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The Unfinished Responsibility to Protect Agenda: Europe's Role

Panel Presentation by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to EPC/IPPR/Oxfam Policy Dialogue on Europe’s Responsibility to Protect: What Role for the EU?, Brussels, 5 July 2007

The Urgent Need to Meet the Nuclear Challenge

Anyone who thinks we no longer have to fear another Holocaust, Rwanda, Srebrenica or Kosovo just hasn’t been concentrating.

It has taken the world an insanely long time, centuries in fact, to come to terms conceptually with the idea that state sovereignty is not a license to kill – that there is something fundamentally and intolerably wrong about states murdering or forcibly displacing large numbers of their own citizens, or standing by when others do so. With the emergence of the responsibility to protect (R2P) concept and its endorsement by the World Summit of 2005, and subsequently by the Security Council, we seem to have at last passed that milestone.

But there is still a big distance to go before we can be comfortable that emerging R2P situations will be understood as such; that there will be a reflex international response – both among governments and publics – supportive of the need to respond appropriately, both preventively before the event and reactively after it, even when no national interests can be directly called in aid; and that the necessary policy tools and mechanisms will be in place, able and ready to be quickly mobilised.

Addressing this unfinished agenda is very much the responsibility of all of us in the international community, NGOs and think-tanks, governments and intergovernmental organisations. So far as the EU is concerned, it is clear that there is some distance to go in giving R2P shape and voice. Members of the European Parliament have been quite vocally supportive, and the concept periodically surfaces in resolutions and debates there. But it is not very much in evidence at all in the work of the other main EU institutions. No doubt Javier Solana and his colleagues in the European Council are fully conscious of the principle, but they seem deeply reluctant to invoke it in any relevant context. And as to the European Commission, we see in answers to parliamentary questions lines like these:

  • "While the Commission welcomes the development of this norm, it is for the UN member states to act upon it" (23 February 2007), or
  • "Where it can the Commission will seek to raise the importance of the Responsibility to Protect in its bilateral relations" (6 March 2007)

But that's about it. The Commission does not seem to see itself as having any particular responsibility to take the R2P concept forward by way of anything in the nature of formal programs. In thinking about what more the European institutions, like those elsewhere around the world, need to do to translate the responsibility to protect norm into effective action worldwide, we need to focus on five distinct challenges which have to be met.

One: Advance and Consolidate the World Summit consensus. The unanimous adoption of the R2P principles by the 2005 World Summit and the UN Security Council cannot be the high-water mark from which the tides recede. For whatever reason – embarrassment about their own behaviour, embrace of the concept but concern about its misuse, or ideological association of any intervention with neo-imperialism or neo-colonialism – there is a recurring willingness by a number of states to deflate or undermine the concept. This has to be confronted by ongoing diplomatic and other advocacy efforts to explain and defend it. Efforts are needed to enshrine R2P principles in relevant international, regional and national institutions and forums beyond the UN – and that includes the EU.

A key part of the enterprise must be to develop a better understanding by policy-makers of just what "R2P situations" are. If they are perceived as extending across the full range of human rights violations by governments against their own people, or all kinds of internal conflict situations, it will be difficult to build and sustain any kind of consensus for action: we will find ourselves rapidly back in the area of North governments worrying about how to justify foreign entanglements where no vital national interests seem to be immediately involved, and South governments being concerned about their sovereignty being at risk of interventionary over-reach. "R2P situations" must be seen only as those actually or potentially involving large-scale killing, ethnic cleansing or other similar mass atrocity crimes – situations where these crimes are either occurring or appear to be imminent, or which are capable of deteriorating to this extent in the absence of preventive action – and which should engage the attention of the international community because of their particularly conscience-shocking character.

Looked at in this way, for example, Iraq in 2003 was not an R2P situation, because although there were clearly major human rights violations continuing to occur (which justified international concern and response, eg, by way of censure and sanctions), and although mass atrocity crimes had clearly occurred in the past (against the Kurds in the late 1980s and the southern Shiites in the early 1990s) such crimes were neither actually occurring nor apprehended when the coalition invaded the country in early 2003. By contrast, it would be proper to characterise the situation in Iraq now, in July 2007, as an R2P one, because there is every reason to fear that – particularly in the context of a precipitate withdrawal of foreign forces from the centre of the country – that the present situation, bad as it is, will rapidly deteriorate into massive outbreak of communal and sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing beyond the capacity of the Iraqi government to control, and from which it would be unconscionable for the wider world to stand aloof.

Burundi since the early 90s is another clear example of an "R2P situation" which it would be helpful, in the interests of getting better international understanding of the concept, to badge as such. The situation there was certainly capable of deteriorating into the kind of large scale genocidal violence that wracked neighbouring Rwanda, and it is arguably only the intense engagement of many international actors – including among others Nelson Mandela with his mediation, South Africa with its troop presence, the International Crisis Group with our analysis and advocacy, and the new Peacebuilding Commission with its making of Burundi its first case – that has prevented that occurring.

Two: Protect the integrity of the R2P concept. The language in paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document was the product of delicate negotiations to address the concerns of all UN members, including the need for a tool-box of non-military measures for prevention and the application of R2P only to the atrocity crimes, and the need for clear criteria to be met before invoking R2P. If the R2P concept is to win genuine universal consensus, and become effectively operational, it is critical that it not be seen either too narrowly, as only about non-consensual military intervention, or too widely, as a synonym for addressing all global ills broadly related to human security (e.g. protecting people from HIV/AIDS, climate change, or the proliferation of nuclear weapons or small arms).

It remains a particularly common misperception to think of R2P as involving only military intervention. Overwhelmingly, the action it requires is preventive – building state capacity, remedying grievances, ensuring the rule of law and the like. If prevention fails, R2P situations do then require reactive measures, but it is only in the last resort – and when a whole series of other prudential criteria are satisfied, as discussed in a moment – that these should involve non-consensual military force: persuasion and coercion can take many forms short of this, including political pressure, diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and legal threats (including prosecution in the new International Criminal Court).

In Darfur, for example, the fact that cooler judgment has, in my view correctly so far, militated against coercive military intervention (in particular because of the destructive impact this would have on the huge humanitarian relief effort in the west, and on the very fragile north-south peace compact) does not mean that this is a case of "R2P failure" – it just means that the international responsibility to protect the people of Darfur against the incapacity or ill-will of the Sudan government has to take other forms, including the application of sustained diplomatic, economic and legal pressure to change the cost-benefit balance of the regime's calculations.

Three: Clarify the limits of military action, spelling out the circumstances in which non-consensual military force can and cannot be used consistent with R2P principles. While R2P is about much more than military force, this will always be its most controversial and sensitive aspect. To minimise the potential for misuse, and maximise the chances of consensus, it is important that – as recommended by the Canadian ICISS Commission, the High Level Panel and the Secretary-General in their respective reports –a set of prudential criteria be adopted as guidelines by the Security Council: the seriousness of the harm being threatened; the motivation or primary purpose of the proposed military action; whether reasonable peaceful alternatives are reasonably available; the proportionality of the response; and the balance of consequences – whether overall more good than harm would be done by a military intervention.

Four: Build capacity within international institutions, governments, and regional organizations. 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. And that means having readily available a set of responses that are somewhere between Doing Nothing and Sending in the Marines. In particular:

  • We need stronger early warning coordination and response machinery at the centre, as we hopefully now have at the centre with the UN Secretary General appointing a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and other Mass Atrocities – now Francis Deng – to report directly to him, supported by an Advisory Committee (of which I am presently a member) able to make waves as occasion demands, and ensure that we never again have early warnings fall into the black hole of indifference that confronted General Dallaire in 1994. And effective mechanisms of this kind are needed not just at the UN.
  • 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 thought–through 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
  • We also need effective preparedness to mount military operations for civilian protection purposes – with the consent if at all possible of the government in question (as was the case in East Timor, for example, and has been the case with the limited forces so far sent to Darfur), but in really extreme cases, if there is no other way of protecting the people in question from slaughter and ethnic cleansing, without that consent.
  • This means appropriate force configuration, together with new doctrine, new kinds of rules of engagement, and new kinds of training. Until now the task has been almost completely neglected by the world’s militaries of developing detailed concepts of these R2P/civilian protection operations, which involve neither traditional war-fighting (where the object is not to stop violence as such, but to defeat an enemy) nor peacekeeping operations (which although these days usually involving much more than the traditional passive monitoring, have still not come to grips with the kind of responses needed to cope with the threat or reality of atrocity crimes).

Five: Have in place the mechanisms and strategies necessary to generate an effective political response as new R2P situations arise. Political will must be generated not only to put in place capacity-building measures, but to respond urgently and effectively to new crisis situations as they arise. This involves having mobilisation capacity at two levels: first, top-down, to persuade key officials in key governments, regional organisations and international institutions, including the UN Security Council, to take the necessary action; and secondly, bottom-up, to ensure that the voices of ordinary concerned citizens are heard in the corridors of power, using all the resources and physical and moral energy of civil society organisations around the world.

At the moment it is not really anyone's day-job anywhere – not in the UN, not in the EU, not even in NGOs like my own – to think and write and advocate full-time about how to meet these various challenges. With this in mind, to fill this gap, I and senior colleagues at the International Crisis Group have been working with like-minded NGOs, including the co-sponsors of this dialogue today, Oxfam, and governments, to establish a new ‘Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect’ , based in New York, but with a strong North-South character and outreach, to work on just these issues – to be, in short, a resource base and catalyst for ongoing activity worldwide by NGOs, governments and key international organisations, including the EU.

We are presently engaged in seeking the necessary funding, are looking to have the Centre up and running by the end of the year, and will keep you posted. I hope very much that there will be interest in and support for this exercise by EU institutions, although I guess to anticipate that this support might take a financial form by the end of this year would constitute a triumph of hope over experience!