The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Regional Organisations – Making RtoP Implementation a Reality

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 13, 2012

Widespread violations of human rights were reported during the crisis in Libya last year, some of which constitute crimes against humanity. The atrocious nature of the violence led to the adoption of two UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions (S/RES/1970 and S/RES/1973), imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and sanctions against the Gaddafi regime. The resolutions emphasised the Libyan authorities’ primary responsibility to protect (RtoP) its people against mass atrocities. This most recent invocation of RtoP highlights the important role of regional organisations in the implementation of RtoP.

Given that UNSC members still vary in the degree of their acceptance of RtoP, the passage of two RtoP-embedded resolutions on Libya demonstrates how regional organisations – African Union and Arab League – reconciled differences for timely response to the crisis. In the UNSC debate on the two resolutions, the representative from China, which usually opposes external interference, explicitly emphasised that China respected the position of relevant regional organisations and thus would not obstruct the adoption of the resolutions.

In the face of mass atrocities, the advantage of regional organisations with regards to implementing RtoP is geographic proximity and cultural affinity. Regional countries serve as the outposts to experience early signs of atrocious crises, such as outflow of refugees. Tens of thousands of Cambodians fled the persecution of the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1978 to Thailand and Vietnam. Collection and assessment of these early warning signals lays the foundation for timely and appropriate response. Moreover, similarities in culture and value make the country concerned more receptive to the good offices and mediation by regional organisations. For instance, the political solution of Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008 was brokered by Kofi Annan who was dispatched by the African Union. The regional involvement successfully averted further escalation of the situation.

In view of numerous internal conflicts across the Asia-Pacific, RtoP is relevant to the region regarding the prevention of mass atrocities. However, the attitude of regional countries towards RtoP is ambivalent. Regional arrangements such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) have been identified by RtoP experts as appropriate channels to promote and implement RtoP.

However, as the ARF is more a loose forum for communication rather than a binding institution, there are capacity and expertise gaps making it difficult for the ARF to play the key role of RtoP sponsor. For instance, the establishment of a regional early warning system is still under discussion and the expertise of the ARF with respect to preventive diplomacy and mediation need to be strengthened.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) represent a key force to fill in the capacity gap of regional arrangements. The position of CSOs between the government and the private sector makes it a bridge for communication. On the one hand, CSOs work closely with people on the ground and are thus more sensitive to the early warning signals; on the other hand, CSOs people provide expertise to policy-makers at the regional level. For instance, programs of the Asia Pacific Centre for the RtoP in the Philippines and Cambodia are facilitating community-based early warning efforts and keeping the appropriate authorities informed.

RtoP presents normative support for the prevention and stoppage of mass atrocities but it is still in its emerging phase. Regional organisations are appropriate avenues for promoting RtoP, and engagement with CSOs supplements the capacity deficiency of regional mechanisms in implementing the principle.

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