Initial Outcomes from "The Responsibility to Protect at 10: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities in the Asia-Pacific"
On 26-27 February 2015, the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, in partnership with the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the United Nations, and the Stanley Foundation, hosted a conference entitled “The Responsibility to Protect at 10: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities in the Asia Pacific” on 26-27 February 2015 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) at the World Summit in 2005.
The conference demonstrated a growing commitment and political will in the Asia-Pacific towards preventing atrocities, and highlighted key opportunities to further embed RtoP in the region. An example of such a prospect came from the Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, when he proposed that Cambodia could serve as a regional hub for education and training and initiate regional dialogues on mass atrocity prevention in order to mainstream RtoP in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Prime Minister also indicated his willingness to coordinate a deepened ASEAN-UN partnership and consider appointing an R2P Focal Point.
Though many states in the region remain cautious on RtoP, participants at the conference identified several actions that could help enhance acceptance and action on atrocities prevention. Such actions included the need to, inter alia, utilize existing ASEAN mechanisms to mainstream RtoP, rather than create new institutions; encourage states in the region to sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as well as relevant human rights treaties and conventions; hold regional and national dialogues and create architecture for mass atrocity prevention; and develop a regional early warning system for identifying the potential risk of atrocities. In addition, several participants noted the increased convergence between human security, development and Pillar II of RtoP, which could provide a new avenue for engagement on mass atrocities in the region. Others underscored the need for the United Nations to evaluate how it could best assist ASEAN to fulfill its RtoP obligations.
A panel sponsored by the ICRtoP during the conference, “The Role of Civil Society in Implementing the Responsibility to Protect”, emphasized the unique and vital role that civil society organizations play in protecting populations. Yuyun Wahyuningrum of ICRtoP Member Human Rights Working Group-Indonesia described how her organization created an association of Indonesian Parliamentarian staff to provide officials with trainings and discussions on RtoP, with the hope that they would include atrocity prevention language in the drafting of legislation. She identified the post-2015 ASEAN Task Force as a key entry point for actors wishing to integrate RtoP within the body.
Gus Miclat, of ICRtoP Steering Committee Member Initiatives for International Dialogue (Philippines), explained how civil society organizations in the Mindanao region of the Philippines worked to monitor compliance to ceasefire agreements and hold violators accountable to communities. Such arrangements served both as early warning and conflict mediation mechanisms.
Furthermore, Debbie Stothard, of ICRtoP Member Alt-ASEAN Burma, illuminated how grassroots documentation of human rights violations in Burma (which helps to track trends and assess risks) empowers affected communities. These communities then begin to recognize that what they experience as normal is actually unacceptable and illegal under international law. Such collection of evidence can be used to hold repressive governments accountable, as they are forced to defend themselves in international arenas.
Finally, Pou Sovachana of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace outlined how academia contributes to atrocities prevention, both through ensuring remembrance of past atrocities (particularly important in the case of Cambodia and its history of Khmer Rouge crimes) and assisting in the building of state institutions through awareness-raising, research, and training.
The Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect will soon be releasing a full report of the conference, which the ICRtoP will share once published.