School of Politics and International Studies

Responsibility to Protect Student Journal

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.

With a potential humanitarian crisis mounting, ECOWAS intervened in December 2016 through diplomatic negotiations aiming to convince Jammeh to respect his earlier promises and step down. The heads of state of the ECOWAS mission, led by the presidents of Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and former Ghanaian president, John Dramani Mahama, met Jammeh in The Gambia and encouraged him to step down. However, Jammeh resisted diplomatic pressures and vowed to fight to remain in power. Faced with a potential humanitarian crisis, ECOWAS member states, led by Senegal, threatened to use military force in order to force Jammeh out of power.

Eventually, the key actor which made it difficult for Jammeh to remain in power was not ECOWAS, but The Gambia’s national army, which refused to side with him. The army did not want to engage in any military confrontation with the ECOWAS forces. Thus, The Gambia’s army stood neutral. As ECOWAS forces advanced, Jammeh agreed to relinquish power so as to pave the way for the new government to take over. He eventually left the country, going into exile in Equatorial Guinea in what was largely seen as a negotiated deal between him and ECOWAS.


The ECOWAS response to the Gambian crisis was driven by its conflict response strategies, including military intervention and the use of coercive diplomacy. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is an international norm which sets forth that states have the primary responsibility to protect their civilian populations from massive human rights violations such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The principle makes it clear that when a state fails to protect its population, the mandate to protect those civilians falls into the hands of the international community.

Indeed, paragraph 46 of the ECOWAS framework enables military intervention in circumstances that threaten to trigger humanitarian catastrophes, serious threats to regional peace and security, or in scenarios stirred by attempts to overthrow a democratically elected government of a state party. The role played by ECOWAS in incorporating the ideas of the R2P norm into its peace and security framework shows the contributory role of sub-regional organisations to the implementation of R2P-related measures to protect civilians.

Furthermore, article 52 of the UN Charter asserts that local actors such as regional organisations may take necessary actions, including enforcement actions (as long as they have approval from the UNSC), to maintain international peace and security.  This is crucial since under the ideal scenario, when the R2P norm is effectively applied, local actors tend to accede to R2P provisions. As Bellamy notes in his 2008 article on The Responsibility to Protect and the Problem of Military Intervention, the application of the R2P principles is a shared practice between intervening actors and local agents living in the territory or region where the respective local authority has manifestly failed to protect civilians.

In addition to the instrumental role played by ECOWAS in resolving the 2017 Gambian constitutional crisis, internal security institutions such as the national army of the Gambia were key to the successful execution of ECOWAS strategy. In his statement, The Gambia’s Army Chief of staff Ousman Badjie noted that:

we are not going to involve ourselves militarily. This is a political dispute, I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men. If they (Senegalese) come in, we are here like this”.

With the army refusing to back him, Jammeh’s plan to remain in power became impossible. The ECOWAS military intervened in the Gambia but faced no military resistance from the Gambian National Armed forces.

The ECOWAS intervention in The Gambia demonstrates its commitment to protect democracy and civilian populations from actual or potential humanitarian crises in its member states. As shown in the case of The Gambia, regional and sub-regional organisations are important promoters of the R2P principle. Most notably, the successful intervention of ECOWAS was largely facilitated by the behaviour of The Gambian armed forces who remained independent despite pressure from Yahya Jammeh to go against ECOWAS troops.

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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.

Apartheid South Africa – racial discrimination

Rural Land Occupancy

‘Separate but equal’ was the driving force behind apartheid – a legislated, racist system which used power relations to degrade Black lives. Most significantly, these power relations played out mostly through the seizure of indigenous land. At the advent of colonization, land cultivation and agriculture were the most common ways for South Africans to subsist. The enactment of the Black Land Act in 1913 transcribed the ongoing racial discrimination on paper. This was the first Act under the Union government of South Africa to bound the movement of Black people solely to areas allocated to them. It also limited the ownership right of Black people to these same areas. Ownership rights were later limited to labour tenants through the Black Service Contract Act of 1932. A labour tenant was “any Black person who was bound to render a service or had permission to occupy and use land in terms of a labour tenant contract”. As the number of Black people living on farms started increasing and concerning the legislature, the Development Trust and Land Act (DTLA) was enacted and imposed more regulations to decrease the number of labour tenants.

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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.

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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.  @JeniferAmyLeigh 

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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Understanding Identity in Darfur: How Western Media Has Impacted the Conflict

Casey Bush, Clark University, US

Casey studies History and Political Science, focusing on Holocaust and Genocide Studies. As Campaign Coordinator for STAND she looks forward to pursuing her passion for genocide prevention.

Since conflict erupted in Darfur in 2003, Western scholars have sought to explain the causes and consequences of what we now understand as one of the 21st century’s first instances of genocide. Julie Flint, Alex De Waal and John Prendergast have spent over a decade visiting Darfur and writing about the conflict’s causes and effects. Students read these articles, eyes wide and hearts heavy, in order to grasp a sliver of an understanding as to how neighbors can kill neighbors. In response to the tragedy, the Western world took up the “Save Darfur” movement, which united people from across the United States, including influential figures from Don Cheadle to George Clooney. As more and more people became involved in the movement, however, representations of the conflict were simplified. Students were taught that the conflict was between the Arabs and non-Arab black Africans in which nomadic Arabs were genocidally targeting non-Arab Darfuris. Perhaps this was because it was easier to explain the conflict in such a way or maybe because it was far too complex to understand fully. In fact, the conflict in Darfur is more nuanced than a simple black versus non-black war. However, after searching through article after article in the New York Times and the Washington Post, it has become clear that the Western media has a different understanding of ethnicity, blackness, and identity than that which is held in Sudan. Thus, in this piece I will address the faulty Western understanding of the Darfur conflict in terms of identity and attempt to understand how this understanding affects policy-making. To do this, I will outline a brief history of the conflict, analyse various news articles to determine how Western media understands the conflict, explain the ways that media has an effect on US policy, and then offer a final analysis and recommendations for students who aspire to be informed activists.

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