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Gareth Evans
13 April 2007

The following are excerpts from a presentation delivered by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, to Panel Discussion on The Responsibility to Protect: Ensuring Effective Protection of Populations under Threat of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Program to Commemorate 1994 Rwandan Genocide, United Nations

() To focus the ongoing discussion, I want to make, as succinctly as I can, five main points:

  • the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle remains the best starting point we have, or are ever likely to have in preventing and responding to genocides and mass atrocities;

  • we need to recognise, nonetheless, that the R2P principle is still at risk, and have to work hard to hold the line against backsliding;

  • even with the R2P principle itself firmly consolidated, there is still unfinished conceptual business to attend to;

  • there is much unfinished practical, capacity-building business to attend to; and
    there is unfinished political business to attend to.

    1. R2P as the Starting Point

    () It was only with the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001 for which we can thank our Canadian co-hosts here today that a broadly acceptable conceptual solution at last appeared, with the emergence of the principle of the responsibility to protect.

    There were at least two great advantages of this formulation over any previous attempt to solve the dilemma. The first was that it made clear that sovereign states remained the primary actors it was their primary responsibility to protect, with the help of others as appropriate, their own peoples, and it was only if they were unable or unwilling to exercise that responsibility that any responsibility shifted to the wider international community. The second was that it made absolutely clear in the way that proponents of umanitarian intervention did not that non-consensual military intervention was absolutely a last resort, and that R2P was about much more than that: it was about the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react (by a whole variety of strategies, diplomatic, political, economic, legal and, only in really extreme cases, military) and about the responsibility to rebuild shattered societies after catastrophic breakdowns had occurred. ()

    2. R2P Still at Risk

    My second point is that, for all the acceptance that R2P has won, those gains are still at some risk of drifting away, on the one hand in the face of continued hostility by enemies of the concept, and on the other hand as a result of misguided support for it by some of those who call themselves its friends.

    The assault from the enemies is familiar enough. It comes for a start from those countries who continue have something to hide or be ashamed about in terms of their own internal behaviour and are deeply reluctant to acknowledge, as a result any limitations on their sovereignty ()
    Trouble from those who say they are friends of R2P comes in two other ways. First, from those who play into the hands of the ideological critics I have just mentioned by being far too ready to think of R2P situations only in military terms. ()

    The more troubling friends of R2P are those false friends who have misapplied it to justify military intervention in circumstances where this was plainly wrong. ()

    3. Unfinished Conceptual Business

    An important piece of unfinished business in this respect, and this is my third point, is the need to spell out with absolute precision what are the circumstances in which non-consensual military force can, and cannot, be used in a way that is consistent with R2P principles.

    () We accordingly identified a set of prudential criteria in this respect which we argued should be adopted by the Security Council. These were the seriousness of the harm being threatened (which would need to involve large scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing to prima facie justify something as extreme as military action); the motivation or primary purpose of the proposed military action (whether it was primarily to halt or avert the threat in question, or had some other main objective); whether there were reasonably available peaceful alternatives; the proportionality of the response; and, not least, the balance of consequences whether overall more good than harm would be done by a military invasion.

    4. Unfinished Practical Business

    If R2P is not to remain more theoretical than real, we must somehow solve the problem of capacity, ensuring that the right civilian and, as necessary, military resources are always there in the right amounts and with the appropriate capability. ()

    We need stronger early warning coordination and response machinery at the centre with the UN Secretary General having a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and other Mass Atrocities reporting to him ()

    We need effective diplomatic capacity ready and available to negotiate and mediate those situations which are capable of being stopped by effective early intervention of this kind.

    We need a repertoire of carefully thoughthrough sanctions measures, with an effective, professionally resourced, mechanism ready to be put in place immediately to monitor the application and effectiveness of those sanctions.

    We need a full range of civilian capabilities, especially effective policing, on permanent standby, with the capacity to be immediately deployed

    And we do also need effective preparedness to mount military operations for civilian protection purposes ()

    Another crucial practical operational issue is to address the question, up until now almost completely neglected by the worlds militaries, of developing detailed concepts of these R2P/ civilian protection operations ()

    5. Unfinished Political Business

    As always, generating the political will to act both in putting in place the necessary capacity-building measure, and then in responding with all that machinery to particular new crisis situations as they arise is the biggest and hardest piece of unfinished business.
    All of us have a role in this respect. It is a matter of not just top-down effort with key officials in key governments, and those who can influence them directly (as hopefully we in Crisis Group can) making the effort to persuade and mobilise their peers in the international community to take the necessary action in the UN Security Council and elsewhere. Its also a matter of bottom-up mobilisation: making the voices of ordinary concerned citizens heard in the corridors of power.

    My own view, which I know is shared by many government and NGO representatives here today, is that it is time to build a new institutional structure to advance politically the R2P agenda. What is needed is a structure perhaps we could call it the lobal Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P for short) is a structure which draws together civil society organizations to liaise with like-minded governments and international organizations to recommend strategy, coordinate efforts, identify gaps, build political will, and serve as an information clearing house on R2P. Ideally it would have a group of distinguished international patrons maybe one from each continent and an effective working secretariat based here in New York, not trying to tightly control campaign and related activity, both top-down and bottom-up, but helping to guide and coordinate it. Discussions along these lines have commenced between a number of organisations, and I believe its in all our interests that something of this kind comes together over the next few months. ()

    Full text is available at:


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