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Interview with Alex Bellamy, Waving the Red Flag: Preventing Atrocities
Taken from “The Courier”, a publication from the Stanley Foundation
Summer 2013

The Stanley Foundation recently sat down to talk with Alex Bellamy, a professor at Australia’s Griffith University and Director (International) of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
, who has written extensively about the need for policymakers to apply an “atrocity prevention lens” when dealing with crises.

For all the setbacks and frustrations in responding to mass atrocities, the world has come a long way. It’s been almost a decade since the United Nations adopted the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, more commonly known as R2P, which outlines steps for the international community to stop and prevent some of the most devastating man-made carnage.

THE STANLEY FOUNDATION (TSF): What is the atrocity prevention lens?

BELLAMY: The idea of the atrocity prevention lens is to basically develop an analytical tool or a policy process that works with, rather than replicates, existing processes and mechanisms. (…)

It’s not about building a new table or having new bureaucracies or a mess of new programs, but rather bringing that perspective to bear in existing work. So in normal times, at times outside of crises, it would involve somebody providing analysis on the atrocity-specific risks in a country, somebody analyzing current programming to see how it impacts on those risks, you know, a do-no-harm sort of analysis, make sure it doesn’t impact negatively, look at where programming can be tweaked to improve its preventive effects, and being open to receiving information that comes from the field that might be atrocity relevant.

The lens or the offices with that sort of responsibility have direct access to the most senior decision makers in the organization, so they can kind of wave the red flag. Of course, the red flag is something that you wouldn’t want to wave very often, and you certainly wouldn’t want to get it wrong, because it’s the last time you’ll get listened to if you wave the red flag and get it wrong, but that option needs to be there. 

TSF: Why have past attempts to stop atrocities been fairly unsuccessful, and how could that change in the future?

BELLAMY: The problem with prevention as a whole and measuring success of prevention is, of course, we’re always talking about a dog that doesn’t bark. It’s difficult to know the dogs that would have barked, had it not been for something that somebody did. That’s a perennial problem with prevention.

And historically it’s been why it’s been so hard to mobilize resources from governments, even for conflict prevention, because it’s so hard to draw a causal link between specific work that somebody has done and the absence of something later. (…)

TSF: What still needs to be done on the R2P front?

BELLAMY: The debate is no longer about whether we should have a principle of R2P or about what that principle means. (…) The issue comes around to implementation, and there we’ve got two sets of related issues. One is around building the institutional infrastructure that’s needed to move forward on atrocity prevention and the protection of populations.

The other area comes from the bottom up and is about what sorts of sets of measures can be used in individual countries. Here I think the debate is moving. We used to have a debate about whether R2P should be applied in this or that case, as if there are situations where states don’t have a responsibility to protect their populations. I think now it’s widely understood that R2P is universal and enduring, and it applies everywhere, and it applies all the time. So the question now is when we look at individual countries, what is the range of challenges in individual countries and what are the best mixtures of policy responses to those? And that’s going to be different for every country, and it’s also a challenge that every country needs to take up. There is no country that doesn’t have some history in relation to R2P, that doesn’t have some of the risk factors associated with R2P.

So this is really a challenge that everyone has to face together.

Read full interview.


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