Report Shows International Community Has a Mixed Track Record of Applying Principle When Mass Violence Is Threatened or Occurs
July 23, 2013
Washington, DC—A new report co-authored by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former Presidential Special Envoy to Sudan Richard S. Williamson concludes that the United States ought to work to strengthen implementation of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in order to better protect civilians from genocide and other forms of mass atrocity.
The report, released today at a symposium at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is based on two years of deliberations by the Working Group on the Responsibility to Protect, a joint project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Brookings Institution, and the United States Institute of Peace. The report states that the emerging doctrine of R2P is a useful tool that needs to be developed further, both in the US and globally, and recommends ways in which US policy makers can strengthen and better apply it.
R2P consists of three pillars: first, it is the responsibility of every state to protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity; second, the international community has a responsibility to assist and encourage the state in fulfilling its protection obligations; and third, if a state fails to protect its population or is in fact the perpetrator of such crimes, the international community must also be prepared to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner, in accordance with the UN Charter, to protect those populations.
Since world leaders unanimously adopted the R2P doctrine as part of the 2005 United Nations World Summit outcome document, the international community has a mixed track record of applying it when mass violence is threatened or occurs. The report takes a critical look at the legacy of the international response in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Syria, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sri Lanka.
“Sixty-eight years after the Holocaust, governments continue to struggle with how to prevent genocide and mass atrocities,” said co-authors Albright and Williamson. “In the United States, both Republican and Democratic administrations have agreed that is in our national interests to do so. We hope that our efforts to shed light on the Responsibility to Protect as a mechanism for protecting civilians from future harm will provide our government with additional means to help prevent the world’s worst crimes.”
“If the R2P doctrine can do anything, it is to help move us away from a policy of indifference and waiting for the worst, and more aggressively toward adopting policies that prevent atrocities before they begin,” added Ambassador Williamson.
Some of the report’s key recommendations are that the US government should:
- At all levels and in all appropriate branches, commit to, report on, and assess the implementation of R2P, and articulate a clear vision of US support for atrocity prevention and the principles of R2P.
- Launch a global diplomatic initiative with international and regional bodies to strengthen the world’s capacity and commitment to prevent genocide and mass atrocities.
- Share the burden of responsibility by enhancing the capacity of regional organizations to provide emergency crisis settlement, peacekeeping, and civilian protection services to populations at risk.
- Explore all options, including the use of modern communication technologies, for appropriate nonmilitary ways to undermine the ability of would-be perpetrators to commit atrocities, and explore enhanced early warning mechanisms.
- Expand its policy of positive engagement with the International Criminal Court.
“We hope that our recommendations will enhance America’s ability to provide global leadership for the prevention of mass atrocities, and advance the collective capacity and will of the international community to fulfill its obligations under the Responsibility to Protect,” said Secretary Albright.
Today’s symposium, titled “The United States and R2P: From Words to Action,” features a panel with report co-authors Albright and Williamson; an address by the Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, former foreign minister of Canada and a lead architect of the original R2P concept; and an additional panel with Michael Gerson, former senior advisor and speechwriter to president George W. Bush, Heather Hurlburt, former Clinton administration official, and R. Nicholas Burns, former US under-secretary of state for political affairs. The panels are moderated by noted journalists David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist, and Susan Glasser, editor of POLITICO magazine. Symposium participants include senior leaders from government, think tanks, business, academia, philanthropy, and the genocide prevention field, as well as the next generation of young leaders.
The symposium is being held at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Tuesday, July 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern Time.
The symposium has been made possible in part by the Helena Rubinstein Foundation. For more information, visit ushmm.org/confront-genocide.
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Visit ushmm.org.
The United States Institute of Peace is the country’s global conflict management center. Created by Congress in 1984 to be independent and nonpartisan, the Institute works to prevent, mitigate, and resolve international conflict through nonviolent means. Visit usip.org.
The Brookings Institution is a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions. For more than 90 years, Brookings has analyzed current and emerging issues and produced new ideas that matter—for the nation and the world. Visit brookings.edu.
The Working Group on R2P is a bipartisan group comprising former senior US government officials, academics, foreign policy experts, political analysts, NGO leaders, and media professionals. Visit ushmm.org/confront-genocide.