Preventing Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: Challenges for the UN, Africa and the International Community

The agenda was organised around six case studies of genocide and/or mass atrocities that have occurred over the past two decades in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Sudan’s Darfur region, reflecting the fact that R to P situations are not confined to any one region. Specific sessions on each case study were complemented by thematic discussions, exploring how international and institutional responses to such situations have evolved over time. The goals of the policy seminar were three-fold: first, to provide a historical foundation for the substantive work of the two mandates, especially that of the SASG; second, to identify from the case studies a range of lessons learned and “best practices” regarding how the performance, procedures, and tools employed by the UN and its partners in this area can be improved; and third, to engage practitioners, policymakers, and opinion leaders in an interactive dialogue on what the UN Secretary-General is seeking to achieve by “operationalizing” R to P, on how the SAPG and SASG are approaching the key conceptual and institutional issues involved in their mandates, and on the prospective roles for the wide range of governmental, inter-governmental, and nongovernmental players involved in protection efforts. This report summarizes the central themes and conclusions from the Stellenbosch meeting. It incorporates the lessons from the individual case studies into broader discussions of the scope of R to P; identifies characteristics of R to P situations; and assesses efforts to address R to P situations through the UN; co-operation between the UN and regional mechanisms; and the role of broader prevention efforts by civil society. The responsibilities of governments to protect their citizens has gained increasing acceptance in policy and academic circles, and within the United Nations (UN) itself, over the past two decades. This was again highlighted at the United Nations 2005 World Summit, during which the international community affirmed the principle of the “responsibility to protect” (RtoP) citizens. The policy advisory group meeting on which this report is based focused on six African, Asian and European case studies. These highlight major and inter-related issues of concern regarding effective and timely international responses to situations in which populations were threatened by genocide, war crimes, “ethnic cleansing” or crimes against humanity.