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The End of Atrocity
Canadian International Council
Kyle Matthews
12 February 2013
When NATO enforced UN Security Council Resolution 1973 by establishing a no-fly zone to halt Moammar Gadhafi’s regime from attacking the city of Benghazi, many critics voiced opposition. Their logic seemed to be that since the international community could not intervene everywhere that mass atrocities were looming, it should not bother trying at all.
Responding to this criticism, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times argued, “But just because we allowed Rwandans or Darfuris to be massacred, does it really follow that to be consistent we should allow Libyans to be massacred as well? Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?” (…)
R2P, which actually stands for the “responsibility to protect,” is a political commitment made by all 192 governments seated at the UN in 2005 to break the cycle of standing idle when mass atrocities (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing) are occurring or about to occur. The African architects of R2P, South Sudanese scholar and diplomat Francis Deng and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, might disagree with Caplan’s reading of the situation in Mali and the assertion that R2P is a cover to advance the interests of mining firms in the West.
While the Libyan and Malian crises triggered intervention, the Syrian conflict has not. Despite increasing digital evidence of war crimes (on Feb. 7, the Washington Post tweeted a link to a video that showed Assad’s troops dancing to Usher while houses burned in the background), no government seems prepared to intervene directly in the conflict. Western countries have pretty much stood on the sidelines of the Syrian crisis. On one side, we have witnessed Russia and China using their veto power a total of three times within the UN Security Council to protect Assad’s regime, while Iran continues to provide direct military aid to Damascus. On the other side, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey have shipped arms and facilitated the movement of jihadists into Syria with the hopes of toppling the government.(…)
Building International Institutions and Political Will
Each failure to halt mass atrocities leads the international community to reflect and innovate. In the 1990s, the absence of political will to interdict the Rwandan genocide and the UN Security Council’s failure to take collective action in Kosovo led to the creation of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The commission introduced the R2P doctrine, which advanced the idea that national sovereignty entails responsibility, and that if a state is unwilling or unable to protect vulnerable populations from the above-mentioned crimes, the international community has a duty to respond. (…)
Community of Commitment
In a recent tweet, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations labelled the groups that have evolved as a more or less permanent constituency for the prevention of mass atrocities as an “anti-genocide industrial complex.” While that may be a bit of a stretch, at the start of the 21stcentury, it has become apparent that people are no longer waiting for their governments to lead on important issues. Just as the environmental movement has grown in strength and numbers across the planet, those organizations working in the field of atrocity prevention have made significant progress in recent years, forming a community of commitment. The Enough Project, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect and the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect are new civil-society organizations that have emerged on the international scene. These organizations act as the eyes and ears of the world’s victims, and not only hold governments’ feet to the fire when inaction in the face of atrocities is observed, but also document evidence showing which countries are enablers of such crimes.
Building National Capacities
It would be an understatement to point out that there is a global capacity problem when it comes to acting against atrocities. While the UN has limited ability to enforce international law, most countries that are signatories of the Genocide Convention have done very little to build the capacity and infrastructure for analysis and action. In the past few years, however, the Obama administration has made some important changes to ensure the prevention of genocide and atrocities. (…)
Mobilizing Democracy
National governments’ responses to mass-atrocity crimes have typically been minimal, ad hoc, and lacking overarching policies to implement preventative strategies. There are currently no mechanisms in place to ensure national governments uphold their international obligations to act when massive human rights abuses are taking place.
The good news is that this might all be about to change. Experience in the United Kingdom and Canada shows that parliamentarians can make a contribution to focus the executive branch of government on the prevention of, and response to, genocide. Parliamentarians have a role in agenda-setting ahead of a crisis or while a crisis is underway, and can hold the executive, foreign office, or other administrative departments to account. (…)
At the international level, the Inter-Parliamentary Union is delving into these issues as well, seeking to form a united front and share lessons learned on the role that parliamentarians the world over can play in holding executive branches to account in upholding their responsibility to protect.(…)
Moving Forward
The global fight to combat mass-atrocity crimes is marked by more failures than successes, but real progress is being made. The above-mentioned developments cannot be discounted as insignificant.
While we might never be able to halt all atrocities, in the years ahead, the global architecture being created will render it increasingly difficult for governments and non-state actors to literally get away with murder.
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