prevention focal points, it makes a strong case for ways that states can engage in prevention without over-burdening already stretched national budgets. Focal points have the potential to cast a preventive lens over existing policies and strategies that already have their own specific objectives, and demonstrate how they also have a protective effect against atrocity crimes. By doing so, it precludes the need for a distinct set of strategies and resources. When states have institutions that are accountable and inclusive, and are able to provide services and promote opportunities in an equitable manner, then they are already mitigating the risk of atrocity crimes. Focal points for atrocity prevention provide clarity and guidance for such processes.

As the Secretary-General stresses, ‘there is no one-size-fits-all approach to atrocities prevention.’ Effective prevention must be tailored to each country’s unique historical, cultural, economic and demographic circumstances. Those that know these circumstances best – local and national actors – have the greatest capacity to generate long term strategies that manage and reduce the risk of atrocities over time.

Stephen McLoughlin, Griffith University