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Event Summary: Arria Formula Meeting: Responsibility to Protect and Non-State Actors

The UN Security Council met for an “Arria formula meeting” on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, RtoP) on 14 December 2015. The meeting involved not only Security Council Member States, but also expert panelists from civil society and representatives from international organizations who debated the role of RtoP in relation to non-state actors. The theme of the Arria Formula meeting was chosen in reflection of the fact that
while States play the central role in implementing RtoP, a wide range of other actors also directly or indirectly contribute to upholding the norm. This includes various types of non-state actors, considered by the concept note as encompassing international non-governmental organizations, national civil society organizations, community and religious leaders, media and the private sector. Nevertheless, as outlined by William Pace on behalf of the ICRtoP, using the term non-state actors is not without its disadvantages and dangers. He called for governments and the UN to distinguish between non-state armed groups (entities usually targeted by counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism measures) and non-state actors (which have historically included predominantly NGOs, CSOs, community and religious leaders, media, the private sector, etc.)

The panelists included Jennifer Welsh, the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect; Edward Luck, an International Advisory Board Member of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect; and Luis Peral, Senior Analyst for Global and Strategic Affairs, Club de Madrid. All Security Council members apart from Nigeria gave interventions, with the Netherlands speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of RtoP, and the governments of Belgium and Italy also making statements. Additionally, William Pace, founding Steering Committee member of the ICRtoP, delivered informal remarks.

There was wide support among governments for all three pillars of RtoP, though many states emphasized the need to exhaust all diplomatic and peaceful tools before the use of military force to protect populations. Nearly every participant stressed the primacy of prevention, with several states, notably Angola, Malaysia, and Italy, calling for the utilization and strengthening of such early warning systems in this regard. Nevertheless, some states, such as Russia and China, underscored that the international community should play only an auxiliary, assisting role in upholding the norm, as the state itself bears the primary responsibility to protect its own populations. The Representative of Chad added that RtoP should not become a method for one state to “destroy” another, while both Chad and Russia cited the application of RtoP in Libya as hurting, rather than helping, the cause of de-escalating the crisis there. Venezuela noted that there was an overlap between the prevention agendas of RtoP, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution, stating that the international community should focus its efforts on strengthening peaceful resolution of conflict and peacebuilding rather than intervention.

Several states referenced the 10th anniversary of the unanimous endorsement of RtoP at the 2005 UN World Summit. A high number of states supported the various initiatives to restrain the use of the Security Council veto in cases of atrocity crimes, including Belgium, France, Italy, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. William Pace, on behalf of the ICRtoP, noted international civil society’s strong support for efforts in this regard. Luis Peral and the Representative of the United States, meanwhile, called for promoting consensus in the UN Security Council on these issues.

There were several appeals for the inclusion of not just international and state actors to be involved in the protection of civilians, but also international NGOs, local communities, the media, civil society, and the private sector. Edward Luck argued that states should work with different facets of both domestic and transnational civil society to prevent the targeting of minority groups and mediate conflicts between different religious or ethnic factions. Drs. Welsh and Luck, together with France and the United Kingdom, advocated for the UN and Security Council to work with civil society and regional organizations in measures to counter violent extremism. The United Kingdom further recommended “sharing the burden of responsibility” by engaging additional actors to uphold the norm, such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, civilian volunteers, and particularly women.

The pressing issue of non-state armed groups in the implementation of RtoP was also widely examined, though some states, notably the U.S., highlighted that this new focus does not relieve states of their primary responsibility to protect its populations.  Dr. Welsh, Dr. Luck, and the governments of Chad, Italy, and Belgium all stressed the need to deny means and resources to such groups, while stressing the need to end impunity and hold all actors accountable. Dr. Luck went further and outlined a strategy to deny such non-state armed groups the means to commit atrocity crimes, advocating for the denial of legitimacy and credibility, space and time (to limit a group’s hold on a territory), financial and material resources, an audience for incitement, radicalization, and recruitment, and the means for committing such mass atrocity crimes, such as large scale mobilization abilities.

Dr. Welsh, meanwhile, insisted that the international community must first and foremost never relent in insisting that non state actors uphold international humanitarian law, nor can it be complacent when governments conduct indiscriminate attacks during counter-terrorism efforts. When confronting non-state actors, Dr. Welsh stressed the importance of understanding context and adapting existing tools accordingly, including early warning and planning tools. In a comment that was echoed by the United Kingdom, she implored the Security Council to be more open to discussing the possibility of atrocities and assessing risks at an earlier stage. Such an objective could be accomplished through holding more briefings, sending more observation forces, or better equipping peace operations so that they can better enforce protection mandates. Additionally, in order to truly confront the challenge on non-state actors, the Security Council must also be prepared to devote more attention to post-conflict situations.

The Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect statement, as delivered by the Netherlands, followed a clear trajectory through the three pillars demonstrating how first states, under Pillar 1, must take steps to limit the capabilities of non-state actors to abuse human rights. The Group of Friends further noted that non-state actors—such as international NGOs, civil society, community and religious leaders, the media, and the private sector—can assist states to uphold their primary RtoP, under Pillar II of the norm. The Group also called for taking real and tangible steps toward ending impunity for perpetrators of these crimes. States must also ensure that their own armed forces are upholding international humanitarian law and not committing mass atrocities themselves, regardless of the conduct of the non-state armed groups they face.  Furthermore, the statement claimed that in the event where Pillar 3 actions are required, such actions should seek to strengthen a state’s abilities to deal with the threat of non-state armed groups.    


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