On 21 January, 17 civil society organizations from Africa, along with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, sent a Joint Letter to the Chairperson of the African Union urging the organization to reaffirm its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing ahead of the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of States and Government of the African Union.
On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we respectfully encourage you to highlight the importance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity at the Twenty-Fourth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government at the Summit of the African Union (AU) on 30-31 January.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect, which was agreed to by all members of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit. Developments on the African continent paved the way for this global agreement, including the AU Constitutive Act of 2000 and Article 4(h) therein, as well as the Ezulwini Consensus of 2005, both of which cohered the shift from “non-interference” to “non-indifference” in the face of mass atrocity crimes on the African continent.
Furthermore, the AU and sub-regional organizations have been at the forefront of efforts to uphold R2P. Once operational, the African Standby Force will play a crucial role in improving efforts to uphold the principles of Article 4(h). ECOWARN, the warning and response network of the Economic Community of West African States, and the Regional Committee on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and all forms of Discrimination of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, are both significant institutional advancements in prioritizing the prevention of mass atrocity crimes.
Despite these efforts, there remains a need for sustained action to uphold the Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Africa. The situations in the Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Libya, Nigeria, South Sudan and Sudan highlight the continued risk of mass atrocity crimes to civilians.
As such, we respectfully request you to consider the following points:
- War crimes and crimes against humanity are being perpetrated against civilians in CAR. The AU, in close cooperation with the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, and international partners, should continue to assist the transitional authorities in efforts to promote political dialogue, disarmament and accountability.
- Armed groups in the eastern DRC continue to pose a threat to civilians. Ending this threat is not only the responsibility of the national government, but of the wider region and the international community. The protection of civilians should remain a strategic priority as military operations are undertaken against the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda and other armed groups.
- The recent upsurge in violence in Libya places populations at risk of mass atrocity crimes. The Responsibility to Protect includes an international responsibility to rebuild. We encourage you to provide enhanced diplomatic support to the internationally-recognized government in Libya in order to prevent the spread of hostilities, which threaten the stability of the entire Sahel region.
- Mass atrocity crimes are being perpetrated in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram. The situation has deteriorated significantly since the 3 January attack on the town of Baga and destruction of nearby villages. In keeping with the second pillar of R2P we urge the AU, in collaboration with international partners, to increase assistance to the Nigerian government to protect civilians from the threat posed by Boko Haram.
- Since the start of the conflict in South Sudan in December 2013, civilians have been subjected to widespread and systematic attacks by both parties. These violations may amount to crimes against humanity. The culture of impunity has emboldened perpetrators to commit further atrocities. With the possibility of renewed dry-season offensives looming, it is critical that the AU’s Commission of Inquiry’s report is released as soon as possible and perpetrators are held accountable.
- The government of Sudan continues to obstruct the joint UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur from upholding its civilian protection obligations. We urge you to impress upon all state and non-state actors in Darfur the need to cooperate fully with UNAMID. The AU High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan should also visit South Kordofan and Blue Nile as part of its efforts to resolve the conflict in the two areas.
The tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect presents an important opportunity for the AU to reaffirm its commitment to mass atrocity prevention on the continent. We respectfully urge you to use your role as the esteemed Chairperson of the AU Commission to reiterate your commitment to R2P and to call on AU Member States to do the same.
- Action pour le Développement et la Paix Endogènes (ADEPAE) (Bukavu, DRC)
- African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) (Lira, Uganda)
- African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (Kampala, Uganda)
- Campaign for Good Governance (Freetown, Sierra Leone)
- Center for the Training and the Development of Ex-Combatants (Bujumbura, Burundi)
- Coalition for Justice and Accountability (Freetown, Sierra Leone)
- Droits Humains Sans Frontières (Kinshasa, DRC)
- East Africa Law Society (Arusha, Tanzania)
- Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (New York, NY)
- International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (New York, NY)
- International Commission of Jurists – Kenya Section (Nairobi, Kenya)
- Inter-Religious Council for Peace Tanzania (Arusha, Tanzania)
- Pan-African Lawyers Union (Arusha, Tanzania)
- Réseau de Développement et de Communications de la Femme Africaine en Mali (Bamako, Mali)
- United Nations Association of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa, DRC)
- Vision GRAM International, Canada and Democratic Republic of Congo Offices West Africa Civil Society Institute (Accra, Ghana)
- West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (Accra, Ghana)
- Zarga Organization for Rural Development (Khartoum, Sudan)