Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
12 July 2013
The global consensus on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle has weakened, not strengthened, since the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya. Brazil’s proposal, “responsibility while protecting” (RwP), marks a new stage in the development of a global norm to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. It seeks to strengthen the commitment to seek peaceful means of addressing grave threats to populations, and to enhance the accountability of those who use force, as a last resort, in the name of the United Nations. More specifically, RwP proposes a set of criteria for military intervention, a monitoring-and-review mechanism to assess the implementation of Security Council mandates, and a renewed emphasis on capacity building to avert crises before they happen. While Brazil has not indicated how it will further advance its proposal within the UN system, we argue that it should seize the opportunity to flesh out what RwP could mean in practice, and how agreement around the three central ideas of accountability, assessment, and prevention could be achieved. Doing so may help mend the now fractured consensus on the legitimacy of foreign interventions intended to halt massive human rights violations. (…)
Brazil’s proposal, “responsibility while protecting” (RwP), marks a new stage in the evolution of the R2P norm. It proposes a set of criteria for military intervention, a monitoring-and-review mechanism to assess the implementation of Security Council mandates, and a renewed emphasis on capacity building to avert crises before they happen. In essence, therefore, RwP stresses three major ideas: accountability, assessment, and prevention. While Brazil has not indicated how it will further advance its proposal within the UN system, we argue that it should take the lead in fleshing out what these three notions could mean, and how consensus around them could be achieved. (…)
However, two major problems confront the future of RwP. First, any implementation of the proposal will require serious political commitments on the part of the international community, which are not necessarily free of controversy. For one, states will have to pledge to strengthen regional, as well as global, early warning and assessment capabilities. Further, they will have to agree to subject intervening actors such as NATO to the scrutiny of the Security Council. A commitment to RwP would also entail taking R2P’s prevention pillar seriously, rather than simply using it as a rhetorical flourish. To operationalize this notion of prevention, states would need to enhance their own domestic capacities for early warning and contribute to building the non-military tools that could be used to forestall the commission of mass atrocities. It is clear, then, that while RwP’s intentions are noble, its solutions raise numerous unanswered questions and political liabilities.
Secondly, there is the problem of follow-through. Despite receiving notable international attention in a short amount of time, RwP no longer appears to be on the agenda of the Brazilian government. After a flurry of support and suggestions for improvement, Brazil now has a prime opportunity to expand and clarify the meaning of its proposal in the form of a new policy paper. It has been more than a year since the introduction of RwP, however, and it appears that the proposal has been left to the world to “do what it may” with it. Domestic priorities and a renewed focus on international trade are surely part of the explanation for this inaction. The danger, however, is that without proper leadership, RwP may not survive for long. (…)
First and foremost, Brazil should resume thought leadership on elaborating the core ideas associated with RwP. UN General Assembly debates on R2P have revealed important outstanding ambiguities around protection and intervention that can be addressed in the form of a new policy paper or national report. Brazil could also explore the possibly of a report coauthored with India and South Africa, given that RwP has received favourable reviews in these states.
It must be underscored, as well, that RwP is intended as a constructive development in the larger evolution of the R2P norm. Brazil must clarify that RwP is complementing R2P as we know it today, rather than simply criticizing the West. In pursuit of timely responses to humanitarian crises, this new document should also downplay the notion of sequencing: while force should not be the first option, and we should invest heavily in other options, it also cannot literally be the last option.
Second, Brazil should investigate and develop practical suggestions on its call for accountability mechanisms and procedures in implementing R2P. How might a new monitoring and review body operate in the Security Council? Who might compose such a body and how can its impartiality be preserved? Or, how might existing mechanisms be enhanced, short of creating a new body? Brazil also needs to address an ongoing concern about micromanagement as a result of these accountability measures, and design clear reporting mechanisms for intervening actors like NATO.
Third, Brazil should invest in research and analysis on non-coercive prevention. While the most widely supported aspect of R2P and RwP, prevention also remains the most underdeveloped. Specifically, there is a need to flesh out which tools are most effective for “escalation prevention”, the period in which mass atrocities are imminent but not yet occurring. In doing so, Brazil could help to consolidate the desire amongst states to build a better capacity for early warning, which includes identifying the specific triggers for the four mass atrocity crimes specified in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. Future research should also address the relationship between regional and global organisations with respect to effective early warning.
Fourth, Brazil should make efforts to integrate R2P and RwP within existing international legal frameworks, especially in regard to the use of force. How does RwP reflect the existing norms embedded in the Geneva Conventions and Hague Conventions, as well as other provisions under international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international refugee law? Considering that many of the ideas at the root of R2P are already well entrenched under existing international legal frameworks, new concepts such as RwP should aim to build on these agreed-upon legal foundations.
Finally, in order to facilitate more timely and decisive action, Brazil could join with the group of S5 states (Costa Rica, Singapore, Switzerland, Jordan and Liechtenstein) to revive efforts to reform Security Council working methods. The veto powers exercised by permanent members, in particular, have been more affected by geopolitical concerns than humanitarian ones, even during imminent or ongoing crises. Emerging powers like Brazil should call for a restraining of vetoes to block Council action in situations involving serious allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or ethnic cleansing. In short, a call for a “responsibility not to veto” deserves more attention.
These initial steps, followed by continued diplomatic engagement on R2P more generally, would make Brazil a respected partner in the further development of R2P. A useful starting point, for instance, could be participating in the R2P Focal Points Initiative, which calls for the appointment of a senior-level government official to facilitate domestic mechanisms. An R2P Focal Point in Brazil could also coordinate with regional players, civil society, and the media to effectively respond to imminent crises.
Upholding R2P and contributing to its evolution is not only consistent with Brazilian values, but also its interests – particularly in a rule-governed, multilateral global system. Brazil now has a critical opportunity to help mend the fractured consensus on R2P and develop practical mechanisms for its implementation. (…)
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