Academic journal article Global Governance

From Reaction to Resilience in Mass Atrocity Prevention: An Analysis of the 2013 UN Report the Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention

Academic journal article Global Governance

From Reaction to Resilience in Mass Atrocity Prevention: An Analysis of the 2013 UN Report the Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention

Article excerpt

This article analyzes the 2013 UN Secretary-General's report, The Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention. By presenting a framework for prevention that incorporates both risk factors and sources of resilience, the report advocates an understanding of why it is that some states do not experience mass atrocities. By doing so, it is the first policy document to explore in detail the notion that local and national actors are the primary agents of long-term (structural) prevention. This article demonstrates how the report is conceptually distinct from previous framings of structural prevention. It then provides a brief evaluation of the report, using illustrations from Botswana and Zanzibar to highlight its strengths and limitations. Keywords: prevention, mass atrocities, United Nations.


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's 2013 report, The Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention, advocates a fresh approach to the long-term prevention of mass atrocities. The aim of this article is to demonstrate how the report represents an innovation in the conceptualization of structural prevention, by charting recent progress in the understanding and approach used in mass atrocity and conflict prevention. Most significantly, the report represents a departure from previous documents through its focus on the relationship between risk factors and sources of resilience. The report points out that these sources of resilience are processes that are developed and carried out principally by local and national actors.

Acknowledging the responsibility of domestic actors in the prevention of mass atrocities is not new--numerous reports on the preventive dimension of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) assume domestic actors as central. For instance, the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) stressed that, while prevention was not exclusively "a local affair," prevention was "first and foremost the responsibility of sovereign states, and the communities and institutions within them." (1) The same responsibility was apportioned to domestic actors in the World Summit Outcome Document: "Each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means." (2)

The relationship between state responsibility and prevention was further elaborated in the Secretary-General's framing report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect. This dimension of R2P was identified as Pillar 1. (3) The report characterized Pillar 1--the state's responsibility to protect its populations--as "the bedrock of the responsibility to protect." (4) Yet it also acknowledged that researchers had at best a limited understanding of how states effectively managed diversity over the long term: "More research and analysis are needed on why one society plunges into mass violence while its neighbors remain relatively stable." (5) Much is known about the causes of genocide and other mass atrocities--scholars of comparative genocide studies have been theorizing about the common antecedents of mass violence since the 1970s, during which time an impressive body of work has amassed. (6) But little research has been devoted to why it is that states containing at least a moderate risk of future mass atrocities manage to avoid such violence. This question goes to the heart of R2P's first pillar, yet little is known about it. Indeed, among scholars of comparative genocide studies, the same lacuna exists--much has been written about the antecedents of genocide and other forms of mass killing, but few scholars have investigated why it is that such violence does not occur, despite the presence of risk factors.

The 2013 report shifts this focus by unpacking the principle's preventive dimension--the role of the state in carrying out its Responsibility to Protect. …

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