Berlin: Task Force’s Roundtable on the Improvement of the EU’s Capabilities to Prevent Mass Atrocities

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On 19th November 2012, the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities, the Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, the SWP, the INEF and the Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research invited a variety of high-ranking academics, policy-makers and representatives of civil society to discuss a draft of the report of the Task Force (TF) on strengthening the EU’s capabilities to prevent mass atrocities.

Barbara Lippert, the director of research of the SWP, and Tobias Debiel, the director of the Centre for Global Cooperation Research, opened the meeting by welcoming the guests and emphasising that the current situations in Libya and Syria underline  the importance of the work to prevent mass atrocities. Gyorgy Tatár, the President of the Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, then emphasised the Foundation’s role in launching the TF a year earlier and clarified what – from his point of view – are the TF’s objectives: to raise awareness of the need to prevent mass atrocities; to prepare feasible recommendations to improve the EU efforts; and last but not least, to generate the political will to develop a EU strategy for mass atrocities prevention.

Following the opening remarks, the TF chairs, Christoph Meyer and Karen Smith, gave a presentation focusing on the preliminary recommendations prepared by the TF. They stressed that these were based on a review of best practices, existing EU documents, interviews with dozens of EU officials and the discussions that took place during workshops held in London, Brussels, and Paris with representative from the EU, EU member states and NGOs.

The TF noted that the EU has considerable potential to make a difference in this area and was already in the process of improving some of its capacities relating to conflict prevention. However, the TF identified four key problems that limit the EU’s potential to prevent and respond to mass atrocities:
1.    Mass atrocities and genocide prevention are rarely mentioned in key documents and by key actors – despite commitments by the EU to human rights and support for the responsibility to protect (R2P) principle, this lack of a clear mandate is reflected in the state of the debate;
2.    Despite numerous efforts to foster a preventive mindset, crisis management/response remains the dominant focus of the EU’s foreign-policy-making, especially within the Council;
3.    Efforts to strengthen conflict prevention and human rights policies do not deploy a distinct mass atrocities lens in intelligence, policy-making/planning, and response options;
4.    Coordination within the EU is not always effective and the EU’s potential for collaboration with local and international partners is often underused.

To tackle the abovementioned problems, the TF made a number of preliminary recommendations addressing the EU and its member states grouped under six themes:
1.    The EU should make explicit its commitment to preventing mass atrocities and thus match the strong normative commitment it has made to promoting human rights and conflict prevention.
2.    The EU should cultivate expertise in the area of mass atrocities prevention and warning to enable the EU to prioritise effectively and focus resources and political attention on the countries and regions where they are most needed.
3.    The EU’s warning-response system should be strengthened to improve early action against long and near-term mass atrocity risks.
4.    The EU should build on its strengths in structural and direct prevention, by employing a mass atrocities lens across the spectrum of relevant activities including its trade and development policies.
5.    The EU’s capabilities to react quickly to mass atrocities should be improved by better contingency planning for situations of imminent or ongoing mass atrocities not identified earlier or where structural prevention failed.
6.    The EU should cooperate more closely with other actors to prevent mass atrocities, including not only the UN and regional organisations, but also local actors and NGOs.

In conclusion the Task Force strongly recommended greater clarity about when the EU should act and why. As clearer signals in that direction are needed but cannot be costly, it was argued that a mass atrocities-lens could assist in distributing existing resources and allocating them where there is more risk.

Following the TF’s presentation, different perspectives on the EU’s capabilities to prevent mass atrocities were offered by speakers from the German Federal Foreign Office, the SWP and the European External Action Service. They complimented the Task Force for the high quality of the report and agreed on part of the analysis of problems as presented by the TF, but also advanced some criticisms. They agreed that incorporating prevention into EU practices is a necessary challenge and that integration of the EU’s and EU member states’ tools is important: national instruments are smaller and can react faster, whereas the EU can offer longer-term incentive because of its sheer size, funding, and permanence. It was also claimed that the level of preparedness for the coercive implementation of R2P is low: there is a political majority for action in this area but national differences still block action at the Council level. One speaker in particular echoed the TF findings by saying that the EU should spell out a clear, convincing and consistent set of rules for mass atrocities prevention and response policies and proposed better accountability mechanisms.

Nevertheless, the draft report was received with some criticism. In particular, it was said that even if the terminology of mass atrocities prevention is not often found in EU policy documents, this absence is not sufficient to argue that the EU is not committed to the prevention of mass atrocities. Similarly, it was noted that, as the focus at the international level is on the implementation of R2P, changing the terminology to mass atrocities prevention may be counterproductive. Also, it was contested that the EU lacks the country/region expertise that is necessary to identify the risk of mass atrocities, and that EEAS delegations, in particular, represent a great improvement as compared to the pre-Lisbon age.
Finally, the speakers disagreed as to what defines the use of a mass atrocities prevention lens.  It was argued the lack of distinction between conflict and mass atrocities prevention was judged too severely given that the EEAS had a very wide definition of what violent conflict is, but also for pragmatic reasons relating to the difficulties of fostering a preventive mindset across the system. Other speakers agreed, however, that a mass atrocities prevention lens is currently lacking and illustrated the severity of this lack by using some examples.

The workshop concluded with an open discussion of the report. In this context, it was reiterated that the TF should clarify the link between mass atrocities prevention and other political issues such as R2P, regime change and state fragility, but should also specify what the added value created by the enhancement of EU capacities would be. Finally, it was suggested that the TF spell out what the ‘mass atrocity lens’ means exactly and when/how it should be applied.

The TF will release its final report in February 2013 in a public event in Brussels (date and location to be announced shortly).

The roundtable was hosted in the premises of the Berlin SWP.