School of Politics and International Studies

Responsibility to Protect Student Journal

Disaggregating the “peace vs. justice” debate: breaking the silos and moving towards greater coherence

By Jacqueline J.Y. Cho

Jacqueline Cho is currently interning with the African Union Partnership Team at the United Nations, and was an intern at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time of writing. She is also working as a research assistant for Dr Gyda Sindre and helps coordinate the Politics After War Research Network. She recently graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in Politics and International Relations from Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge in 2018. Her areas of interest include conflict prevention and resolution, African politics and refugee studies. 


The question of how to deal with a difficult past is one that confronts every society emerging from a dark history. Since the mid-1980s, many such societies have chosen to address the legacies of pervasive human rights abuses, often with extensive international support. The pursuit of justice, with dominant forms being through trials and truth commissions, are said to be in tension with peace; much of the literature has framed this as a question of “peace versus justice” (see Baker, 2001). What is important to note, however, is that in practice, this dilemma is not as stark of a choice as presented and, more fundamentally, the notions of peace and justice that are in play in these settings are questionable. The current hegemonic understandings of both peace and justice are inadequate as guiding principles of policies concerning ex-combatants. In particular, the emphasis on ‘extraordinary’ forms of violence shapes perceptions of justice in a way that marginalises gender and structural injustice, which may undermine even the most minimal objective of these policies: the cessation, or at least the reduction, of direct violence. International actors should refrain from the tendency to design one-size-fits-all policies targeting ex-combatants with a preconceived end-goal of either peace or justice. Rather, the policies should be context-driven, which may take very different forms from case to case and involve addressing the structural injustice that preceded and contributed to the conflict.

Emergence of the dilemma

The question of whether investigating and prosecuting war crimes may trigger a return to violence traces its origin back to early 1990s as the United Nations began setting up the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) while the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict was ongoing (Baker and Obradovic-Wochnik, 2016, p.283). Scholarly debate surrounding the issue subsequently framed this tension as a question of “peace versus justice”. What had been an ad hoc problem with the ICTY then became a permanent feature of the international judicial system after 2002, when the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court entered into force. The potential clashes between creating accountability for international crimes through justice measures and laying the foundations for peace concerned not only the leaders who might be disincentivised from making peace if they were indicted for war crimes, but also resonated throughout civil society. One early example of this was the instrumentalisation of ICTY’s findings into politics of ethnized collective narratives, hardening inter-ethnic boundaries and generating tensions.    Continue reading

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The Responsibility to Protect and Sub-Regional Organisations: The Case of The Gambia

By John Bosco Nizeimana

John Bosco Nizeimana is currently a visiting researcher at Georgetown University-School of Foreign Services in the Department of African Studies (Washington DC, US). Bosco holds a Master of Science degree in International Relations from the University of Zimbabwe. He previously worked as full-time Associate Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, in the Deptartment of Political and Administrative Studies.  He is a PhD student in South Africa, at Rhodes University, researching the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect norm in Sudan and Libya.


The outcome of the December 2016 Gambian presidential elections took the world by surprise. After 22 years in power, Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office. In July 2017, Gambians celebrated Jammeh’s political announcement in which he accepted the election results, conceded defeat, and congratulated the new President, Adam Barrow, promising a smooth transition of power. Jammeh’s decision was applauded worldwide and was seen as the most important step towards democracy in Africa, and in The Gambia in particular, since the country has achieved no peaceful transition of power through national elections since its independence.

Two of the major electoral promises made by Barrow were to reverse The Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and to reinstate the country’s membership of the Commonwealth. Barrow’s promises angered Jammeh who soon after he accepted defeat went against his initial declaration and declared that, ultimately, he was not going to accept the election results. He vowed to fight against what he called “external interference in the politics of The Gambia” and threatened bloodshed if force was used to eject him from office. His declaration was followed by the announcement of a 90-day countrywide state of emergency.

Across The Gambia, there were fears of political unrest, civil war, and massive human rights violations. The UN Security Council, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed their concern and called for Jammeh to step down. Despite this, Jammeh’s refused to step down, creating a situation that brought The Gambia at the centre stage of global attention.

The situation in The Gambia was of concern to the international community, particularly ECOWAS and the UN.  In his June 10th, 2016, statement, the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, noted that President Jammeh referred to the Mandinka, an African ethnic group with a strong presence in the Gambia, as “enemies, foreigners, and threatened to kill them one day and place them where even a fly cannot see them”. Dieng condemned Jammeh’s “public stigmatisation, dehumanisation and threats against the Mandinka” and warned about the danger of such statements that can contribute to dividing populations, feed suspicion and serve to instigate violence against communities based solely on their identity. Continue reading

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Land Rights and Eviction: Weapons of Mass Oppression

By Tanveer Jeewa

Tanveer Jeewa is a candidate for a Masters in Public Law studying at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She was recently selected as a Youth Ambassador at the United Nations where she represented South Africa and Mauritius. There she won the Social Venture Challenge and is now a Resolution Project Fellow. She has recently established an NGO known as RefRights. Her team and herself are working on a software application to facilitate assistance to legal aid for refugees in South Africa. She is also a volunteer at the UCT Refugee Rights Clinic. She is interested in specializing in Human Rights law but is open to learning and exploring different avenues as they come.


‘The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.’ – Gerald O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

Land rights and evictions have, for decades, been used as a means to divide communities. Looking at the cases of Brazil, India, and South Africa where land rights have been used to discriminate on the basis of socio-economic conditions, class, and race, this blog post analyses the legal means through which segregation was achieved and the effects of historical discrimination in land ownership on vulnerable communities today. Land rights and evictions are powerful tools which have been used to promote different agendas, such as overpowering minorities and oppressed populations. Land rights and evictions are also tools which can be disguised as ‘development’. To illustrate the complicated nature of land rights and evictions, this post will firstly look at the legal background of land rights control and eviction in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. The situation in India is then considered with regards to land rights per caste. Finally, Brazilian favelas are used as an example of failed land rights of the non-wealthy population.

Evictions in South Africa

Section 26 of the Constitution of South Africa concerns the right to housing, while section 26(3) is most applicable to this essay. Section 26(3) is as follows:

No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.

This is normally the point of departure for South African courts when these preside over eviction matters. Case law has lengthily qualified this law, and requirements such as meaningful engagement and alternative housing have been said to impose a positive duty on the state. However, as case law indicates, eviction remains a prevalent issue in South Africa. During apartheid, eviction and restriction of land rights were the most used methods to dehumanise communities of colour. Continue reading

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Mass Atrocity Prevention in Europe: Why Civil Society Matters

By Isabel Tamoj

Isabel holds a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Free University Berlin and a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action from Sciences Po Paris. She has a special interest in the role of education and civic engagement in the prevention of mass atrocities and other forms of group-targeted discrimination.


The Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court and is signed by all European States, distinguishes four different crimes under the category of mass atrocities: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. The scope of the crimes as well as the destruction and trauma they cause within affected populations have long pushed the international community to demand mechanisms to prevent these crimes. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the principle of the Responsibility to Protect uphold States´ responsibilities to prevent mass atrocities, underlining the absolute necessity of action towards the prevention of mass atrocities.

In Europe, however, the general public is not aware of this need. When, for example, in 2017, the German Foreign Office officially included “mass atrocity prevention” in their New Guidelines for Crisis Prevention, Crisis Response and Peacekeeping, this rather significant step forward went widely unnoticed by the general German public and was barely covered by the German press. Indeed, in Germany, mass atrocity prevention is generally perceived as a historical responsibility rather than a political field of action. Even in the context of the increased influx of refugees, of whom a significant number have fled from countries directly affected by mass atrocities, the topic has not been raised within the public or political discourse. On the contrary, the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), has requested in a six-point plan that the government push for an agreement with the Assad government to return refugees to Syria. Not trusting German media coverage, the party has sent representatives to Syria to meet with regime allies to establish whether Syria can be considered a “safe country” for the repatriation of refugees.

Germany, however, is not unique in this sense. Most European countries are faced with similar situations; governments have not (yet) established centralised mechanisms to prevent mass atrocities nor does the topic represent an essential component of public concern. This common pattern is problematic as civil society involvement and, more generally, civic attitudes matter deeply for an effective prevention of mass atrocities.

To effectively prevent mass atrocities, genocide scholars have to go outside their “like-minded bubble”. There is a need for effectively presenting the urgency and benefits of mass atrocity prevention to the general public while at the same time making room for public opinion to be heard and civic attitudes to be taken seriously.


Why does civil society matter?

An active and empowered civil society has proven to be crucial in order to fuel state action towards mass atrocity prevention. Civil society engagement has a significant impact on state action, illustrated by various examples of successful protest movements and civil society campaigns. The field of mass atrocity prevention is no exception.

Continue reading

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Sexual Violence and the Law of Armed Conflict

By Maria Chiara Parisi

Chiara is a third year student at U.C. Berkeley, School of Law. After graduating in the spring, she hopes to work in public interest or public service law. 


“Rape in war is as old as war itself”(Baker, 2016). For centuries, rape and other forms of sexual violence have run rampant during times of armed conflict (see Askin, 1999; Chinkin, 1994; Mitchell, 2005). The consequences of these acts are immense, with effects that last beyond the pain, humiliation, and fear felt at the time of the attack. Sexual violence spreads incurable diseases such as HIV and the trauma severely impacts the mental health of the victims for years following the attack. Loss of virginity and infertility caused by mutilation make victims unmarriageable in certain communities. Unwanted children are often left behind, serving as a constant reminder of the brutal destruction that disrupted the mother’s life. Mass rape has even been used as a form of ethnic cleansing, with the objective of changing the ethnic makeup of a population by killing all of the males in a community and forcing women to bear children of “the enemy”. Further, once the attacks end, the needs of survivors post-conflict, including medical care, psychological support, and economic assistance, are seldom met (UN, 2014).

Although there are no precise statistics on wartime sexual violence due to inaccurate reporting and the unwillingness of victims to come forward, there is no doubt that sexual violence rates during times of war are shockingly high (Gottschall, 2004, p.130). Just in the 20th century, countries with reports of mass rapes include Belgium, Russia, Japan, Italy, Korea, China, the Philippines, Germany, Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burma, Bosnia, Cambodia, Congo, Croatia, Cyprus, East Timor, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Kosovo, Liberia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Pakistan, Rwanda, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Turkey, Uganda, Vietnam, Zaire, and Zimbabwe (Gottschall, 2004, p.130). Continue reading

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Six Grave Violations Against Children in Conflict

By Andreja Friškovec

Andreja is  a final year law undergraduate student at the New University in Nova Gorica in Slovenia. She is interested in international criminal and international humanitarian law as well as security-related issues.


“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace” (Kofi Annan)

Armed conflicts are disproportionately affecting children all over the world [1]. According to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1261 (1999), there are six grave violations affecting children in conflict: killing and maiming of children, recruitment or use of children as soldiers, sexual violence against children, abduction of children, attacks against schools or hospitals and denial of humanitarian access to children. Continue reading

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Many Hands Make Light Work?

By Jennifer Amy Leigh

Jennifer is currently studying for an MA in Politics at The University of Manchester. She graduated from the University of Liverpool with a BA Honours in English Language and Literature. Her future ambition is to pursue a PhD in Politics. Jennifer has studied abroad at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China, and IILM in Delhi, India. She has previously worked with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London on tourism policy. She is a strong advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.

Critical Reading Summary: Laura Shepherd’s ‘Constructing Civil Society: Gender, Power and Legitimacy in United Nations Peacebuilding Discourse’, published in the European Journal of International Relations in Sydney, Australia in 2015

There is often a gap between devising a plan and putting it into action. The idea that the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (UN PBC) should encourage peacebuilding activities by actors in civil society is laudable. However, efforts to engage with civil society have proven to be problematic. This is the subject of Laura Shepherd’s article, where she notes that misunderstanding the role of civil society may prevent the UN from engaging in peacebuilding as effectively as it could. She identifies the possibility of a gendered disconnect between the powerful position of the UN and the disempowered civil society in specific locations. Continue reading

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Exploring the Motivations Behind Violence Against NGOs

By Emma Bapt

Emma is a member of the R2P Student Journal editorial team. She is currently in her third year at King’s College London studying War Studies & History, where she is the President of the KCL News Decoder Society.

In 2013, 461 aid workers were attacked, setting the recorded as the most violent year against humanitarian staff.  The 1949 Geneva Conventions and related 1977 Protocols I and II provide a legal safeguard to prevent violence against NGOs. Yet as the number of international aid workers has tripled since 2000, the number of attacks against NGO aid workers has also increased.

The question is why, in particular contexts, does violence against NGOs occur? This piece will seek to explain the motives for which non-governmental organisations are targeted in order to better understand the reasons why NGOs, in cases such as the Central African Republic and Syria, have not been able to function to their full potential in response to humanitarian crises. Continue reading

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“The World’s Most Persecuted Minority:” A History of Discrimination Against the Rohingya

By Francesca Freeman

Francesca is the Program Assistant for the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Program at the Social Science Research Council in New York City. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a double major in Anthropology and Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies and a minor in Human Rights. She has previously worked on international grassroots mobilization against genocide and mass atrocities as the Student Director of STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities and as an intern for The Aegis Trust in Rwanda.


On 11 September 2017, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein announced that the Burmese Military operation against the Rohingya people is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” While violence had become more extreme in the weeks leading up to this announcement, the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma is not new. Often described as “the world’s most persecuted minority”, the Rohingya have faced significant discrimination by the majority Buddhist country since the country gained independence from the British in 1948. Continue reading

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Mass atrocity prevention should be a priority for the next UK government

Georgiana Epure, University of Cambridge, UK

Georgiana is an International Relations MPhil candidate and Gates scholar at the University of Cambridge. She is co-editor-in-chief of the Responsibility to Protect Student Journal.

When mass atrocity crises erupt, the human, economic, social and security costs to the country and the international community are enormous. We see this in places like Syria, Libya, Yemen and South Sudan and the subsequent refugee flows, regional and international destabilisation, and the rise of terrorism – to name just a few of the effects of humanitarian crises on Britain. In a world where traditional leaders in mass atrocity prevention, such as the US, plan to cut assistance for developing countries, put a very narrow version of the national interest first, and insulate themselves from global responsibilities, the UK’s role in protecting populations from gross human rights violations is ever more important.

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