Responsibility to Protect: A Dialogue with Civil Society in Advance of the UN General Assembly Debate
20 July 2009, UN Church Centre
Beginning July 21, the UN General Assembly will commence a debate on the Responsibility to Protect (“R2P” or “RtoP”). The SG will present his report entitled, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” to Member States on July 21, and the formal plenary debate in the General Assembly (GA) will start on July 23. The Responsibility to Protect addresses the responsibility of states and the international community to prevent, protect and halt genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The General Assembly debate on the Responsibility to Protect is the first time governments will come together to discuss how to take the Responsibility to Protect forward since its historic endorsement in 2005.
Civil society groups will vocalize their support for the Responsibility to Protect, their perspectives on the Secretary-General’s report, their expectations for the General Assembly debate, and what they have been doing to build support for the norm within their capitals and regions. Jacqueline Murekatete, a Rwandan Genocide survivor, will also share her experiences and on why she believes the Responsibility to Protect is an important tool for preventing and halting genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
Edward Luck, Special Adviser to the Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect
Jacqueline Murekatete, Fellow, Miracle Corners of the World and Program Director, Jacqueline's Human Rights Corner
Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director, International Refugee Rights Initiative and Co-Chair, Darfur Consortium
Nicola Reindorp, Director of Advocacy, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
William Pace, Executive Director, WFM-Institute for Global Policy
William Pace, WFM–Institute for Global Policy
The moderator introduced the speakers and briefly provided information on their background. He also commented on the President of the GA’s misuse of his position to undermine the discourse on RtoP. Mr. Pace provided a brief background on RtoP, including the broad civil society support for the SG Report and the concept’s three-pillar approach, anchored in the principles of international law GA to reopen the discussion on paragraphs 138 and 139 of the Outcome Document. Instead, Mr Pace asserted that the focus should remain on the overriding purpose of RtoP, which is to save populations from the most heinous human rights violations.
Edward Luck, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect
Dr. Luck expressed that he appreciates the role of NGOs not only for their advocacy and research, but for their operational roles. Dr. Luck’s objective has been to conceptualize RtoP and to put forward a strategy for implementation. He is acutely aware that the concept of RtoP means different things for different people, States and regions. There persists an older notion of international humanitarian intervention, which he made clear that RtoP was not. Based on what the Member States have agreed to at the 2005 World Summit, the Secretary-General’s office has put together a package in the form of 3 pillars in his report, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect”.
Dr. Luck suggested that most Member States say that it is a balanced package, however, he was careful to qualify that does not necessarily mean that they support it. There have been a lot of diversions on the first two pillars – including issues of state responsibility, assistance to States to strengthen capacity-building, and assistance to States to meet their responsibilities. The third pillar has a wide following among Member States. With regard to the question of use of force, that issue will continue to be controversial for some time.
In a refreshing and humble assertion, he stated that nobody knows how RtoP and prevention should work. Hence, he believes the report encourages learning, experience-sharing networks, where NGOs will be the front and center of this exercise. The report is not a blueprint yet but an overall framework, and RtoP must be addressed in an integrated, holistic way.
Dr. Luck preferred that the GA debate stay very much focused on the SG report. Dr. Luck pointed out that the report asks veto members to come to an understanding on not using the veto in cases of mass atrocities, but he recognized that this may take some time. Thus, he forsaw that this debate may be operating on two different levels – there will be much noise and comments about Security Council reform, etc., and he wlecomes such discussion. But it also has to be recognized that there is a need to address particular mechanisms relevant to RtoP, as well as the framework that the SG has put forward and how it can be approved.
Dr. Luck disassociated himself with the comments of the President of the GA made at the start of the session, he expressed appreciation that D’Escoto has called the meeting and welcomes this move. Dr. Luck clarified that the report is a beginning to a conversation on what can and can’t be done.
Bringing the discussion of RtoP to the role the African region has played, Dr. Luck credited ECOWAS and the 2000 Constitutional Act of the AU, namely Article 4(h), as fundamental in moving this agenda forward. The African region in this respect, he asserted, is the vanguard of this effort. Dr. Luck positively described the attitudes of Member States, he recognized that they are quite willing to talk and in some cases, the response may be more sympathetic in capitals rather than within the UN.
He described the efforts in trying to put a strategy and policy forward to make RtoP a reality as historic. Dr. Luck admited that RtoP was not a legal concept; there are no binding legal qualities. However, he emphasized that at the same time, it is a politically powerful concept that will over time shape how countries and the Security Council will make decisions. He analyzed that it would also make some leaders think twice before they commit such crimes and tackle the problem of impunity.
Dr. Luck stressed on the need to prevent the incitement of these crimes – Cote d’Ivoire and last year in Kenya are examples demonstrating this important issue; there are a lot of ways that quiet diplomacy can be important in prevention. This is just the beginning of the conversation, he reminded, It is critical to take the first step.
Jacqueline Murekatete, Miracle Corners of the World / Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner
Speaking as a victim and survivor of genocide, Ms. Murekatete express her strong commitment to believing in international protective mechanisms and in the Responsibility to Protect.
Ms. Murekatete reminded the audience that it is important to think critically about the concept as individuals -- what it means for people who have been victims and survivors of crimes the concept seeks to address, and for humanity’s future. She acknowledged that RtoP is a huge step forward in genocide prevention. Nevertheless, she pointed out that the international community’s failure to prevent genocides in the 20th century is evident; the concept of “never again” remains today a reality the world has yet to enjoy – and she cited Darfur as an example.
Ms. Murekatete recounted her personal experience during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 when the people of Rwanda were abandoned not only by the government and neighbors, but the international community. Over the course of 100 days, Rwandans lived in an environment in which the government called for the extermination of the Tutsi minority and whoever sympathized with the Tutsis. She stresses that despite everything, during those 100 days, they had hope that they would be helped. Many women and children fled to foreign missions to seek protection, and thought the international community would come to their aid. This did not happen because there was no political will.
Ms. Murekatete highlighted that Rwanda is often refered to as a "preventable genocide" which has been the case with other genocides. Ms. Murekatete therefore emphasized the critical importance and timeliness of RtoP. It is a concept that has enjoyed a lot of support from governments and UN bodies and civil society at large.
But this concept has yet to be implemented. Ms. Murekatete recognized her role here to call on the audience as individuals, missions and NGOs to act both individually and collectively to continue to reach out to governments and relevant bodies to ensure the effective implementation of RtoP for us, and for future generations.
Dismas Nkunda, International Refugee Rights Initiative / Darfur Consortium:
Mr. Nkunda noted the presence of the Ambassador of Uganda and shared an anecdote on the mass killing that took place at Nyamata.
Mr. Nkunda credited The Constitutive Act of the AU as the first instrument that talked about RtoP. He acknowledged the significance of Article 4 which refers specifically to, “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity…” and that this Constitutive Act reflected how countries were switching from the notion of non-intervention to non-indifference. He qualified that while these crimes still exist on the African continent, it reinforced the notion that these States could be held accountable. In drawing attention to the AU's Constitutive Act, he highlighted that RtoP is at the core of the activities of the AU.
In addition, Mr. Nkunda pointed out the second aspect within instruments in Africa which spoke to the idea of RtoP -- the Conflict Prevention Framework of ECOWAS, adopted in 2008. He explained that the document seeks to protect human security through the responsibility to prevent by addressing the causes of conflicts where those crimes may arise; the responsibility to react to conflict, including humanitarian disasters; and the responsibility to rebuild.
Mr. Nkunda listed other documents produced by the African region that had supported the Responsiblity to Protect. Specifically, he referred to the The African Commission on Human Rights' statement in 2007. At the meeting, the Commission passed a resolution to strengthen RtoP in Africa. All of the Heads of State in the AU signed this document, agreeing to adhere to this. He stressed that It is important to hold our governments accountable.
Finally, Mr. Nkunda brought up the International Conference on the Great Lakes which developed a protocol that has come into force. The last ratification was eagerly anticipated and, as Mr. Nkunda ironically pointed out, it came from Sudan, which is now a participant of the International Conference on the Great Lakes. He pointed out the significance of this ratification, stating clearly that it means that Sudan can now be held accountable by using this simple instrument. He backed up this assertion by citing the details of the protocol which talks about the prevention and punishment of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, stipulating that the leaders of Member States committing such crimes can be physically removed from that country and tried in another country. He emphasized that this ratification of the pact is particularly relevant to the ICC arrest warrant that was issued for Sudan.
With regard to RtoP, Mr. Nkunda credited the ICRtoP's in reaching out to governments to increase awareness on where the idea of RtoP flows from. He reiterated the fact that all African countries have vowed to respect the principles – they are binding under the Constitutive Act of the AU. Mr. Nkunda recounted an event two weeks ago, when he was talking to the AMANI Forum, which is a parliamentary forum of about 16 countries. He realized that Parliamentarians themselves could not understand what instruments were available, and didn’t know that the concept of RtoP was entrenched in the AU constitution. He identified the need to make this fact more known – that they could ask their governments to do what they were supposed to do.
Lastly, Mr. Nkunda emphasized on the need to ensure that African countries speak with one voice.
Nicola Reindorp, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Ms. Reindorp introduced the role of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect – she described it as a centre trying to play arole in catalyzing action; in collaboration with other partners across civil society.
Ms. Reindorp revisited the 2005 World Summit of Heads of State and Government and recalled that Governments from the South – from Latin America, Asia and, most crucially, Africa – were in the negotiating chamber and agreed to the inclusion of the Responsibility to Protect in the Outcome Document. She recognized the landmark achievement to have reflected the idea that protecting people from the worst crimes against humanity must be part of what the UN seeks to do. In addition, Ms. Reindorp also acknowledged that the success at the World Summit was also a result of heavy civil society campaigning. She credited the leadership and the vision of the AU, African states and African civil society were very present in those negotiations; the shift the AU made from the organization of the AU, founded on the concept of non-intervention, to the concept non-indifference was significant.
Ms. Reindorp recounted that the last three to four years saw strong statements expressing support to translate RtoP into practice from about 90 governments from the North, South, East and West. On the other hand, she acknowledged that there remains a small number of countries -- a dozen or 14 -- that continue to assert that RtoP was not agreed to, that there remains no consensus, while also misrepresenting the 2005 World Summit agreement.
Ms. Reindorp shifted the focus to the reality in New York, where small missions have been struggling to stay up to date on issues but also a large number of Member States that are committed to RtoP in principle, but have not had the chance to engage critically with the SG report. She pointed out that the debate was called for in the 2005 Outcome Document – and there were a very small number of Member States who have been particularly vocal and continue to voice their concerns they had in 2005, and continued to misrepresent what was said in the SG report.
Ms. Reindorp expressed her concern that the GA debate would not be be used as a constructive opportunity for Member States to reflect on how they were going to do to fill the gaps in "capacity, will and imagination" and prevent these horrific crimes of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Ms. Reindorp and her collagues were dismayed by the actions of some Member States who skewed the question about whether this reflects the concept agreed to in 2005 – and who asserted that sovereignty is absolute.
Ms. Reindorp tried to dispell this misonception, she asserted that sovereignty did not give States the right to abuse their citizens. Sovereignty brings responsibility, she said, and she stressed that this was what the debate should be about this week. She emphasized the role of civil society to challenge propagating this argument that RtoP is synonymous with humanitarian intervention – as opposed to governments taking responsibility for their peoples. She also expressed the need to remind Member States that it was their request to continue the consideration of this issue.
The Centre hoped that it the debate would be be a genuine, constructive dialogue – for the international community to understand what Member States agreed to in 2005 and recognize the necessity to respond positively to the Secretary-General's report. Ms. Reindorp also hoped that at least 70 states would speak about commitments at the national level to uphold and contribute to the implementation of this concept, or to articulate what systems they needed from the international community. She wished for the debate to generate a reiteration of political will, to build capacities to do a better job of prevention, which includes strengthening support for mediation, support for training for peacekeepers to physically protect civilians.
Lastly, she mentioned that the Centre was heartened by statements from the Obama administration, which helped challenge those who said this was about countries wanting to misuse humanitarian action and threaten national sovereignty.
William Pace, WFM–Institute for Global Policy
In his closing remarks, Mr. Pace reiterated the need to advance the consensus on the Responsibility to Protect in the 2005 Outcome Document; to discuss how to go forward and operationalize paragraphs 138 and 139. Mr Pace compared the contrasting stances of the former and current US Ambassador to the UN to show the need to continue to bring governments around and persuade them to be in support of the RtoP norm. He asserted that while RtoP obligations already exist under the Genocide Convention, Rome Statute, etc. – there is one important caveat. The Genocide Convention doesn’t have any enforceable mechanisms and the Rome Statute is not ratified by all nations. In addition, he pointed out another gap that the RtoP norm addresses - in the UN Charter, there was an important principle of non-intervention in internal matters of a State, which has been used by governments, in many instances appropriately, but it has also been used inappropriately and even criminally. Mr Pace concluded by stating that the objective was to stay focused on the RtoP report and not get distracted by massive reform needs. He stressed the need for a genuine debate for countries to reaffirm not only their support, but also to lay out ways forward to operationalize the concept.
Jacqueline Murekatete, Miracle Corners of the World / Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner
Ms. Murekatete acknowledged that there are many documents and concepts going around the UN and hence it is easy to lose focus. Nevertheless, Ms. Murekatete insisted that it is important to think about the humanitarian implications of RtoP and the crimes it addressed. Ms Murekatete encouraged reading up or watching docummentaries on Rwanda, Cambodia or Darfur to revisit the recent history of genocide and focus on the effect it had on the populations. "We must see the human value behind the concept" she reiterated.