On 29 November UNA-UK hosted a parliamentary meeting with Mr Ivan Šimonović, the UN’s Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Chaired by Lord Hannay of Chiswick, the meeting brought NGO representatives, parliamentarians and stakeholders together to discuss the role of R2P in the context of current and future efforts to prevent atrocities.
Lord Hannay described the meeting as ‘timely’, referring to the recent conviction of Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, for his participation in the Bosnian genocide. He went on to mention that the tragedies in the Balkans and in Rwanda in 1990s contributed to the development of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine - a political commitment endorsed by states to prevent atrocities across the world.
Whilst pointing to the rise of atrocity crimes in recent years as ‘hard data’, Mr Šimonović expressed his optimism for the current level of international support for R2P. He referred to the recent adoption of R2P on the UN General Assembly’s formal agenda (with 75% of member states voting in favour) and the engagement of civil society, NGOs and new academic institutions working on R2P, as a ‘rosy picture’.
Mr Šimonović made the case that “we must be defending the name of R2P despite animosity from some member states”. Remarking on the controversies surrounding the R2P doctrine, Mr Šimonović pointed out that in the eyes of a number of countries, intervention in Libya was a blow to R2P. Mr Šimonović went on to note that the shortcomings of R2P exist because operational decisions are being made behind closed doors at the UN. He asserted that one of the biggest challenges for R2P is to break out of the theoretical sphere and become something more practical and ready to use.
On the issue of R2P ineffectiveness vis-à-vis the UN Security Council (UNSC), Co-chair Mike Gapes MP called to question the role of the UNSC in atrocity prevention, citing how the politics of the veto has slowed down the intervention process. In response, Mr Šimonović pointed out: “there are other pillars of R2P that can be successfully mobilised [...] the future of atrocity prevention is focusing on these aspects”. He went on to state that “you cannot have intervention that doesn't go through the UNSC, so we must put pressure on the UNSC, especially the permanent 5 (P5) members, to ensure timely and preventative action takes place”.
Lord Hannay emphasised the need for R2P to be “as much about prevention as it is about intervention”. Mr Šimonović drew attention to the case of Myanmar, concluding that the early warning signs for the atrocities taking place against the Rohingya were known about - the problem is that there was no action. UNA-UK has recently submitted evidence to a parliamentary enquiry on this subject.
Mr Paul Williams, the UK’s Focal Point on R2P, took the opportunity to share the UK’s support for the UN Special Advisor’s work. Whilst pointing to the UK’s current role in atrocity prevention, he raised a wide range of issues including the UK’s commitment to the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) “code of conduct” in which UN member states voluntarily agree to not veto action on issues relating to atrocity crimes. Mr Williams went on to highlight how the UK welcomed the UNSC resolution on ISIL accountability as a vital step in the campaign to bring ISIL to justice.
Mr Šimonović called on the UK to support the push for R2P to be included via an annual open Security Council debate on atrocity crime trends and UNSC responses. He argued that this would create “hugely important pressure” given that these debates would be open to the media and would thus compel states to consider R2P more seriously. He went on to emphasise the roles that NGOs and civil society can play - particularly in the UK as a P5 member of the UNSC - in placing pressure on governments to be held accountable for their commitment to R2P.
To conclude the meeting Lord Hannay echoed Mr Šimonović’s optimism, arguing while we must remain critical of R2P, we must also hold onto it as a foundation for the future of atrocity prevention: “if we abandon it, it won’t be there when change takes place”.
UNA-UK’s atrocity prevention work
Atrocity prevention is part of UNA-UK's "Keeping Britain Global" campaign calling for a coherent UK foreign policy programme. Find out more.
More on R2P
22 November 2017
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This issue of the UNA-UK Magazine looks at the seemingly intractable crisis in Syria, and in particular, the UN’s response to it. We are delighted and fortunate to have Lakhdar Brahimi guest editing this issue of the magazine.