Opening Remarks by Sapna Chhatpar Considine, Director of the ICRtoP, at the event: Civil Society Perspectives: Building State Capacity to Prevent Atrocity Crimes
9 September 2013
Thank you, Keith for your kind introduction. Good morning everyone.
I am extremely honored to welcome so many distinguished guests here today. We are especially grateful to have Mr. Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the newly appointed Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, who will be providing our keynote lunch address.
I would like to thank the co-sponsors of this event, the Stanley Foundation, the Fredrich Ebert Stiftung, and the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. This was a truly collaborative effort and we are so grateful for their partnership in organizing today’s conference.
I would also like to recognize the commitment and efforts of the more than 70 organizations from all over the world, many of whom are here today, that constitute the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, as well as our many close partners and supporters that are a powerful collective force working together to advance RtoP and the prevention of mass atrocities.
For over a decade, civil society has been at the forefront of furthering the Responsibility to Protect. The advocacy carried out by organizations was critical in ensuring that the RtoP was included within the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document and civil society has continued to work to strengthen the norm ever since. This includes by clarifying what RtoP is and is not and speaking out when states or other actors try to misuse it– a task that has proven incredibly important in recent weeks.
As a civil society network, the members of the RtoP Coalition strive to uphold the principles of RtoP and they work at the national, regional, and international levels to strengthen institutions, build consensus for the norm, and mobilize the political will of policymakers to take action. At our Secretariat here in New York, we support our members’ work, and provide leadership and guidance for the network's international initiatives, direct regional and national-level projects, grow our Coalition membership, and serve as a knowledge center, by providing essentialresources and information on the norm to civil society, government and UN actors, and the public.
Over the past 7 years working on RtoP, I’ve spoken to well-over 500 organizations about the norm. From workshops and conferences in Beirut to Phnom Pehn to Istanbul to Bamako, I have seen more and more awareness and support for the norm as time has gone by, but that there still remains the need to continue to inform about RtoP because, there still remains a lack of understanding. What I’ve also seen, from speaking with civil society representatives from every region of the world, is that there is great belief in and hope for RtoP. So many organizations see the potential for this new norm, whether when advocating for governments to strengthen national institutions and policies for atrocities prevention or when also holding them accountable when they are not living up to their obligations. Yes, they have concerns…. and they have questions…and they have ideas about how best to implement the norm, but they very much believe in the principles grounding RtoP.
So why are we here today? Every year since 2009, the RtoP Coalition has held a side-event on the theme of the General Assembly’s informal interactive dialogues on RtoP. Called for in the Summit Outcome document, the GA dialogues have provided opportunities for Member States to discuss and exchange views on RtoP, and especially on the UN Secretary-General’s annual reports, which explore a particular dimension of RtoP’s framework. Thus far, the General Assembly has held four annual dialogues, which have focused on issues including early warning and assessment, the role of regional and sub-regional organizations in implementing RtoP, and on response measures under the Third Pillar of RtoP. The General Assembly dialogues have been an essential forum in establishing for Member States the very definitions and framework of the norm and have also provided an important opportunity to consolidate political support.
As we believe that civil society organizations have unique perspectives on how the Responsibility to Protect should be implemented in their countries, their regions, and here at the UN, we have held this yearly event, open to Member States, civil society, the media and the public to hold a discussion that features their voices. These are new voices from different organizations that have fresh ideas about how implementation of the norm affects their lives. These are organizations that for example:
These are some of the real ways in which NGOs around the world are working in their communities, with their governments and other key institutions to ensure that we prevent future atrocities from happening and stop tensions from escalating to the horrors that we have been witnessing around the world.
The subject of this year’s General Assembly dialogue, to be held two days from now, is on State Responsibility and Prevention, or Pillar One. Just a reminder that as outlined by the Secretary-General, the Responsibility to Protect has three pillars:
1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
As we all know, the prevention aspect of RtoP is often overshadowed by the more forceful measures within the norm’s framework. However, as the Secretary General’s report indicates, we must not forget the fact that the primary goal of RtoP is to prevent these atrocities from occurring in the first place. During today’s discussion, we will hear some specific examples of how governments and civil society have worked successfully to strengthen preventive capacities and of course, some of the challenges and recommendations for moving forward.
Today’s event comes at a difficult but critically important time when continuing atrocities in Syria and the threat of military action are shaping the daily discourse on the norm. There has been a fair amount of confusion about RtoP in the news lately, and I would like to take a brief moment to clarify a few important facts: Once again, as the Secretary General has reiterated time and again, RtoP is first and foremost about prevention. When there is a high risk of atrocities, or when atrocities are ongoing, there are a full range of non-military measures to consider, such as dispatching eminent persons or special envoys, the creation of fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry, targeted diplomatic sanctions, travel bans, referrals to the International Criminal Court. Of course, as we all know, the third pillar of RtoP does include the use of force as a measure when non-military means have proven inadequate. However, and I want to emphasize this point, the General Assembly consensus of RtoP does not allow for military responses without the authorization of the UN Security Council. Moreover, the Responsibility to Protect norm is also not synonymous with the old concepts of so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’.
When a situation reaches the point where the international community needs to respond militarily, we have all failed in our responsibilities on so many different levels. This is why the subject of this year’s dialogue, and our event here today, is so important. We are talking about early prevention…the work that NGOs are doing every day to diminish tensions between different ethnic and religious groups, to promote accountability, to protect human rights, and to foster national dialogue and reconciliation—all for the purposes of the prevention of mass atrocity crimes.
I want to thank you again for your participation today and I look forward to a lively discussion.
See a video of Sapna Chhatpar Considine delivering the opening remarks.