RtoP and rebuilding: the role of the Peacebuilding Commission
“The concept of responsibility to protect implies a process that not only includes prevention and response to violence, but also subsequent reconstruction to prevent reoccurrence of conflicts.”
-Costa Rica, UN General Assembly debate on the Responsibility to Protect, July 2009
In this section you will find:
The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) is a new human rights and security norm established to address the protection of civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. As was first spelled out in the 2001 Report on the Responsibility to Protect by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, advocates around the world have embraced RtoP as a full spectrum of responsibility: from the responsibility to prevent, to react, and to rebuild. The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) were both adopted by Member States at the 2005 World Summit, and the PBC has been regarded as a key mechanism in the wide range of measures necessary to prevent mass atrocities.
The concept of establishing a Peacebuilding Commission was first presented in the December 2004 report by the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, entitled “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility”. In response to the High Level Panel’s suggestions, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan published his March 2005 report “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All”. Annan noted that the UN did not sufficiently address the specific challenges countries faced in their transition from conflict to peace. In addition, the report noted that “roughly half of the countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence within five years.” In order to address the institutional gap within the UN in assisting post-conflict countries, Annan proposed the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission.
At the 2005 World Summit, the formulation of the PBC was agreed upon by state leaders and included in paragraphs 97 – 105 of the Outcome Document. On 20 December 2005, the General Assembly (A/RES/60/180) and the Security Council (S/RES/1645) formally established the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).
The PBC is an intergovernmental advisory body which seeks to facilitate and provide advice on post-conflict peacebuilding efforts. The PBC, consisting of 31 member states, provides short to medium-term engagement between the international community and countries that have recently emerged from conflict.
The PBC first convened in July 2006, with the states of Burundi and Sierra Leone on the Commission’s agenda. The PBC has since expanded its agenda to include the Central African Republic (2007), Guinea-Bissau (2008), Liberia (2010), and Guinea (2011). Countries are placed on the PBC’s agenda with the full support of the country itself and it is highly unlikely that a referral will occur against the wish of a state government. Governments can request assistance from the PBC through the UN Secretary-General and/or may be referred by the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Much of the PBC’s work takes place in country-specific configurations and includes, in addition to PBC members, a wide range of actors including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Through these country-specific discussions, priority areas for successful peacebuilding in the country are highlighted and special attention is paid to addressing the gaps in peacebuilding strategy. The PBC also provides advice to the Security Council and ECOSOC on critical peacebuilding issues.
The concept of the Responsibility to Protect was first introduced in the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty report published in 2001. Similar to the PBC, the RtoP norm was a recommendation of the High Level Panel’s report and the Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s report prior to being formally adopted at the 2005 World Summit.
According to the ICISS report, the Responsibility to Protect consists of three responsibilities: the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react and the responsibility to rebuild. The ICISS report presented the responsibility to prevent as the single most important aspect of the RtoP norm, aimed at addressing root and direct causes of conflict that may put human security at risk. The responsibility to react consists of a wide spectrum of measures, including economic, political and diplomatic tools, with the very last resort being military intervention. Coercive measures are to be conducted only when all other preventative action has been exercised. Furthermore, the use of force must be approved for by the Security Council and must be tailored based on the circumstances of each individual situation. The responsibility to rebuild focuses on the recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation of a state and aims at preventing potential recurrences of humanitarian crises.
In the World Summit 2005 Outcome Document, however, Member States only retained the fundamental principles as well as the prevention and reaction aspects of the Responsibility to Protect. This conspicuously omitted the responsibility to rebuild aspect from the ICISS report. It recognized the responsibility to prevent in paragraph 138, clarifying that,
“Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.”
In addition, paragraph 139 recognizes the responsibility of the international community to react, through the use of
“Appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
From these two paragraphs, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon re-conceptualized the framework of the RtoP norm in his report released on 12 January 2009 entitled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect”. Ban outlined a three-pillar strategy for advancing the agenda mandated by the Heads of State and Government at the Summit namely
1) the protection responsibilities of the state,
2) international assistance and capacity building, and
3) timely and decisive response to prevent and halt genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Secretary-General recommended that the General Assembly meet to consider, based on this report, how Member States will take the 2005 World Summit commitment forward. The General Assembly has met twice to debate the principle of the Responsibility to Protect since the publication of the Secretary General’s report. In 2009 the General Assembly debate focused on implementing RtoP and reflected on the Secretary General’s report published that year on the topic. An informal debate on Early Warning, Assessment and the Responsibility to Protect was held in August 2010.
It was speculated that the omission of the responsibility to rebuild from the principle of the Responsibility to Protect as outlined in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document was the result of the creation of the PBC by Member States as it provided a framework and mechanism at the UN for addressing rebuilding. Indeed, the PBC has a key role in sustaining the attention of the international community on the importance of recovery and capacity-building efforts as a means of preventing conflict reoccurrence. Also, while the PBC assists countries emerging from conflict (not necessarily limited to instances of the four RtoP crimes) the first two PBC cases were Burundi and Sierra Leone, which experienced mass human rights violations. According to the International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi’s final report, genocide was committed against the state’s Tutsi population in October 1993. The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established in 2002 to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996. In addition, war crimes and crimes against humanity were also committed in the state of Liberia during the country’s two civil wars of 1989 and 1999. Former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the prosecution announced their indictment in 2003.
In January 2009, Ban Ki-moon’s report recognized the PBC as an important tool under RtoP as part of Pillar Two (international assistance and capacity-building), not only in post-conflict reconciliation and rebuilding efforts, but also as a tool of prevention. Ban recognizes in paragraph 48 that,
“Post-trauma peacebuilding offers a critical point for assistance relating to the responsibility to protect. The surest predictor of genocide is past genocide. The work of the Peacebuilding Commission comes at a critical stage in a society’s evolution, one where the international community has the best opportunity of making a positive difference.”
IV. PBC in Debates and Dialogue on RtoP
During the July 2009 GA debate on the Responsibility to Protect, thirteen Member States suggested strengthening the PBC as a vital step to implementing RtoP and preventing the reoccurrence of mass atrocities. States, such as Uruguay, recognized that the PBC “achieved important work in terms of early recovery and assistance to consolidate the state and promote economic and social development in situations of post-conflict”. In several statements, Member States, including Benin, Palestine, Brazil, Luxembourg, Jordan and the Solomon Islands, referred to the PBC as a crucial instrument to implement key preventive aspects of the RtoP norm, particularly under pillars one and two (discussed above). Costa Rica, also calling to strengthen the PBC, noted that, “[the] concept of responsibility to protect implies a process that not only includes prevention and response to violence, but also subsequent reconstruction to prevent reoccurrence of conflicts.” Ecuador suggested that the international community should invite more states to be part of the PBC, thereby also advancing the RtoP framework. Cameroon also called for strengthening the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO). Others, such as Nigeria and Ghana, mentioned the need to strengthen regional instruments such as the AU Framework for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development to complement the work that the PBC is doing.
During the August 2010 informal General Assembly dialogue on Early Warning, Assessment and the Responsibility to Protect, Nigeria and the Solomon Islands discussed the links between early warning, prevention of mass atrocity crimes, and RtoP. The statement from the Solomon Islands, in its focus on the early warning system, stated that the UN must “look at recently established bodies such as the Peace Building Commission (PBC) to have a universal outreach to all countries emerging from conflict.”
For more information on the PBC, please refer to WFM's Together for a Better Peace website.