Sunday, September 24, 2006

Individual Responsibility to Protect

LONDON: Never Again London's contribution to International Peace Day was a conversation which bought forward thinking from the Kivu retreat in February 2006 on the individual Responsibility to Protect (iR2P). This report is my perspective on the discussion and doesn't by any means encompass everything.

Fred introduced the background to Never Again and the traditional set of problems surrounding intervention on genocide. He outlined some of the ways that individuals could be involved in crisis response and ways that individuals working in spheres where they have to be neutral might also be able to follow their own consciences.

There is no doubt that the Responsibility to Protect agenda presents many problems, but iR2P presents the opportunity to engage with those problems and finding concepts that everybody agrees with. This might mean stepping away from the problems themselves initially and simply engaging in dialogue, avoiding making assumptions or demanding commitments that individuals may be unable to make.

What emerged from this strand of conversation was the vision of a rich, complex discussion going on around a crisis in which the level of interest and ideas makes it impossible for policy makers to say that there is no interest or political will to do anything. It doesn't necessarily mean needing to sign up to simplistic analyses, but listening to every actor and every solution suggested in order to find a way forward.

The Responsibility to Protect agenda, by its nature as a state responsibility, brings a level of disconnect between the victims of a crisis and the heroes with the answers. It is impossible for refugees, youth or armed militias to have a voice in the security council unless they can somehow be represented by a channel of communication. Without the input of the people most centrally involved in a crisis, it is very difficult to propose solutions that will be any more nuanced than just 'send in the troops'.

The international responsibility does of course include challenging the culture of inpunity and states must hold each other accountable. Unless citizens of countries vocalise their wish for heads of countries to uphold acceptable standards of care towards citizens in other countries then they are very unlikely to engage in criticism of one another.

Given the level of academic research around the failures to protect populations from genocide, the steps to prevention are now fairly clear.

First is monitoring risk factors. If risks are identified, there isn't a need to over-react but there has to be in-depth research on the ground, links built up with groups on the ground and diaspora groups. Making these contacts in a time of calm makes them easier to pick up in times of chaos and confusion and you are more likely to know who to trust. These functions should be carried out by the new UN Special Adviser on Genocide, but groups like Never Again have a role in gathering youth contacts and information and channeling this to the adviser if appropriate.

Although this monitoring can make its own contribution to genocide prevention, the time may come when the risk factors of genocide and violence escalates. This is the time for individual mobilisation. Campaigns in support of simple messages are often the most effective in gathering massive support, but we discussed how this might be disempowering to all parties. A more complex individualised approach would be able to take in all ideas and allow for more flexible approaches to each conflict. We discussed how questions might be formulated to bring the most useful answers and thought that the approach of questioning would serve a variety of purposes: resources would be put into finding out the answers from the individual's own countries and politicians and the media would realise there was interest in an issue and be more likely to give it attention. The collection of answers from different countries can be easily shared in projects like the Never Again wiki, allowing for cross reference and the asking of further questions.

Following on from this mass mobilisation, the iR2P framework sees individuals who are well placed in policy circles starting to make recommendations that should be more reactive and sophisticated with the involvement of their individual involvement, rather than being constrained by the institutional bars to individual conscience.

Fred's vision, which was well received by everyone in the group, was that this approach has the potential to use the exisiting architecture of diplomacy and policy-making and that nobody should be excluded from the process: genocide prevention should not be the preserve of any specific group. We were working with the assumption that all people condemn crimes against humanity and genocide and that they wouldn't put their self interest before the protection of a group. That assumption needs examining; perhaps it is appropriate to use any levers to persuade people that it is appropriate to intervene and perhaps it is inappropriate.

There is another assumption that awareness, and the demonstration that people care, will lead to action by heads of states. As we have seen, this is not necessarily the case. A much more reactive process is needed to ensure action is appropriate, swift and correctly resourced. People using their critical faculties and engaging with the realities of politics but still demanding action, might make it more likely to happen.

There is already a great deal of expertise in many of these fields. iR2P offers a chance to 'join the dots' and piece together complex situations, while recognising that they are complex. It takes the improved communication opportunities available to us to fundamentally change the basis of activism and democratic participation and, perhaps, succeed in preventing genocide where previous generations have failed.

1 comment:

Ruth said...

You make an important point on how much the RTP needs to extends it diaolog even further to address everyones needs. Aother job well done, Clare!
P.S: Thanks for the comment and suggestion on the letter to the editor for my schools newspaper. I'll try it!