he 2012 Annual Conference of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy focused on Peace building & Reconciliation and Human Rights, with a particular focus on the prevention of mass atrocities.

The meeting also served as a starting point of cooperation between the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy and the Budapest Centre in the field of mass atrocities prevention.

Speech of Dr. Gyorgy Tatar:

“The responsibility to protect (R2P) in the context of Syria”

Introductory remarks

“Dear colleagues and friends,

I should like to welcome you to this panel discussion on Syria and the responsibility to protect and make a few introductory remarks.

Within the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, we try to contribute to the international efforts aimed at preventing the “crime of crimes” and other mass atrocities. We assess situations through the lens of genocide and mass atrocities’ prevention and attempt to propose concrete measures for responding to the threats.

The 2005 World Summit, where the Heads of State and Government unanimously affirmed that “each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity ” could be a milestone in the struggle to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. No doubt, for the last years the International Community has progressed in implementing the concept. This was confirmed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in September 2011, when he said “Our debates are about how, not whether to implement the Responsibility to Protect. No government questions the principle”.

While acknowledging the equal importance of all three pillars set for the implementation of the RtoP concept, we emphasize its preventive ambitions. For the implementation of the R2P, we need to deploy a wide array of responsive tools in a tailored and flexible manner with military intervention being the last resort.

Unfortunately, the issue of military intervention has come to the forefront again regarding the situations in Libya and Syria.

Since March 2011 the world is following events in Syria, which developed from peaceful demonstrations suppressed by security forces to an armed uprising and a civil war. According to recent estimates, more than 40,000 people have been killed, half of them civilians. The death toll includes about 20,000 combatants consisting of both the Syrian Army and rebel forces, up to 2,250 opposition protesters and 1,000 government officials. Up to 28,000 people have been reported missing, including civilians forcibly abducted by government troops or security forces. According to the UN, about 1.2 million Syrians have been displaced within the country and hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries. In addition, tens of thousands of protesters have been imprisoned. The International Commission on Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council has accused all sides of severe human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and torture.

What has the International Community done so far in response?
The Arab League, the EU and the UN have condemned the violence repeatedly. The US and other governments called for the resignation of President Assad. The Arab League suspended the membership of Syria and imposed sanctions; The EU and individual countries established sanctions against the regime; The Security Council supported the peace plan of Special Envoy Annan, but had to suspend the related observer mission. The Council has been blocked from issuing a resolution condemning the violence and imposing sanctions by a Russian and Chinese veto. The possibility of a military intervention was taken off the table by the US and others right from the beginning.

What does this tell us about the R2P?
Much of the blame for the perceived inaction of the international community was focused on the fallout of the intervention in Libya. In fact, in the UN Security Council Member States expressed their discontent with the way NATO implemented the mandate to protect civilians by all necessary means. Brazil attempted to capture the concerns of Member States and proposed the framework of a ‘responsibility while protecting’.

However, I think our analysis has to go deeper and our discussion today may contribute to this:

  1. The R2P is a concept agreed upon by heads of state and government to address the exceptionally grave situations. In those cases, the international community may overcome its diverse interests and unite behind a single cause of action, defined by a continuum of steps, including military activity in support of humanitarian and other efforts. A threat of coercive military measures is required by the need for escalation, which requires a threat. So we can say right at the beginning that by taking the military option off the table at the outset, R2P could not have been applied as envisaged.
  2. Even though R2P should address ‘genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing’, it is clear from the history of the idea and the negotiations of the Summit Outcome document that R2P is limited to the exceptional events, similar to Rwanda or Srebrenica, what we know should be called genocide, before we get into the legal discussions. However, so far, there is no agreement on criteria that could help defining these exceptional cases and lead to a commitment of States to act. Since R2P has been designed to prevent such situations, it actually requires a prognosis, a risk analysis in this regard. There have been useful attempts to propose early-warning criteria for such exceptional situations, but we must admit that they have not been convincing enough to make States act on Darfur or, now, Syria.
  3. In order to align States with diverging and often competing views behind the joint cause, all activities must be limited to prevent or halt mass atrocities. Every activity must be judged for its contribution to protect the physical integrity of people. Regime change, access to natural resources and regional or national security interests etc. must be clearly dismissed as objectives..As we experienced in Libya, this is difficult to communicate to the military, to the political opposition and the constituencies at home. Libya taught as well that mass atrocity operations following the same pattern as previous military interventions undermine the progress made with the agreement on R2P. The delivery of weapons to either side in Syria also appears to be contradictory to a mass atrocity prevention objective.
  4. Military Interventions to prevent mass atrocities would require options or tools for action. Here we see that the discussion on the development of such tools, even the analysis of existing options for purposes of mass atrocity prevention did not really make progress. There have been different reviews of UN capacities, the US Genocide Prevention Task Force, our ongoing efforts regarding the EU. But still, we have very little to propose when it comes to designing action towards Syria along its expected impact on the situation. Instead, different measures were taken by different actors without any clear strategy beyond increasing pressure on Assad to resign. So, when we call for action in Syria based on the R2P, we should be able to make proposals with a clear indication of their impact on mass atrocity prevention.
  5. The development of a response strategy based on R2P requires information and analysis tailored at the particular needs of mass atrocity prevention. We would need information on particular risk factors and the analysis of actors, by-standers and victims, their interests, motivations, perceptions. Presently, we are fed by the usual diet of information on numbers of victims and descriptions of human rights violations and potential war crimes. For an application of R2P this is not enough. There have been a few attempts to collect and provide specific information, but there seems to be very limited capacity and knowledge within government and among civil society. For many, mass atrocity prevention is still considered a by-product of conflict prevention, protection of civilians and human rights protection. We need to turn that corner if we want to prevent mass atrocities
The Budapest Centre, argues for applying the proper mass atrocities prevention lens when assessing the situation in Syria and believes that only through such an approach it is possible to adequately analyse the situation and design the necessary options for preventive actions. We must set the criteria and the rules for introducing an agreed specific mechanism to launch timely and tailored actions in cases of the four mass atrocity crimes where the possibility of political bargaining is practically reduced to a minimum.”