On 14 December Dr. Edward Luck, member of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect’s International Advisory Board, delivered the following statement on behalf of the Global Centre at the UN Security Council arria formula meeting on the Responsibility to Protect and Non-State Actors.
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege to speak to this timely meeting on behalf of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. I congratulate Chile and Spain for organizing both this event and the June meeting of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points in Madrid, which cogently addressed this topic, among others. From the outset, the Global Centre has closely supported the development of the Focal Points Network as one of the surest ways to realize the seminal commitments to protect populations undertaken at the World Summit a decade ago. All of us associated with the Global Centre are also most appreciative of the initiatives by France and Mexico and by the ACT coalition to encourage Member States to facilitate a rapid and united international response to atrocity crimes.
Today’s session embodies the Council’s determination to find more inclusive and inter-active formats for addressing rapidly evolving threats to international peace and security. As the Secretary-General’s most recent report on R2P acknowledges, the normative progress in gaining wide international acceptance of R2P as a principle has not been matched by comparable progress on the ground in protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement. If anything, the rising tide of forcibly displaced populations to levels not seen since World War II offers tragic testimony to our individual and collective failure to fulfill the commitments made so solemnly at the World Summit.
The initial conception of R2P was too state centric. It failed to appreciate how critical non-state actors could be to preventing such crimes or, regrettably, to committing them. States were viewed as the problem and the solution was seen to rest with inter-state bodies, particularly this Council. True, sovereignty had been—and continues to be—invoked inappropriately by state authorities intent on committing atrocities against their own people. Undoubtedly there continue to be more victims of atrocities committed by governments than by non-state armed groups. But the rise of violent extremism by groups with highly sectarian agendas, such as Boko Haram, ISIL, and Al-Shabaab, underscores that the inability of states to exercise effective sovereignty over parts of their territory can also contribute directly to the commission of atrocity crimes.
In my work as Special Adviser, I saw many situations in which R2P was an ally, not an adversary, of state sovereignty. Sovereignty demands responsibility, first and foremost in protecting populations. States should encourage and facilitate the efforts of domestic and transnational civil society to counter incitement, hate messaging, and the targeting of minority groups, to mediate disputes and conflicts among ethnic or religious communities, and to engage in impartial fact- finding, monitoring, reporting, and, when conditions warrant, early warning and unarmed civilian protection. Mass atrocities feed off of intolerance, systematic discrimination, separatism, and ignorance. In places where rights and diversity are respected, no community is regularly excluded from political processes, inter- communal dialogue is facilitated, and the government’s exercise of legitimate authority is not geographically circumscribed, there is little room for groups or leaders with highly sectarian and violent agendas.
Responsibility needs to be understood as a bottom-up, as well as a top-down phenomenon. If it is practiced within communities and societies, then the role of the international system can be one of support and engagement rather than of reaction and intervention. We know from sad experience that the latter is usually too little, too late. Even when this Council can agree on a course of action, its decisions tend to be ignored by armed groups that are intent on flouting international norms and institutions. Mass executions, rape, and forced displacements become part of their very identity: their warped declaration of independence from international authority.
The Security Council and the United Nations system, working with civil society and regional partners, do have essential parts to play in defeating these groups. What is needed is a six-part, people-first strategy of denial, as follows:
Each of these points, but especially the sixth one, underscores the ultimate importance of individual as well as collective responsibility. Through my work as both a practitioner and student of R2P, it has become increasingly apparent that its appeal to ‘we the peoples,’ especially to younger people wary of repeating the mistakes of earlier generations, is its greatest strength over the long haul. That is why my wife, Dr. Dana Luck, and I are developing the theory and practice of the Individual Responsibility to Protect (IR2P) as a complement to the state-centric conception of R2P.2 People have to say no to those who try to justify mass killing and mass sexual or gender-based violence by appeals to sectarian identity. They have to understand that nothing could justify such actions and they need to be willing to stand against such appeals. If they do, then R2P will have made an historic difference and your vital work will become a lot easier. Thank you.