10th Anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) – A Focus on Prevention

On November 19, 2015 the office attended the panel discussion “10th Anniversary of the responsibility to Protect – A Focus on Prevention”, co-organized by the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Core Group in Geneva and the Permanent Missions of Australia, Ghana, Hungary, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uruguay as part of the Geneva Peace Week 2015 at Palais de Nations.

The panelists were Jennifer Welsh, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Responsibility to Protect, Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Davide Rodogno, Professor of International History, Geneva Graduate Institute, Elisabeth Decrey Warner, Executive President, Geneva Call. The discussion was moderated by Simon Adams, Executive Director, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
Michael Møller, Director-General, UN Office at Geneva, made some introductory remarks recalling the birth of the Responsibility to Prot
ect (R2P) as the outcome document of the UN World Summit 2005 containing three fundamental pillars: 1) the responsibility for every state to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing ; 2) the responsibility of the international community to encourage and assist states in fulfilling their duties and 3) to take appropriate collective actions, in a timely and decisive manner, in accordance with the UN Charter, if a state fails to protect its populations.
He also stressed the importance of Geneva as a key place to promote the responsibility to protect as here both political and civil society actors work focused on human rights. Furthermore, he affirmed the central role of prevention within the responsibility to protect and called upon the Human Rights Council to find adequate early warning mechanisms as well as new instruments for a fast response to mass atrocity crimes.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered an opening video message stating that the launch of the R2P shaped a lot of hope and led to some actions but a lot of violence and impunity still needs to be addressed by the international community. The Secretary General talked about the need for a strong political will and emphasized, in line with Mr. Møller, the central role Geneva should play in this process of promoting the responsibility to protect.
Jennifer Welsh took the floor at first explaining that the R2P calls for collective responsibility: the national state has a primary duty to protect but the international community has to support its actions and create a general consensus on the importance to invest in prevention as well as no-recurrence, ensuring accountability and justice. States should use the already existing UN framework of analysis for atrocity crimes to identify risk factors and then consider the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) as an opportunity to discuss the outcomes of this analysis.
Volker Türk stated that the present crises are a consequence of former unaddressed crimes and reaffirmed the need to focus on preventive aspects looking at every specific context in order to effectively tackle the root causes of possible future crimes.
Davide Rodogno drew attention to the bad record of former UN humanitarian interventions stating that no good lessons have been learned from the past. He emphasized the need for fast and early interventions to prevent escalations and increasing intervention costs affirming that the UN has already mechanisms and expertise to effectively act for prevention.
Elisabeth Decrey Warner focused her speech on the role of non-state actors in preventing conflicts. Non-state actors are often considered as perpetrators but they can play an important role in protecting civil society and promoting peace. As they often control parts of territories, they also control its populations. Thus if they are trained and provided with positive obligations, they can engaged in respecting and promoting humanitarian law. Ms. Warner also talked about education as a fundamental preventive tool to invest in.
A video message of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein concluded the first round of discussion. The High Commissioner regretted the presence of widespread human rights violations perpetrated by state and non-state actors, which are not being held accountable. Civilians are not being protected because the action of the international community is too week. Therefore, he called for preventive action as the core objective of the responsibility to protect, as acting during or after a conflict is harder and needs higher political compromise, and reiterated that his office and the UN treaty bodies already provide information about risk factors to prevent escalations.

During the interactive dialogue, several states took the floor sharing their experiences in preventing and tackling conflicts, reaffirming the central role of Geneva, the Human Rights Council and UN-Treaty Bodies in promoting preventive measures and establishing adequate response mechanisms. Some states also stressed the development of national capacity building programs supported by the international community and the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as key preventive actions. The duty for the international community to first exhaust peaceful means before using violence and to focus on civilians while acting was also reaffirmed.

In their concluding remarks the panelists recognized the fundamental role civil society can and should play in collaboration with the states in promoting both a national and collective responsibility to protect.  Furthermore, they recalled the fact that 10 years R2P are not that much: we are still at the beginning of the process, therefore we should continue working including new actors, addressing old and recent problems while promoting the responsibility to protect within the UN system, national states and the civil society as a generational task.